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The recent uptick in the popularity of single-use devices like eReaders have meant a lot more variety and choice than ever before, especially from industry leaders like Amazon and Rakuten’s Kobo. But this has also meant they’ve gotten bigger, more powerful, more functional… and pricier. As the gap between fancy tablets and readers continues to narrow, those just wanting a small, capable device to, you know, read books has gotten a lot more complicated.
The truth is, an excellent eReader doesn’t need to be the biggest, the fastest, or even the most capable. And that’s exactly where something like the Kobo Clara 2E comes in.
The Clara 2E is marketed as an update to the Kobo Clara HD, released an eternity ago (in tech terms) back in 2018, but it’s really more a successor to their entry-level Nia. Like last year’s excellent Kobo Libra H20, the Clara 2E makes a few compromises that feel less like compromises and more like triage; what, exactly, does an entry-level eReader need these days to satisfy most users?via YouTube
Design: Attractively Basic
If you’ve seen other eReaders then you’ve seen the Clara 2E; a basic rectangular slab that’s essentially a screen with bezels. It’s incredibly compact at just 4.4″ x 6.2″ x 0.34″ and feather-light at just 6oz. Unlike some of the fancier Kobos there are no page-turning buttons here, or much of anything other than the singular power/standby circle button on the back-right of the device and a USB-C port replacing the traditional micro USB one.
The Clara 2E may be standard looking, but it’s a great looking standard. The front panel housing the display is black matte plastic while the back panel is actually a slightly blue-ish plastic with a new wave-like pattern that aids your grip. It’s a surprisingly attractive color combo. Kobo is really pushing the Clara 2E as their first “eco-conscious” eReader, which is true given that it’s made with reclaimed ocean-bound and regular plastic (there’s a difference, which I’ve learned).
The Screen: Crystal Clear
While most eReaders have been trending towards bigger screens – even Kobos! – the Clara 2E sticks with a more traditional 6” display. Fear not, because it’s received a big upgrade to a better 6” HD E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen with a 1448 x 1072 resolution at 300 PPI. Like most Kobo readers the screen is slightly recessed, not flush with the bezels, which some users say makes the text crisper and easier to read. Opinions on this will vary, but there’s no doubt this screen looks incredible and is a joy to read on.
The Clara 2E has an impressive backlighting array, which evenly covers every area of the screen, and looks great in darker areas. Plus, you can easily adjust the lighting levels by swiping up/down on the left side of the screen. It also includes Kobo’s ComfortLight Pro, i.e. their version of Blue Light filtering, which can be turned on manually or programmed to kick in at certain times. Dark Mode, which looks great, is also here and can be turned on/off in the Reading settings.
The Clara 2E isn’t bleeding-edge tech, but doesn’t need to be. Powered by a 1 GHZ processor with 512MB RAM, it offers WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth (for audiobooks only) connectivity. There’s no external storage options, though the 16GB of internal memory should be more than enough for most of your ebook and audiobook needs. Waterproofing is included thanks to its IPX8 rating, which Kobo hilariously calls “redefining the bath-time read”.
Kobo promises stellar battery life that’s estimated to last for weeks between charges. This is probably true if you’re a light reader, but a few hours of reading daily with the brightness on full, to say nothing of listening to audiobooks via Bluetooth, quickly saps the battery. Keep a charging cable nearby if you can. And speaking of cables! The Clara 2E has been upgraded to USB-C for charging and data transfers, meaning fewer cables to mess with. Huzzah!
Kobo Store and Compatibility
As for what to read, well, you’re spoiled for options. Apart from buying direct from the Kobo storefront you can also subscribe to their sizable Kobo Plus subscription service or connect using OverDrive, which means you can easily download books while supporting your local library without ever setting foot in one (though you definitely should). Import articles using Pocket, too, though the Clara 2E doesn’t support Dropbox integration like some of the newer Kobos do, which seems like an obvious misstep.
As always, Kobo readers enjoy best-in-class compatibility outside the Amazon ecosystem, and that’s the same for the Clara 2E. Practically every digital file format you could ever want is here and ready for all your sideloading needs including EPUB, EPUB3, FlePub, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, and CBR. Like fonts but want more? You can also add fonts, resize fonts, realign fonts, tweak fonts… so many font options!
As always, sideloading your own content is easy, and most compatibility issues can be alleviated with freely available software like Calibre and websites that get it done quickly. Did you know you can use the (still) hidden web browser on the Clara 2E to browse and download free books from the Project Gutenberg website directly? Despite having audiobook support, I couldn’t get non-Kobo audiobooks (MP3, MP4, or other audio formats) to work.
The Kobo Experience: Text and Audiobooks
Using the Kobo Clara 2E is like using most other eReaders, with pretty much every feature you’d want in a device like this, including page forward/back, long-press for quick definitions and Google/Wiki searches, highlight text, note taking, add/subtract bookmarks, chapter jumps and search through your annotations.
The reading experience remains as delightful as ever, especially if you’re just reading text. Performance is fast and mostly responsive for page turns, looking up definitions, zipping through longer books, and more. PDFs, unfortunately, aren’t well suited to this reader, which is a little disappointing but not surprising.
Also not well suited are comics and manga, usual highlights of the Kobo experience. Despite having an amazing display, the Clara 2E’s 6” just aren’t enough to make illustrated works really pop like they should. Yes, you technically can read your favorite black ‘n white media on it, but you probably won’t want to. Opt for a reader with a larger screen, like the Libra 2 or the Sage, if you’re a big comic and manga person.
The Clara 2E offers full support for Kobo audiobooks only, meaning if you want to listen you’ll have to buy from their store or subscribe to their proprietary audiobook service. This means if you’re coming from Amazon’s Audible service you’re out of luck, though Kobo’s version offers a lot to choose from. You’ll need a Bluetooth headset or speaker to listen, but the performance is fast and responsive and quite enjoyable.
Also, I was surprised to find a fun little program, Sketchpad, hidden within the Beta features. It’s a very basic sketch program with almost no features, other than to draw thin lines on the canvas. You can save your masterpiece and look at it in your library, but that’s it. The latency was actually very good, and while I’m not sure how useful this will be (it’s not integrated within the note-taking applications like the Kobo Sage), it’s a nice bonus if you need a quick scratchpad to doodle on.
I’ve seen reviews elsewhere that complain about the Clara 2E’s performance, which is slower than high-end readers, but I found these complaints exaggerated. Yes, it’s not as fast or as zippy as other high-end readers, and there are occasional screen ghosting effects, but none of these issues were deal-breakers.
Kobo vs. Kindle 2022: The Entry-Level Choice
With all its updates the most obvious competitor for the Kobo Clare 2E is Amazon’s refreshed 2022 Kindle Basic, which recently saw similar substantial improvements that’ve made the choice between entry-level eReaders a lot more compelling and – dare I say it – exciting than ever. Exciting? eReaders? Entry-level? You better believe it.
Both the Clara 2E and 2022 Kindle have 6” 300 ppi screens, both offer 16GB memory, both include audiobook support (via Bluetooth), and both now have USB-C ports. And both, if you’re eco-conscious and want to save the Earth while sweating through the latest John Grisham legal thriller, are made of recycled materials.
The 2022 Kindle isn’t waterproofed, meaning the only real differences between the two are which ecosystem you want to play in, as well as how tolerant you are with adding your own books to the library. The Clara 2E offers much better sideloading of your own books, better OverDrive integration,
The Kindle is, well, it’s a Kindle, meaning you’ll have immediate access to the world’s biggest book stores, both text and audio, and it’s not that difficult finding ways around Amazon’s picky sideloading limitations.
The Kindle is cheaper at checkout, though you do have to pay $20 to remove Amazon’s intrusive ads from the lockscreen, slightly negating the $30 price difference. To be fair, you should also consider Barnes & Noble’s refreshed NOOK GlowLight 4e, a fine reader on its own, but missing many features both the Clara 2E and Kindle have. Either way, you can’t go wrong with either the Kobo or Kindle 2022 models.
Conclusion: A Mighty Mini
The Kobo Clara 2E is an entry-level eReader that doesn’t feel or perform like an entry-level eReader, which is great. It’s not the biggest, fastest, most powerful, or offers the most features. It’s not even the cheapest. And yet…the Clara 2E may be my favorite Kobo yet, mostly because it delivers where it counts, both text and audio. Those wanting to mostly consume comics and manga will want a reader with a bigger screen, like the Libra 2, but if you’re just about standard books and want a delightful reading experience, the Clara 2E is a great option.