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Kobo Libra H2O review
5:58 am | May 20, 2020

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: | Comments: Off

[Update February 7, 2023: The Kobo Libra H2O is now only available in Australia and will now set you back AU$269.95, AU$20 more than its price on release.]

When the Kobo Forma launched in 2018, we had high expectations that it would give Amazon’s Kindle Oasis a run for its money. However, a slightly lackluster design and a jaw-dropping price tag changed our minds. Rakuten – the Japanese company that makes the Kobo ereaders – seems to have learned some lessons from that Forma feedback, and its new 7-inch Kobo Libra H2O introduces a range of refinements and changes that largely address the complaints.

While the Libra’s  7-inch screen makes it a fair bit smaller than the 8-inch Forma, it brings with it the latest E Ink technology, making it one of the fastest, most responsive ereaders currently on the market. 

Add to that a refreshed user interface and a superior build than the Forma (plus the waterproofing and support for multiple file formats that Kobos are famous for) and you’ve finally got a very compelling competitor to the Kindle Oasis. Better yet, the Libra H2O is far more affordable than either the Oasis or the Forma.

Kobo Libra H20

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Kobo Libra H2O price and availability

The Kobo Libra H2O was launched first in the US and Canada in September 2019 – just a couple of months after Amazon released the second-gen version of the Kindle Oasis – and it became available in other markets later that year. 

Considering it shares a lot of the Forma and Oasis’ premium features, its biggest selling point is perhaps its price tag. The Libra H2O was available directly from the Kobo Store and from major retailers for $169 / £149 / AU$249 on its initial release. In comparison, the 2019 iteration of the Kindle Oasis will set you back $249 / £229 / AU$399, while the Kobo Forma is available for $279 / £239.99 / AU$429.95, though the Forma is no longer available in the US.

And while it’s possible to occasionally pick up the Kindle Oasis for a cheaper price directly from Amazon, you’ll be hard-pressed to find discounts on any of the Kobo ereaders.

As of February 2023, the Kobo Libra H2O is only available in Australia from Rakuten Kobo, with both the global and UK store no longer offering this 2019 ereader. It has also had a small price increase of AU$20, and will now set you back AU$269.95.

Design and display

Unlike more traditional tablet-like ereaders like the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Aura One, the Libra H2O’s asymmetrical design closely resembles the Forma and the Kindle Oasis. One bezel is much thicker and wider than the rest, providing lots of space to comfortably and securely hold the device without covering the screen. A pair of physical buttons on that same bezel are used for page turning, and the ereader’s battery is housed inside this area of the chassis, with the microUSB charging port on the side of this thick spine. However, the difference between the Forma and the Libra is that the latter has a 7-inch E Ink Carta HD display (the same as the Oasis) as compared to the 8-inch screen on the Forma. 

Kobo Libra H20

One bezel is thicker and larger than the rest, making it comfortable to hold and use the Kobo Libra H2O single-handed. (Image credit: TechRadar)

The Libra H2O and the Kindle Oasis also share the same screen resolution of 1,680 x 1,264, which translates to 300 pixels per inch (ppi), offering a beautifully sharp display that’s easy to read on. That said, the screen on the Libra H2O is not flush with the bezel (as it is on the Oasis) and is, instead, fitted into a recess within the frame. 

This slight depth makes the text on the display appear sharper when compared to the Oasis, and also allows Rakuten to use Neonode’s zForce infrared technology – a plug-and-play sensor module used for touch and gesture control. And whether you’re selecting a word for dictionary look-up or typing in a Wi-Fi password during setup, the screen is supremely responsive – on par with the latest Kindle Oasis and a beat or two faster than Forma.

Kobo Libra H20

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Libra H2O shares the patented ComfortLight Pro screen technology that’s found on all modern Kobos, and reduces the exposure to sleep-disrupting blue light. There are white and amber LED lights on the bottom of the screen that project light upwards and evenly across the display. Both color hues can be used either together or independently, with the brightness adjusted via a simple slider built into the touch interface. 

And while there’s no ambient light sensor on board, you can set the lighting to change depending on your time zone. This change in color temperature happens even when the device is ‘sleeping’ and, if you happen to read a little in the afternoon, then pick it up only around bedtime, you will notice the light is warmer. That, we found, doesn’t happen with the Kindle Oasis, where you’ll have to manually change the brightness to adjust the light at night if you’ve just picked it up for reading in bed.

The Libra weighs 192g, which is 4g heavier than the Oasis, despite the latter’s metal finish. The difference is so small that they both feel the same in the hand, however the larger bezel (or grip) of the Libra H2O is slightly thicker than the Forma’s and its smaller screen size gives it a slightly stocky look.

Kobo Libra H20

The physical page-turn buttons are sturdy with a good feedback (Image credit: TechRadar)

Despite its plastic chassis, the Libra H2O looks a lot better than its more expensive sibling. Where there’s a joint on the thicker bezel of the Forma (between the buttons and the screen) for dirt to collect, the Libra’s front face is constructed from a single piece of plastic. Moreover, the Forma’s soft-touch plastic begins to look shiny and oily within weeks of use, leaving it looking grubby and old. The Libra’s harder plastic finish should mean it’s a little more resistant to this, although you can see fingerprints on the bezels if you have particularly oily or sweaty skin.

Another reason to recommend the Libra H2O over the Forma are the page turn and power buttons – on the latter they feel too squishy, while there’s a very good click and feedback on the Libra. That said, the buttons on the Kindle Oasis are easily the smoothest and best feeling of the three.

Kobo Libra H20

There's a microUSB port on the side of the thicker bezel for charing the device (Image credit: TechRadar)

There’s a recessed power button round the back of the Libra, and while it’s reasonably easy to locate just by feeling for it, it’s practically impossible to press if you’re using the Libra single-handed. It can also take some getting used to locating it without flipping the device over if you tend to keep rotating the Libra to read in different orientations, as it’s far from where your hand sits – on the opposite side to the grip, in the corner diagonally across from the Kobo branding on the bezel.

The Libra H2O retains its IPX8 waterproofing and can survive a 60-minute dunk in about 2m of water. However, you will not be able to use the touchscreen if the device is submerged, but the physical page-turn buttons still work just fine.

Battery life

The underlying hardware that keeps the Libra H2O ticking consists of a Freescale Solo Lite 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage – which, sadly, can’t be expanded as there’s no microSD card slot on board.

It matches the 1,200mAh battery that’s in the Forma which, we found was capable of powering weeks of constant reading. If you are an avid reader and spend pretty much all day doing just that, then you should be able to get about two weeks’ worth of use between charges. If, however, you’re a more casual reader and spend no more than an hour or two reading per day, you can likely push that to around four to six weeks with display brightness set to about 15%. 

During our test period, we spent about three to four hours each day with the Libra H2O for over a week (with brightness set at 8%) and barely made a dent in the battery indicator on the screen.

Kobo Libra H20

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Reading experience

Like the Forma before it, there’s a gyroscope inside the Libra H2O that’s capable of detecting full 360-degree movement. That means you’ll be able to read in portrait orientation with the page buttons either on the left or right, or in landscape mode with the buttons above or below the display.

Thanks to the latest generation of black-and-white E Ink technology, page turns on the Libra are almost immediate, whether you choose to use the touch interface or the physical buttons, and its smaller and lower-resolution screen make it a bit faster than the Forma in many areas. When you rotate the device, for example, the change in page orientation is a lot quicker than its bigger brother, and using the onscreen keyboard is more responsive and immediate.

The Forma’s physically larger display may not sound like a significant increase over the Libra (8 inches vs 7 inches) but, in the flesh, that difference is quite stark, and arguably makes for a more immersive reading experience on the bigger Forma – and that extra screen real estate means it can fit more words, so you’ll be turning the page a bit less frequently too. But the downside to the Forma’s bigger size is that it’s less portable – the Libra, conversely, is compact enough to fit into a smallish shoulder bag, satchel or handbag, so it’s more friendly for anyone who wants to read on the go. 

Kobo Libra H20

The user interface remains largely unchanged but there are some new features (Image credit: TechRadar)

The Libra’s user interface is simple, with only one or two points of difference from the older models. You can quickly do all the basics, like adjust the font size, look up unfamiliar words, add annotations, and change margin and line spacing. However, the Libra H2O’s new version of the Kobo OS has added a few new features, which have selectively been rolled out to some other Kobo ereaders. 

The new Kobo interface adds an improved ebook navigator that’s accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen or tapping in the middle of the display. The progress bar on the lower part of the navigation overlay makes it easier to scan forwards or backwards through a book and be able to find your place again. It also offers one-touch access to all your annotations, and a search box so you can look up a specific word or phrase through the entire book. You can even pull up a list of chapters from this new menu. 

Move the scrubber and a preview of the pages appears on screen (although you will need to lift your finger off the slider before the preview is displayed), letting you decide if you’ve found the right page instead of taking you directly to it. After moving to another location within a book, there will also be a dot on the slider marking your last page, so you can get back to it easily with a single tap on the dot. We were already partial to Kobo’s UI and these improvements make it a lot more streamlined than the cluttered interface on a Kindle.

Kobo Libra H20

The new ebook navigation scrubber makes it easier to skim through your current read and find your previous place again (Image credit: TechRadar)

Another reason we’re partial to Kobo is because of its support for multiple, open file formats. You can read books in EPUB or PDF format, and there’s support for CBR and CBZ formats for fans of graphic novels and comics. You can even load MOBI, PNG, JPG, GIF, BMP, TIFF and HTML files onto a Kobo device for viewing. Heck, you’ll even be able read plain old TXT files on a Kobo device.

If you happen to be a Pocket user (a website and browser plugin that lets you save articles for reading later), you can sign into your account on your Kobo and all saved articles will automatically be synced to your ereader. Dropbox also has an agreement with Kobo that allows users to wirelessly transfer files from a Dropbox folder to the Kobo device – a much easier way to get free or non-DRM books and documents onto your reader than laboriously plugging in a USB cable. (Ugh, such inconvenience!)

Kobo Libra H20

You can hold the Kobo Libra H2O in any orientation and read (Image credit: TechRadar)

Another major benefit of the Kobo OS is baked-in Overdrive support, which in supported countries can allow you to borrow ebooks from your local library – a very handy money-saving tool.


Despite a plastic finish, the Kobo Libra H2O is a strong all-round ereader, particularly if you’re not keen on Amazon’s more locked-down Kindle ecosystem. What makes it a worthwhile upgrade if you’ve been using a more traditionally shaped ereader (like the Kobo Clara HD, the Auras, or even the Kindle Paperwhite) is its more comfortable and convenient asymmetrical design, with page-turn buttons that are perfect for single-hand use – whether that’s in bed, during your daily commute in a crowded train or bus, or while simultaneously sipping a glass of something naughty in the bathtub. 

And while you can also get that with the Forma or the Kindle Oasis, the Kobo Libra H2O is significantly cheaper than either of those options, while also being notably more responsive than its bigger (and more expensive) sibling. 

If you’re already a heavy user of Amazon’s ebook services like Prime Reading or Kindle Unlimited, then there’s perhaps still a case to be made for picking up the Oasis over the Libra. But for anyone else looking to buy an ereader with an asymmetrical design, Kobo's newest option is a compelling choice.


Amazon Kindle Oasis

Amazon Kindle Oasis

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Amazon's Kindle Oasis has a much more premium feel than either the Kobo Forma or the Libra H2O, thanks to its metal body, but its luxurious reading experience doesn't stop there. There's Audible support on board, so you can listen to audiobooks, and Bluetooth connectivity means you can use a set of wireless headphones to listen. However, it will cost you more than the Libra H2O, support very limited file formats and will keep you locked into Amazon's Kindle ecosystem.

Read our in-depth Amazon Kindle Oasis (2019) review to find out more.