When it comes to reading, many people still prefer print, but e-readers are quickly becoming a device of choice, thanks to their portability, ease of use and multi-function capabilities.
Roughly the size of a paperback book or tablet — and much lighter than a hardcover tome — e-readers can hold hundreds of digital books at once, letting you carry a large library everywhere you go.
While Amazon has cornered the market in recent years with their best-selling Amazon Kindle, they’re not your only option. We looked through the entire e-reader market and found two alternatives with features the Kindle doesn’t have.
What is the Best E-Reader?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best e-reader for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Screen type: Most electronics, from smartphones to TVs, have an LCD screen which reflects light, and makes it hard to read in the sun. E-readers have an e-ink display, which is anti-reflective, and looks surprisingly like paper. The downside is that e-ink displays are only in black and white, which may be a deal breaker if your preferred genre has a lot of charts, graphs, or pictures.
Screen size: You shouldn’t have to strain your eyes to read a book on a digital screen. Our picks all have a six-inch (or larger) display, so the reading experience will be similar to holding a paperback. E-readers let you adjust your book’s text size to your level of comfort, but screen size still counts.
Battery life: E-readers are one of the most energy efficient gadgets because of their single-use purpose and black and white e-ink display. You can easily go weeks without charging one if you read for an hour a day. We made sure the picks on our list had the highest possible battery life, so you aren’t stuck on a cliffhanger in the middle of a flight.
Storage: Digital books take up a surprisingly small amount of space — even the big ones! — so all the e-readers in this guide can hold hundreds of books, and some have expandable storage if you’d like them to hold larger files, like PDFs, photos, or audiobooks.
Supported formats: Most digital books are available in a format called EPUB, but our picks can read a whole lot more. We took this into consideration because you want to use multiple digital book marketplaces to build up your library, or store your own documents.
Screen lighting: Older e-readers didn’t have any source of built-in illumination, which meant you had to rely on a natural or artificial light source to read. That’s not ideal if you’re reading next to a sleeping partner, or are in a crowded area like a plane or train. All of our picks have a lit screen, so you never have to worry about those problems. One thing to consider: an illuminated screen will use more power, so you may have to charge your e-reader more often.
Waterproofing: If you like reading in the bath or on the beach, you’ll want an e-reader that can handle a splash or two. This feature hasn’t become standardized yet, but it’s getting there.
1. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
When it comes to e-readers, Amazon has set the standard with its popular Kindle Paperwhite model. The latest version is thinner, lighter, and and has a six inch, 300 ppi (pixels per inch) glare-free touch screen that makes it feel like you’re reading text off a piece of white paper. The screen is easy on the eyes in natural light (I’ve used a Kindle for years, and can attest to that) and has five backlights, so you can use it in the dark.
The Kindle Paperwhite comes in two storage sizes: 8GB or 32GB, each of which is enough to hold several hundred books. The only reason to get the upgraded storage option is if you plan on connecting headphones to the Kindle Paperwhite over Bluetooth, which lets you listen to audiobooks from Audible. You cannot listen to non-Audible audiobooks or music on this device.
Amazon’s audiobook restrictions are pretty harsh, but the Kindle Paperwhite supports several text and image file types: Kindle Format 8 (AZW3), Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, PMP through conversion. Digital books can be downloaded from Amazon’s Kindle store (The Kindle Paperwhite has WiFi built in), or transferred from your computer if you plug it in.
You can expect to get “weeks” of battery life out of the Kindle Paperwhite, which Amazon defines as: “up to six weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 13. Battery life will vary based on light settings, wireless usage. Audible audiobook streaming over Bluetooth will reduce battery life.”
If you plan on bringing your e-reader poolside, you’re in luck. The latest generation of Kindle Paperwhite has earned an IPX8 waterproof rating, which means it can be immersed in over six feet of water for up to an hour. That’s more than enough to survive a rainstorm, or accidental dip.
Like all Kindles, the Paperwhite can be purchased with or without “special offers,” which is shorthand for advertising. Kindles with special offers will display ads when device is not in use, and on the bottom of its home screen. Ads will not be inserted into books, or pop up while you’re reading.
Note: If you don’t plan on bringing your e-reader near water, the basic Kindle is a good choice. It’s not waterproof, has half the storage, and one fewer backlight, but those are the only differences. It starts at $89.99.
2. Kobo Clara HD
Kobo’s Clara HD 6 is the Kindle Paperwhite’s most direct competitor, and it stacks up really well against Amazon’s hardware.
The Clara HD 6 has a six-inch e-ink display that won’t show glare in the sun. The screen is touch sensitive, so you can “turn” pages with a quick tap or swipe. What sets the Clara HD 6’s display apart is its ComforLight PRO lighting system.
The front-lit display automatically reduces its blue light exposure, which makes it easier on your eyes when reading at night. Some studies have shown that using blue-light emitting screens in a dark room can trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, making it harder to sleep.
Kobo says the Clara HD 6 can get “weeks” of battery life on a single charge, but how much you actually get will depend on your screen brightness preferences, and whether you keep its Wi-Fi antenna on all the time. This e-reader has eight gigabytes of internal storage, which cannot be upgraded. This isn’t a big limitation because the Clara HD 6 doesn’t support audiobooks.
The Clara HD 6 supports the following formats: EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, CBR, which basically means it’s compatible with any digital book. You can also use it to check out digital books from your local library.
One of the Clara HD 6’s only downsides is that it’s not waterproof, so this may not be the best pick if you prefer reading by the pool or beach.
If you’re looking for a fully-featured e-reader that’s especially good for reading books at night, Kobo’s Clara HD 6 is the clear choice.
3. BOOX Nova3
The aptly-named BOOX Nova3 is a deluxe e-reader that takes even more cues from the tablet world.
It has a 7.8-inch, 300ppi display, so text will appear large and crisp. You can change the screen’s color temperature to make it even easier on your eyes, but you’ll need to manually adjust it. Instead of backlighting, the Nova3 has a front lit display. This technology is better at distributing light more evenly, which makes it the best e-reader in this guide for night time readers.
The Nova3’s basic specs cover all the right bases, but what really set it apart is its capacitive (pressure sensitive) touch screen. This type of display is used by drawing tablets, but it’s a game changer on an e-reader. You can use a stylus (BOOX includes one in the box) to fully annotate anything on your screen. You can mark up a photo, underline or circle text in a book, or write notes in the margins.
This display turns the Nova3 into a mini digital notebook; the only downside is that this advanced screen is probably the reason it isn’t waterproof. Here is the full list of file formats this e-reader can open: PDF, EPUB ,TXT, DJVU, HTML, RTF, FB2, DOC, MOBI, CHM, PNG, JPG, BMP, WAV, MP3. That covers most major types of text, image, and audio files. The Nova3 also runs AndroidOS, so you can download apps to work with additional files, or use this e-reader for more than just books.
The tablet-like features of the Nova3 does come with some caveats, though. Using it for more than just reading will put a bigger drain on its battery, and some files (think large PDFs or high resolution images) will fill up its internal storage faster than digital books. The Nova Pro has 32GB of internal storage — the most of any e-reader in our guide — but it can’t be upgraded, so you’ll have to work within that limitation.
Still, if you want an e-reader that can work as a basic tablet and lets you take notes on the device while you read, the Nova Pro is your only option.
3. Nook GlowLight Plus
The Nook GlowLight Plus is one of the most well-known e-readers because it’s designed by Barnes and Noble, the biggest bookstore chain in the United States.
It has a 7.8-inch e-ink display just like Nova3, but doesn’t have its tablet-like features. This is a huge, single-use e-reader, which may appeal to you if you want to see more text on a single page, or prefer to increase the text size.
The Nook GlowLight Plus has a “night mode” which Barnes and Noble says makes it easier to read at night. You can change the color temperature its screen manually, or set it to shift automatically throughout the day. This is similar to the display technology built into Kobo’s Clara HD 6.
Barnes and Noble says the Nook GlowLight Plus gets up to four weeks of battery life if you read for 30 minutes a day, read one page per minute, keep the screen brightness set to 10%, and turn Wi-Fi off. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll probably have to charge the GlowLight Plus once a week, which is less often than a tablet or phone.
The Nook GlowLight Plus supports the following formats: ePub, PDF, Adobe DRM ePub and PDF, JPG, GIF, PNG, and BMP. It can also play audiobooks through a built-in speaker or Bluetooth headphones. It’s slightly disappointing that this e-reader only comes with 8GB of storage because audiobooks and pictures can quickly eat up space. On the upside, the Nook GlowLight Plus is waterproof, which means you can take a big screen to the beach without worrying.
If you want a big screen e-reader that’s waterproof and easy on your eyes, the Nook GlowLight Plus can’t be beat.