If you're looking for an affordable eReader with a few smart touches, then the Kobo Clara HD should be somewhere on your shortlist. While it's not perfect, the razor-sharp screen, long battery life and multitude of customization options make it a very appealing choice.
Excellent 6-inch display
Smooth reading experience
Broad file format support
Only one choice of color
Uses older microUSB port
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In our Kobo Clara HD review, we take a look at why this eReader device is perhaps the best of the entire Kobo range when it comes to value-for-money—and why our expert tester reckons it can more than compete with Amazon's Kindles.
When it comes to the entire Kobo eReader range, the Kobo Clara HD is second most expensive, at $119.99/£109.99. It's up against the entry-level Kobo Nia, which retails for $99.99/£89.99, as well as two more premium models, with bigger screens and physical buttons for page-turning—the Libra H20 ($169.99/£149.99) and the $249.99/£239.99 Kobo Forma. There is also a new, pricier model—the Kobo sage, which sells for $259.99/£249.99.
But there's a reason that the Kobo Clara is one of the best eReaders out there—it pretty much goes head to head against the popular Kindle Paperwhite model (which sells for a similar price), and offers great value-for-money, a brilliant reading experience, and almost all the features you need for an eReader. As you'll find from our Kobo Clara HD review, we believe this eReader more than holds its own against the competition, whether that's from Amazon or anyone else.
Kobo Clara HD review—what is the design like?
It's hard to fault the design of the Kobo Clara HD—it's a compact, well-built, lightweight gadget that's easy to use with one hand or two. It's made of all black plastic, with a nicely textured back, and a 6-inch screen that's easy to read in any lighting (the backlighting controls help with this). You can buy more expensive eReaders with physical buttons at the side for turning pages (like some of the best Kindles), which you may prefer—but most people we reckon would be happy just to tap the sides of the display and save on the extra bulk.
What you don't get with the Kobo Clara HD is any choice of colors—black is the only option. If you want a different shade you need to buy one of the SleepCover covers, which come in red and blue as well as black, and double as stands, too. We wouldn't see the limited color choice as a dealbreaker for this eReader, but if color really is important to you, it's perhaps worth pointing out that the Kindle Paperwhite (see our full Kindle Paperwhite review here) comes in four different shades.
● RRP: $119.99/£109.99
● Storage: 8GB
● Screen size: 6in
● 4G connectivity? No
● Bluetooth? No
● Colorways: Black only
In terms of finish and weight, Kobo has got this just right. It tips the scales at just 166 grams or 5.9 ounces, and that makes it barely noticeable when you're carrying it around, either in your hand or a bag. At the same time, it's a sturdy gadget, which feels solid and more than safe to use on the go where it may endure bumps and scrapes.
There are a couple of downsides to point out though with the Kobo Clara HD's design—it isn't waterproof, so you need to be careful about using it around pools or in the bath, or at the beach, and it uses the older microUSB connector for charging. That last point isn't a huge deal, and a charging cable is included, but with phones, tablets and laptops now mostly using USB-C it means another cable to keep track of.
What features does the Kobo Clara HD offer?
Besides the 6-inch screen, perhaps the most important spec when it comes to the Kobo Clara HD is the amount of storage you get—8GB. Other eReaders, like the Kobo Libra H20, can beat that but as it's enough to allow you to store around 6,000 of the best eBooks, it's not really a concern—unless you're heading off somewhere for a long time with no access to Wi-Fi, the 8GB that the Kobo Clara HD gives you is going to be more than enough space.
For a price, Amazon lets you buy Kindle eReaders with 4G connectivity, which means you can download and sync the best books of 2021 (or any other year) while you're away from a wireless internet connection. Alas, there's no such option on the Clara HD, which might be an issue if you spend a lot of time away from Wi-Fi. But it needn't be a huge problem. You can of course read books offline—it's just that to buy and download new ones, you will need a home, office or hotel Wi-Fi network.
Kobo promises weeks of battery life on the Clara HD, though it's hard to be precise—it depends on what brightness level the screen is set to and how quickly you read, and so how often the pages are refreshing. What we can tell you is that spending a couple of hours reading only knocks the battery percentage down by one or two numbers (we went from 85% to 83%), so that estimate of several weeks seems to be pretty accurate according to our testing.
There's no Bluetooth connectivity on the Clara HD unfortunately, which may be a drawback for some. This means you aren't able to attach headphones and listen to audiobooks—it's a format that this eReader just doesn't support. If you want to be able to listen to any of your best audiobooks, then you'll need to invest in a different brand (some older Kobo models supported audiobooks, but none of the current range that are available to buy now do).
What is the Kobo Clara HD reading experience like?
We can say with confidence that the reading experience on the Kobo Clara HD is a superb one. The text really stands out on the screen, with its 300 pixels-per-inch resolution. It's not quite as good as looking at an actual printed page, but it's getting close, and of course with a digital eReader like this you can adjust the brightness and contrast of the words on screen to suit the environment you're in.
You've got two sliders to use when it comes to controlling the display: brightness and natural light. The second one adjusts the warmth or the temperature of the screen, which means you can switch to a warm glow late at night, and in fact this can be enabled at a specific time in the evening if you prefer. It's one of the stand-out features of the Clara HD, and it means the reading experience is equally pleasurable whether you're on the beach in bright sunshine or in the bath with nothing but candlelight for illumination.
The software that runs on the Kobo Clara HD is impressive too, telling you exactly how far through an eBook you are, how much reading time you've got left, and plenty more besides. If you go to the Activity screen inside your account, you can stats covering how much reading you've done on your eReader, how close you are to getting all the way through your e-book library, and even your average reading speed.
There are over five million titles to choose from on the Kobo Store, so there should be plenty to choose from for all genre preferences—whether you prefer the best historical fiction books, the best thriller books, or the best romance books. And in the ongoing Kindle vs Kobo debate, it's worth noting that Kobo devices actually support more formats than the Amazon Kindles (though Amazon's own proprietary format won't work on the Clara HD). Kobo makes apps for smartphones and tablets too which is incredibly handy, in case you want to pick up your reading on a different device for a while.
Kobo Clara HD review—w&h's overall verdict
For the price you're paying, the Kobo Clara HD leaves a very good impression. The main things we loved about it include:
- The screen and reading experience—these were definite highlights—text is crisp and perfectly legible in all lighting conditions, and as we've mentioned you can adjust the brightness and screen temperature as required. Add in the ability to choose from multiple font types and sizes, plus a variety of justification options, and it's a combination of hardware and software that we really like.
- The design—its design isn't as premium as some other eReaders on the market, but it's a lightweight and well-built device, and one that's comfortable to hold (with one hand or two)
- The value-for-money it offers—at over $100/£100, there's no doubt that the Kobo Clara HD is on the more expensive side. But for what it offers you, we reckon it's one of the best value-for-money eReaders out there, considering other models sell from upwards of $200/£200.
While we think this might a fantastic eReader option for some, it's not quite the perfect device for everyone. The absence of waterproofing, the use of the older microUSB port, the fact that the display isn't flush to the bezels, and the lack of different color options mean some people will want to look elsewhere—though you'll typically have to pay more to get all of those features.
The Kobo Store can't match the Amazon equivalent in terms of sheer breadth, but you should still be able to find just about everything you need—and remember that the Kobo devices are better at handling a variety of different file formats, so if there are comic books and graphic novels you want to read, then these can be easily handled too. Overall, if you do pick up the Kobo Clara HD, we don't think you're going to be disappointed.
David Nield is a freelance tech and science journalist who has been in the industry for over 20 years. He regularly writes about gadgets, the latest technology, and the biggest news in science for publications including Wired, The Guardian, T3, TechRadar, and Woman & Home.
Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.
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