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The first e-book readers to reach the consumer market were little more than re-purposed tablets with limited features and black and white displays. Users were often hampered by limited title selections and proprietary file formats.
Today's e-readers are fully functional, handheld devices with Internet access, significant storage capacity, full-color screens, and other useful features. Format limitations are largely a thing of the past, and many electronics manufacturers are introducing new products to the e-book reader market.
But which is the right e-reader? You'll find all kinds of options out there, and it can be tough to sort the wheat from the chaff. That's where we come in! At BestReviews, we're dedicated to writing the most honest and unbiased reviews out there. We never accept free products from manufacturers. Instead, we buy products off of store shelves, test them in our labs, consult experts, and examine feedback from product owners.
Our ultimate goal: to become your go-to source for trustworthy product recommendations whenever you’re faced with a buying decision. At the top of this page, you'll find descriptions of our five favorite scanners on the market. These highly rated products all qualify for our top-contender list.
The earliest e-readers were hampered by short battery life and display issues. Manufacturers have made great strides in recent years in both battery power conservation and display technology. Our ratings evaluate such elements as text clarity, battery life, screen adjustments, and back lighting.
One significant discrepancy among e-reader contenders 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. In these ratings, we give bonus points to e-readers that can download and store titles in different file formats.
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.
Modern e-readers offer features that earlier models did not. We take note of improvements such as anti-glare technology, full-color displays, Internet connectivity, and more.
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. In this section of our ratings, we consider price as it relates to features and service.
Front-lit screens are typically better for reading outside or in places with harsh artificial light, while back-lit screens aren’t able to diminish the glare.
Amazon’s Kindle Oasis strongly resembles its predecessor, the Kindle Paperwhite, when it comes to ease of use and battery life. However, many of its features are an improvement over previous Kindle incarnations. The Oasis’ handgrip tapers down to a super thin .13-inch, which feels more like a standard book in the hand. The Oasis is also 20 percent lighter and 30 percent thinner than most competing e-readers on the market.
Battery life is extended through the use of a leather charging cover. The estimated reading time on a full charge is eight weeks when you factor in a daily reading time of 30 minutes and the deactivation of 3G wireless service. The Oasis will also go into hibernation to extend battery life.
The front-lit screen provides laser-sharp text, and the touchscreen (or dedicated page turning buttons) adjust for left- and right-handed users. Glare is rarely an issue, since the screen is not backlit like many other e-readers. 300 ppi resolution and 60 percent more LEDs improve readability significantly.
The Sony PRS-505 is an older e-reader model, but it has held up surprisingly well. Many satisfied owners praise its unique page navigation system—a series of numbered buttons that can be easily accessed with a thumb during a reading session. The unit is very light and can be held in a vertical or horizontal position. Although the Sony still uses the older backlighting technology, we find that glare is not a major concern.
Battery life is among the best of all the top contenders. The Sony will automatically shut off after a few minutes of inactivity. The battery can be recharged through a USB connection or with an optional AC adapter. Unlike some e-readers, the battery can be removed by the user and replaced with a new one available through authorized dealers.
Some e-readers come with an assortment of accessories, like web browsing and games, while others are just meant to hold books.
The Kindle Paperwhite is a dedicated e-reader, which means it comes with minimal distractions like games and such. The dimensions are ideal for one-handed use. Users report a very reliable touchscreen system that is glare-free. Because the Paperwhite is completely wireless, new titles can be downloaded from a number of sources. We like the fact that the Kindle Paperwhite can handle other formats besides proprietary Kindle ePub files.
Because the Kindle Paperwhite uses front-lighting LEDs, average battery life is noticeably longer than its back-lit competitors. The manufacturer claims up to eight weeks of usage per charge, but this is based on a very light reading schedule. We estimate that it actually provides an average of 26 usable hours per charge, which is still outstanding.
The Slick ER701 is designed to be an inexpensive alternative to leading e-readers like the Kindle. Most customers find it easy to use after a bit of trial and error. Some titles are already downloaded to the Slick at the time of purchase, and according to owners, those titles load up with few problems.
Since the Slick does not have WiFi or any other wireless Internet connection, new titles must first be downloaded (in an acceptable format) to a PC, then uploaded to the e-reader through a cable connection. The process can be a little difficult and buggy, but it's feasible. The navigational buttons are flush to the surface, which can be problematic for some people. One solution is to apply stickers with raised letters to the buttons in order to find them more easily. The Slick does not use a touchscreen, so users must navigate pages with these buttons.
The Slick ER701 uses rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The average lifespan per charge is between 8 and 12 hours. This should be enough time for an average reader to get through several chapters of a book, but the device will definitely need to be recharged overnight. The Slick can play audio and video files, but doing so will cause a greater drain on the battery's limited charge. Some owners report problems with performance and memory as the battery loses power over time.
The NOOK e-book reader from Barnes & Noble features some text adjustment options that are not found on other e-readers. Although the text display is described as black and white, it actually employs 16 shades of gray, which many people find easier to process. The text can also be viewed in five different sizes, and there is a choice of several fonts.
Some older NOOK models had problems with glare and back lighting, but this upgrade features an anti-glare touchscreen and front lighting. Much like the more expensive Kindle Paperwhite, the screen displays dark black lettering against a pure white background. Text is easy to read, although some customers do report occasional problems with e-book formatting.
We could not find many specifics on the battery itself, but the manufacturer suggests up to two months in between charges. (Based on customer comments, this could be a bit of an overstatement). The NOOK offers an "airplane mode" that will conserve battery power between uses. One feature we really like is the fact that the battery can be removed and replaced by the owner. (Some other e-readers have sealed battery compartments that can only be serviced by authorized repair personnel.)
The more shades of gray that an e-reader employs, the easier it is for the human eye to process information.
The Kindle Oasis can hold up to 4GB of text onboard and offers free, virtually unlimited cloud storage. This translates to thousands of book titles which can be downloaded from numerous sources—not just the standard Amazon Kindle library. Wireless connectivity makes it possible for users to download titles in ePub, MOBI, and PDF formats without the need for a computer. A built-in 3G option eliminates the need to find Wi-Fi hotspots or use a wireless modem.
The Sony PRS-505's internal memory can store approximately 160 e-book files, but users can also use memory sticks to store and upload hundreds more. We find the smaller memory to be a little disappointing when compared to the capacity of other e-readers, but we also realize that most people won't read 160 titles while traveling. Owners can select their favorite titles, upload them to the device, and read at their leisure.
A major drawback to the Sony PRS-505 is that the list of supported e-book and text files is frustratingly small. It can handle common formats like TXT, PDF, and ePub, but it can't handle protected files like MOBI and DOC. Potential buyers should also note that Sony recently shut down its online e-book store; new titles must be obtained elsewhere.
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.
Because titles can be accessed from cloud servers, the Kindle Paperwhite's storage capacity is virtually unlimited. The fact that it can also read publicly available formats such as TXT, unprotected MOBI, and PDF is a definite plus. However, formats such as DOC and picture files may need to be converted. New e-book titles in ePub or PDF formats can be downloaded wirelessly through public libraries that are affiliated with e-book distributors.
One of the best features of the Slick ER701 e-reader is its total storage capacity. With two GB of on-board memory, it can hold up to 2,000 titles at once and up to 30,000 more on additional memory cards.
The Slick e-reader system is affiliated with KoboBooks, which means users may be restricted to its catalog for future downloads. However, this catalog currently includes 2.4 million books, magazines, and electronic newspapers, so most people should be able to find a suitable book or two.
The Slick ER701 supports common formats like ePub, PDF, and TXT, but it is not clear whether it can process other e-book formats (such as Kindle's MOBI files). Fortunately, Kobo's catalog will provide titles in acceptable formats, so this should not be a major problem unless owners want to borrow titles stored on Kindle devices.
Storage capacity specifications for the NOOK are not readily available, but we believe it is capable of storing hundreds of titles easily. One common complaint among owners, however, is the NOOK's lack of searchable categories. All titles are stored alphabetically, so finding a specific book to read often requires a great deal of scrolling.
One development we do appreciate is the NOOK's ability to receive books in formats other than the original proprietary ePub files controlled by Barnes & Noble. We do not see evidence of connectivity to the cloud, but the NOOK can be used to download titles from Overdrive, an e-book delivery system affiliated with many public libraries.
Besides the features that have become practically standard on Kindle models, such as X-Ray text search and automatic bookmarking, the Kindle Oasis also offers several advanced features not often found on other e-readers. For example, if a younger reader encounters an unfamiliar word or reference, a program called Word Wise can provide an explanation with one tap of a finger. Parents can also activate special award badges to encourage their children to reach reading milestones.
Kindle Oasis users can set a default language for display, but they can also translate many titles into other languages not based on a Latin alphabet, such as Chinese, Greek, or Arabic. Through 3G accessibility, they can also download and store other personal communication files on the e-reader.
The Sony PRS-505 is from an older generation of e-readers, so features are limited. We do like the page navigational system, as it's far more intuitive and user-friendly than some modern e-readers on the market today. The Sony can process some audio and image files, allowing readers to listen to favorite songs in mp3 format while they read. Portability and durability are perhaps the Sony PRS-505's best features.
Many libraries allow you to “borrow” e-books that you can upload to your reader for free.
The Kindle Paperwhite may be a dedicated e-reader, but it does offer nice features like WiFi access and a basic email program. Text can be translated into other languages through a Bing-driven program, and the X-Ray feature allows readers to search an entire book for related links or relevant phrases.
The Paperwhite can also gauge a particular reader's average reading speed, then calculate the time required to finish a chapter. We especially like the Page Flip navigation system. This system allows readers to skim through chapters or return to a previous stopping point.
Because the Slick ER701 is a budget-priced device, it does not include many of the features found on more expensive e-readers. This is not necessarily a negative; after all, the Slick's average retail price is at least half that of most name-brand e-readers on the market today.
We give this model bonus points for its color screen, its ability to play audio and video files along with text files, and its generous on-board memory capacity. The screen is resistant to glare even though it is not front-lit by design. We appreciate the attached binder case which protects the device from damage and provides additional security when propped on a table or held in both hands.
The NOOK E-reader is a good entry-level e-reader. It allows some access to game apps and other basic web-based activities, but full access to the Internet is limited. Many adults appreciate the NOOK's lack of additional features, as their reading sessions won't be interrupted by email updates and other noisy intrusions.
Most modern e-readers include a built-in dictionary so you never have to guess at the meaning of a word again.
The $359 cost of the Kindle Oasis is a significant investment, especially when compared to other e-readers on our list. But it includes features not often found on cheaper models, and the engineering is superb. Amazon Kindle obviously listened to its customers when creating this "new and improved" version of the original Kindle Paperwhite.
The entire unit is noticeably lighter because the case is infused with strong, thin metal supports. The front-lit display utilizes more LEDs than cheaper back-lit e-readers. 3G and Wi-Fi access come standard on this model. And, the Oasis' leather charging cover is much more durable and protective than a standard e-book cover.
Combine all of these great features with improved access to cloud storage and public ebook sources, and it’s easy to see why the Kindle Oasis is a worthy contender on our shortlist.
A retail price of $999 is a bit excessive for the Sony PRS-505 when you consider the unit's limitations and lack of a current e-book catalog. However, many customers appreciate this device's exceptional battery life, portability, and intuitive text navigation system. Finding and installing newer titles may be a challenge, but many older titles are now free to download and are still supported by the PRS-505's first or second generation e-book reading technology.
If you’re hoping to add textbooks to your e-reader, some will allow you to take notes and highlight sections.
The Kindle Paperwhite's modest price of $119 reflects the fact that it is a basic, dedicated e-reader. Many of the additional features that prompt other e-readers to become bloated in price are not included in this product.
Serious readers who don’t want to be interrupted by email alerts or game updates appreciate the simplicity of this product. The Kindle Paperwhite does one thing incredibly well: it reproduces digital text on a no-frills platform that behaves more like a traditional book than a tablet or smartphone.
As several satisfied customers have noted, the Slick ER701's exceptionally low retail price of $94 makes it possible for people to join the electronic book revolution without having to shell out a lot of money upfront. The e-book files themselves may be relatively inexpensive (or even free), but the first generation of e-readers required to read them was not. Budget-priced e-readers like the Slick ER701 can support most of the common e-book formats as long as the user is willing to take a few more steps during the downloading process.
We find that the Slick ER701 may have some reliability issues to work out, but its entry-level price is hard to resist. This product would be a great gift for a college student or avid reader in the family.
At a price of just $89, the Barnes & Noble NOOK is an exceptional deal. With this device, you can download library books via Overdrive and store hundreds of titles. The screen is easy to read with several choices of font and 16 shades of gray print on a white background. Battery life is exceptionally long, and for a price this low, this product is an incredible value.
A common complaint among e-reader users is hand and eye fatigue, since many standard e-readers are relatively heavy and use backlighting technology that's not eye-friendly. Having ready access to downloadable ebook titles is also a major concern.
Fortunately, the Amazon New Kindle Oasis addresses these issues and more via its advanced technology and engineering. It's the Best of the Best.
The unit is noticeably lighter and thinner than other contenders on our shortlist, resulting in reduced arm and hand fatigue. The ultra-thin handgrip mimics the feel of a paper book’s spine in the reader’s hand.
We also like the Kindle Oasis’ support for younger readers, with its synonym-seeking Word Wise option and a vocabulary builder that creates a list of unfamiliar words. Other e-readers often have a limited language selection, but the Oasis boasts an impressive list of language options, plus the ability to display text in non-Latin characters.
The front-lit display addresses eye strain issues, and the leather charging cover is definitely a worthwhile feature. Overall, we are very impressed with Kindle’s evolutionary process where e-readers are concerned. If you're looking for a top-notch e-reader, this is the one to get.
Book lovers enjoy the experience of holding the Kindle in their hands.
Amazon's first Kindle e-reader set the standard for future electronic book devices, and the Kindle Paperwhite is a worthy successor to that legacy.
The Kindle's innovative use of a front-lit screen and LED illumination addresses both glare and low ambient light concerns. Access to millions of e-book titles, whether in Amazon's own vast catalog or elsewhere, is a feature that readers definitely appreciate. What’s more, the Paperwhite can download and display files from a number of common e-book and text file formats, including DOC, PDF, JPEG and ePub documents.
The Paperwhite's designers chose to keep it free of electronic intrusions, allowing users to place all of their attention on reading instead of noisy alerts and pop-up ads. This sets the Kindle apart as a "designated" e-reader rather than a tablet with e-reader capabilities.
The Kindle's crisp white display provides maximum contrast for easy readability. The navigational controls are extremely intuitive; readers enjoy the experience of perusing an e-book the same way they would a hardcover or paperback book. (The Kindle Paperwhite doesn't simply scroll text like a computer file; it turns pages for a more authentic feel.)
All of these great features, in combination with substantial battery life per charge, on-board cloud storage capacity, and a price of just $119, simply cannot be ignored. When it comes to e-readers, the original leader of the pack—Amazon's Kindle e-reader—is the Best Bang for Your Buck.
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.