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The New Kobo Aura H2O (2017) Gains a Colored Frontlight at the Expense of its microSD Card Slot

When Kobo released the Kobo Aura H2O in 2014, it had a better frontlight, a waterproof shell that was pleasant to hold, and it didn’t lose any of the features of the Kobo Aura HD.

TheKobo Aura H2O (2014) was clearly an improvement on its predecessor but I wouldn’t make the same claim about the new model, which costs $180 and is going to ship on the 22nd.

On Tuesday Kobo launched the Aura H2O edition 2. This second-gen ereader is styled after the Kobo Aura One and has the same color-shifting frontlight and general design, only with a 6.8″ screen.

And like the Aura One, the new Aura H2O is missing its card slot.

The new Kobo Aura H2O runs Kobo’s proprietary software on a 1GHz Freescale SoloLite CPU with 512MB RAM. It has the same 6.8″, 1430 x 1080 resolution, screen and IR touchscreen as its predecessor, but on the plus side, it also has the new ComfortLight color-shifting frontlight as on the Kobo Aura One.

In physical terms, the new Aura H2O is about the same size and shape as the last model, only it is slightly thinner and has replaced the comfortable rubberized rear shell with a textured plastic shell. It has twice the storage of its predecessor, but no card slot for expansion.

Picture a seven-inch tablet with a 4:3 screen ratio and you will be about right.


I received a review unit on Thursday, and as I sit here writing this post Tuesday night I find myself disappointed.

While I am generally fond of Kobo hardware, the tradeoffs Kobo made in the new Aura H2O’s design do not appeal.

The new device gained its new frontlight at the expense of a card slot and a comfortable shell, making it less of an upgrade than a sidestep.

There’s simply no obvious improvement over the last model. Even the screen resolution is the same as on the original Kobo Aura HD, a device which was released in 2013. (Yes, it is four years later and E-ink and Kobo still have not bumped the screen resolution.)

Furthermore, the new Aura H2O does not have the OverDrive integration found in the Aura One. I checked with Kobo, and they said: "we will ensure to let you know if we decide to integrate the OverDrive feature in other devices in the future".

All in all, I can’t recommend this device.

If you want a 6.8″ screen, get the previous model. It can do everything the new Aura H2O can do except change the color of the frontlight, and you can find it cheap on Ebay.

But if you really like the red-shifting frontlight then you’re better off with the Aura One. Its screen is larger and sharper, and it supports direct Overdrive integration.

Yes, the Aura One costs $50 more, but it’s still a better value.

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tired May 3, 2017 um 1:54 pm

I would not at all call the Aura H2O or the Aura HD "comfortable shells" they are large slabs of plastic which were ugly and heavy. I find the design of the Aura One to be much better. It’s thin, light and has a textured back that makes it easy to hold.

I feel for the people that need or use micro sd card slots. But since they are in a minority, making a blanket statement that an ereader is not to be recommended because it lacks a card slot is just silly.

I’m not looking to buy one, I just don’t understand the negativity.

poiboy May 3, 2017 um 3:45 pm

at this point in ereader tech anything made with less than 300ppi makes my head shake. this kobo has 265ppi. their kobo glo hd (from 2 years ago) had 300ppi.. feels like a back-step. 8gb of storage is good.. do people really need more?

Anne Barnett May 3, 2017 um 4:23 pm

Interesting review. I made the decision to get the previous version this morning, before your post came out. I guess we think alike!

Eric May 3, 2017 um 4:50 pm

Funny I have both the Kobo Aura One and the Aura H2O and the H2O screen is far superior at 265ppi than the 300ppi Aura One. Perhaps its the IR screen on the H2O but the lighting is even and text is sharper and pops out more. The Aura One with its flush bezel has uneven lighting and frail text. IR is superior which is why ill get the new H2O because of the simple fact that its lighter. I have 3,000 books so 8gb is more than enough.

Frank May 4, 2017 um 9:05 am

I don’t see a need for a card slot when the device has 8 GB of storage.

The screen tech is the same from 2013, but Amazon is using a similar screen since 2014 in the Voyage and there has not been anything better in the last few Kindle devices. I think this is an E Ink not making anything better issue.

ntr May 4, 2017 um 12:57 pm

I don’t understand the decision to remove the SD card support in such an expensive device. One step ahead of the the old model and one behind at the same time. I think, in one of the videos about Onyx’s new devices, they also had an improved model of their 6.8″ device, now also with the nighttime light. Does anybody know, whether this frontlight is on par with Kobo’s (the one on the the older model was worse than Kobo’s)?

Nate Hoffelder May 4, 2017 um 12:59 pm

I think it had to do with the change in water-proofing tech.

The last model had a sealed case, but the new model does not. Instead, its guts were waterproofed. Apparently this trick won’t work with a microSD card slot.

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JJ May 4, 2017 um 2:38 pm

I wish that Kobo would increase the microSD limit beyond 32G or provide dual memory card slots. If you have a large book collection, do you realize how much time it takes to pick and choose from your collection. Even in Calibre on a 1080p monitor, displaying 18 book cover icons per page, to physically look at each icon takes over 3-5 hours with a 5,000 book collection (and certainly more if you start think about it). It’s simply much easier to simply transfer everything onto a Kobo with enough memory.

With news of the release of Kobo H20 Edition 2, it has confirmed my suspicion that Kobo seems to be permanently dropping support for an external memory slot. So I immediately placed an order for the first edition of the H20 as a backup and I’m hoping that between 2x H20s plus the much older Kobo Aura HD, I pray at least one of them will survive to the end of my life.

Unless one displays two models side by side, there is simply no discernable difference between 265ppi to 300ppi. The backlight of the first edition H20 is good enough – the lighting is even and can go as low as 1%. Objectively, there can’t be more than 5% improvement in display with the new high end models. However, as a power user the lack of an external memory slot is completely unacceptable!

eReaders last a hell of long time if you don’t drop them. This is a message for Kobo: If you want more money from me, make a Kobo MAX. Stick a 32G card inside of it for onboard storage, add an external memory slot that can accept a 200G microSDXC and use a processor so that I can use the Kobo’s dictionary, highlight, notes and search capabilities without all those annoying 30 second delays that drive everyone to tablets. As a company buying in bulk, I can’t imagine this would add more than $50 to their actual material cost. Market this to the "Book Reader Without Limits — They could fit the world’s library into it if they choose to." Let those with wimpy 30 book collections stick with their pedestrian models.

[If you look back at Kobo history, their first large screen Kobo Aura HD that outclassed Kindle was their priciest at the time, rather than being a niche product, it turned out to represent 25% of their product line.]

poiboy May 4, 2017 um 8:59 pm

i may be a ereader snob here.. but i can clearly see a difference between 265 and 300. friends in my BC also agree. 🙂
so i guess its personal preference.

tired May 5, 2017 um 11:49 am

I don’t understand why you need so much capacity. I looked up War and Peace on Amazon and found an unabridged copy that is roughly 4 MB. That means that you could have 256 copies of War and Peace with 1 GB or 8,000 copies of one of the longest novels ever published in 32 GB. 5,000 books that are on average normal sized should take up a small fraction of the total memory.

Instead of looking for more memory, take these steps instead:

* Say no to illustrated copies.
* Don’t transcode to different formats in Calibre, for some reason it massively increases file size. Kobo can read almost anything anyway.
* Don’t browse by thumbnails. Use lists, collections and the search engine.

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