If you’re an avid reader — and even if you’re not — an ebook reader is a must-have item. You can carry thousands of books in your pocket, read for days without recharging the battery, and buy new books on the go. There’s even a ton of free content out there that you can download for your e-reader.
But if you’re going to buy one, which one should you buy? It seems like new options come out all the time with a range of new features and even more widely varied prices. Which ones are worth shelling out for? Let’s take a look at your options.
The Ultra-Premium Range
There’s really only one e-book reader that falls into this range, and that’s Amazon’s new Kindle Oasis. At almost $300 for the reader with ads, and a staggering $380 for the ad-free option with 3G, you can actually buy a small computer for the price of this e-reader. But it’s by far and away the best one out there.
The thinnest part of the Oasis (our Kindle Oasis review) is 0.13″ thick, and without the cover, it weighs just over 4.5 ounces. Ten built-in LEDs provide eye-friendly illumination (though it lacks the adaptive light sensor of other models), a 300 pixels per inch (PPI) screen gives you great resolution for reading or viewing images, and the battery life is phenomenal — Amazon says you can go “months” without plugging in, depending on your usage.
The Oasis also has page-turn buttons that harken back to the original Kindle; while it might seem like a step backward from touch screen page turning, it’s actually really nice. The entire Oasis has been designed for ergonomic comfort for both right- and left-handers, and the included leather cover adds a touch of class (as well as added charging capabilities).
In short, it’s the best ebook reader out there.
The Premium Range
Of course, not everyone is able — or willing — to spend that much on an e-reader. If you still want a top-of-the-line experience, though, you’re in luck, as there are a number of good options. As you might expect, Kindle e-readers feature prominently in this range.
Before the release of the Oasis, the Kindle Voyage was Amazon’s most expensive reader — even today, when it starts at $200, it’s still a significant investment. It packs a lot of the same benefits as the Oasis, just in slightly budget-friendlier versions. There are six LEDs instead of 10, for example, and the battery life is estimated at “weeks” instead of “months.” There’s no included charging cover, and the PagePress buttons are more similar to touchscreen page-turning (though they’re still on the bezel, which is great).
All that being said, the Voyage is still a phenomenal reader, as it packs non-backlight illumination, an adaptive light sensor, 300 PPI resolution, and comes in at under 7 ounces. This is the reader that I use myself, and I absolutely love it.
Instead of opting to compete directly with the Voyage, Kobo decided to go down a different road: their high-level ebook reader, the Aura H20 is waterproof (they say it’s rated up to 30 minutes in one meter of water with the port cover closed). This is perfect for summer reading on the beach or reading in the bath. Another big advantage of the Kobo is that its base price is its only price: you don’t pay extra to go ad-free, like you do with Kindle. And at $180, it’s cheaper than a Voyage.
Besides the waterproofing, though, you’ll see a couple compromises. The screen, for example, is 265 dpi, which is less than that of the Voyage. There’s no option for 3G connectivity, so you’ll always need to be connected to Wi-Fi to get new books. It does pack the Kobo ComfortLight, which is easier on your eyes than a backlight, and battery life is listed as two months, depending on usage, though, which is great.
At just over 8.5 ounces, it’s a bit heavier than the competition, but some of that weight likely comes from the microSD card slot, which lets you add up to 32GB of storage to your device, a unique bonus among popular e-readers. And the screen is larger than any of its competitors at 6.8″ (everything else is 6″). The Aura H20 — along with the other options presented below — proves that you shouldn’t only look at Kindles.
Barnes and Noble’s Nook GlowLight Plus also packs waterproofing, and a 300-dpi screen, but comes in at a more reasonable $130. The rest of the features are much as you’d expect: glare- and scratch-resistant screen, Wi-Fi connectivity, and an always-on GlowLight that lets you read in the dark or in bright sunlight without straining your eyes. And with battery life for six weeks of 30-minutes-per-day reading, you won’t be charging it much.
Since this article was published, a newer version has been released, the Kobo Aura H2O Edition 2.
The biggest worry with a Nook is that Barnes and Noble’s reader hasn’t sold as well as they’d hoped, and they’re reportedly cutting costs in their e-reader division. While there’s no indication that the Nook itself is going away, it’s a worrying trend.
The Voyage’s little brother, the Kindle Paperwhite, has come down quite a bit in price to a much more reasonable $100. You don’t get the PagePress functionality (it’s touchscreen page-turning only), you come down to four LEDs instead of six, and you gain about an ounce in weight. Like the Voyage and Oasis, the Paperwhite can be purchased with 3G functionality, as well as in an ad-free form, though both of these will cost you extra on top of the base price of $100.
The Standard Range
If you’re thinking that ebook readers are way more expensive than you expected, you’ll be happy to hear that you can get the introductory-level Kindle and Kobo readers for less than $100.
Kobo’s Touch 2.0, at $90, has most of the same features as the Glo HD, but without a light. You still get the anti-glare touchscreen, solid battery life, and 6.5-ounce weight, but you won’t be doing any reading in the dark. You’ll also have to settle for a 167 dpi screen, but you don’t have to look at ads when you lock the device.
The standard Kindle is the same; at $60 for an ad-enabled version, you get a 167 dpi touchscreen, no option for 3G, and a 6.7-ounce body.
Both of these readers come without any frills, but they still let you take advantage of the best parts of owning an ebook reader: you can download thousands of books, read in bright sunlight, and carry them in your pocket.
Ebook Readers You Already Have
You might not know this, but you probably already have a device that you can use to read ebooks. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can download the Kindle, Kobo, or Nook apps and use them to buy and read books (you can also use these apps to supplement your e-reader; I often use the Kindle app on my phone for a few minutes of quick reading if I don’t have my Kindle with me).
The obvious advantage of this is that the apps are free; you’ll just have to pay for books. This is a great way to take advantage of ebooks without shelling out for an e-reader. However, there are some disadvantages, too. Ebook readers are very light and ergonomic, whereas holding your phone or tablet for long periods of time isn’t really ideal. The presence of a backlight on your current mobile devices is also hard on your eyes, even when in night mode.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, iBooks is also a great choice for an e-reader; in fact, maybe people prefer the reading experience to that of the Kindle or other ebook reader apps. Again, if you already have the device, you don’t have to pay for the app, and that’s a great deal.
You can also download ebook reader apps for your computer, which, while also not terribly ergonomic, is great for when you want to take a quick break from whatever you’re doing to read.
The Best Ebook Reader
As you may have guessed, the Kindle Oasis runs away with the title of best ebook reader when price is no object. The extreme thinness and light weight combined with ambidextrous page turn buttons, 10 LEDs, huge battery life, and an included leather charging cover make this one a no-brainer. If you want the best e-reader out there, get the Oasis.
Most people, however, aren’t going to be willing to spend that much on an ebook reader, which is why the premium range of readers offers a much better overall value proposition. It’s hard to choose between the Kindle Voyage and the Kobo Aura, as they both provide a lot of value for their respective costs. The Voyage, however, has a higher-resolution screen, weighs less, has PagePress buttons, and gives you the possibility of 3G, making it the all-around winner for features and price. If you can spend the $200–$290, it’s absolutely worth it.
The fact that it’s not waterproofed is a bit of a drawback compared to the Aura, but there’s a good chance that Amazon will add a water-resistant Kindle to the lineup in the near future. Whether you want to hold off buying one to see if they do depends on how likely you are to drop your ebook reader in the water.
Of course, everyone has different priorities, and yours will determine which reader is best for you. But all things held equal, the Voyage is the best bet for features and price.
Do you have an e-reader? Which do you think is best? Which features are most important? Share your thoughts below!