From time to time Engadget editors take time out to talk about what they've been buying for themselves, with their own money. This week, Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino gives her take on the Kobo Libra 2 e-reader.
I’ll be honest, the pandemic took a toll on my reading habits. A lot of the time I previously spent reading was now spent doom- and hate-scrolling on my iPhone. I didn’t want to drag that habit into 2022, so I deleted the biggest scroll-hole culprits from my phone (Instagram, Twitter) and decided to upgrade to the Kobo Libra 2 as a gift to myself.
The Libra 2 isn’t my first e-reader – an old Kindle Paperwhite still languishes in my drawer – but I wanted a change that would both get me out of a physical reading slump while also lessening my dependence on the juggernaut that is Amazon’s Kindle store. I came to this decision late last year after pulling out my old 2018 Paperwhite and reading a book on it. The experience was noticeably laggy, taking several minutes to properly sync my books and fetch titles I had borrowed from my local library. It was also apparent to me how annoying the Kindle was to hold. I primarily read with the device in my right hand, and because the Paperwhite’s size bezels are quite thin, that meant I was often accidentally turning the page when my fingers brushed the screen’s edge.
Enter the Libra 2, one of the company’s latest e-readers whose larger chin is home to physical page buttons. I knew I wanted one with this design, and if I had wanted to go the Amazon route, I would have been left with only the Kindle Oasis to consider. On top of the fact that Amazon’s devices support a limited number of file types, I just didn’t want to drop $250 on an e-reader. Kobo, on the other hand, has four devices with this design, with the Libra 2 being the most affordable of that bunch at $180.
The practicality of the larger chin and page-turn buttons can’t be overstated; they’re some of my favorite things about the Libra 2. My hand doesn’t cramp anymore when I read because I can easily switch from one hand to the other depending on if I’m at my desk, curled up on the couch, or peeking an eye out from under the covers in bed. Landscape reading mode has become a favorite, too, and I also like the tactical feel of the page-turn buttons so much that I rarely, if ever, tap the screen to progress in my current read.
The screen on the Libra 2 is also noticeably sharper than that of my old Kindle Paperwhite. It’s a seven-inch E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen with what Kobo calls “ComfortLight Pro,” which just means you can adjust the brightness and color temperature. I keep the temperature adjustment on the “auto” setting so the screen’s lighting becomes less blue and more yellow as the day goes on, making it my most comfortable screen to stare at right before bedtime. Plus, the numerous font, font sizes, line spacing and margin options let me customize text to my liking, making the entire reading experience more comfortable and enjoyable.
The Libra 2 is also waterproof, but it’s one of those features I don’t actually use every day and I’ll only fully appreciate it if the e-reader gets an unexpected dunking in a hotel pool. Same goes for the audiobook feature: I listen to books primarily through Overdrive's Libby app, so I haven’t tested the Libra 2 as an audiobook machine yet. However, the USB-C charging port is something I can appreciate in my day-to-day as it charges the device from nearly zero to full in a couple of hours. So far, the Libra 2 has lived up to its promise of having a weeks-long battery life as I’ve only had to charge it once in the month or so that I’ve had it.
So the Libra 2’s hardware has proven to be just as good in practice as it was on paper. But in addition to hardware, Kobo’s Overdrive and Pocket integrations were two big things that made me seriously consider making the switch from Kindle. Having all of my reading material in one place – specifically a place that’s not my phone – would surely stop me from falling down a scroll hole every night, right?
The answer is yes – mostly. (I still scroll sometimes, I’m but a mere mortal.) Saving articles to Pocket throughout the day is super easy and I can turn to them at night when I have more time to read. But the kicker for me is Overdrive, which I can browse directly on the Libra 2 and borrow titles from my library with just a few taps. I also use the Libby app in conjunction with this – when Libby and my Libra 2 are signed in with the same library card, any e-book I borrow via Libby automatically shows up on my Libra 2 like magic. Holds also show up on the e-reader with the amount of time I have left to wait; once it’s my turn, a cute little “borrow” button pops up, allowing me to get reading almost immediately. While Amazon’s Send-to-Kindle feature is also an easy way to get library books from Libby to a Kindle, I find this direct integration more convenient.
Where this becomes a bit cumbersome is if you have multiple library cards attached to your Overdrive account (which I do). You’ll have to sign out on the e-reader and sign in again with the specific library you’re trying to access. Most people will probably never have to do this, but just be aware if you’re like me and frequently check out multiple libraries’ catalogs with the hopes of getting the shortest wait time possible for your next read.
I try to use my library as much as possible, but it’s also worth noting that buying books on the Libra 2 is also convenient. You can purchase titles directly on the device from the Kobo store and I’ve yet to find a book that I want to purchase that Kobo doesn’t have. I frequently dump titles that none of my libraries have into my Kobo wishlist, and I was surprised to find that it had lesser-known books like This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik along with anticipated upcoming titles like How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix.
If you live in the US, you’ve probably been fed the idea that Amazon’s Kindle book store is the most formidable on the web – and while that may be true, it’s not the only option available. Same goes for Kindles themselves: they may be the most ubiquitous e-readers, but if you’re even remotely interested in loosening the vice-grip Amazon has on your reading life, a Kobo device could do the trick.