Kobo Clara HD

When my Kindle 3 died last year (stuck in a boot loop probably due to a failed battery), I wanted to replace it with something that worked better with books borrowed from the Singapore National Library. While the Kindle served me well for nearly eight years, it definitely was a pain to use outside of the Amazon ecosystem.

My research revealed that the Kobo family of readers claim to work well with various public libraries, thanks to built-in Overdrive integration. Things may have changed now but when I was mulling a purchase back in October 2019, there wasn’t any online chatter that the Kobo devices worked well with Singapore’s National Library, nor were they sold by a local retailer. Nevertheless, I took the plunge and ordered the Clara HD from Amazon US.

The Kobo Clara HD has definitely delivered on the promise.

When it arrived, setting it up was a breeze. It took only 15 minutes from powering it up for the first time to borrowing a book from the library!

It’s been more than an year since that initial unboxing experience and I’ve now read several books on it, both side-loaded and borrowed from the National Library. The books have run the gamut from non-fiction to novels and even several dozen children’s books.

Ergonomics wise, I don’t know what the current generation Kindles feel like but the Clara’s higher dpi display and backlight alone have been a big upgrade over the ancient Kindle 3. The Kindle’s keyboard provided a good grab area but I’ve now become used to holding the Clara HD by the bezels.

The ability to control screen brightness as well as screen color makes it easy to create the perfect paper-like reading experience in any lighting condition.

The one surprise is that typography is still not quite at the quality level you see in a well typeset print book. I haven’t found any support for ligatures and the kerning seems so-so. The saving grace is that I can side-load fonts to my liking. In fact, there’s more hacks floating around for the Kobo beyond font side-loading but I’ve not found a need for any of them yet.

While it is possible to borrow books straight from the device, it’s a sub-par experience. The on-device search doesn’t actually search the library. What it does is it searches the Kobo book store and then for each result, shows you if the same book is available for borrowing from the configured Overdrive library. There are plenty of books which are available in the library but not on the Kobo store but they don’t show up in the on-device search.

Thankfully, I only use the well designed Libby app on my phone or iPad to browse, search and borrow books. Once borrowed, they show up seamlessly on the device. While this works wonderfully well for regular books and even picture books for my kids, I’ve not been able to sync magazines like the Economist to the Clara. I can only read them on the Libby app on the phone or the iPad. I hope this is something Kobo/Overdrive can fix in the future.

The Kobo Clara HD is also integrated with the Pocket service. So I use that to read long form web content that sync down as Article on the device. Here again, it’s a bit of a hit and miss. Only web pages that the Pocket service can convert to their article view sync to the Kobo. I can also read PDFs on it in a pinch but since most PDF content is either A4 or Letter sized, there’s a fair amount of zooming and panning to do on the Clara’s 6” screen.

Overall, I’m very happy that I bought the Clara HD. My daughters and I have enjoyed reading on it for the past year and hope to continue doing so for several more years!