New Kobo E-Readers Fail to Impress with Color Displays

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A few weeks ago, Kobo released a new lineup of e-readers: color versions of the well-regarded Libra 2 and Clara, along with an updated monochrome version of the latter. After testing them, it’s evident that most users won’t find a compelling reason to upgrade.

Starting with the color editions: I’ve long anticipated the arrival of vibrant color e-paper screens that would make reading comics and browsing websites a pleasure. Unfortunately, the Clara Colour and Libra Colour still fall short of those expectations.

These models feature E Ink’s latest Kaleido 3 display, which marks an improvement over displays from a decade ago. However, color reproduction remains subpar. It’s better than previous generations but lags behind most other color displays.

It’s puzzling why anyone would desire color on a 6″ device akin to a paperback novel. I attempted to read some comics, but the text was too small, and the experience of zooming and panning was cumbersome. The colors appeared in every shade but still seemed washed out. Perhaps children’s books would be a better fit?

However, credit where credit is due: The screen displays a broad array of colors. In one particular panel I examined, various shades of blue were distinguishable, almost as well as on my regular LCD screen. Although desaturated, the colors were present.

The moiré and aliasing are less visible in person, but you get the idea.
Image Credits: Truth Voices

These criticisms apply equally to the larger Libra Colour, a 7″ device with asymmetrical design and page-turn buttons. While the extra inch offers slightly better readability, the screen quality remains the same.

You might wonder if opting for the color version would allow versatility for reading different types of content. Unfortunately, the color layer diminishes the quality of black and white content.

When comparing the Clara Colour and BW side by side, and even with the year-old Clara 2E, a noticeable difference emerges. Although all have the same resolution, the Colour screen appears dimmer and with reduced contrast, as if a light gauze covers it.

This isn’t a minor issue perceived only under close inspection; it’s quite apparent. The color screens are dimmer and more difficult to read. I struggled to capture this in photos, but trust me, it’s a noticeable decline in quality.

Therefore, I can’t recommend the color versions to anyone unless you have a specific need for desaturated colors and a slightly degraded reading experience.

Regarding the Clara BW, this becomes my new default recommendation — not because it surpasses my go-to Clara 2E significantly, but due to its modest improvements at a $10 lower price point.

This updated version features a lightly improved screen, the Carta 1300 series, offering slightly better contrast and faster page-turning speeds. While noticeably faster when quickly tapping through pages, it’s not obvious in regular use. The clarity and contrast remain similar, with a slight edge to the new device. It also resolves the common issue of crashing when connected to a computer, a problem I encountered with the Clara 2E.

Thus, you get a highly practical e-reader for most people at $130 instead of $140. No ads, the ability to sideload your own fonts and documents, a built-in library app, and ample room for customization. However, if you already own a Clara 2E or Clara HD, the slight improvements don’t necessarily warrant an upgrade.

As before, I recommend investing in their faux-leather “sleep cover,” which protects your device from scuffs and folds into a handy stand. The Cayenne Red color is particularly advisable as it’s hard to lose. Trust me, the $30 is well spent.

Devin Coldewey
Devin Coldewey
Devin Coldewey is a Seattle-based writer and photographer. He first wrote for TechCrunch in 2007. Devin covers many topics in technology, science, and space. In the past, he has written for MSNBC.com, NBC News, DPReview, and others. He has also appeared on radio, television, and in print.

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