Amazon's Kindle may have become the generic name for all e-book readers, but there's a whole variety of e-readers out there waiting to fill your life with all kinds of literary goodness.
The Aura H20 is one such device, from Kobo, which is hoping this e-reader's waterproof body and high-resolution display will help it do battle against Amazon's behemoth.
The new bathtime-friendly device will be available later this year in the UK, the rest of Europe and North America for £140, €180 and $180, respectively. In Australia, it's been priced at AU$229 but won't be available in February 5 in 2015. It'll initially be exclusive to JB Hi-Fi.
At 129mm wide and 179mm long (5 by 7 inches), the Kobo Aura H2O is marginally larger than the Kindle Paperwhite , but it's still small enough to allow you to slide it into a jacket pocket without risk of ripping the fabric. At 233g (8.2oz), it's a little heavier than the Kindle's 206g as well, but I doubt you'd really notice much difference when it's in your bag.
The main draw of the Aura is its waterproof body. You can submerge it to a depth of 1 metre (3.3 feet) for up to 30 minutes at a time. You're perhaps unlikely to want to read underwater for that length of time -- unless you often find yourself bored on diving trips -- but it's good to know you can read by the pool on holiday, without being in fear of your device being destroyed when your kids inevitably hurl water your way. It'll also be a welcome feature for those of you who like to relax in the bath with a book.
Style-wise, it's about as visually interesting as any e-book reader, which isn't saying much. It's a plain black rectangle, with no physical buttons on the front as all your navigation is done with the touchscreen. It's functional at least and I really don't think an ebook reader really needs to be a showcase of luxurious product design anyway.
The 6.8-inch display uses e-ink technology -- the same as you'll find on e-readers like the Kindle. Unlike regular LCD screens, e-ink isn't backlit, meaning there's no flicker to tire your eyes out. Reading an e-ink screen is much more like reading a printed piece of text than a tablet screen is. It has a 1,430x1,080-pixel resolution, which Kobo reckons is the sharpest display available on an e-reader. I'll have to wait until I see a model up close before commenting on the quality of the screen.
E-ink displays are incredibly efficient as they only use power when they refresh what's on the page. Kobo reckons you can squeeze up to two months of use out of a single charge. That's based on reading for 30 minutes per day, so if you find yourself engrossed in a particularly gripping story for a whole day, don't expect the same sort of battery life. Still, you should easily be able to get through a week's holiday on a single charge.
You can get new titles directly from Kobo's book store which has over 4 million titles on its shelves. It also supports books in ePub, PDF and various other formats so you can download books from other sources to load on. That doesn't include Amazon's Kindle service though -- only Kindle devices can use books from Amazon's shelves. Kobo does have free Android and iPhone apps, so you can check before you buy whether it stocks your favourite authors.
If you only ever catch up on your reading at home or on the bus, a waterproof e-book reader may not seem particularly important. If, however, you fancy a device you can comfortably read by the pool, on the beach or in the bar amongst fruity cocktails without living in fear of an errant splash leaving you bookless, the Kobo Aura H2O is worth checking out.
It'll be shown off at IFA in Germany next week, so we'll have hands-on pics and first impressions for your perusal soon.