Kobo’s new e-readers are a minor version that most can skip (with one exception)

Kobo launched a handful of new e-readers a few weeks ago: color versions of the excellent Libra 2 and Clara, as well as an updated monochrome version of the latter. But after trying them all, I can say that for most users there is no reason to switch.

First, the color editions. I’ve been waiting for color e-paper screens for what seems like half my life, and they have yet to reach the level of vibrancy I’d like to be able to truly enjoy comics and websites on them. That is still the case with Clara Color and Libra Color.

These devices use E Ink’s latest Kaleido 3 display and things have certainly changed a lot from what we saw 10 years ago. But the simple fact is that the color reproduction is still not great. Better than ever…but poor compared to almost anything else.

It’s not clear to me why you would want color on a 6″ device the size of a paperback. I tried reading some comics, but the text is simply too small and the zooming and panning is too clunky. And the colors, although present, fade in all shades. Maybe a children’s book?

Now I want to give credit where credit is due: the screen shows a wide variety of colors: I studied one particular panel that had several different but similar shades of blue (not the one below), and I could discern them on the reader almost as well as on my normal LCD screen. They are certainly desaturated, but they are there.

Moiré and aliasing are less visible in person, but you get the idea.
Image credits: TechCrunch

These criticisms are equally true for the larger Libra Color, the latest in the line of asymmetrical 7-inch devices with page-turn buttons. That extra inch provides as much additional readability as you’d expect, a little, but the screen itself is no different.

You may be thinking: Why not get the colored one to have the option? After all, you can still read normal books. Yes, but…unfortunately, the color layer makes black and white content worse.

I compared the Clara Color and the BW side by side and actually the one year old Clara 2E I had sitting. While they’re all nominally the same resolution, the Color appears to have a sort of light gauze over it, slightly darkening the entire screen and reducing contrast as a result.

This is not something minor that can only be noticed with a microscope. It’s really obvious. Color screens are dimmer and harder to read. I tried and couldn’t capture it in photos, but trust me, it’s definitely a step down.

As such, I simply can’t recommend the color versions of these readers to anyone, unless you have a particular use case where desaturated colors and a slightly degraded reading experience aren’t a big deal.

Now, as for the Clara BW, this is essentially the new default recommendation I’ll give, not because it significantly outperforms my favorite reader, the Clara 2E, but because it offers modest improvements for $10 less.

The new version of this very simple form factor includes a slightly updated display, the Carta 1300 series, which features slightly better contrast and page turning speed. Tested with the 2E, I found it to be noticeably faster when quickly turning pages, but it’s not noticeable in normal use. And in terms of clarity and contrast, they were about equal to my eyes, with a slight advantage for the new device. My favorite feature is that it doesn’t crash when I plug it into my computer half the time, a Clara 2E habit I had stopped fixing.

So you really get what I think is the most practical e-reader on the market for most people, just for $130 instead of $140. No ads, upload your own fonts and documents, built-in library app, plenty of space to play and hack. However, if you have a Clara 2E, or even a Clara HD, I don’t think the upgrade is worth it. Typographic quality has not improved much in recent years.

As before, I recommend getting their faux leather “sleeping case,” which protects your device from the usual wear and tear and folds up into a lovely little stand. I recommend the Cayenne Red color so you never miss it. Trust me, you’ll be glad you spent the $30.

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