While you can read a book with any phone or tablet if you have an app like Apple Books, Kobo, Kindle or Nook installed, a much more enjoyable and far less distracting reading experience awaits with a dedicated e-reader. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, your local bookstore and library are no longer places to linger while reading. But with e-books, any category of book can be accessed with a quick download, whether you're looking for classic literature or the latest guilty pleasure thriller.
Dedicated e-readers don't have social media, email, the internet or other entertainment options to lure you away from your book, and they have great battery life to boot. Unlike tablets and smartphones, which can get washed out in direct sunlight, many e-book readers use E Ink technology and are water-resistant, so they're great for reading by the pool or at the beach without eye strain. Your local library may well offer free e-book downloads for its members, and free e-books abound online.
While many people are still attached to their dead-tree books, e-readers offer a wealth of advantages. You can change the font size, you can search and highlight passages with a touch screen, and you're never out of luck if you don't have a reading light because all of the best e-readers on the market have self-illuminated screens. Here are three of our top e-reader selections, including a couple of Amazon Kindles, which we think is the best digital "ecosystem" for reading, and one highly regarded alternative from Kobo if you prefer to direct your dollars elsewhere.
Best all-around e-book reader
If you're shopping for someone who's looking for the latest Kindle e-reader, this is the Goldilocks in Amazon's line and our current CNET Editors' Choice Award winner in the category. Here are some things we love about the Kindle Paperwhite:
- It's 10% thinner and lighter than the previous version.
- It has a "flush-front" design with a back made of a softer, grippy material instead of hard plastic.
- It's a fully waterproof Kindle, like the high-end Kindle Oasis, and has a plastic screen that Amazon says is shatter- and scratch-resistant.
- It has built-in Bluetooth, so you can download Amazon Audible audiobooks and listen to them with wireless headphones.
While the waterproof Kindle Paperwhite lists for $130, it regularly gets discounted to $90 (and sometimes even $85), which is when you should buy it. It's highly likely Amazon will update the Kindle Paperwhite in 2021, but it's unclear when or how much of an upgrade it will be. For instance, USB-C charging could be added and perhaps the lighting scheme could be updated, but we wouldn't expect any dramatic upgrades.
Best premium e-book reader
Amazon's top-of-the-line E Ink e-reader was slightly updated awhile back — but this Kindle Oasis e-reader device is basically identical to the previous Oasis model except for one key difference: It has a new color-adjustable integrated light that allows you to customize the color tone from cool to warm, depending on whether you're reading during the day or at night. You can also schedule the screen warmth to update automatically with sunrise and sunset — not unlike Night Shift mode on Apple devices.
At $250, the Oasis is expensive for an e-reader. Most people will be happy with the more affordable Paperwhite for their Kindle e-book reading and basic Kindle needs, but if you want the best of the best with an antiglare screen for your reading experience — and don't mind paying a premium for it — the Oasis is arguably the one. The Kobo Forma, which also sells for $250, does have an 8-inch screen, bigger than the Oasis' 7-incher.
Best non-Amazon e-reader
Kobo Libra H20
Rakuten makes a line of Kobo e-readers that are not only powered by the Kobo store but also support 14 file and e-book formats natively (EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ and CBR). In other words, if you get your e-books — or any other digital documents — from any place besides Amazon, this device will probably support them. The Kobo has its own e-book store with thousands of books, and it has built-in support for checking out e-books from local libraries via the OverDrive service. (You can get library books onto Kindles via OverDrive's Libby app, but it's not as smooth a process.)
The Kobo Libra H20, which retails for $170, sits in the middle of the line and, as its name implies, it's fully waterproof. It has a 7-inch HD (1,680-by-1,264-pixel resolution) E Ink display, a built-in light and no ads (you have to pay $20 to remove them from Kindle devices).
Available in black or white, you can use the Kobo Libra in portrait or landscape mode. Other Kobo devices include the entry-level Kobo Nia ($80), Kobo Clara HD ($120) and the flagship Kobo e-reader, the Kobo Forma ($250), which has a larger, 8-inch high-resolution screen.
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