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 You Need to Know Before Buying an E-reader
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right 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.
PROS: Waterproof, supports a lot of text files.
CONS: Only supports Audible audiobooks.
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. Likebook Mars
The Likebook Mars is a slim, super charged e-reader whose technology puts it on the verge of being a tablet.
Most of its impressive technology is in its 7.8-inch e-ink display, whose 300ppi resolution and 24 levels of color temperature makes it incredibly easy on your eyes morning, noon, or night. The screen will automatically adjust its temperature by using sensors to read lighting in the room, but you can change it manually, too.
The Likebook Mars’ big screen size means you’ll be able to fit more text onto it at larger sizes, which is something to consider depending on your eyesight. The added size does mean it’ll be a little more cumbersome to hold and store, though. Like most e-readers, the Likebook Mars has a touch screen, but you can do more with it than turn digital pages. It’s a multitouch display that lets you pinch to zoom in and out if you’d like to see a passage or image in more detail.
An e-reader’s most important feature is its screen, and the Likebook Mars delivers, but it also bests the Kindle by running a version of Android, the same operating system that’s on most of the world’s smartphones. Running Android lets you use the Likebook Mars for far more than just reading books.
You can download over 100 apps from Google’s Play store, including music players, email clients, and web browsers. Likebook doesn’t say which file formats this e-reader supports, but you can probably download an app to let you read, view, or listen to almost anything in your library. To get content onto the device, you can send files wirelessly over Bluetooth or WiFi, or connect it to your computer.
The Likebook Mars comes with 16GB of internal storage, which is decent, but you can upgrade it to 128GB by inserting an SD Card. That’s probably overkill, but it’s nice to have the option.
My one concern with this e-reader is that its battery life isn’t listed. You can expect to use it for a week or more per charge, but that’s only if you stick to reading. Browsing the web or listening to music will run the battery down a lot more quickly, so I wish the company set some expectations. It’s also unfortunate that it’s not waterproof, although that’s to be expected from an e-reader tablet hybrid.
PROS: Android makes it way more capable than most e-readers, advanced screen technology.
CONS: Potentially worse battery life, not waterproof.
3. BOOX Nova Pro
The aptly-named BOOX Nova Pro is a deluxe e-reader that takes even more cues from the tablet world.
Like the Likebook Mars, the Nova Pro 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 Nova Pro 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 Nova Pro’s basic specs cover all the right bases, but what really set it apart is its capacitive 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 on 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 Nova Pro 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 Nova Pro also runs AndroidOS, so you can download apps to work with additional files, or use this e-reader for more than just books.
That tablet-like features of the Nova Pro come with the same list of caveats as the Lifebook Mars. 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.
PROS: Capacitive touch screen lets you mark up books, can interact with lots of different media files.
CONS: Not waterproof, non-upgradable storage hurts on an e-reader with this many features.