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Product Review

Kobo Clara 2E review: slow reader

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I don’t know what to do during thunderstorms. I’m from Southern California, after all, where we’re accustomed to warm, sunny days, even during the winter. So when the first raindrop fell on the Kobo Clara 2E I was reading while in the park, my bewildered self naturally thought a bird peed on my review unit. Only when the rain really started to pour down did it hit me that I was caught in the middle of a storm outside with no jacket or umbrella to protect me or this $129.99 e-reader. Needless to say, I freaked out and ran.

But there was no need to. It turned out the Kobo Clara 2E is better at dealing with rainstorms than this, well, Californian writer. Now back indoors, drenched and frazzled, I nervously clicked the power button hoping I didn’t destroy it. The e-reader powered on and worked like normal, despite spending about twenty minutes outside in a literal storm.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Boasting an IPX8 waterproof rating, Kobo’s $129.99 Clara 2E is its first six-inch waterproof e-reader — and clearly, it does the job well. Yet it’s just one of the many new features Kobo’s latest e-reader offers that further narrows the divide between the Kobo and Amazon’s ubiquitous Kindle. With a high-resolution display, twice the storage of the base Kindle Paperwhite, and Bluetooth support so you can listen to audiobooks, it’s a good Amazon e-reader alternative. I’d also recommend it if the ad-free $169.99 Kindle Paperwhite is too expensive but you’re hesitant to buy the cheaper, similarly specced Kindle because it’s not waterproof.

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Before I even registered that this was a waterproof e-reader, I was impressed by the Kobo Clara’s 2E screen. Given you buy an e-reader mainly to, well, read, a display that makes it easy to do so is an absolute must. Thankfully, the Kobo Clara 2E nailed this fundamental e-reader. It uses the same sharp 300 PPI display found on Amazon’s latest Kindles so text shows up crisp and clear, but with a few extra customization features for a more comfortable and accessibility-friendly reading experience. Kobo, for example, offers more flexibility with sliders you can use to adjust the font weight, margins, and line spaces exactly to your liking, which is helpful for those of us who don glasses. The Kindle Paperwhite lets you adjust these things too, but you have to choose from a collection of preset options. Plus, the Kobo also comes with slightly more font and font style options, even one that’s catered to those with dyslexia.

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The front of the Kobo Clara 2E. Kobo offers sliders you can use to adjust the font weight, margins, and line spaces exactly to your liking.
Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge

Like the Kindle Paperwhite, the display also automatically adjusts its brightness and tone based on the time of day. Combined with tech that reduces blue light exposure and a dark mode option, reading at night and in low-light conditions didn’t give me any headaches or eye fatigue. And if you find yourself reading under the sun, you should be able to without an issue as the display does a good job of significantly reducing glare.

Yet the screen comes with two weaknesses. First, the Kindle Paperwhite comes with a flush screen, meaning there’s no gap between the display and the side of the e-reader. Unfortunately, the Clara 2E’s sunken display means there is a gap where it can collect some dust and dirt. The second flaw is more a matter of personal preference. As a standard six-inch display, it’s smaller than the Kindle Paperwhite’s, which is 6.8 inches. That could make it a little harder to read for some, but it also means it’s a little more pocketable and can be held with one hand, which I can’t comfortably do for long stretches with the Kindle Paperwhite.

Speaking of what it’s like to hold the Clara 2E, a unique wavy pattern on the back of the device helps with grip and makes it easier for me to carry it. Just be careful not to accidentally press the power button, which is located on the back. Otherwise, the e-reader feels like any other plastic e-reader. However, there’s one big difference: according to Kobo, the “eco-friendly” Clara 2E stands out because it’s made from 85 percent recycled plastic, with ocean-bound plastic accounting for ten percent. It’s likely this is why Kobo included a wavy pattern and made the back navy-colored in contrast to the black front. That’s a little more recycled material than used in Amazon’s e-readers; the Kindle uses 30-75% recycled plastics, while the Kindle Paperwhite is made from 60 percent recycled plastics.

A hand holding up the Kobo Clara 2E turned around so the side where the USB-C port is is on display.

The Kobo Clara 2E comes with USB-C support.

According to Kobo, battery life should last weeks, although that depends on how bright you like the display to be. With the screen brightness turned on at 50 percent and Wi-Fi enabled, it lasted for about two-and-a-half weeks before I needed to juice it back up, but I mostly read at night for an hour or two. You could comfortably read with 30 percent brightness, especially if you mostly read during the day and turn the Wi-Fi off occasionally, so the battery could last up to four weeks for others. That’s not the Kindle Paperwhite’s “months-long” battery life nor the six weeks battery life the standard Kindle offers, though. Thankfully, the Kobo Clara 2E charges pretty quickly, thanks to USB-C support. Using a slow five-watt USB power adapter, I was still able to charge the e-reader from 50 to 100 percent in about two hours which is on par with the Kindle.

Except for one major drawback, which I’ll shortly explain, reading on the e-reader is generally an enjoyable experience. From the start, I appreciated there are no annoying ads on the lockscreen, which you have to pay extra to remove on Amazon’s e-readers. I also liked that the main homescreen was less cluttered with recommendations and other books than Amazon’s, which made it feel less overwhelming. Plus, there are even some nice new experimental features you can play with, like a sketchpad you can take notes with or draw on either with your finger or a stylus (sold separately) and a Large Print mode that enlarges text all over the Kobo.

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The e-reader comes with fun new experimental features like a sketchpad.
Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge

Yet my excitement over these things quickly started to fade when I actually started to navigate the menu. The Kobo Clara 2E is noticeably slow compared to both the Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite. As a result, navigation and turning pages by tapping on the touchscreen sometimes required me to wait a second or two. This was something that got on my nerves at times — especially while typing in my Wi-Fi credentials. While not a total dealbreaker given the other praiseworthy features this e-reader boasts, it was definitely a disappointment.

Performance issues aside, though, I was happy with the wide range of content you can access, especially outside of the Kobo ecosystem. You can easily access ebooks from your public library of choice thanks to OverDrive support. There’s even a tab on the homescreen for quick access. In addition, you can quickly sideload ebooks, comic books, and other kinds of documents in 15 file formats by using a cable and a computer. Plus, thanks to its unique Pocket integration, you can even read articles you find online on your e-reader by saving them to the app’s account — a feature that requires a bit more legwork on the Kindle and doesn’t work as well. However, there’s no support for AZW files, so you won’t be able to read Kindle books on the e-reader. That could be a drawback if you’re already embedded in Amazon’s ecosystem.

If you do want to buy from Kobo, its online store also hosts millions of books, so you’ll be able to buy the latest bestseller easily from your homescreen. I also liked that, like Amazon, Kobo often discounts its ebooks and has a new, cost-effective ebook subscription service, the Kobo Plus, which is like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. After the free first month, you’ll have to pay $9.99 a month for access to over a million ebooks. You can also get over 100,000 audiobooks for $12.99 per month. The library is admittedly pretty limited in comparison to Kindle’s. However, you can download an unlimited number of ebooks at a time, which is not something Kindle Unlimited allows.

Speaking of audiobooks, unlike its predecessor, the Clara HD, the Clara 2E also now supports Bluetooth. As a result, you can listen to dozens of audiobooks stored on the 16GB of storage, which is twice what the Kindle Paperwhite starts at. Unfortunately, however, you can only listen to audiobooks purchased from Kobo as you can’t sideload them.

A hand holding up the Kobo Clara 2E.  Its screen is on and open to a page in an ebook.

The Kobo Clara 2E’s screen when it’s sunny.

The Kobo Clara 2E is a good e-reader, yet would I recommend it over other e-readers like Amazon’s? It depends. At $129.99, the Kobo Clara 2E is $40 cheaper than the same specced Kindle Paperwhite with no ads and 16GB of storage. Yet I wouldn’t choose the Clara 2E over the Kindle if you’re simply looking for a cheaper alternative. After all, for $119.99, you can purchase an ad-free base Kindle that shares much of what I love about the Kobo Clara 2E, like a high-resolution display, but it’s a lot faster. You’ll just have to be comfortable with the fact it’s an Amazon e-reader that’s not waterproof.

However, if you’re mainly looking for a waterproof e-reader that’s cheaper than the Kindle Paperwhite, or an Amazon alternative, then the Clara 2E is a solid alternative. It does a good job at nailing the fundamentals, but it’s more pocketable, customizable, and doesn’t come tethered to Amazon’s ecosystem.

Agree to Continue: Kobo Clara 2E

Like many e-readers, Kobo’s Clara 2E requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

When you first use your Kobo Clara 2E, you’ll be asked to connect your device either to Walmart eBooks by Rakuten Kobo, with third-party apps like Facebook, Google, and Apple, or by creating a Kobo account. Once you do that, you must give permission for Kobo to access whatever account you choose. For example, if you connect your e-reader to Google, you’ll have to agree to let Kobo and Google use your information in accordance with their respective privacy policies. By the act of using the e-reader, you also agree to Kobo’s terms and conditions. You do not have to connect and thus submit your debit / credit card information or other billing details to use the device.

In total, there are two mandatory agreements to get started using the Kobo Clara 2E.

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