Amazon’s Kindle line has become synonymous with the latest must-have ereaders. But Kobo, a subsidiary of Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, has been quietly making updates to its most popular models, and in late October 2021, announced the release of two new models of ereader; the Kobo libra 2, and the Kobo sage.
The Kobo libra 2 is the direct successor to their popular Kobo libra H2O model, released back in 2019. While many design elements have remained the same, some significant updates bring the Kobo in line with the latest Amazon models, including a few surprises along the way that certainly push the Kobo libra 2 into the top spot.
One change Kobo has made is the introduction of their Kobo+ service. Like Amazon Unlimited, Kobo+ allows users to download as many books as they like for a small monthly fee. However, there is a small snag. This isn’t available in the UK at the moment; in fact, it’s only available in Canada, Netherlands and Belgium.
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When discussing the new launch, Michael Tamblyn, CEO of Rakuten Kobo, said, “We’re continuously working with book lovers to make our offerings – from ereaders, ebooks and audiobooks, to our Rakuten Kobo app — as strong as possible to improve the reading lives of our valued customers” – so we hope that this might change in the future.
We recently reviewed the Kobo libra H2O and found it an excellent ereader that could hold its own against the Amazon Kindle. But is the libra 2 new and improved enough, or should you just stick with the previous edition?
How we tested
We tested the Kobo libra 2 by using it as our main ereader. We looked at how well it performed in different light situations and how well the battery lasted. We also tested out how easy it was to handle whilst in use, using it for at least one hour per day to accurately measure its performance.
Kobo libra 2: £159.99, Kobobooks.com
Display: 7in HD
Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Dimensions: 144.6mm x 161.6mm x 9mm
Water-resistant: Yes, up to 2 meters
Battery: At least six weeks
Pros: Audiobook support, USB C charging, water-resistant
Cons: No access to Kobo+, slightly bigger than the H2O
The Kobo libra 2 has a faster e-ink screen, more storage and built-in Bluetooth technology. It comes in a choice of black or white and is being sold alongside a range of SleepCovers (£34.99, Kobobooks.com), giving you more colour options for your Kobo ereader, including red, rose and grey.
Price and content
The Kobo libra 2 retails at £159.99, just £10.99 more than the previous version, the Kobo libra H2O. The launch comes hot on the heels of the new Amazon Kindle paperwhite which offers 8GB storage and a 6.8in screen, and sells at £129.99.
When it comes to finding content for your ereader, then you’re spoilt for choice. The Kobo store has around 600,000 ebooks on offer, and the libra 2 supports over 15 file-formats, including epub, epub3, pdf, mobi, jpeg and png.
Kobo is also the first ereader company that offers built-in support for libraries – using its Overdrive software lets you borrow books from your local library, so long as you’re a member. Setting this service up is very easy – you just head to the settings, find your local library and then enter the details from your library card. The process of borrowing a book is just as straightforward too – simply find something you want to read, and it will tell you how long you’re allowed to borrow it for. Once that time is up, it’ll disappear from your borrowed items.
You can also get access to web articles, thanks to the partnership between Kobo and Pocket. Again the process is so simple – add the pocket extension to your web browser, and if there’s an article you want to read but don’t have time, save it, and it will automatically push the article through to your reader for you to read at your leisure.
However, as we mentioned earlier, we are really disappointed that we can’t access the Kobo+ subscription in the UK. The Kobo+ subscription service works very much like Amazon Unlimited, where you have a huge choice of books and audiobooks that can be downloaded with no extra charge, so it does feel like a shame not to have this option.
Screen and design
The Kobo libra 2 uses the latest generation touchscreen, a 7in HD E ink carta 1200 at 300ppi resolution. The screen is superb with crisp resolution. Navigation is also a dream – whether you tap, swipe or use the side buttons, the screen is very quick and responsive.
It also gives you an option to personalise how your book is displayed – you can choose the font, line spacing, margins and size of the text. The font options on the Kobo libra 2 are also very good, with more than 12 different fonts and 50 font styles. Unlike most ereaders, it doesn’t just offer you a bunch of A’s to find your ideal font size. Instead, it gives you a slider bar and shows you two preview windows with a before and after so you don’t get too carried away by your changes.
The home screen is laid out in a familiar fashion and follows the previous models’ footsteps. You have all the options you need in one space, so you’ll be able to see the percentage read, recommended books, my books and related reads. The top navigation bar also offers you access to the settings, brightness and battery level.
The design is pretty similar to the previous model, although unusually, the libra 2 is slightly larger and heavier. But believe us when we say the difference is negligible – in fact, there’s just 23g between them. We even had to do a double-take at the official stats as the libra 2 feels smaller and lighter than the H2O. The back of the device has a woven pattern for a more comfortable grip, and that’s also where you’ll find the power button, which is in a recess so you won’t accidentally turn it off mid reading session.
It still has one large bezel which hosts the page turn buttons. The libra 2 has a slight lip next to the buttons, which keeps your thumb comfortable when used in landscape mode. The gyroscope technology is still there, which allows you to view this ereader in either a landscape or portrait mode, and it does have an automatic function. We really loved using this ereader in landscape mode, as it gave much better margins and offered an overall better reading experience.
The buttons are also very responsive, soft and easy to use. One handy feature we stumbled across is fast nav which makes whizzing through your book much easier. Just press and hold the navigation button, and it will quickly flip through the pages without any screen refresh. The buttons are also really well placed, they’re easy to press when using one-handed and because of the auto-turning function, they suit left-handed users too.
This model has very good lighting, which covers the whole screen with no dimming in the corners, and deploys ComfortLight pro throughout the day to make reading a more comfortable experience – this is based on the time of day, not the lighting in the room you’re in. It’s a great feature that has been designed to reduce the amount of blue light exposure, and we really found a difference when reading at night. You can, of course, still manually adjust the amount of light your ereader gives out by visiting the settings.
Software and features
The Kobo libra 2 has a 1GHz processor with 512MB of RAM and 32GB of storage. One of the major updates for this model is that it now supports audiobooks. There are no built-in speakers – instead, you listen by connecting to your own Bluetooth speakers or headphones. It instantly connected with our Bluetooth headphones and sounded fantastic. There is no audio hardware included on this device, so it’s only going to be as good as the quality of the Bluetooth device you’re using.
Another interesting feature that we stumbled upon is that you can access the web using this device. Of course, it’s meant to read books, so you’re not going to want to use this often, but if you head into your settings and click beta features, you can open a web browser – handy if you want to quickly look something up but don’t want to reach for your phone or laptop. Finding out word definitions and making notes is also very straightforward – just long-press on the word of your choice to be taken to that menu. We found typing is quick and super responsive with no lag too.
As with its predecessor, the Kobo libra 2 is waterproof and can withstand being plunged into two meters of water for 60 minutes. It has an IPX8 waterproof rating, so it’s the perfect companion for taking to the beach, or if you want to read in the bath. The touchscreen won’t work whilst it’s underwater, but you will still be able to operate the ereader by using the buttons.
Another huge surprise with this latest Kobo is that it has ditched the micro USB charging point instead of opting for USB-C. This is great news if your other devices also use a USB-C charging system, as you can use the same cable for them all.
The libra 2 comes with a 1,500 mAH battery, and Kobo claims it will offer users weeks of battery life. Of course, how it’s used makes all the difference to how long the battery will last. We found the battery to be superb, even using it an hour a day to read on full brightness settings barely made a dent. When using it to listen to audiobooks, the battery took a little more of a hit, draining around 10 per cent for each hour of audio we listened to.
The verdict: Kobo libra 2
The Kobo libra 2 is everything that we want in an ereader. It’s light, it’s compact, and it offers an extremely comfortable read. The introduction of audiobook support makes this a serious competitor for the Kindle paperwhite (£129.99, Amazon.co.uk).
It goes without saying that we’d love access to the Kobo subscription service, but that is made slightly better by the inclusion of Overdrive and Pocket. The Kobo ebook store is no letdown either. Whilst it doesn’t have anywhere as many ebooks as Amazon, it certainly isn’t lacking in the top titles.
If you already own a Kobo H2O, then it’s unlikely you’ll want to upgrade unless you’re really into audiobooks. But if you have an older style Kobo or even, dare we say it a Kindle paperwhite, then the libra 2 is certainly an ebook that we’d recommend upgrading to.
Kobo libra 2
Buy now £159.99, Kobobooks.com
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We also tried the Kindle paperwhite 10th gen – here’s our full review of the budget-friendly ereader