Folks used to think that e-readers would relegate traditional paper books to the scrapyard of the past and destroy the publishing industry as we knew it. But, in the time since the first Kindle e-reader was unveiled in 2007, the dire declarations of what effect the devices might have on our reading habits and on publishers have given way to widespread acceptance from industry wonks and bookworms alike, for one simple reason: E-readers are pretty great.
Lightweight, easily readable in direct sunlight or, on models equipped with a built-in backlight, in the dead of night, an e-reader is an excellent choice for browsing periodicals, documents, comic books, and of course, books. Most are capable of storing thousands of books—and with power-efficient E Ink displays, word aficionados can typically read for weeks at a time before their device’s battery will need to topping off. These are all great features but, as they’re all features that most e-readers share, choosing which device to buy can be daunting. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you find the device that suits your needs. We’ve assembled reviews of the most popular e-readers on the market today—as well as some you might not have heard of that deserve your attention.
The buying advice you’ll find here is the culmination of months of research and hands-on testing, reinforced by years of experience in hardware journalism and a profound love of reading. We hope you’ll enjoy our in-depth reviews, but if you’re just looking for a quick buying advice, you’ll find our top two picks—and a money-is-no-object recommendation below. Prefer to do your own research? Scroll down to the features we think you should look for in an e-reader.
This story was updated November 27 to include PCWorld’s review of the second-generation Kindle Oasis.
The best e-reader for most people: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (3rd generation)
The design of Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite hasn’t changed much since it was first released back in 2012. On the upside, most of the changes have been improvements in resolution. But as the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Now in its third generation, the Paperwhite comes with an easy-to-read high-resolution display; adjustable backlighting, so you can read in most any lighting conditions; enough internal storage to hold thousands of books; and a battery that will keep it going for weeks at a time between charges.
Every Kindle owner can Amazon’s massive online store full of electronic books, magazines, newspapers, and periodicals. That’s something no other e-reader company comes close to competing. Voracious readers can also opt for a subscription to Kindle Unlimited, which provides unlimited monthly access to more than 1.4 million titles. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’ll be able to borrow books from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library or from Amazon Prime Reading. When you buy a Kindle Paperwhite, you’re not just getting a piece of hardware—you’re investing in access to the largest ecosystem of downloadable text content in the world.
Runner-up best e-reader: Kobo Glo HD
While we have some concerns about its build quality, we still feel comfortable recommending Kobo’s Aura Glo HD as a less-expensive alternative to Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. Similarly priced and with similar specifications, the Glo HD provides a reasonably affordable gateway to Kobo’s online offerings, including access to their respectably sized ebook store, the ability to borrow library books through OverDrive, and online content through the use of a Pocket account.
While you won’t enjoy the huge selection of books and periodicals that Amazon’s Kindle Store and Amazon Prime make available to Kindle Paperwhite owners, the wide variety of file types that are supported—and therefore vast amount of content that Glo HD users can read on their device—will leave Kobo buyers satisfied with their purchase.
Best luxury e-reader: Amazon Kindle Oasis 2017
Note: We’ve transitioned our e-reader coverage to PCWorld, starting with this 4.5-star review of the Amazon Kindle Oasis (2017 model). When price is no object, the Kindle Oasis is the e-reader to buy. While it doesn’t have the large display of Kobo’s Aura One, the Oasis provides luxury in the form of choice and brilliant industrial design.
With built in 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, you can download read books and periodicals on the Oasis’ bright, high-resolution display just about anywhere you go. The Oasis is the lightest e-reader we’ve tested so far, yet can still hold enough power to allow you to read for weeks at a time.
Runner-up luxury e-reader: Kobo Aura One
The Kobo Aura One is a big e-reader with a 7.8-inch, 300 ppi display and twice as much storage as any product we reviewed. We weren’t impressed with its backlight, which the manufacturer claims doesn’t emit the type of blue light that can interrupt sleep cycles, and you can’t get 3G connectivity with any of the Kobo products, but the Kobo Aura One left us happy in every other respect.
Features to look for in an e-reader
When we evaluate e-readers, experience has taught us that there are a few features an electronic reading slab should have to be a winner. To make your search for a great e-reader as pain-free as possible, you’ll want to consider the following:
Backlight You can use an e-reader with an adjustable backlight in almost any environment. The light will illuminate the text, but it won’t disturb others around you (including your bed partner). It’s a feature that adds cost to the e-reader, but we think it’s essential to having a good user experience.
Battery life and charging Part of the appeal of an e-ink reading device, especially when compared to a smartphone or tablet, is how little power it takes to display text and images. If you run across an e-reader that provides less than a few weeks of use before it needs to be recharged, keep running. When the time comes to top off your e-reader’s battery, you shouldn’t have to deal with proprietary cables, AC adapters, or charging docks, either. Look for a device that recharges and/or syncs with your computer via micro USB.
Build quality Owning a piece of technology that’s so light and thin you scarcely remember that it’s in your backpack until you pull it out to use it is a win—but only if its svelte profile and heft don’t come at the cost of durability. We’re not saying that your e-reader should be built like a tank, but it should be able to stand up to the casual abuse it’ll suffer by being knocked around in a purse, backpack, the backseat of a car, or if it’s accidentally knocked off your bedside table.
Connectivity An internet connection delivers the most convenient means of downloading new reading material and connecting to online resources such as dictionaries. Most people find Wi-Fi to be good enough, and every e-reader will have a Wi-Fi adapter onboard, but a 3G connection is a luxury you’ll appreciate every time you’re in the car, on the bus, and anywhere else you can’t log into Wi-Fi. Sure, you could create a hotspot on your phone and connect your e-reader to that, but you’ll never have to think about it if your e-reader is equipped with 3G. Yes, you’ll pay more up front for this option—like we said, it’s a luxury—but that includes the ongoing cost of service for the life of the e-reader.
Content The best e-reader is little more than an expensive paperweight if it doesn’t connect you to vast variety of reading material. This can come through a couple of different channels. Most people will top off their device with fresh reading materials from a well-stocked online store, such as the ones offered by Kobo, Amazon, and Apple’s iBook Store (for Apple products only.) Choose an e-reader that supports a wide range of electronic publishing formats and you’ll be able to draw from a nearly endless supply of free publications via public libraries and other sources.
DRM The acronym stands for digital rights management, it’s a technology designed to protect intellectual property—such as digital books—from being copied and shared.
On-device storage An e-reader typically won’t allow you to download files other than reading material—or in some cases, audio content—so you won’t need the expansive storage that you’d want with a digital audio player, a tablet, or even a smartphone. That said, you’ll want to be able to store a ton of books, magazines, and other publications when you don’t have access to the internet. An e-reader with three or four gigabytes of internal storage is capable of holding thousands of novel-length publications. You’ll also find that some devices come with expandable storage, which can come in dead handy if your reading habits include perusing large PDF files or listening to audio books.
User experience A number of factors will impact an e-reader’s user experience. Resolution is the most important—the higher the better, so as to eliminate jagged edges on letters. Variable font size support, so that you can make the text optimal size for your eyesight. An adjustable backlight, so you can dial it in for the room you’re in or let the device automatically find the right balance between optimal brightness and battery life. A user interface that makes it easy to navigate the book, turn pages, buy new books, make annotations, and share passages with friends.
Our e-reader reviews
We’ve pulled together eight e-reader reviews for this story, and we’ll add new products to the list as they become available (and remove models as they reach end of life). A note about the prices of the Amazon e-readers: You can remove Amazon’s ads from a Kindle’s lock screen before or after you order it. It will cost you $20 either way. The 3G option, of course, must be specified when you order the product, it cannot be added after delivery. That adds $70 the price tag.
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