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Kobo Libra Colour reviewed: an eBook reader to grow with

Quick review

Kobo Libra Colour - $359.95
The good
A colour screen makes colour pictures easier to read than on a greyscale eReader
The same books you normally buy and read may have colour already!
Handles EPUB and PDF in colour
Easy to use design
Supports a pen for notes, drawing, etc (optional)
You can highlight passages in colour
Includes support for audiobooks over Bluetooth
IPX8 water resistant
The not-so-good
Colour may be washed out in comparison to a real printed page
Imported EPUBs don't always format properly
Dark mode is still largely inaccessible and doesn't work for most things
Can be slow in drawing mode
Web browser could be improved greatly

Reading is almost always a black and white affair, and that’s what the humble eReader has provided. But what happens when colour comes along? The Kobo Libra Colour makes the case rather successfully.

Black and white. It’s what books are known for. Page by page by page, black text on a white (or beige) page is what most of us see when we read books, and it’s why eBooks have largely been black and white readers for so long.

After all, why add colour if most books can be read in black and white?

The answer is that not every book works well in monochrome only. Some require colour to get a message across.

For that reason, the standard black and white eReader mightn’t cut it, and it may even be the reason why some people have never considered an eBook reader in their life. Tablets with full colour screens might make more sense in these situations, even if their battery life often leaves something to be desired.

But what if an eBook reader with a colour screen did turn up: would it make reading easier for every other type of book that needs more than just black and white to work? And would it offer much the same benefits, such as decent battery life, water resistance, a thin and light design, and most of all, an ability to bring plenty of books with you where ever you go?

Rakuten’s Kobo is giving the category a good go, launching the first colour eBook readers in Australia. With the Libra Colour, the idea is to provide a paper back approach to reading whether you need colour or black and white, or even needing to take a few notes here and there, too.

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What is the Kobo Libra Colour?

As the name suggests, the Kobo Libra Colour is one of the two colour eReaders Kobo is launching in Australia, and the larger of them. There’s the six-inch alliterative Kobo Clara Colour and the seven-inch Kobo Libra Colour, both of which use colour e-ink “Kaleido 3” displays, and both of which also spell “colour” the way we do in Australia and England (though the US release will likely drop that letter).

The screen is the most important part of what makes this eReader special. While not the first colour eReader, it’s the first time Australians will see a colour electronic ink screen in the almost twenty years eBook readers have been found in the country.

Coincidentally, Amazon’s Kindle launched in 2007, which was the year this reviewer first started in the Australian technology journalism sector, so it has been some time and a technology he’s tracked and reviewed almost since inception and release.

Throughout that time, electronic ink tech has largely been stuck in black and white, but given that most books are simply black and white, this hasn’t been a major issue. You don’t need colour for text on the page.

Despite this, colour e-ink has existed, albeit in small numbers, much like experimental concepts for the technology. We saw colour e-ink at CES 2020, and two years later, BMW showed a car decked in e-ink panels at CES 2022. Electronic ink is evolving, it seems.

The latest evolution brings colour to more people, with the Kobo Libra Colour providing colour rendering on an e-ink touchscreen, front-lighting, support for the Kobo Stylus, and IPX8 water resistance, too.

What does it do?

Like all other eReaders, Kobo’s Libra Colour an eBook reader that lets you read books from the Kobo store, from the Kobo Plus service, downloaded ePUB files, and PDFs, too. It also supports the Overdrive service connected to your local library, so you can download loaner books and return them without setting foot in another building.

For an added bonus, there’s support for audiobooks with Bluetooth support, too, allowing you to send the sound to wireless headphones or a speaker. And if you have the Kobo Stylus, you can also draw on the screen, handy if you want to take notes directly on books, or just scribble, scrawl, draw, or write in a personal notebook. If you do the latter, Kobo even supports text translation, making it handy for note-taking, too.

With the exception of the colour screen, much of this is par for the course for Kobo’s range. They all support Overdrive and PDFs, and many support an audiobook playback over Bluetooth. A few models even support the Kobo Stylus, including the recent Kobo Elipsa 2E.

The colour screen is what makes the Kobo Libra different from the range, and even makes it stand out in Australia for eReaders on the whole.

It’s essentially the 2024 equivalent of a black and white TV suddenly being sprung into the modern era and joining colour. Monochrome might be what we’ve been used to, but eReaders can offer as much colour as everything else. Kinda sorta.

Does it do the job?

The reason we say “kinda sorta” is because the imagery doesn’t pop the way it does with an LCD screen, or even one of the other varieties of screen technologies. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of them; you can pick between LCD, Mini-LED, and OLED in tablets available in Australia, but colour e-ink does have one thing going for it the other types miss out on: battery life.

Like its black and white equivalent, colour electronic ink offers a staggering battery life, with the time measured in days to weeks, as opposed to hours.

Throughout the time we’ve been reivewing the Kobo Libra Colour, we’ve not been able to put the 40 days to the test — it hasn’t been with us that long — but we have seen first hand that it will last several days without a charge, and that’s with several hours of reading per day.

Old eBooks with a new look

Kobo Libra Colour reviewed (with a Gordon Ramsay book being read).

One of the important points with this new generation of eReaders (now in colour!) is that the old books you might already have are all ready for the colour screens, largely because they were packaged up in colour and previously displayed on a greyscale screen.

That means if you have a book that normally has a colour cover — which is pretty much every book — that cover is now in colour on the Kobo Libra Colour, as well. It’s the same if you check out a Penguin or Puffin book, because the little bird on the inside cover is now in orange, as opposed to the greyscale it once occupied.

For most books, this sort of thing won’t make a bit of difference whatsoever. But for others, it totally will.

Where colour eBooks really work

Colour eReaders like the Kobo Libra Colour make a lot of sense when reading picture books in colour.

In areas like kids picture books, all of a sudden, the colour pictures have colour on an eReader, which is a staggering jump. It just makes kids books so much more usable on the platform, which have always been black and grey and impossible to see.

It’s a similar situation with full-colour comics and graphic novels, which now are so much easier to read and view.

We’re not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with reading in black and white, either. Ninety percent of titles can be read without colour, and this screen won’t bring a whole lot to the package for readers who don’t need colour. That’s fine. We’ve even previously noted that monochrome eReaders make for great comic readers, too.

But if the books you read need colour to work, such as with kids books, graphic novels, comics, and so on, the colour Kobo makes so much sense.

A comparison between a printed kids book and the same title on the Kobo Libra Colour.
All of a sudden, kids books provide colour pictures on the Kobo colour eReaders. The catch, however, is that the images are a little washed out by comparison.

A personal experience

In this reviewer’s situation, it suddenly made eReaders much more appealing to Ms 6.

Over the past six months, she had been taking on reading with more gusto as it was. Suddenly learning that the books she was reading could show their pictures in full colour changed everything, and a Saturday afternoon led to even more reading. That afternoon, she had an Overdrive account set up to the local library and went full in for reading remotely.

Within minutes, she had borrowed the review Libra Colour, and was sitting in a door frame ingesting anything we could find.

Shortly after, she was reading those digitally borrowed full-colour texts to her little sister, too. Overdrive accounts allow up to ten library books at once, but at the rate she was going, she could digitally return them and go for more.

Asking Ms 6 about the eReader and whether colour made a difference, she told me that black and white would have been fine, but colour helped her to see the covers more clearly. It clearly made a difference in the picture books, which delivered more of the intended visual display than their greyscale counterparts ever could.

More so, she could draw on the eBook reader. She suddenly had a device in reach that appealed to her growing love for reading and drawing. She could even take notes using the Kobo and its stylus. It’s a kid’s dream.

Colour clearly makes a difference. It was working well for her.

Ms 6 reads to Ms 2 using the Kobo Libra Colour.
Ms 6 reads to Ms 2 using the Kobo Libra Colour. There are fun times to be had when the kids are reading to each other.

What does it need?

As an adult, there was less to really be concerned about.

Most of what we read works in black and white only, so the colour screen can feel a bit of a waste. Your book covers do look better in colour, absolutely, but unless you’re regularly reading titles, comics, graphic novels, and picture books, you mightn’t get the most out of what makes the Kobo Libra Colour special.

If anything, it feels as though the Kobo Libra Colour could be made to do something more, like browse the internet. It technically can — Kobo has a beta web browser in the settings — but it is not great. It won’t load modern webpages with their design systems, and feels like a web browser from the early days of mobile internet and WAP.

If you’re old enough to remember what “WAP” means in technology, you know the Kobo web browser isn’t a great experience. Your phone will do better, which could be why Kobo hasn’t even bothered.

But it’s those beta features which could do with more improvements, such as dark mode. It technically exists in the settings, but it’s not effective at inverting the white and black, much as we’ve found in previous Kobo reviews.

There’s also the occasional bug in the system, such as how if you use a notebook for drawing, excess lines or painted sections can cause the thing to slow down near the point of crashing.

You’ll find several colours for you to digitally draw and scribble with, but overuse it, and the system can struggle to keep going. We found if you’re patient and swipe up to bring up the control bar, everything sorts itself out in the end. Eventually, anyway.

One other point: the Kobo Libra can import external EPUBs, but it doesn’t always do a good job with reformatting them for the Kobo screen.

It’s not an issue specific to the colour versions of the Kobo; we tested on one of the monochrome Kobo’s just in case it was the file, as well as running the EPUB on a Mac, and while the latter ran it fine, both eReaders threw the comic we were checking out in a small box.

Just be aware that not every external file will play nicely with the eReader. Many will, but not all.

The back of the Kobo Libra Colour is dotty and features a power button. It is clearly not a book, even if it runs books.

Is it worth your money?

Priced at $359.95 in Australia, the Libra Colour is a solid choice if what you’re looking for is eReading and note-taking with no colour handicap. It means almost anything you load on the eReader will render roughly the way it was meant to, whether it’s colour or black and white.

It’s also less expensive than quite a few other tablets, but obviously isn’t made for the same purposes. The Kobo Libra Colour is for reading, a bit of writing, and that is arguably it. There are no apps or videos, and certainly no social media services. As it is, the web browser is laughable.

That said, it can feel like a better balance of features than even Kobo’s Elipsa 2E, which is a big stylus-friendly eReader, but lacks water resistance and is only available in black and white, and for more money, too. The Libra Colour is practically waterproof and comes with a colour screen for less.

If anything, the Kobo Libra Colour is a good deal simply because it makes other Kobo models seem like less impressive deals. We’re sure they’ll get updated in time, but right now, the value isn’t bad at all.

It also has the iPad in its sights. Less than the cost of the $549 iPad 9th-gen, the $360 Kobo Libra Colour feels like a bargain if all you’re using the iPad for is reading.

You don’t get apps, games, or even something as rudimentary as web browsing, but you can take notes on the thing and read and draw. While that’s not the same use-case, a saving of $200 might be enough for some people to just say “that’s fine”. It even has a better battery life thanks to that eInk technology.

Yay or nay?

A colour eReader is an interesting thing. On the one hand, it’s not going to matter for most readers, particularly those that read standard black and white books with no need for pictures. If you’re just used to reading the pages in between the covers, you won’t care.

But if the books you read need pictures, the Kobo Libra Colour will make sense. And if you want your kids to read and take notes without needing apps aplenty like on an iPad, the Libra Colour will make sense.

Ever since introducing Ms 6 to the Kobo Libra Colour, she prefers the colour eReader. We suspect most kids will be the same. It’s an eBook reader to grow with.

It won’t be for everyone, but given the price isn’t much of a leap from current eReaders, the Kobo Libra Colour feels mostly like a winner. It includes almost everything we’d want in an eBook reader these days with the colour screen that will help titles losing something in black and white only. There are things that could be better, but it’s a great start for sure. Recommended.

Kobo Libra Colour
The good
A colour screen makes colour pictures easier to read than on a greyscale eReader
The same books you normally buy and read may have colour already!
Handles EPUB and PDF in colour
Easy to use design
Supports a pen for notes, drawing, etc (optional)
You can highlight passages in colour
Includes support for audiobooks over Bluetooth
IPX8 water resistant
The not-so-good
Colour may be washed out in comparison to a real printed page
Imported EPUBs don't always format properly
Dark mode is still largely inaccessible and doesn't work for most things
Can be slow in drawing mode
Web browser could be improved greatly
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