eWritable > E-INK WRITING TABLET LIST > KOBO LIBRA COLOR INFO & SPECS > Kobo Libra Colour Review

Kobo Libra Colour Review

KOBO LIBRA COLOR
Overall rating

Pros

  • Colour screen
  • Budget-friendly
  • Small and portable
  • Great e-reader
  • Integrations (Google Drive
  • Dropbox
  • Pocket
  • Overdrive)
  • Waterproof
  • Read DRM-protected ebooks (via ADE)
  • Eco-friendly
  • Innovative advanced notebooks
  • Page-turn buttons
  • Backed by a major corporation

Cons

  • Sub-par writing experience
  • Too small for long-form notes
  • Not very versatile
  • Feels 'cheap'
  • Difficult to export highlights/annotations
  • Feels a bit 'clunky'
  • Power button on rear
  • Horrible stylus
  • Stylus requires charging,

Where to buy?

Kobo, Amazon,

A great little colour e-reader but is let down by the writing and note-taking experience.

This is my review of the Kobo Libra Color, following about three weeks of regular use.

Design & Build

Whilst the Libra Color is rather thick (at 8.3mm), I found it effortless to hold for long periods whilst reading. This is in part due to the lightweight plastic chassis, but also because of the way it has been designed, including the textured rear panel and the curl at the right-hand edge, which offers a comfortable placeholder for your thumb.

Kobo have obviously put a lot of effort into the ergonomics of their latest e-reader. However, aesthetically, it does feel a bit cheap compared to other products. This could well be subjective just to me, but Kobo products (in general) do not look or feel all that premium. I can’t pinpoint exactly what makes me feel this way – perhaps it’s the sunken screen that isn’t flush with the bezels, or the hollow-sounding echoes when you tap the rear panel – but I just don’t feel the same admiration from the design of Kobo products that I do with, say, Kindle products.

The thin plastics used for the casing do not enthuse my confidence in its durability either, however, this could be because of past experience – the last Kobo I owned (the Elipsa 2E, which uses the same plastic) broke surprisingly easily and is still the only e-ink tablet I have owned that has sustained anything more than superficial damage.

Of course this is only my own opinion (and Kobo trumps Kindle in other ways – see below). On a practical level, though, the Libra Colour is absolutely fine, it just doesn’t feel particularly sturdy, beautiful or elegant.

The only design element that did genuinely irk me on several occasions is the location of the power button on the rear panel. The sleep cover does have a hole on the back so that you can access the power button, however this only really works when the cover is spread open (as in the picture below). When you fold the front cover backwards (as most everyone will do when using the tablet), you can no longer get to the power button without spreading the cover back out again. Essentially, every time I put the tablet down and it goes into sleep mode, I have to manipulate the cover to get to the power button to wake it up again. This could easily be resolved if the power button was located on one of the edges, or even the front panel.

Recent Kobo products are built with recycled plastics – the sustainability aspect of devices has become a great concern for many consumers (including myself) in recent years and it is both admirable and business-savvy that Kobo are catering to these requests.

Unfortunately, I find it very difficult to differentiate between genuine concern for the environment and what has been dubbed as ‘greenwashing‘ (or the use of misleading sustainability statements to promote public image). I would hope that Kobo is the former, and further evidence that supports sustainability is their new partnership with iFixit, who provide parts and instructions for users to carry out manual repairs on newer Kobo e-readers. They have kits to swap out the front/rear panels, motherboard, battery, and screen.

Overall, discounting the location of the power button, I really like the design of the Kobo Libra Colour. It does not look or feel like a high-end e-reader that you will cherish (it has retro 90s vibes in terms of the build quality) and it doesn’t appear to be particularly robust, but ergonomically, it is very comfortable to hold and use.

Screen

The screen is a 7″ Kaleido 3 (colour) e-ink panel that is sunk a millimeter or two below the bezels.

With Kaleido 3, resolutions and pixel density are different depending on whether you are viewing colours or black-and-white. The monochrome resolution is 1264 x 1680 (300PPI) and colour is 632 x 840 (150PPI).

I won’t go into too much detail about the limitations of rendering colour on a Kaleido 3 screen, other than to say that colours are quite pale and low resolution compared to LCD/LED screens, and the overall screen is darker than a monochrome equivalent.

But, overall, I thought that the colours on the Libra looked great, so I wanted to compare it against other colour e-ink tablets. The pictures below aren’t the greatest quality but they give an idea of what colours look like on different e-ink tablet brands (both with frontlight on and frontlight off). Personally, I feel Kobo has done a really good job with this.

The Libra Colour has a frontlight and a warmlight (to provide a reddish hue for night-time reading) that can be adjusted manually or set to automatically adjust depending on the level of ambient light in your environment.

Internals

Inside the chassis is a 2GHz dual-core processor and 32Gb of storage space (Kobo has not specified how much memory is available). However, this should not be a major concern – Kobo uses a bespoke operating system and therefore has complete control over the software that runs on it – and they would presumably provide enough computational resources to run their own apps sufficiently. I did not experience anything to suggest that the hardware was struggling whilst using it – it appeared to be as snappy as I’d expect when switching between books and notebooks.

It has a 2050mAh battery, which is somewhat on the low side. I was using it for around 3-4 hours per day and it would last a maximum of 6 days before requiring a recharge.

It has Wi-fi (for Internet connectivity) and Bluetooth (for headphones/speakers). There’s also a G-Sensor for auto-orientation of the screen.

The Libra Colour is also completely waterproof (IPX8), which is very uncommon for e-ink tablets. The only other waterproof e-ink tablet brand that I know of is MobiScribe. This is a big selling point for anyone that may be reading/note-taking in environments that have a risk of water damage, such as the beach, swimming pool, bath, or even the sauna.

There’s also another uncommon feature – physical page turn buttons. These are located on the side bezel and provide a tactile and auditory click when you press them to turn a page – it’s also a feature that many users cannot live without.

Sleep Cover

When I bought my Libra Colour, I bought the standard sleep cover, which does not have a place to hold the stylus. I’m pretty sure that this was the only option when I made the order, however, I’ve since come to learn that there is a second sleep cover which holds the stylus via a magnet.

So, whilst I complained about the lack of a suitable stylus location in my unboxing and first impressions, I now have to take it back – it was because I bought the wrong sleep cover.

The sleep cover I bought has a deep yellow colouring (Kobo calls it Butter Yellow) and I must say it looks quite nice. If I’m honest, I prefer black and dark grey because they don’t show up the dirt as much but I must admit that it’s quite pleasing to the eye.

It feels nice to the touch, with a faux leather texture on the outside and a softer faux suede texture inside. There is a plastic tray that the tablet pushes into, which provides a firm and secure grip.

There are grooves on the cover which you can fold to create a stand for the tablet, keeping it at around a 45-degree angle. There were instructions about how it should be folded but it took me a little while to work it out and after doing so, I wasn’t very impressed. It’s a nice angle for viewing texts but if you try to tap the page turn buttons (or even parts of the screen) then the tablet falls over or slides across the desk. So, unless I’m doing something incorrectly, it is not very practical.

There is a magnet within the sleep cover, but this only serves the purpose of the folding stand and to keep the front flap stuck to the back when fully open and folded back – to be clear, it does not hold the front cover in place when it is covering the front of screen, so it can fall open if you turn it upside-down.

Closing the cover causes the tablet to go into battery-saving mode, and opening it wakes it up again.

And, to reiterate my earlier comment, because of the location of the power button on the rear panel, when you have the front cover of the case folded back the button is not easily accessible.

Overall, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the sleep cover.

Stylus/Pen

I’ve said many times before (and I’ll say it again) – I really do not like the Kobo stylus.

For me, it is too light and does not feel comfortable to hold. The cone-shaped nib makes it look like a crayon and the tip is thicker than the stylii of other e-ink tablets, which makes it less precise.

Kobo uses different stylus technology to most other brands, which utilise the industry-standard Wacom EMR. As was pointed out to me recently, they use Microsoft Pen Protocol (MPP) 2.0, which is also used on MS Surface tablets and some other devices (thanks, Drew). One of the great things about Wacom is that the stylus does not need external power. In contrast, the Kobo stylus has to be recharged (via USB-C) periodically. This has irritated me a few times when I’ve been writing in full flow and the stylus runs out of battery. In addition, you need to remember to press the button to turn it on before you start writing.

On the positive side (for some) there is an eraser at the top of the shaft and a button on the shaft itself for instant highlighting (without having to change the tool in the software).

But, personally, I very much dislike the Kobo Stylus (and I also think it’s massively overpriced).

Writing Experience

The tactile writing experience on the Kobo Libra is also comparatively poor, and not just because of the awful stylus.

There is virtually no texture to the screen (or the nib, for that matter), which means that writing is rather slippery and does not have the paper-like quality that makes the writing experience feel authentic and satisfying.

The software also has a quirk whereby after you have written something and taken the stylus of the screen, there is a brief flash as your strokes refresh. I’m not 100% sure why it does this, but it looks as though it is anti-aliasing your most recent strokes. It doesn’t do a full screen refresh because I also experienced a lot of ghosting when using the notebooks, which did not clear after the ‘flash’.

Example of screen flashing after drawing a stroke

In a practical sense, yes you can take notes and write on PDFs with the Kobo Libra Colour, but the actual experience of doing so is nowhere near as pleasant as it is on other e-ink tablets. It feels unnatural and clunky.

Software Overview

As mentioned earlier, the Kobo software is limited to the functionality that Kobo decides to provide in their firmware (there’s no option to install third-party apps). The Kobo software includes:

  • Your library (including integration with the Kobo Store, Pocket, Overdrive, Dropbox and Google Drive)
  • A native e-reading app
  • A native note-taking app
  • A basic web browser

Library

Your library (My Books) is the place where you view and organise your e-books. You can sort, search and filter, as well as organise them into custom Collections.

One of the great advantages that Kobo has over Kindle is that you are able to obtain e-books (and transfer them to your e-reader) through a wide variety of avenues.

Of course, you can buy books from the Kobo Store, but this is only the start.

You can also connect to your Google Drive or Dropbox and download any ebooks you have stored there (although they do have to be located in the automatically-created ‘Rakuten Kobo‘ folder – you can’t browse your whole directory structure).

There’s support for Overdrive, which is a system used by many public libraries for loaning out e-books, and integration with Pocket means that you can save web articles to read on your Kobo later. You can also find and download free PDFs and ePubs using Kobo’s web browser – I’ve downloaded several ePub versions of the Classics from Project Gutenberg directly from my Kobo.

Kobo also supports Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). This is a method of Digital Rights Management (DRM) that stops copyrighted materials being unlawfully shared. Essentially, this means that you can buy books from third-party bookstores and read them on your Kobo (something that Amazon Kindle does not provide).

E-reading app

I really like Kobo’s e-reading app. There’s all the regular options for adjusting fonts and margins and some additional settings for configuring your preferences (e.g. page numbers, dark mode, navigation etc.)

Long-pressing on a word (or selecting it with the stylus using the highlight button) allows you to select it and a dictionary definition will appear. There are also buttons to lookup the word on wikipedia or search the web for it. You can extend the selection to full sentences or paragraphs of text, which can then be highlighted in one of four colours. Unfortunately, these annotations cannot be exported by default (you have to connect to a computer via USB and edit a configuration file), which is a massive problem if you want to view your highlights on your non-Kobo devices.

It is also possible to add sticky notes to your highlights, however these can only be typed (not handwritten with the stylus). You can write directly onto any e-books, but again, exporting your notes can be a pain. Whilst you can happily view handwritten annotations on the Kobo itself, only PDF files will retain your writing (and to export a copy, you have to connect your Kobo to your computer with a USB cable).

One issue I did have with the reading app was that it wouldn’t let me make highlights across multiple pages. If the passage you want to highlight spans two pages, when you drag the highlight to the end of the first page, it doesn’t turn the page so that you can continue highlighting on page 2. A workaround was to change the font-size so that the whole passage I wanted to highlight was on the same page but this is not really an ideal solution. There were also times that I was unable to select words, particularly when they were towards the bottom of a page. As someone who likes to make a lot of highlights, this became very irksome. I did discover a little later that this is only an issue with non-Kobo e-books – any books purchased from the Kobo Store do not have this issue.

Note-taking app

Kobo offers two types of notebooks; Basic and Advanced. I’ll begin with Basic notebooks…

I really do not like Kobo’s Basic notebooks. Not only is the stylus rubbish and the writing experience poor, but the software itself feels quite janky and not-at-all user friendly.

The first thing that irks me is the toolbar (where you select your brush type, eraser or the lasso-select tool). By default, it is minimised, giving you the whole screen as your canvas. But opening it up at the top of the screen also reveals a progress bar (for flicking between pages) at the bottom. Combined, they take up nearly a third of the canvas, often obscuring much of what you have written.

And it minimises again when you want to start writing, which means if you need to frequently change the tool you use, it feels like you’re constantly having to open and close the toolbar.

I’ve experienced an awful lot of ghosting within notebooks. In fact, it is pretty much a regular occurrence whenever I am note-taking. It’s got to the point where I have to manually refresh the page every few minutes.

The toolset (for Basic notebooks) is, indeed, very basic. There’s a choice of 5 brushes/pen types; Ballpoint, Fountain Pen, Calligraphy Pen, Brush, and Highlighter. You can also select between 5 stroke thicknesses, and 10 colours. Next, is the lasso-select tool, which allows you to copy, delete or resize your selection. There’s an eraser tool, undo and redo buttons….and that’s pretty much everything.

ADDENDUM: After writing this review, I found out (quite by accident) that you can straighten the edges of lines and shapes within basic notebooks by holding the stylus on the screen after making the strokes.

In contrast, I really like the idea behind Kobo’s Advanced notebooks.

At first glance, an Advanced notebook appears to be the same as a Basic notebook, although the toolbar is static rather than hidden and does not obscure the canvas.

However, after you’ve written something, you can double-tap it and it will automatically convert your handwriting to text. You then have several gestures you can use for manipulating the text.

You can also add additional ‘blocks‘ to your page (which uses infinite scroll rather than separate pages). These include drawings, diagrams, and maths equations.

Drawings provide a space for you to draw/write however you please. Diagrams provide tools for creating nice-looking charts – double-taps on freehand lines and shapes straighten them out. And, with maths equations, you can write complex mathematical formulae and a double-tap converts it into proper mathematical notation (and even solves it).

Notebooks can then be exported as text, Word Doc, or HTML (with diagrams/drawings as SVG).

In the right circumstances, I feel that Kobo’s Advanced notebooks offer something that could be very useful (and is truly unique). But, still, the experience is let down by the technology used for writing input, which just feels unpleasant.

Web browser

Only a very basic web browser is included in the Kobo software (so you won’t be able to use Google Sheets or anything too complex) but it is fine for simple browsing.

I used it to go to the Project Gutenberg website and download several ebooks, which I could immediately read on my Kobo.

Note: The web browser is a Beta feature.

Company Overview

I have mixed feelings about the Kobo brand.

One of the things that I really like about them is that they offer a more open system for reading e-books than Kindle. I’m not restricted to buying books from the Kobo Store and I can view files in their native format (ePubs have to be converted to another format on Kindle). With Kobo I feel like I have a universal e-book e-reader, rather than an extension of their bookstore. Frankly, I do not feel as though I am locked into their ecosystem.

However, my first experience with a Kobo product was rather unpleasant and this is something that I’m unable to forget in a hurry. The screen broke within a month (through no fault of my own) and Kobo’s customer support team was very unsupportive, and felt very inept at times. There were long waits between email replies and nobody seemed to want to take responsibility or make a decision.

In fairness, I’ve found their support team to be very knowledgeable and helpful in relation to simpler support requests, which makes me believe that they have limited power with regards to returns and replacements, and no internal escalation process. I feel that with hardware issues, they are instructed to fob the customer off and try to prevent returns/refunds. However, when the customer does not accept this, they don’t really know what to do next.

Final Verdict

There are very few 7″ e-ink writing tablets on the market (in fact, the only others that I know of are the Bigme B751C and the MobiScribe Origin), so this is perhaps a niche market – or a sub-niche of the niche that is e-ink tablets.

For me, this screen size is less-than-ideal for note-taking, particularly for the type of long-form notes that I like to write. I often find myself running out of space very quickly, resulting in several pages of notes that would have fitted on a single page with a larger-screened tablet. I also find that I try to write smaller to fit more on the page, which makes my notes look scrunched-up and sometimes illegible.

For these reasons, I feel that any 7″ e-ink tablet is only really suitable for short-form notes, such as todo lists, or jotting down information when speaking to somebody on the telephone – the sort of thing that you might use a post-it for.

As a colour e-reader, I really like the Kobo Libra C a lot. Over the last few weeks, I’ve read several books on it and very much enjoyed the experience. I also liked the ease at which I could transfer e-books and comic books onto the Kobo, either by downloading from the web (via the web browser), dropping them into the folder on my Google Drive, or using the USB-C cable. I also bought a couple of books from the Kobo Store and subscribed to Kobo Unlimited to get access to their vast library. And I used the Pocket app to send long-form web articles to read on my Kobo.

But getting my highlights and notes off the Kobo so that they could be viewed on my phone or computer was not very easy.

It is comfortable to hold and both black-and-white text and colour images look good (within the aforementioned limits of Kaleido 3).

However, the writing experience was considerably vexatious and I wouldn’t want to be writing on it for long periods of time. The stylus is uncomfortable to hold, the screen is too smooth, and the plastic-on-plastic tapping sound every time the stylus touches the screen is grating. All pen strokes are followed by an off-putting flash, far too much ghosting, there is a slight latency between making a mark and it appearing on screen, and the wide point of the nib makes writing feel imprecise and somewhat unnatural.

The Basic note-taking app is very limited in what it can do, and whilst the Advanced notebooks have some nifty unique features, I feel that they would only be useful to a small subset of users.

Overall, I think that if you are considering the Kobo Libra Color for its writing capabilities, then there are far better options on the market. If, however, you are primarily looking for a nice little colour e-reader, with the option to make short, simple notes from time-to-time, then the Kobo Libra Color is a good budget option (particularly if you go for a non-Kobo stylus, such as the Renaisser Raphael 520C).

About the author

Me and my e-ink tablets
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Dan Dutton is passionate about E-ink writing tablets, which bring together the pleasure of writing on paper with the power of digital technology. When he bought his first tablet, he realised that there wasn't a lot of unbiased information available for people that were considering buying an E-ink tablet, and so he built eWritable.