AuraH2O_pairing_largeI haven’t been down the Kobo road for a while, but my mother just got a Kobo Aura H20 for her birthday, and she dropped it off this past weekend so I could set it up for her. It is not the reader for me.

But Mom likes it. And David Rothman, TeleRead’s publisher, is forever saying Amazon needs to offer all-text bolding—a useful option that his H2O and the other Kobos provide.

On top of that, the H2O is water proof. So is B&N’s new Nook GlowLight Plus, selling for $130 in the U.S., $50 less than the H2O. But then you don’t get the H2O’s 6.8-inch screen. And supposedly—I have not verified this—the Nook as of earlier this month would not even work with library books due to DRM glitches. Or even books from stores other than Brand B’s. Yes, we’ll check with B&N for the latest.

The Kobo H2O has been out for a year or so; perhaps a refresh will come soon.

First H2O impressions: Big 6.8-inch screen

koboVSpaperWhiteI quite enjoyed the extra space for text on the 6.8-inch screen, which would not only allow more words, but if need be also bigger fonts compared to the usual six-inch Kindle (photo shows the two devices together). Older people might like the extra real estate. What’s more, the all-text bolding is just the tip of the iceberg. You actually get it by being able to adjust the weight of the font. When will Amazon catch up?

Buying the Kobo, Mom sprang for the official Kobo sleep cover too. Although I am often too cheap to go for the ‘official’ cases, I must admit that Kobo usually does a luxurious job with them. It was comfortable to hold it book-style, and the cover folded back too for one-handed use.

Set-Up: Password-related hassles—too tethered to computer

KoboInWaterUgh. Waterproofing is fine, but how about the basics? Just why does nobody do passwords right yet? You can’t do anything, not even look around, until you log in. It turned out Mom already had a Kobo account. I don’t remember getting her one, nor does she remember getting it. But she had one, so I had to email her to go and reset her password, wait until she did so, and then log in with the new information.

Most alarmingly for me, there was no way to do this from the device itself. There was no ‘I forgot my password’ option. I had to go to my computer to do that, then wait for her to get the email and respond back to me. I say ‘alarmingly’ because one of the joys of my Kindle is its ability to function computer-free. Absent this, I know I will be getting tech support phone calls from her which will inhibit her from fully enjoying her reader.

This the Achilles heel of the whole Kobo ecosystem: it turned out that a password reset was not the only thing sending me back to the computer. Mom had helpfully—and trustingly—given me her credit card information so I could set everything up for her. When I went poking around in the settings to find that option, there was a prompt which said I had to go to the website to do this. Unacceptable!

Downloading past purchases is another trouble spot. We still don’t have a Cloud tab for this. I have no idea if Mom’s hitherto-unknown Kobo account has any books on it, but the last time I tried to do such an advanced chore as download a past purchase on a Kobo device, I had to go about five layers deep into the settings while logged into from a real computer.

The user experience

Once you get some books on there, it’s fine. The default home screen had a space for your current book, and some ads for new releases, top 50 books and so on. You could browse the store or read articles using Pocket. I suspect most of this will be beyond Mom. I’ll side-load some books for her, and that will be that.

The rest of it was standard Kobo fare, and much the same as my Kindle once I got underway with a book. You tap to turn pages. You can adjust the font size, typeface, margins and glow light. You can look up words and make annotations. It was all fine. The one frill this reader has is a rubberized cover for the ports which makes it water-proof for up to 30 minutes.

Final verdict: When will Kobo get its interface act together?

It baffles me why Kobo has not cleaned up its UI yet. Kobo been around for long enough to do it! In this day of Cloud-everything, Kobo should not be sending users back to a website on a computer for anything short of an apocalyptic hard-reset when all else has failed. Certainly not for a password update or to input payment information.

Amazon makes most of these little details way, way easier. The H2O is a nice piece of hardware—I love the screen, I love the size and form factor and the way the whole package looks with the sleep cover and everything. But Kobo is still getting some important details wrong, and I won’t forgive the company for it.

Enjoy your new reader, Mom. But me, I’m sticking with my Kindle.

Info on photo of Kobo in water: Here.


  1. The bigger screen is a big deal, IMHO. When I read, I like to see thick walls of text. Which leans me to the iPad, but eink and streamlined functionality is better for reading in general which tilts me back to the Kindle. I’d buy a 10″ eink if available.

    The extra screen size on the Kobo would help – but not enough to ditch my investments in Kindle books. For new users it might be a good idea to look twice at this device just for screen size alone.

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