This article is a part of an ongoing series on how to minimize or eliminate Amazon use from our lives. We’re highlighting the best Amazon alternatives for those with ethical, moral, or environmental qualms with the trillion-dollar company.

When Sony debuted the first mainstream handheld e-reader in 2004, it sparked debates about the best way to read a book. Print purists argued that needing to charge a battery to read a book would be annoying, reading from a screen wouldn’t have the same feel as a physical book, and not every book would be available in a digital format.

Of course, over the last two decades, e-reader technology has come a long way (batteries last for weeks now, for example) — and so has the cultural perception of reading a book on a digital device.

E-readers are great because:

  • They make reading more accessible for people who need larger text size or prefer to use a dyslexia-friendly font
  • You can carry more books with you everywhere you go
  • You’ll likely save money in the long run because ebooks tend to be cheaper
  • They help reduce distractions while reading
  • They eliminate the need for all the shipping of physical books
  • No trees are harmed in the making of ebooks — and you eliminate the impacts of the bookbinding process as well
  • Small, independent, and underrepresented authors can reach more readers because they don’t have to compete for shelf space

E-readers don’t have to be the perfect choice for every book-lover — nor do you have to choose a digital book on every occasion. But, for those who see the benefits of owning an e-reader device, the next question becomes: Which e-reader is right for me?

First, why choose Kobo?

Kobo e-reader options
Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

Most of us are very aware of the biggest player in the e-reader game: Amazon’s Kindle. The device launched in 2007 and has sold tens of millions of devices

Amazon got out the gate earlier — but in the years since its launch, a number of companies have developed better e-readers with more features.

Now, with mounting criticisms against Amazon’s ethics and sustainability issues, many readers are seeking to switch to a new brand for their next (or first) e-reader.

Here’s why we like Kobo:

High Quality

Every Kobo device I’ve reviewed has felt sturdy, well-made, and… not cheap. Other e-reader devices can feel very “plastic-y”, but Kobo devices just feel high quality.

Offset Carbon Emissions

I recently found out that Kobo offsets 100% of the carbon emissions associated with shipping their e-readers. (They say this is the equivalent of powering 900+ homes with renewable energy per year.)

They currently do this in partnership with the Coastal First Nations-Great Bear Initiative on the Great Bear Forest Carbon Project. (I love that this initiative distributes carbon credit revenue across several First Nation communities.)

Simple Software

Kobo e-reader interface
Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

From the first unboxing, Kobo devices are easy to use and navigate. While Kobos actually have a lot of features that other e-readers don’t have (like OverDrive, Pocket, and dark mode), the extra tools never get in the way.

OverDrive Integration

Text on Kobo e-reader: Tap the [...] More Icon on the item details page of any title available from your public library for the option to Borrow or Place a hold with OverDrive
Tap the [...] More Icon on the item details page of any title available from your public library for the option to Borrow or Place a hold with OverDrive / Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

One of my favorite things about Kobo devices is that they natively integrate with OverDrive (the parent company of Libby), allowing you to borrow books from your local library directly from your device — for free.

While this is possible on Kindles, you must check out books from your phone and then go through several steps to get them on your device. On Kobo, you can simply search for a book and it’ll show you the option to buy it from the Rakuten store or check it out from your library if it’s available.

I’ll admit that the process is imperfect (and I wish they partnered directly with Libby instead of OverDrive) — but I still like it more than the Kindle experience.

Pocket Integration

Kobo e-reader showing Pocket articles
Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

I’ve been an avid user of Pocket for years. The free app allows you to easily “bookmark” articles and blog posts you want to read later — and then provides a distraction-free page to dive into those articles later.

I use the app every day to save good news articles I’d like to discuss with the Good Good Good team and as a way to stay on top of updates from nonprofits I care about.

Now, instead of reading these articles on the iPhone app (where, admittedly, I often get distracted), I can leave my phone in the other room and dive into these articles on my Kobo device.

Natural Light

One device showing warm light and another device showing cool light
Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

All of the Kobo devices I’ve reviewed so far offer a “natural light” feature, which simply allows you to change the temperature of the screen’s light (which is technically not a backlight, but a “frontlight”). 

This gives you a bright, bold frontlight during the day and a warm, vibey frontlight when you’re winding down to sleep. (They describe the warmer temperature as “orange candlelight,” which I think is very cute.)

You can even turn on the Auto setting and watch it adjust throughout the day — or set a bedtime that’ll automatically switch to the warmest temperature setting.

Reading Stats

I’m a huge data nerd and find it really motivating to have information about my habits. As you read on your Kobo, the device will track how many hours you’ve spent reading, the average number of minutes per session, and the average pages per minute. 

It will also give you Awards for hitting particular milestones, which is also helpful if you’re into that kind of thing. (I, a nerd, am very into that kind of thing.)

E-recycling Program

Hopefully you’ll be reading with your Kobo device for years, but when it’s time to say goodbye, it’s nice to know that Kobo offers a free mail-in recycling option. The brand will turn your device into something new and ensure as much is diverted from landfills as possible. 

Good Good Good's Kobo Review

Review of the Kobo Clara 2E

Kobo Clara 2E
Kobo Clara 2E / Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

Here’s how Kobo describes the Kobo Clara 2E: 

Meet Kobo Clara 2E, a more eco-conscious eReader with big upgrades in a small package. Kobo Clara 2E is our first eReader made with ocean-bound and recycled plastic. Get lost in your latest read on an upgraded 6” HD E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen with Dark Mode and ComfortLight PRO. Read at night without affecting your sleep quality with blue light reduction. Kobo Clara 2E’s 16GB of storage holds your entire library of eBooks and Kobo Audiobooks, and Bluetooth® wireless technology lets you listen whenever you like. Kobo Clara 2E is waterproof and ready to read in the tub or for unexpected spills. Make the better choice with Kobo Clara 2E, a more eco-conscious eReader.

Tech specs:

  • 6” HD E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen
  • 300 PPI, 1448 x 1072 resolution with Dark Mode
  • 16GB storage
  • 1 GHz CPU
  • Battery will generally give you weeks of battery life
  • Charges with USB-C
  • 12 different fonts and over 50 font styles

Our thoughts:

Pros

Made from recycled plastic

My biggest concern with e-readers (and new tech devices in general) is their impact on the environment. Every device we buy has to put together hundreds of small parts from all over the world, create new plastic, and put it all together, and then ship it to you. Plus, at some point, most devices will become obsolete and will have to end up in a landfill (or, hopefully, recycled).

That’s why I was excited to see Kobo release a device made with 85% recycled plastic. 

According to the brand’s website, the device is made with 10% ocean-bound plastic — and over the course of a year, Kobo plans to divert over 200,000 plastic bottles from oceans and over a million CDs and DVDs from landfills.

(As a nice bonus, the packaging it came in was made with FSC-certified recycled paper and printed with soy-based ink. The only plastic in the packaging was the satisfying film sheet I peeled off the screen and the small twist-tie that wrapped the power cord.)

It’s waterproof

While, for most people, the main benefit of this device being waterproof is likely that it’ll be perfect for reading in the bath or while sitting poolside. 

But for me, I’ll embarrassingly admit, I’m excited because this means the device is accident-proof. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve accidentally spilled water on my tray table, nearly flooding a piece of tech — or accidentally used an e-reader as a coaster without realizing it. 

The waterproofing means that this device will last for years and you can use it in way more contexts than you otherwise would be able to.

Supports audiobooks
Kobo Clara 2E with the text: Introducing Audiobooks - Try audiobooks in the Kobo Store and listen to stories with your headphones, car stereo, or speaker equipped with Bluetooth wireless technology
"Introducing Audiobooks - Try audiobooks in the Kobo Store and listen to stories with your headphones, car stereo, or speaker equipped with Bluetooth wireless technology" / Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

I’m a huge fan of audiobooks — and constantly have a narrator reading me a book as I do day-to-day tasks. There’s something really gratifying about having a device completely dedicated to reading (in all its forms) and using that instead of an audiobook app on my phone. 

Connecting my AirPods to the device was easy — and so was switching from playing an audiobook on the Kobo device to playing the same audiobook on the iOS Kobo app.

Cons

Bluetooth range isn’t as long as I’d like
For what it's worth: It was easy to connect my AirPods directly to the Kobo Libra 2 / Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

One day I was listening to an audiobook on my Kobo and got up from the couch to put away dishes in my kitchen. As I left the room, I found my bluetooth headphones began to cut out. (I’ve never had this problem when listening to something on my phone.)

It wasn’t a huge deal; I simply carried my Kobo from the couch to the kitchen counter — but it’s probably good to be aware that the Kobo is meant to be used in close proximity to your headphones. 

(I did some testing and it seems that the general rule is that you need to have a clear line of sight between the device and your headphones. It doesn’t work through walls.)

I’ve had a few frustrating audiobook experiences

While most of my experiences listening to audiobooks on the Kobo Clara 2E have been positive, I’ve had a few occasions where my listening progress doesn’t seem to sync. I’ll return to listen to my audiobook, knowing I should be, for example, five minutes into chapter 12 — but Kobo will start playing from the beginning of the chapter… or worse: the beginning of the book.

While I’m hopeful this is a simple glitch that will be fixed in a future software update, it’s worth mentioning because it’s not a positive listening experience.

Review of Kobo Libra 2

Kobo Libra 2 in white
Kobo Libra 2 / Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

Here’s how Kobo describes the Kobo Libra 2: 

The next-generation Kobo Libra 2 is the embodiment of your reading style. With more storage, a faster E Ink screen, and Bluetooth® wireless technology so you can listen to Kobo Audiobooks*, Kobo Libra 2 is an integral part of your rich reading life. Packed with features and personality — and 32GB of storage for all of your eBooks—Kobo Libra 2 was made to do more. An ergonomic design keeps your reading life on hand—and page turn buttons keep the story going while you sip your coffee, stir your signature pasta sauce, or nurse your newborn — so you can read on and on, no matter what. Personalize your Kobo Libra 2 by choosing between black and white and eye-catching SleepCover colors. We made Kobo Libra 2 with your passion for reading, and your life, in mind. Your eReader, your story.

Tech specs:

  • 7” HD E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen
  • 300 PPI, 1448 x 1072 resolution with Dark Mode
  • 32GB storage
  • 1 GHz CPU
  • Battery will generally give you weeks of battery life
  • Charges with USB-C
  • 12 different fonts and over 50 font styles
  • Available in white or black colors

Kobo e-reader showing Energy saving settings
I've found that both kobo e-readers I've tried have had incredible battery life. I love that they have energy saving settings you can change to optimize battery life further / Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

Our thoughts:

Pros

The screen can rotate
The Libra 2, rotated
Photo by Branden Harvey for Good Good Good

Kobo describes the shape of the Libra 2 as “ergonomic” and I think that’s a good way of looking at it. Sometimes it’s just more comfortable to read in “landscape mode.”

Plus, the screen is a full 7 inches (compared to 6 inches on the Clara 2E) and it just feels nice to have more text on each page.

The buttons are actually really helpful

While the Libra 2 has a touch screen, I actually found it really helpful to be able to flip pages by pressing the page-turn buttons — especially while curled up in bed at night.

Tons of storage

The Libra 2 has 32GB of storage (compared to the Clara 2E’s 16GB). The storage size doesn’t really matter if you just read ebooks, but if you ever use PDFs (with images) or especially audiobooks — this really matters.

It’s waterproof

Same note as above — it’s really nice knowing the Libra 2 is waterproof.

Supports audiobooks

Same note as above — I love being able to listen to audiobooks on the Libra 2.

Cons

Too big for pockets

This is, obviously, the other side of the coin when it comes to screen size. I love reading with this device at home, but I found myself taking it to fewer places because it’s just a bit bulkier.

I know this probably isn’t recommended, but for years I’ve thrown my e-reader in the back pocket of my jeans when I was running out to a coffee shop or commuting on the bus. The Kobo Libra 2 is, unfortunately, too big to do that. Not a huge deal, but worth mentioning.

Bluetooth range isn’t as long as I’d like

Same note as above — it appears that both Kobo devices have roughly the same bluetooth range.

I’ve had a few frustrating audiobook experiences

Same note as above — it appears that both Kobo devices have a similar issue, which might actually be good news because it seems fixable with a future software update.

Conclusion: Kobo Libra 2 vs. Kobo Clara 2E

Kobo Libra 2 (left) and Kobo Clara 2E (right)
Kobo Libra 2 (left) and Kobo Clara 2E (right)

Ultimately, I don’t think you can go wrong with any Kobo e-reader. After extensively reading on several of these devices for weeks, I feel really good about recommending Kobo as a platform to friends (and now: you). 

The software is simple and easy to use, accessing books from the ebook store and my library is super easy, and the adjustability of fonts, brightness, and light temperature make reading feel good.

If you’re already an e-reader user and you’re ready for a new device, Kobo is the way to go. Same goes for new folks about to buy their first e-reader.

For the question of which e-reader to go with, this is where things get trickier. Both devices I reviewed are fantastic — and ultimately, really similar.

I could really boil down the differences like this: The Kobo Libra 2 has a large rotating screen and buttons; the Kobo Clara 2E has a standard screen size, half the storage space, and is made with recycled plastic. The Kobo Libra 2 is roughly $30 more expensive.

In the end, unless you’re actively looking for a larger screen, I would choose the Kobo Clara 2E. It has all the same software, waterproofing, and battery life — but you save money and can feel better about the environmental impact of the device. You may need to delete audiobooks or large files from your device from time to time to make room for new downloads, but that’s not a huge deal.

I’ll also note that Kobo offers two other tablets that I didn’t review for this article: Kobo Sage and Kobo Elipsa. These devices are more expensive, but offer the ability to use a stylus to write on the screen and mark up ebooks. They also both have support for Dropbox — which is helpful if you want to easily transfer documents back and forth between your computer, phone, and e-reader. They would be a good fit if you’re looking to do more than just read ebooks and audiobooks.

Regardless of what you choose, you can feel good about reading on Kobo’s ecosystem.

A few other notable mentions:

  • I definitely recommend checking out Kobo’s Certified Refurbished store. You can buy previously used (but fully refurbished) devices — saving you money and playing a role in creating a circular economy. 
  • If you pick up a Kobo Clara 2E, I highly recommend also picking up a SleepCover. They come in cute colors, turn into a little reading stand, and are made with 97% recycled plastic.