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Comparison: Kobo Aura HD vs Aura H2O, Frontlight and Screen Quality

aurah2o_blk_headon_single_home_ukKobo’s amazing new ereader is in many ways an improvement on its predecessor and on competing devices like the Kindle PW2, but it’s not always easy to quantify how much better.

While working on my review (which is unfortunately delayed), I have put together a couple galleries which show just how much the screen on the new Aura H2O is over the screen on the Aura HD.

To start, here is a set of photos that show the Aura HD next to the Aura H2O. As you can see, there’s an obvious difference between the screens; the Aura H2O has a much whiter screen.

There are 4 images, with the last one being a composite image made from a sample of white from each of the two screens.

Both ereaders have the same touchscreen tech, but not quite the same frontlight tech. I’ve been comparing them, and I can tell you that they are equally responsive and turn the page at the same speed (which is slightly slower than the Kindle PW2).

Given that they have identical CPU specs, and that I had updated both firmwares to v3.8, this makes sense. But when it comes to the frontlight, I can see an obvious difference.

Both devices have a 1% setting, but the Aura H2O is much dimmer at that setting (yay!). This means it is throwing less light in your face, which is IMO a good thing.

Here are 6 shots, from full brightness down to 1%. In case you were wondering, the Aura H2O looks fuzzy in the last shot due to the dimmer frontlight. I can confirm first hand that it was still very readable. The Aura HD is on the left.

And it’s not just the screens that are different; there are also some obvious and not obvious differences. For example, the Aura H2O doesn’t like any of the USB cables other than its own: the Aura HD is less picky and will work with any cable that has the correct-sized plug.

The Aura H2O is also thinner, has a rubberized rear shell, and is waterproof. It meets the IP67 standard for dust and water proofing.

I’m still working on the review, and while I am not ready to give a final opinion I can make a couple recommendation about the Aura H2O vs its immediate competitors.

With a retail of $180, this is a premium ereader and it really only has a couple direct competitors that are readily available. One is the Kobo Aura HD, and the other is the Onyx Boox T68.

First, if you’re trying to decide between the Aura HD and the Aura H2O, I would get the latter model. It is absolutely the better device in many ways, even if you don’t care about the waterproofing. It’s worth the extra $10 on the retail price (but if you can get the Aura HD as a cheap refurb, that is a different case ).

As for the Onyx Boox T68, I can’t offer a definitive answer for which one you should get. They have the same screen size, but the T68 has the older Pearl E-ink screen tech. I liked the open Android on the T68 when I reviewed it in June, including the way it lets me install many different reading apps, but the Aura H2O has a nicer design and better frontlight controls.

If you want to do more with your premium ereader than just read ebooks, get the T68. But if you want the best Epub ebook reader, get the Aura H2O.

It is up for pre-order for $180, and is scheduled to ship at the end of the month.

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Jason September 14, 2014 um 7:52 pm

Great work on the light comparison. Can’t wait for the full review.

Colin September 15, 2014 um 1:24 am

A "propreitary" USB cable? How weird! Didn’t know such a thing was possible.

Nate Hoffelder September 15, 2014 um 7:01 am

It happens sometimes. The new Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 has a similar issue.

kurt September 16, 2014 um 1:39 pm

which makes this a "no buy"
in my head at least
i have the Aura HD and until it dies i don’t have to think about purchasing another ereader

Lucia January 6, 2015 um 10:03 am

I’ve been charging the Aura H2O with the cable from my Lumia and it works just fine.

TheGreatFilter September 15, 2014 um 8:32 am

I’ve read some comments that PW2 screen is better / clearer than the Aura HD screen. I don’t if that’s true. Can you comment on the H2O screen compared to the PW2 screen?

Nate Hoffelder September 15, 2014 um 9:10 am

When compared to the Aura HD or Aura H2O, the PW2 screen has a slight brown tint – probably because of the capacitive touchscreen layer. (this has come up over at MobileRead)

Traditio September 15, 2014 um 11:50 am

There is a new generation Carta e-ink in the Kindle PW2 and Kobo Aura H2O as well after the Pearl that is in PW1 and Aura HD.

zutgrtthk September 15, 2014 um 9:02 am

How does the Kobo Aura H2O’s minimum brightness level compare to the Kindle Paperwhite 2’s minimum brightness level? If possible, picture comparisons would be nice. If the PW2 can be dimmed down further than the H2O, what PW2 brightness level comes closest to the H2O’s minimum brightness level?

Thanks also for the photo comparison with the Aura HD. Looks like Kobo did a great job with the H2O. I wonder whether I would miss the Aura HD’s uneven backside.

Andrew September 15, 2014 um 9:06 am

I hate having to look for my iPod’s proprietary cable – did I leave it by the computer, or by the charger in the bedroom? It’s a nuisance, and I won’t buy any more non-standard devices. I wonder why the H20 has a cable like that – it sounds like an added design and manufacturing cost.

Guillaume September 15, 2014 um 9:51 am

Maybe the proprietary cable is linked to the waterproofing ? Is it a specific connector ?

Anyway, this is a minor issue in theory. In practice, it’s tedious enough to make me reconsider.

Nate Hoffelder September 15, 2014 um 10:01 am

No, the plug looks like a standard microUSB cable. It’s just that other similar looking cables don’t fit.

Robert September 15, 2014 um 10:39 am

Can you turn the light off?

I noticed a comparison on another site that said the older Aura HD has a switch for the light but the H2O does not?

Nate Hoffelder September 15, 2014 um 10:46 am

Yes, you can turn the frontlight all the way off.

Yes, the Aura HD has a switch but the Aura H2O does not. Instead, under the latest firmware you can adjust the frontlight by swiping the screen near the left edge.

James September 17, 2014 um 4:33 am


wert September 17, 2014 um 7:36 am

@Nate: Any words on H2O minimum brightness versus PW2 minimum brightness? Which PW2 brighness level best mimicks H2O’s minimal brightness setting?

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