I’ve owned Amazon’s most basic Kindle — you know, the one with a small-ish touchscreen and not much else — since 2014, when I impulse-bought the e-reader during a Prime Day sale. For years I read discounted Amazon books and raggedy PDFs on the device, thinking to myself all the while: this is what modern reading feels like.
Then I found out about Kobo’s line of e-readers. It turns out that my assumptions about the future of reading were naive at best. In the few months since I first picked up Kobo’s Libra H2O, I’ve done more heavy e-book reading than I did in the six years I owned a Kindle.
And the best part? None of my book purchases line Jeff Bezos’ pockets (more on this below.)
Much like Amazon’s e-readers, Rakuten’s Kobo lineup takes the form of a few variations on the same theme — in this case, that theme is an E Ink touchscreen ranging anywhere from 6 inches to 8 inches in diagonal diameter. The lower end of the spectrum — the Nia and the Clara HD — will get you just the touch screen, while the higher-range Libra and Forma add physical buttons to the mix.
Which design you’ll go for is very much up to your needs as a reader. I chose the Libra H2O for its middle-ground comforts. The 7-inch touchscreen allows for a little more breathing room than what I’d grown used to; its soft, adjustable-warmth backlight is perfect for reading in bed; it’s waterproof for those rare days when I have time to read in the bathtub or on a sunny beach.
The Libra H2O is the perfect size for an e-reader. It fits comfortably in a small cross-body bag but still feels solid in my hands. It curves upward just slightly on the edge — a design quirk that makes it easier to hold for long periods of time. I also find myself using the physical buttons more than I expected to. There’s something comforting about the tactile click of turning a page rather than swiping my finger across the screen.
I was also drawn to the Libra H2O by its main accessory, the SleepCover. It’s a magnetic, soft-leather case that protects the sensitive E Ink touchscreen while also looking fabulous. The SleepCover’s strange fold-up design allows it to stand on a tabletop — perfect for hands-free reading while you scarf down your morning toast. I purchased the SleepCover in rose because I’m a millennial through and through. It feels great to flip it open and closed like a physical book, and the Kobo automatically sleeps and wakes when I do so.
For the most part, the Kobo’s user interface is pretty run-of-the-mill. And that’s a good thing. The main reason I purchased an e-reader in the first place was to remove myself from the distractions of notifications and web browsing. I wanted a dedicated reading device, and that’s exactly what the Kobo is built to be. There’s a section with your downloaded books, another where you can browse the Kobo store, and a third where you can access your local library’s e-book selection. That’s pretty much the extent of the software here.
That last section — the library access — is where Kobo really has a leg up over the Kindle. The Libra H2O connects directly to Overdrive, a borrowing service that many libraries across the United States use for distributing e-books. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been nigh impossible to browse the stacks at my local library, and Overdrive has largely stepped up as a replacement experience. Now I can browse my library’s available e-books (and place holds on those that have been checked out) right from my Kobo. With just a few clicks I can download library books from the comfort of my couch. It’s life-changing, for an avid reader.
The Kobo line is also much more open to sideloading than the Kindle ever will be. Where Amazon very much locks you into buying all your books from their shop, you can buy your Kobo books from anywhere and load them up via USB. There’s also lots you can do with sideloaded reading apps on the Kobo, to expand its capabilities even further. It's very much like the difference between buying an iPhone and an Android. The Kobo affords more freedom to do what you’d like with your device.
The Kobo Libra H2O is perfect for reading: in the bath, in bed at 2 am when you can’t sleep, in the car while you wait for your partner to hurry up and buy a bag of chips from the corner store — it’s truly the only reading device you’ll ever need.