Posted by Matt Egan 01 August 2013
Best eReaders: we find the best e-book readers for every budget
What is the best eReader? It's a question we are asked often. Here we attempt to show you what are the best eReaders for every kind of user.
Best eReader: eReader or tablet?
The first question is: do you really want a dedicated eReader? A 7in tablet such as the Nexus 7, for instance, costs a little more than an Amazon Kindle, but offers many more features such as full web browsing, email, games and apps. And with the free Amazon Kindle app installed such a tablet works in much the same way.
But there is a downside to purchasing a tablet and using it as an eReader. For one thing no-one has yet worked out how to put e-ink on to a tablet. So you will struggle to read outdoors in all but the dullest conditions, and you may find that your eyes get tired when you read.
Tablets tend also to be heavier than lightweight dedicated eReaders. You'll find a 10in tablet particularly difficult to hold on to for any period of time, especially if you are lying down or sprawled on a sun lounger. (And what's the point of a device for reading if you can't loll out to use it?)
Finally, even the best tablets struggle to get anywhere near the battery life of a true eReader, which can go weeks without a charge.
You could read books on your smartphone, by the way, although the glossy screen and tired eye issues are in play here too. So if you want a device purely for reading books, I'd personally suggest you purchase a dedicated eReader. Amazon, however, disagrees... (See also: How to get Kindle books on your iPhone or iPad.)
Best eReader: Kindle vs Kindle Fire?
Amazon further complicates matters with the introduction of the Kindle Fire range. To recap: Amazon was the online book seller that first popularised eReaders with its hugely successful Kindle range. It has subsequently built on its success by producing the Kindle Fire range of full-spec tablets.
There's nothing wrong with the Kindle Fire tablets - your humble author uses a 10in Amazon Kindle Fire HD as his eReader, despite the weight and glossy screen issues. But the same caveats apply as they do with any full-blown tablets - I can't read lying down for long without feeling like I am working out, and reading under direct sunlight is all but impossible.
Best eReader: Kindle vs the rest
From here on in we'll concentrate on dedicated eReaders. Amazon is clearly the market leader. It has a range of Amazon Kindle eReaders that match all budgets. These range from the £70 Amazon Kindle through the £109 models the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Touch, up to the Kindle Fire devices mentioned above.
Amazon Kindle devices have dropped in price in the past couple of years, they are well built and they offer all the features you could expect from an eReader. The more expensive models offer features such a touchscreen, backlit screen and always on 3G so you can always download books wherever you are in the world. So the question is, why would you choose anything other than a Kindle?
The only real answer is choice: where other eReaders let you source your books from a variety of sources, Amazon makes its money from the books you buy rather than the initial purchase price, so it locks you into its world.
Locked in you may be, but it is a gilded cage. There's a choice of over a million eBooks in the UK Kindle store, which is most easily browsed on a PC rather than the Kindle itself, although you can if you need to.
Many books are cheap, but top-priced bestsellers are also available. You can use Amazon's clever One-click payment system to buy books and, as long as your Kindle is connected to Wi-Fi, books download automatically within a minute or two.
You can re-download any book you've bought even if you delete it from your Kindle, and there's more than just books on offer. The Kindle can automatically download new issues of newspapers and magazines to which you subscribe (via the Kindle store) and there are also children's books and comics.
It's easy to set bookmarks, and Amazon's Whispersync function means these, annotations and your last-read page in each book are synchronised across all your devices, be it an iPad, iPhone, laptop or Android device with the Kindle software installed.
The disadvantages of the system are primarily that you can't lend a fellow Kindle user a book, nor can you yet buy said user a book as a gift.
It also means you can't buy an eBook from a different provider to read on your Kindle, at least not without more hassle. The Kindle supports PDF and TXT files, and you can email other types, such as Word documents and images to your Kindle.
There's no native support for the popular ePub format, but you can get them on to your Kindle if you're determined. See: which Kindle should I buy? for more.
Best eReader: Sony, Kobo, the rest
So who are Amazon's rivals? There are a few, and you can find reviews of them all on our sister site PC Advisor.
Sony, Barnes & Noble and Kobo are probably Amazon's chief competition. Sony's eReaders are expensive for the initial purchase in comparison to almost all other eReaders. Indeed, I'm really struggling to think of a reason to recommend Sony eReaders. In the old days they tended to be better built than rival products, but these days that's not the case. They're all good. And all major brand eReaders tend to use the same screens, so unless you are a Sony completest I can see no real reason to choose Sony above Amazon, Kobo or Barnes & Noble. Sony eReaders support different book formats and have some specialist features that will appeal to geeks.
The reason to choose Kobo is simple, you can add books via a variety of sources. Most eReaders provide access to an online store and in Kobo's case it's very similar to the way you buy books on a Kindle, being both easy and fast. The selection of books isn't quite on a par with Amazon's offering, but it's certainly not bad at all.
Crucially you can also transfer books via USB if you want, and supported formats include the popular ePUB. With some Kobo eReaders you can also add books via a microSD slot.
Barnes & Noble is an interesting case. A kind of proto-Amazon, on the one hand the book seller makes nice eReaders. In principle B&N provides an ecosystem for their customers to buy and read books. B&N's main UK selling portal is uk.nook.com, and customers will be able to find more than 2.5 million digital books, including UK newspapers and magazines. It also offers content from independent publishers and self-publishing authors through the PubIt programme. The only trouble is Barnes & Noble is relatively new to the UK, so it is something of an untested resource.
The B&N Nook is able to support EPUB PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP file formats. Don't expect to be able to take your downloaded books off your Nook via USB though, as your downloaded content is locked to your Nook and not transferable, apart from a temporarily lend to a friend using Lendme. And you can pick up B&N eReaders pretty cheap, sometimes for less than £40.
That's all good, but their is minor room for concern. After an ill-fated attempt to compete with Amazon's kindle Fire by making full-spec tablets Barnes & Noble announced some awful financial figures and said it would no longer make tablets. There is no suggestion that it will stop making or supporting eReaders, but if you want to be locked into a booksellers world, Amazon is a better long-term bet in my view.
There are other eReader brands out there. I wouldn't want to tell you not to buy one, but buyer beware: in eReaders, as in tablets, you get what you pay for.
See also: best tablets to take on holiday.