We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
For many of us, our favorite way to relax is to curl up with a good book. It's not always easy to find the time for it, but it can be a gratifying way to end your day.
An e-reader can help you fit in that reading time. These are electronic devices that display a book's content, allowing you to read from the device.
Is an e-reader right for you? If so, which one should you buy? The Kindle may be the most widely known e-reader model, but it’s not your only choice.
To help you make your decision, the BestReviews team studied the e-reader market and scrutinized owner feedback to figure out which models are the best. We never accept free samples from manufacturers. Our goal is to be your bias-free, trustworthy source for honest product reviews and recommendations.
If you’re ready to buy a new e-reader, please see the matrix above for our top five choices.
If you’d like to learn more about e-readers — how they work, how much they cost, how you could benefit from owning one — please continue reading this shopping guide.
Before we start discussing e-readers themselves, we need to discuss e-books. Put simply, these are electronic versions of books. They come in several formats, including the following.
This is the original proprietary format for Kindles.
Also known as “Kindle Format 8,” it’s the format used by Kindles since 2011.
Rafe Needleman has been testing and writing about technology products for over 20 years. He has evaluated hundreds of products as editor of CNET and reviews/editorial director of Yahoo Tech.
Intended to be an industry-wide standard, it has two versions: ePub2 and ePub3.
Also known as “ePib,” this format is only used for children’s e-books on the Barnes & Noble NOOK platform.
This is the proprietary format used by Apple for non-fiction works such as textbooks and cookbooks.
This is Adobe’s document format. It has multiple uses but can be hard to read on smaller screens.
There is a monthly subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, available for a small fee every month, but some say it doesn't include many books that you would be likely to read.
E-books can be purchased in a variety of different places. You can find them at online stores that sell e-readers such as Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. You can also purchase them from other websites and borrow them from some libraries.
Additionally, you can obtain e-books for free that are in the public domain. And there are also several newspapers and magazines that can be read on e-readers as well.
Some e-readers allow you to take notes and highlight sections in textbooks you add to it. Most modern e-readers include a built-in dictionary so you never have to guess at the meaning of a word again.
If you’re like most people, you want your e-reader to function like a real book. It should be easy to hold in one hand and flip through the pages.
The screens on e-readers do their best to simulate a real book, newspaper, or magazine. Often, they’re designed to eliminate glare and reduce eye strain. The larger the screen and the higher the ppi (points per inch), the better experience you will have.
With a Kindle e-reader, you can literally read your e-books anywhere, as there are Kindle apps for desktop computers, smartphones, and tablets. Your account will stay in sync between the devices.
There are two basic types of e-reader screens: E Ink and LCD.
E Ink is only used on black & white screens and is more likely to simulate ink on paper.
LCD is the same type of screen you have on your smartphone and can display color with smoother animation.
Check to see if your e-reader has access to a brand specific bookstore, which may make it easier to access new titles.
Battery life is, of course, extremely important when it comes to selecting an e-reader. No one wants to be in the middle of a book only to have their e-reader die on them.
Most e-readers take between three and four hours to recharge. The batteries can last anywhere from eight hours to a month.
This wide variation in battery life is usually due to the number of extra features you have on the e-reader. It only makes sense that if your device is being used for more than just reading, the battery will give out sooner.
Battery life matters. You don’t want to be on the beach reading and have your e-reader battery die with no way to recharge it.
Capacity is as important as any other feature in conjunction with the cloud. You can only hold so many books on your device, which is why it can be important for an e-reader to be able to work with the cloud.
You can have e-readers with as little as 1GB of internal memory and as much as 16GB of internal memory. If you read just one book at a time — and it takes you a week or two to finish it — capacity might not be that important. But if you're going on vacation and counting on your e-reader for your beach reading, you'll want some storage space.
Luckily, e-books usually aren't very large files in the first place. A typical e-reader with 2GB of memory can store around 1,400 average-size e-books. That should be plenty for even the most avid reader. However, if you're adding extra apps and files to your e-reader, that 2GB could get chewed up fairly quickly.
One significant discrepancy among e-readers is total storage capacity. Some models offer consumers the ability to download and store thousands of titles; others have upper limits that can be problematic.
One extremely useful feature found on modern e-readers is the ability to switch between devices without losing your place in your book. Amazon offers this capability via the Kindle family of technologies. Other brands may do so as well.
For example, you might read the first three chapters of a novel on your Kindle e-reader one night, then leave the Kindle at home when you go to work the next morning. At lunch, you find you’ve got some to read. No problem! You can fire up the Kindle app on your work computer and find your book marked in the same spot where you left off the previous night. And when you get home in the evening, your Kindle e-reader will sync up with the last page you read on your work computer.
Some e-readers allow you to create a family library. This way your spouse can read the book you are recommending after you finish it, or your children can read a book themselves after you've read a few chapters to them.
E-reader prices span a large range. You could spend anywhere from $35 to $500 on an e-reader.
We advise potential buyers to read about all the specs for a particular e-reading device before purchasing it. Some of the best devices with the best features cost under $100. And there are devices that sell for $300 that seem basic.
Many older e-readers are still sold in stores. If you’re looking for something with the latest technology, check the year it was manufactured.
It pays to investigate the specs before buying. There are Kindles under $100 that have browser, software, and color. And there are Kindles over $300 that are black & white and have no internet capabilities.
There are many people who love e-reader technology and the options an e-reader brings. There are others who have tried e-readers only to return to reading conventional books. It's a matter of personal preference.
If you're not tech-savvy, you will most likely not enjoy reading on an e-reader.
However, if you're a voracious reader and wish you could read more often, an e-book's portability may appeal to you.
If you're an avid reader and are considering a tablet, you might enjoy an e-reader with app capabilities.
There's a debate on the green factor of e-readers. While you're saving trees from being cut down, some say it takes more energy, electricity, and chemicals to make an e-reader. Studies suggest that you would have to read between 23 and 40 books a year to make the environmental costs worth it.
Author Bob Brown first conceived of e-readers in 1930 when he wrote the book "The Readies". He got the idea from watching his first "talkie." Ironically, his book is still available, but not in e-book format.
After 20 years of prototypes, the earliest e-reading device was Sony's Data Discman in 1992.
The first e-reader was the Rocket eBook in 1998 that sold for $499.
The first Amazon Kindle sold out in 5 1/2 hours in 2007.
The first e-readers were essentially re-purposed tablets with few amenities. Today's top contenders sell for a range of prices, but overall, they offer consumers more value for the money.
The more shades of gray that an e-reader employs, the easier it is for the human eye to process information.
Many new e-readers can connect to cloud-based software, which means they can access an unlimited number of titles without the need to connect to a computer for downloading.
Many libraries allow you to “borrow” e-books that you can upload to your reader for free.
Q. Is there a difference between a Kindle and an e-reader?
A. Kindles are the most popular type of e-readers, but all e-readers aren’t Kindles. Kindle is simply Amazon’s e-reader brand. Nevertheless, some people refer to all e-readers as Kindles in the same way that some people refer to all facial tissues as “Kleenex.”
It’s also important to note here that there are many different flavors of Kindles, and some are full-fledged tablets, like the Kindle Fire.
Q. Once I download an e-book to my e-reader, will it always be available?
A. Only if you purchased it. If you purchase the book, it is yours forever just as a regular book would be. But if you borrow it, such as from a library, then that wouldn’t be the case.
Q: Do I need an e-reader, or can I read e-books on a device I already have?
A. Depending on the format, you can read e-books on any device. You can download the Kindle app to a computer, smartphone, or tablet for free yet still need to pay for the books you download from Amazon.
Q. Do I need to be connected to the internet to use an e-reader?
A. Not necessarily. Some e-readers have 3G technology that allows you to access the internet wherever it’s available, similar to a smartphone. However, if you download e-books you want to read to your device, you'll be able to read them whether you are connected or not.
Q. Is every book I want to read available in e-book format?
A. Definitely not. But many older and newer books are available. Before you buy an e-reader, look at the types of books that are available for that device to see if it would suit you.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.