Reading on digital devices may be the most popular way to enjoy books, but that doesn’t mean finding the right e-reader is easy. Too many junk tablets with few features are inundating the market, making it tough to choose a device that’s easy on your budget and has the functions you need.
While we’re partial to Amazon’s Kindle Oasis, there are tons of e-reader options for every library size and type. From budget buys to alternatives to Amazon’s uber-popular e-reader, we’ll share the best here.
Best e-book readers at a glance:
- Best overall: Amazon Kindle Oasis (2019)
- Best Kindle alternative: Kobo Libra H2O
- Best cheap Kindle: Kindle Paperwhite (2018)
- Best cheap e-book reader: Kobo Clara HD
Why you should buy this: You already have a library of Kindle e-books, use your e-book reader for audiobooks, or just love the WhisperSync feature.
Who it’s for: The hardcore reader who’s heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem.
Why we picked Amazon’s Kindle Oasis (2019):
Amazon’s latest Kindle Oasis (2019) is a minor revision over the 2017 model. It’s currently the best Kindle available, though it’s also the most expensive. So what makes it such a great device? Featuring a beautiful 7-inch display, a pixel density of 300 pixels per inch, and well-placed navigation buttons, the Kindle Oasis revels in an excellent design.
Amazon claims the Kindle Oasis can last up to six weeks on a single charge, though you’ll likely need to plug it in after a week or two of use (depending on your settings). It’s still more than good enough for most people, and it’s impressive it can go so long given how thin the device is. There are also built-in ambient light sensors, which adapt to your surroundings so that you don’t have to constantly adjust the screen.
e-books are pretty lightweight, so internal storage isn’t generally as important for an e-book reader as it is for a tablet or smartphone. The Kindle Oasis offers 8GB of storage, which is enough for thousands of books, but there’s a 32GB option that may be preferable for those that enjoy listening to audiobooks from Audible via Bluetooth earbuds. It’s possible to get library books on your Kindle, too. Overdrive has a simple interface that lets you send e-books to your Kindle over the internet — no plugging in required. You can also highlight passages from your favorite books and share them on social media, look up the meaning of words, and get context for fictional and non-fictional characters, places, settings, and more through a feature called X-Ray.
As far as new features go, the 2019 Kindle Oasis has a color-adjustable front light. The screen’s color tone can shift to warmer hues at night, making it easier on the eyes and protecting you from blue light. There’s also IPX8 water resistance, which means it’s protected against immersion in up to 6.5 feet of fresh water.
Sadly, it still only accepts select e-book formats — you can read EPUB files, but it requires some manual work. Regardless, it’s our favorite Kindle and the one you should buy if you don’t mind shelling out extra money for this e-book reader.
Read our full Kindle Oasis (2019) review
Why you should buy this: You want a waterproof e-book reader that supports more e-book formats.
Who it’s for: Readers who buy books, use EPUB e-books, borrow e-books from the library, or like to read near water.
Why we picked the Kobo Libra H2O:
If you’re looking for an e-book reader that can access a larger library, then ditch the Kindle and settle down with the Kobo Libra H2O. Kobo’s e-book reader has a sizable 7-inch E Ink display with a 300-pixels-per-inch (PPI) resolution, so your books will always look crisp and natural. Since e-book reader displays cast blue light, which can keep you awake at night, Kobo’s ComfortLight Pro helps to reduce blue-light exposure. When it’s all the way up, the display takes on a warm, yellow hue that minimizes the impact of blue light when you’re reading at night.
The Libra H2O is also fully waterproof, thanks to an IPX8 rating. That means you can read in the bath or at the beach without worrying about your investment. Depending on your reading preferences, you should only need to recharge its battery every few weeks; it may even last as long as a month between charges. The Kobo Libra H2O can handle a large number of e-book formats, so you can download books from Google Play, your public library, or elsewhere. OverDrive library borrowing is built right into the Kobo store, so getting library books on your e-book reader has never been easier. You can add thousands of books to the Libra H2O, too, thanks to an impressive 8GB of storage.
You will still prefer the Kindle Oasis (see the above entry) if you’re deeply embedded in Amazon’s Kindle e-book system or enjoy listening to audiobooks. But if you’re not, the Kobo Libra H2O could be a better e-book reader for you. It’s cheaper, stifles blue light, supports more e-book formats, and has built-in borrowing from your public library.
Read our full Kobo Libra H2O review
Why you should buy this: You have a lot of Kindle e-books, but you want a cheaper Kindle.
Who it’s for: The person who’s looking for an inexpensive e-book reader with all the bells and whistles.
Why we picked the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018):
The Kindle Paperwhite finally got a face-lift in 2018. While it has long been one of our favorite e-book readers, some minor updates to the Kindle Paperwhite make it an even better option for the average reader.
First off, the Kindle Paperwhite offers a beautiful high-resolution display with a 300-pixel-per-inch pixel density — the same as its predecessor. The raised bezel has been replaced with one that is flush with the display. The change makes the new Paperwhite a little more sleek, and ever-so-slightly thinner. This 6-inch e-book reader is light and easy to hold with one hand while reading. There aren’t any page turn buttons, sadly, but if you prefer using the touchscreen instead, you won’t be bothered.
There are also a few new features that make the Paperwhite even more attractive. It has an IPX8 rating, meaning you can use it in the pool or tub without worry. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity, meaning you can pair headphones with the Kindle and listen to your favorite Audible titles. The 2018 Kindle Paperwhite is available in 8GB and 32GB storage configurations. As far as battery life goes, the Paperwhite will last for several weeks on a single charge.
While the Paperwhite’s design may be so familiar that it’s uninspired, it’s still the best Kindle for most people. Keep in mind, there’s a cheaper model you can get — the basic Kindle which was refreshed in 2019. The price difference between it and the Paperwhite is so small, which is why we recommend it’s worth shelling out. You can read more information about in on the right sidebar.
Read our full Kindle Paperwhite review
Why you should buy this: You’re looking for an inexpensive e-book reader with a front-lit HD display and plenty of storage.
Who it’s for: The reader on a budget who enjoys purchasing media in multiple formats.
Why we chose the Kobo Clara HD:
The Kobo Clara HD features a gorgeous 300 PPI screen and 8GB of storage — just like the Kindle Paperwhite. The battery is large enough that you should get around a month of reading from a single charge. It also offers the same innovatively illuminated ComfortLight Pro as the more expensive models in Kobo’s range. This feature uses red and orange LEDs to illuminate the screen without the need for blue light, which can cause trouble sleeping. You’ll only find this feature on the most expensive models in the Kindle range, and it’s a major plus for Kobo’s devices as it does make reading at night feel a little more natural.
Just like the Libra H20, the Kobo Clara HD is compatible with many more formats than Kindle e-book readers, giving you the freedom to purchase your e-books directly from the publisher, as well as dozens of other third-party retailers.
Read our full Kobo Clara HD review
Research and buying tips
- What is a Kindle?
- What is a Nook?
- What is a Kobo?
- What format do e-book readers use?
- What’s the difference between a tablet and an e-book reader?
- How do I get books on an e-book reader?
What is a Kindle?
Kindle is Amazon’s line of e-book readers, and it debuted in 2007. Over the years, Amazon introduced new types of Kindle devices, from the basic Kindle to the Kindle Oasis, which comes with more features, like water resistance and a blue light filter.
Amazon also launched a line of tablets under the Kindle Fire branding — which confused many, as Kindle Fires are not e-book readers, but Android-based tablets. Thankfully, Amazon dropped the “Kindle” part of the name, rebranding the range as the “Fire tablet”, as in the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8.
What is a Nook?
A Nook is an e-book reader from Barnes & Noble, a large U.S. book retailer. Like Amazon, the company also has a line of Nook Tablets that run Android, but the Nook originally launched as an e-book reader with an electronic paper screen.
What is a Kobo?
A Kobo is an e-book reader from Rakuten, a Japanese electronic giant. Unlike Amazon, Rakuten has less skin in the bookstore game, so its easier to put e-books from outside of the Kobo store on your device. As such. Kobo devices are seen as more open than Amazon’s Kindle range.
What format do e-book readers use?
One of the most annoying things about e-books is that there are many file types, and certain e-book readers don’t support certain formats. Here’s a breakdown of which e-book readers support which formats.
HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, EPUB and BMP files are only supported through conversion. Amazon has a free downloadable software called Kindle Previewer, which you can use to upload and convert these files into a readable format on your Kindle. You’ll need to manually plug your Kindle into a computer to transfer them.
What’s the difference between a tablet and an e-book reader?
A tablet is akin to a smartphone, but larger. You’ll get a full-color touchscreen with a high refresh rate. You can play games, watch movies and TV shows, and be productive with them. e-book readers are limited to reading, because the electronic paper display has a low refresh rate. The screens look like paper, making them ideal for reading books, news, or magazines.
How do I get books on an e-book reader?
Whether you have a Kindle from Amazon or a Kobo from Rakuten, most e-book readers have a respective store accessible through the device where you can purchase books and more. You can also buy content on a computer and transfer the file to the e-book reader by physically connecting it with a cable.
How we test
Testing e-book readers is one of the best parts of the job. It’s every bookworm’s dream to get paid to read. Testing is about more than just reading, though. To put an e-book reader through its paces, we test the screen’s brightness in different lighting conditions, we test its toughness in a variety of environments, and if it is waterproof, we dunk it in the tub to see how it handles a spill into a bubble bath.
We go through the process of buying e-books from the provided stores, borrowing e-books from public libraries, and transferring existing e-book files onto the e-book reader itself. We’ve also gone through the pain of converting e-book files to different formats to fully understand just how annoying exclusionary e-book file types are for readers.
But most of all, we read, just like you would at home, so we can tell you what it’s like for a book lover to go digital.
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