Table of Contents
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Each and every eReader that is reviewed in this guide is equipped with the same basic electronic-ink display – a technology that is not only easy on the eyes (eye strain differences of an LCD and an E-ink display is still disputed) but is meant to simulate text on an actual sheet of paper. Some top-quality digital readers include premium hardware features to further enhance readability, such as front-lighting (LED lights are located around the screen, and reflect light in a downward fashion to reduce any additional strain on the eyes). Other features like a rubberized backside or physical buttons, are meant to increase durability, comfort, and overall ease-of-use. Any decent eReader should be light-weight and small enough to be easily carried with you pretty much anywhere you go. They should be not only easy on the eyes, but should be comfortable enough to hold for an extended duration. It seems that image quality is the most important aspect to consider when dealing with reading quality and prevention of eye strain.
All eBook readers come with Wi-Fi connectivity (you need internet access to buy and download new eBooks and other literary media). Some of the higher-end models include 3G domestic data, free with initial purchase. Those that offer free 3G data are usually much more expensive than those eBook readers that are only Wi-Fi compatible, but for some this additional feature may be highly prized, especially if you are a frequent traveler and don’t always have access to a reliable Wi-Fi connection.
For the most part, e-ink accuracy (how clear the text appears) is highly dependent on the eReader’s pixel density. The more pixels per inch (ppi), the higher the resolution and the clearer the text will appear. While this may seem unimportant to some, there is a significant noticeable advantage in text fidelity when a premium eReader with a 300 ppi display is compared side-by-side with an entry-level (usually less than 200 ppi) digital reader. The cheaper eBook Readers often produce a slightly pixilated image of text (still suitable for basic reading but can be bothersome if you notice small imperfections easily or just want to emulate written text as best as possible). With a 300 ppi or greater display, text is very clear and is very similar to the text you’d find printed on a sheet of paper. Pixel density is just one spec that plays a role in the quality of e-ink displays. This is probably common sense, but the more you are willing to spend, the better screen quality you’ll generally be able to get.
Due to the fact that eReaders have been exclusively designed for reading, processing speeds aren’t given much importance, as heavy-duty processors are not really needed for such a limited purpose. Still, there are differences in processing speeds. Unlike what you may find on the typical tablet or laptop, an e-ink display periodically updates what is displayed (often times you’ll notice a black flash across the screen). What you’ll generally find is the speed of the device increases in proportion to the price tag. Those periodic screen refreshes, or simply swiping to the next page, are where you’ll see noticeable differences when comparing top-quality eBook readers versus entry-level eReaders. The high-end digital readers are better able to quickly scroll through pages, often times without any noticeable delay. On the other hand, the entry-level models tend to have a noticeable pause in between each turn of the page, with some more noticeable than others. This really shouldn’t be a deal breaker, because the difference between a 0.3 second delay and a 1 or 2 second delay is probably negligible for most consumers, though it should definitely be kept in the back of your mind. Some higher-end, premium eBook readers include software and hardware that allows for additional functionality (falling somewhere between eReaders and tablet devices) – in this case, processor speed may play a more significant role. Many of the best eReaders allow you to subscribe and purchase magazines or newspapers as well. If you are bilingual or multilingual, consider a top-quality eBook reader with support for a number of different languages.
Software Limits – DRM
Each of the eBook readers you’ll find in our reviews has its own integrated eBook store, which offers its own selection of titles that can be purchased (often thousands of options). Still, there are some differences in the quantity of available titles, and the typical costs for each eBook. It is also important to keep in mind that each book purchased is protected by its own digital rights management scheme (DRM), meaning that if you purchase an eBook from on your Kindle or from Amazon’s Kindle apps, you probably will not have access to them on a Kobo or NOOK (Barnes & Noble) eReader.
Furthermore, DRM also raises questions as to whether you own an eBook as you would a physical copy. For example, Barnes & Noble recently (beginning of 2016) made the announcement that NOOK content would no longer be sold in the United Kingdom. Barnes & Noble addressed the concerns of customers questioning whether they would lose access to content that they had previously purchased, stating that they recently partnered with Sainsbury’s Entertainment to provide “continued access to the vast majority” of previously offered titles. Still, many are left wondering as to what the “majority” actually entails, and whether they will lose any titles that were already “purchased”. Another example also raiding questions can be found from 2009, when Amazon deleted digital copies of various George Orwell books from Kindles (yes, remotely).
While there are only a handful of issues that we were able to find regarding DRM and ownership, this is still something to consider. In all likelihood, the only problem you will face down the line is being unable to transfer a DRM-protected eBook from one eReader to another. Project Gutenberg is one source of many that offers DRM-free eBooks, or if you happen to stumble upon ePub file formats you’ll have some flexibility, but for the most part – once you commit to an eBook platform, be prepared to stick with it as you’ll lose most of your purchases if you switch down the line. For those looking to upgrade, you’re probably better off staying within the same brand if you have built up a collection of titles over the years.
1. Kindle Oasis Review
Not only is the Kindle Oasis is noticeably thinner and lighter than pretty much any other eReader we’ve encountered, but the physical page-turn buttons and the overall ergonomic feel of the device in your hands when reading, are just a few of the reasons why the Oasis is our favorite. Sure, the price is a little high compared to its cousins, the Paperwhite and the Voyage, but you get what you pay for. If you don’t already have an eBook reader, you might want to check out those first as they are cheaper and are more than enough for the typical user. But, if you’re looking to upgrade from your entry-level Kindle, the Oasis is quite simply the best eReader available.
The Kindle Oasis makes the whole experience as close to reading a real-life, text-on-paper book, as you can possibly find. This next generation eBook reader is by far the most comfortable, and easy to use. The Oasis feels completely different from the original Kindle, and Amazon did a great job etching and slimming things down to the bare minimum in size. At the thinnest point, the Oasis measures in at a width of only 3.6mm. The opposite end is a bit thicker (designed this way for enhanced gripping), yet it is still thinner than other Kindle models. If you struggle to hold up a real book or your outdated eReader, the Kindle Oasis should address these concerns as we felt like we could hold up this eBook reader for longer than other Kindles and competitors.
You’ll find two physical buttons on the front of the digital reader, which are used to flick through pages – they can be easily pressed with your thumb, which is nice for one-handed readers. The display itself can also be tapped, just as you would on the other Kindles. During our tests, we began to favor the physical buttons over the touch screen controls, as we could do it with only one hand and the buttons were always reactive. Left and right-handed readers can both take advantage of this, as the device can be flipped over (with the screen adjusting accordingly) to suit your preference dependent on which hand is the more dominant of the two. Depending on which way you have the screen flipped, the power button and USB port will either be located at the top or on the bottom of the device.
Plastic grip can be found with your fingertips when holding the device. Also located on the grip is the built-in connector for Amazon’s new lineup of cases (one flip-case comes with purchase; choices of brown, red, or black leather). The flip-portion of the case covers the display, and it also carries a larger battery that rests within the thinner portion of the Kindle Oasis, bringing the eBook reader thickness to an overall more even level. According to Amazon, your battery life would be increased to an additional seven weeks with this snapped into place -without utilization of the case, expect to only last for two weeks (compared to the typical six weeks for other kindles). We can’t see why anyone would actually choose not to use the case though, not only do you get a better battery life and a bit of protection, but the leather brings with it a more premium feel.
Similar to the screen found on the Kindle Paperwhite, the Oasis comes equipped with a 300 ppi e-ink display that according to Amazon, is 60% brighter than their previous Kindle models (the backlight is now located at the side of the screen rather than being situated at the top as it was in previous models). Some of you may not feel the need to make the Kindle screen any brighter, but once you pick up the Oasis you soon realize it to be a welcome improvement. You can always turn off the backlight if you prefer to read without, or are just looking to save some battery, but you probably won’t want to. With the backlight on, the text just stands out much more than without the backlight (even thought the text still looks clear).
For some, these hardware and design features may be unnecessary. But for those who believe they will be using their eBook reader daily, or for many hours at a time, the light-weight, comfortable-to-hold design, the additional brightness on the 300 ppi display, and the physical buttons that can be used to flick through pages may all be highly prized features that cannot be found on lower-end Kindles or competitors’ devices. In pretty much any way you look at it, the Kindle Oasis is the best eBook reader currently available.
2. Kindle Voyage Review
The Kindle Voyage is just another addition to Amazon’s top-rated eBook readers. The Voyage is intuitive by design, has excellent build quality, and is equipped to handle software updates and allows for touchpad page turning. Considering its reasonable price and how comfortable it is to hold for extended periods, it should come at no surprise that the Kindle Voyage is one of the best eBook readers on the market for most people.
One of its most notable features (and an improvement from past Kindle devices), is its adaptive front lighting functionality. What this means is that the eReader will adjust the brightness of the screen depending on the darkness of the room (it slowly dims as your eyes adjust to the screen and helps prevent unnecessary eyestrain) – you can always toggle this feature off in the settings if preferred. Pressure plates are located on the left and right sides of the screen (where your thumbs will naturally rest) – this is how you will turn pages (rather than a swiping motion or the pressing of physical buttons like on the Oasis). When the device has registered a page turn, you will be notified through a kinesthetic communication of sorts, which can only be felt through the thumb.
The Kindle Voyage is also packed with many useful features on the software side of things, including Family Library (grants you the ability to share your library of books and other media with one other individual – for free), Word Wise (built-in dictionary that can display the definitions directly above difficult words), and X-Ray (provides you with summaries or brief introductions of certain sections or paragraphs – useful to help remind you of the plot in a long novel or in between certain sections), just to name a few. Much of the software is being improved during periodic updates, so you can rest assured knowing the Voyage won’t feel outdated any time soon. With 4GB of internal storage space, you’ll have enough room for a wide range of books, newspapers, and magazines – without the need for any external storage.
With 300 ppi and a 1448 x 1072 resolution, the 6-inch display (made from micro-etched glass) is one of the sharpest and nicest looking we’ve seen on an eBook reader. The pixel density produces a striking display of the text that is comparable to text on paper. The screen itself rests flush against the body of the device, so there aren’t any noticeable ridges and the design overall is sleek. The glass display seems to do a much better job at diffusing light (and preventing screen glare) than the plastic-type screens found on other lower-tier eReaders.
The Amazon eStore, simply when considered as a feature on its own, adds additional value to the device. Books, magazine and newspaper subscriptions (e.g. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, other major publications) are all easily possible directly from the Kindle store. Also, many public libraries now support the use of Kindle to check out (borrow) books from their Kindle-specific catalogs, which is convenient.
The Voyage is lightweight, weighing only 6.3 ounces – whether you hold it in a pocket or find yourself storing it in your briefcase or school bag, this kindle goes largely unnoticed. There are a few optional add-ons at purchase on Amazon, to consider (which also increase the base price). The Wi-Fi internet functionality comes standard on the base version, but if you want access to the 3G data (free in the continental U.S. after initial fee) you’ll have to spend a little more. Similarly to the other Kindles, the basic version of the Voyage will display ads on the standby screen or home menu – removal of these advertisements will cost you some additional cash.
The Kindle Voyage is one of the best eBook readers currently available on the market. While it is still considerably more expensive than some of the more budget-friendly alternatives (e.g. Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle), it does come equipped with plenty of useful features. Overall, if you don’t want to spend as much as it would cost you on the Oasis, but still want to take a step up from the Paperwhite, the Kindle Voyage is an excellent choice.
3. Kindle Paperwhite Review
As you may have already noticed through our reviews and praise for Amazon’s kindle lineup, the Kindle eBook readers have plenty to offer entry-level consumers all the way up to the most avid readers. The Kindle Paperwhite may not be the top-tier Kindle, yet this mid-range eReader brings to the table premium features like an excellent display (300 pixels per inch) and an impressively comfortable design with decent build quality.
During our testing, the Kindle Paperwhite was very easy to use, and finding our way through the menus seemed to just happen without much thought. There are no physical buttons on the Paperwhite, which some may find annoying, though the touch screen is quite responsive and we never had any issues accessing the secondary menu bar with a simple tap, or scrolling through multiple pages in rapid succession. There is very little, if any, lag – which is quite an accomplishment for an eBook reader at a reasonable price such as this. Never once did we experience any issues with text formatting (like improperly sized font, or the wrong location for text breaks or indentations) that is a frequent occurrence in some of its competitors. Text search and highlighting are two examples of the options that are clearly displayed for you alongside the text.
Screen brightness can be adjusted to suit preference – and for additional fee at checkout you can remove the sponsored advertisements from the lock screen. The display itself is comparable to that of the Voyage and Oasis, with 1448 x 1072 resolution and a 300 pixel density. Blacks and greys are sharp, and pretty much all text is without any noticeable pixilation at all. Simply comparing the Paperwhite and Voyage when it comes to text display and reading, they are very similar indeed.
The matte black case is aesthetically pleasing, and at the bottom you’ll find housing for the charging port and power button. Our only concern with the design of this product is the lack of a dedication button to return to the home screen. Despite this small inconvenience, we are impressed with pretty much every aspect in its design. The Paperwhite is equipped with a rubberized back that provides you with a bit of additional grip to prevent accidental slippage and drops. The 4GB of internal storage space should be enough for most consumer’s library of books and subscriptions to newspapers like the Los Angeles Times or the Wall Street Journal. There is also an option to purchase 3G compatibility at checkout, so you do not have to rely on Wi-Fi only.
If you can do without a dedicated home screen return button, and don’t mind the lack of utilization of glass for the screen and other small design-based inconveniences, the Paperwhite is an impressive device that provides a reading experience comparable to some of the top-tier eReaders out there.
4. NOOK GlowLight Plus Review
The Nook GlowLight Plus is one of Barnes & Noble’s top-of-the-line eBook readers, and is a great choice for someone looking for something other than a Kindle. The GlowLight Plus brings with it versatility in that its one of the only eReader brands that can be paired with an actual brick and mortar store (advantageous in a number of ways including customer service and other catalog-related features). The NOOK GlowLight Plus has a high-resolution display (1448 x 1072) with a pixel density of 300 ppi, and is relatively responsive to swipes and touches. Text is sharp and lacks any noticeable pixilation.
The first thing you’ll notice about the NOOK GlowLight Plus is its unique design characteristics that set it apart from the typical all black – a white bezel around the display and a gold finish on the back of the device. For this reason, the bezel is more noticeable and may be distracting for some readers, though we never had any issues once we were engulfed in our text. There are small raised marks on the bezel, which adds texture for some additional gripping. The home button is located at the center of the bottom bezel, an ergonomic location – similar to what you’d find on your iPhone or other smartphone. This physical button, along with the IP67 waterproofing, are two advantages the NOOK has over the Kindle Paperwhite. According to the manufacturer, this eReader can be placed in fresh water for up to 30 minutes at a time and up to a depth of 1 meter – impressive, and a highly useful feature if you find yourself reading during a bath, at the pool, or on the beach.
During testing, we found the NOOK GlowLight Plus to have a few shortcomings compared to the Kindle’s we reviewed above. For example, flipping through pages there was often a noticeable delay (usually only a second or two), something which we never experienced on the Oasis, Voyage, or Paperwhite. Not the end of the world, but it might annoy some users. Also, there were cases of improper formatting like the occasional misaligned header, incorrect text size, or other indentation formatting errors. Despite these small problems, for the most part we enjoyed reading on the GlowLight Plus.
The GlowLight Plus is compact and light enough to carry around. The body itself is smooth and without much of any material to prevent slippage (aside from the textured front along the bezel), unfortunately. The build quality seems to be of high quality though. According to Barnes and Noble, the GlowLight Plus should last a total of 21 hours between charges.
5. Kobo Glo HD Review
Kobo is probably the lesser known eBook reader brand, yet the Glo HD brings with it many of the strong hardware and software features that can be found on the higher-profile competitors’ eReaders. There are a few catalog limitations, yet the Glo HD has a very nice display and comes in at a reasonable price – definitely worth your consideration. The 1448 x 1072 resolution display is rated at 300 pixels per inch, a density comparable to other top-rated eReaders. The reading experience on the Kobo Glo HD is very good, with the text being sharp with no noticeable pixilation at all.
The rubberized back is just one build-feature that we very much appreciated as this can prevent slipping and the resulting accidental damage to your device. Overall, the Glo HD seems durable when in use thanks to some impressive build quality. The reading interface is laid out nicely to prevent distractions, with the toolbar (where the navigation and readability settings are located) positioned towards the bottom of the screen. Scrolling between pages was a breeze, and there was surprisingly no noticeable delay for pretty much all of our testing. The Kobo catalog of books is composed of a wide array of titles ranging from fiction to non-fiction, yet lacks several features found on competitors, like sharing support or options to subscribe to major newspaper publications (though you can find subscriptions for certain magazines publications like Time Magazine or Vanity Fair).
If you can do without the premium content subscription services and the big name-brand support from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, the Kobo Glo HD has an impressive display and a nice selection of titles to choose from. Overall, the Glo HD is an affordable alternative to the NOOK or Kindles above.
6. Kobo Aura H2O Review
One of the most notable features on the Kobo Aura H2O is the inclusion of waterproofing. The display is high quality and the hardware and software features are impressive for an eReader at this price. The 1430 x 1080 resolution 6.8 inch display is rated for a density of 265 pixels per inch. While this may not be as high as you’d find on some of the more premium devices out there, 265 ppi is more than enough to provide you with enjoyable reading (but expect a bit more pixilation – nothing too bad). Images and text are high-quality.
The front lit screen prevents excessive eye strain by reducing any light shine being directed straight into your eyes. The brightness can also be adjusted according to preference. The 4 GB of internal storage should be enough for just about anybody’s book collection, though an SD card can be purchased to further increase storage capacity (something not found on many other eBook readers). Where the Kobo Aura H20 really outshines other devices is its waterproof build quality, allowing for up to 30 minutes of submersion at a maximum of 3 feet depth – if you’re a frequent pool or beach-goer, or just enjoy reading in the bath, the Kobo Aura H20 is a budget-friendly alternative to the NOOK GlowLight Plus (which is also waterproof).
Despite the small size, the Kobo Aura H2O still feels a bit more hefty that other eBook readers (still, it only weighs around half a pound). The two-month battery life also adds some value. This durable eBook reader has a number of impressive features, including a high-definition touchscreen display, plenty of internal storage (but also allowing for the option of more with an SD card), a two-month battery life, and waterproofing design characteristics. The Kobo bookstore, in our opinion can’t compete with Amazon’s or Barnes & Noble’s, yet it should be suitable for most people if they absolutely need something other than a Kindle or NOOK.
7. Kindle Review
While the traditional Kindle has always been one of the most affordable eReaders, they always seemed to be a step back from competitors as far as features and aesthetics were concerned – not anymore. The 7th generation Kindle is a much-needed update to an already exceptional and cheap eBook reader. Many of the features and controls are comparable to the more expensive Voyage and Paperwhite Kindles, yet the Kindle remains more affordable.
The Kindle weighs under 7 ounces – it doesn’t feel too heavy or bulky when in use, and the overall dimensions allow for easy storage in your briefcase or backpack. There is no 3G support for the Kindle, so you will have to rely on Wi-Fi only to purchase new content (keep this in mind if you frequently travel or do not have access to Wi-Fi). The 6-inch touchscreen display has a resolution of 800 x 600 with a rated pixel density of 167 ppi – Not quite the 300 ppi found on the premium eBook readers, yet 167 ppi is still perfectly acceptable for reading. While the text is not quite comparable to printed-text (it has some pixilation) and should be seen as a step-below the premium eReaders, it is not a deal breaker. The battery lasts 14 hours between each charge according to Amazon, and this should be plenty for even the most avid readers.
Despite these shortcomings, the Kindle still earns a spot in this best eBook reader lineup as it remains an excellent entry-level reader for its reasonable price, its compatibility with a wide-range of titles and subscriptions on the Amazon catalog, and a decent battery life. If you’re looking to spend as little as you can, but still want a device that is enjoyable to use, the Kindle is where its at.