Kobo Libra H2O Review: Who needs books anymore

This device begs to be read everywhere at all times

The Pros

  • One-handed design
  • Waterproof
  • Orange and blue backlight

The Cons

  • I wish it was a tad cheaper
  • Auto backlight was finicky
  • Recommended store section has a weird amount of romance novels

The Libra H2O scores big points for Rakuten-owned Kobo in the e-reader race between the company and its main rival, the Amazon Kindle.

The new Libra is packed with software updates and hardware features that make the device a compelling buy. While $200 CAD might seem like a lot of money for an e-reader, it features everything a reading device needs — a crisp display, long battery life and built-in storage for roughly 6,000 books.

Even though this isn’t Kobo’s flagship e-reader, you’d never know. It builds on the excellent top-tier Kobo Forma by utilizing its great single-handed design while also featuring a lower price tag. If you’re an avid reader, the perks the Libra offers make it the perfect take-anywhere reading device.

Designed with a purpose

The Libra H2O mimics the design of the high-end Kobo Forma, but it’s an inch smaller and comes in an attractive soft white colour.

If you’ve used the Forma before, you’re likely aware of the single large bezel that angles up towards the reader. This makes for an interesting design that helps it stand out from other e-readers, and it’s perfect for one-handed use.

There are two buttons installed in the grip so you can comfortably hold the device while turning pages. It’s also worth mentioning that the screen’s refresh rate is fairly snappy for an e-reader.

The device is about as light as the average smartphone, so holding it in one hand for an extended period of time isn’t an issue.

Kobo has built the device out of soft-touch plastic and added a bit of texture to the rear to make sure you can hold it securely. In terms of design, I enjoy the unique look of the device and I love the functionality of the buttons.

To round out the design, the Libra H2O is also waterproof. It features an IPX8 rating which means it can be submerged in two metres of water for about an hour. In reality, this means you can read in the pool or the tub without needing to worry about breaking the device.

Crisp Text, just the way I like it

The Libra H2O also shares the same 300 pixels per inch (ppi) screen density as the Forma, so the text is crisp and easy to read. Since its screen is an inch smaller, it has a 1680 x 1264 pixel resolution. Combining this with the fast screen refresh rate makes typically arduous things like typing bearable.

You can also select a few in-book navigation schemes depending on where you like to tap on the screen to open the menu and turn the pages.

The screen is the main element of the reading experience and in terms of typography, what the Libra H2O offers looks perfect. Maybe some people will opt for the 8-inch Forma, but I found the 7-inch Libra to be a perfect size.

Kobo also installed it’s ‘ComfortLight PRO’ blue light filter to make sure it’s easy to read under any lighting conditions.

This means you can set the backlight to blue or yellow, as if you’re reading by candlelight. On top of this, you can also turn on an automatic mode that adjusts the brightness and the temperature of the light to your surroundings. In my experience, this feature wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t hard to adjust to my preference since the backlight controls are always part of the main interface.

There’s also an intuitive brightness control in the Libra. Running your finger up and down on the left edge of the screen adjusts the backlight’s brightness. While I wish Kobo implemented the same controls on the right side of the screen for the ComfortLight Pro, I’ll take what I can get.

Never lose your page again

The Kobo team is implementing a new reading interface with the Libra that’s coming to other Kobo devices as well.

The new interface brings a host of improvements to the devices that make in-book navigation effortless.

First up is a new scrubbing interface that represents the whole book instead of just a single chapter. There are also black dots on the scrubber’s timeline that represent where you started from so you don’t lose your place. As you navigate through the book, the screen displays a preview of the page you’re hovering over so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.

The foot of the page now displays a progress bar, the name of the book, what page you’re on and how many total pages are left.

At the top of the page, it displays your current chapter and how many pages you’ve read out of the chapter’s total number of pages.

When you’re in the in-book menu there’s a new button in the bottom right that quickly takes you to your saved notes and highlighted quotes.

The regular Kobo main menu has stayed the same. The ‘Home’ menu gives you shortcuts to the book you’re currently reading, your library, the store and related books to what you’re reading.

Tapping on the menu icon in the top-left gives you options to read articles from your Pocket account and if you dive deeper into the settings or the Kobo Store you can link your OverDrive account to read books from your public library.

OverDrive is a system that links with your library card so you can borrow digital eBooks. In Toronto, this is as easy as entering your card number and your pin, which is the last four digits of your phone number. Personally, I love this system since it gives way more recommendations than the Kobo store.

An eReader without compromise

I don’t know if there’s a perfect e-reader for everyone, but if there is, it just might be the Kobo Libra H2O. This device’s slender and convenient design, great size and sharp screen make it perfect for reading e-books.

While the Kobo Libra doesn’t hold the charm of a real book, it does offer a wide set of features for a reasonable price. Overall, it’s a decent value as long as you read a lot, and if you can use OverDrive to borrow books from your local library, it’s even more worth it.

Even though you can get cheaper e-readers that get the job done, the Libra H2O outclasses them all and even outclasses more expensive options too.

The Kobo Libra H2O retails for $199 CAD and there is a case for it that costs $44.99. It will be available in stores and online on September 17th and you can pre-order it on the 10th.

"Even though you can get cheaper e-readers that get the job done, the Libra H20 outclasses them all and even outclasses more expensive options too."