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Amazon Kindle owners have it pretty good. With a massive library of current bestsellers, old favorites, academic publications, comics, and magazines to choose from, there’s little chance of ever coming up short of something to read, especially when you throw Kindle Unlimited and the ability to share purchased books with members of your family into the mix. Kindle e-readers are well made, pleasant to use, and available at a number of price points. Amazon’s industry dominance is such that most other e-reader manufacturers hang on to wee slices of the market with only the slightest of finger holds.
And then there’s Rakuten’s Kobo.
Over the past few years, Rakuten has revamped its e-readers’ design language, developed unique technologies that Amazon can only dream of baking into its Kindle hardware and, perhaps most importantly, tremendously expanded the variety of content available for download. The results of their efforts culminate in the company’s latest device: The Kobo Aura H20 Edition 2. It’s a $180 waterproof e-reader designed to go toe-to-toe with Amazon’s flagship e-reader, the Kindle Oasis.
With its 5.08 by 6.77 by 0.33-inch dimensions and a weight of 7.3 ounces, the Edition 2 weighs and feels more like a current-generation Kindle Paperwhite than Kobo’s first-generation Aura H20. Gone is the original model’s distinctive angular backplate, which we loved as it was easy to keep a grip on. In its place, you’ll find a flat, textured plastic backplate with a power button placed high and to the left. It’s the same design, although scaled down, as you get with the excellent Kobo Aura One. I found the Edition 2 still easy to hold, and its weight is almost unnoticeable while carrying it in my backpack.
As its name implies, the Aura H2O Edition 2 is waterproof, boasting an IPX rating of X8. This means that the e-reader isn’t rated for dust incursion, but it can remain submerged in two meters of water for up to one hour. Taking the Edition 2 to a community swimming pool, I found this rating to be accurate. It was still functional after 45 minutes of submersion.
Anyone who enjoys taking their e-reader to the beach or plowing through pages poolside will be pleased by this feature. That said, if you were planning on doing a bit of reading underwater, prepare for disappointment: The more of a liquid you get on the Edition 2, the more of a chance there is of said liquid triggering the device’s touchscreen in unexpected ways. This can lead to you losing your spot in a book, unintentionally highlighting sections of a book, or any number of other frustrating results. This is disappointing, considering that the original Aura H2O came with software features to ensure that this would not happen.
Provided you keep the e-reader dry, you’ll be pleased with the Edition 2’s performance. Apart from its power/sleep button, there are no other physical control on the device. Page turns, selections from the reader’s menu, and purchases from the Kobo store are all made via touchscreen.
As much as I’ve grown to enjoy the page-turn buttons on our current top pick, the Kindle Oasis, I never missed them while using the Edition 2. I found the device’s capacitative display to be sensitive enough to register most requests I made of it on the first attempt. But, and this is an absolute win, the Edition 2’s OS is smart enough to understand that not every accidental caress of its display means that it needs to turn a page or offer up an options menu. And with 8GB of storage, you’ll always have enough room for your reading material of choice.
In a side-by-side comparison of the Kindle Oasis’ display and that of the Edition 2, I couldn’t detect any difference in readability between the two devices. In fact, the Edition 2 beats out Amazon’s Oasis by offering a wider collection of fonts, an easier to use interface for changing details like text size, line spacing, and backlighting. The latter is superior to what Amazon’s hardware currently offers, too: At sundown, it switches from a white glow to an orange one that completely eliminates light emitted in the blue spectrum, making it a great choice for reading before bed. The Edition 2’s backlighting, on the other hand, was uneven in some places, compared to the Kindle Oasis’ and Kindle Paperwhite’s—but not so much so that I would call out the lighting on the Edition 2 as a serious issue.
In the past, one of the biggest problems with buying a non-Kindle e-reader is that they can’t access Amazon’s marketplace with its stupendous selection of books and periodicals. This has become less of an issue for Kobo hardware owners lately. While the amount of content available in the Kobo store is still dwarfed by what Amazon offers to Kindle owners, most readers won’t feel shorted when the time comes to find a new book. I couldn’t find any current bestselling fiction or non-fiction book from a major publishing house in Amazon’s store that wasn’t also available in the Kobo store. In some cases, however, a book sold in the Kobo Store cost a bit more than it did at Amazon. Not interested in buying books from either online shop? No problem: The Edition 2 can also handle side-loaded EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, and CBR files, too.
Despite this wealth of content, I was more than a little disappointed to discover that Rakuten’s OverDrive digital library service is nowhere to be found. This is surprising, given how much value it lends to any device it’s on.
The bottom line
The Kobo Aura H20 Edition 2 is a waterproof and feature-packed e-reader that, provided they’ve not already amassed a large library of Amazon Kindle eBooks, that any book lover will enjoy—provided you don’t try to use it while it’s wet.
Séamus Bellamy is a travel and technology writer with bylines at Boing Boing, AFAR Magazine, BBC Worldwide and USA Today. A full-time digital nomad, Séamus calls Canada home--but he doesn't see it all that often.