Why Buy an eBook Reader?
The top performers in our review are Amazon's Kindle Voyage, the Gold Award winner; the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, the Silver Award winner; and the Barnes and Noble NOOK GlowLight Plus, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a device to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the seven best electronic readers.
How to Choose An eBook Reader
Thanks to their excellent screens and significant battery life, eBook readers are ideal devices for bookworms and kids. They weigh about one-tenth of some books but can store thousands of full books. When you read on an eReader, you can customize font styles and sizes, look up words in the device’s built-in dictionary and download a variety of written media, including magazines and newspapers.
Our eReader reviews focus on e-ink devices, since they are easy on the eyes. These are single-function devices, so you don’t have to worry about getting distracted by extra games and social apps. Our best Kindles review highlights top options from Amazon's Kindle and Fire device families. If you want a device that can handle multimedia content and full color, our tablets review includes top models like Apple's iPad and Microsoft's Surface series.
eBook Readers: What We Tested, What We Found
While all digital readers serve as easy and lightweight ways to read on the go, features and hardware quality can vary greatly between manufacturers. The features and software options that work well on one reader may not be ideal for another. In our testing, we found several factors to consider before you purchase an eBook reader.
Hardware Quality: How Important Are Readability Features?
While all of the eReaders in our review have the same basic e-ink screen technology, manufacturers often supplement this with hardware add-ons to make reading even easier. Many modern digital readers offer front lighting, a technology where LED lights surround the screen and reflect light downward, making the lighting much easier on your eyes.
Our hardware evaluations focused on the durability and build materials used in each eReader. Premium features like rubberized backsides and physical buttons were commonly found on high-end eReaders and helped these models earn high marks.
Processor Speed: High-End vs. Entry-Level eReaders
If you are used to laptops and tablets, there may be a slight learning curve to using an e-ink device. Unlike tablets and laptops, e-ink displays periodically refresh with a noticeable black flash that takes up the whole screen.
In addition, eReaders rely on low-power processors to provide lengthy battery lives. Because eReaders are built exclusively for reading, these processors don't have to have the highest performance ceilings, but processor speed still matters. Specific processor speeds aren't generally listed as a front-of-box feature, but typically, eReader speeds improve in proportion to price. In our hands-on testing, we found that high-end eReaders generally have fast processors that can quickly scroll through pages. By comparison, entry-level models have noticeable pauses when turning pages.
E-Ink Accuracy: Ensuring Clear On-Screen Text
Generally, the higher an eReader's pixel density – measured in pixels per inch (ppi) – and resolution the clearer the text appears. The quality of e-ink displays varies by manufacturer. Generally, screen quality in products families from manufacturers like Amazon and Kobo increases as price does.
Our evaluations found several key points related to screen quality. Cheaper eReaders have displays with less than 200 ppi, which is perfectly adequate for basic reading, but text may appear slightly pixelated. However, the visual fidelity of these entry-level models is lacking compared to premium eReaders, which generally have 300 ppi screens. At this resolution point, text appears clear and comparable to text printed on paper.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the eReaders in our comparison by retail purchase and through the manufacturers. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important When Buying an eReader?
Much of the appeal of top eReaders comes from the convenience of instant access to new books, but other features are equally important to your reading experience. Consider the following before you make your eBook reader purchase:
Electronic Readers & Software Limits
All of the eBook readers we reviewed have integrated eBook stores offering thousands of titles. However, there are modest differences such as how many eBooks each store carries and how much the books typically cost. All of our reviewed eBook readers came with a stock 4GB of internal storage, which is sufficient for most home users.
Additionally, purchased books cannot be transferred between eBook platforms – a NOOK purchase cannot be read on a Kindle, for instance. This is important to consider if you have already purchased a library of eBooks from a single digital retailer. While more advanced eReader users have some flexibility by saving their libraries in open source formats, most people find it easiest to stay within a single eBook platform. File formats like ePub can be easily read and used on most eReaders and tablets without issues.
Not Just for Books: eBook Readers & Multitasking
With their monochromatic screens and rudimentary processors, eReaders are best suited to displaying text. However, if you want added functionality that bridges the gap between eReaders and higher-end devices, premium eBook readers feature hardware and content offerings typically found on tablets.
Most also support and allow you to buy magazines and newspapers. International and multilingual readers may also want to consider an eBook reader with support for multiple languages.
Connectivity Options: Going Mobile
The best eReaders are compact and lightweight, making them convenient to take with you anywhere. They should be easy and comfortable to hold for an extended period of time. In addition, all eReaders have Wi-Fi connectivity, and some models offer free domestic 3G data. Devices with 3G data are noticeably more expensive than Wi-Fi-only eBook readers, but if you travel a lot and don't always have access to a reliable wireless internet connection, data is a fast way to buy and download new eBooks.
eBook Readers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
If you love to read but hate lugging books around with you, a dedicated eBook reader can make reading your favorite novels and other content convenient and enjoyable – anytime, anywhere. The best eBook readers in our reviews balanced reader-friendly features with designs optimized for mobility.
The Kindle Voyage earns its top-in-class marks thanks to its stellar build quality and software options. With Amazon's deep library of books and content options from third-party publishers, the Voyage remains the eBook reader to beat for its competitors.
Similarly, the Kindle Paperwhite has many of the same software strengths as the Voyage in a more affordable package. The eReader even uses the same 300 ppi screen as its higher-end counterpart. Finally, the NOOK GlowLight is a value option with extensive eBook support, thanks to Barnes and Noble's excellent selection.
The Amazon Kindle and Kobo Aura H2O are also good options for eBook users. Amazon's entry-level eReader has a value-friendly price tag and the retailer's eBook library on its side, while the Aura H2O features stellar build quality for a premium eBook reader.