It can be hard to settle into reading online, with so many distractions that come from modern life. To get away from constant notifications from online services like Facebook and Instagram, you could turn off your smartphone or tablet and crack open a good book. Alternatively, you can invest in an e-reader. An e-reader can hold, literally, thousands of books and lets you step away from distractions that come with computing devices in favor of a more focused experience.
After weeks of research and months of testing, I can tell you that the Kobo Libra H2O(available at Kobo) is the best e-reader, for most people. Featuring a large display, crisp screen resolution, and great front lighting, a well-stocked online bookstore, and a number of built-in applications that make accessing free content easy, it offers every feature that a book lover could want. If you prefer a smaller device or need to buy one on a budget, Kobo’s Nia (available at Walmart) is also a fine choice. It offers most of the features of the Libra H2O, in a less expensive package.
As its name implies, the Kobo Libra H20 is waterproof, with an IPX8 rating that allows it to be submerged in 6.56 feet of water for up to 60 minutes at a time. Given its 5.67 x 6.26 x .31-inch dimensions and 6.77-ounce weight, I was surprised by the strength of its build quality.
Its seven-inch, 300-PPI (Pixels Per Inch) display and even front lighting with adjustable color temperature controls, make the H20 easy on the eyes. Its readability is enhanced by a large selection of fonts, font sizes and weights. Its physical buttons and touch interface make for easy navigation. A built-in accelerometer detects when you change the device’s orientation and adjusts the H20’s display accordingly. This makes using the e-reader with your left or right hand a pleasure.
The Kobo bookstore features over three million titles and offers an all-you-can-read monthly subscription service. Additionally, the H20’s OverDrive functionality makes it possible to borrow digital books and periodicals from your local library. Finally, there’s Pocket: a free-to-use read-it-later service that allows you to send articles and long-form content to peruse later. Click the extension and the content will be synced to your Kobo device in an e-reader-friendly format.
Crisp, bright display
Wide selection of paid/unpaid reading material available
While it isn’t waterproof and lacks our Best Overall pick’s physical buttons and adjustable colored front lighting, the Kobo Nia provides a very similar user experience.
Weighing a mere 38 ounces and measuring 6.20 x 4.40 x 0.36-inches in size, the Nia is one of the smallest and lightest e-readers around. Its six-inch, 212-PP1 touchscreen display can’t match the sharpness of text offered by our Best Overall pick or the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. However, I found I could read on the Nia for an hour at a time, without any eyestrain.
The Nia offers the same access to the Kobo Store, book subscription service, Overdrive and Pocket as the Kobo H2O. It’s difficult to imagine running out of things to read when using this device.
If you prefer (or are locked into) Amazon’s ecosystem of reading and audio content, the Kindle Paperwhite is for you.
The 2021 (11th generation) Kindle Paperwhite is slightly larger and about an ounce heavier than its predecessor. However, it’s still light enough to hold with one hand, for a good, long reading session.
Thanks to its larger dimensions and thinner screen bezels, the 2021 Paperwhite is able to accommodate a 6.8-inch E Ink display: a significant upgrade over the six-inch display that had been the signature of the product line since 2012. Text and grayscale images appear crisp, thanks to the new display’s 300 dots per inch resolution and consistent side lighting, made possible by 17 strategically-placed LEDs.
For the first time, Paperwhite readers have the ability to change the color temperature of the device’s lighting which can help reduce eye strain (in my experience) and help to diminish the amount of blue light that you’re exposed to. All of this extra display real estate and lighting are backed up by a faster processor than the last version.
Charging has gotten faster, too, thanks to Amazon’s sunsetting of Micro USB in favor of a USB-C charging port. What hasn’t changed is that 2021 Paperwhite owners still have access to Amazon’s unrivaled collection of e-books, comics, newspapers, and periodicals as well as Audible audiobooks and podcasts. Additionally, it’s still tough enough to survive casual abuse of being knocked around in a book bag and other similar misadventures. And, as with the 2018 edition Paperwhite, the latest iteration has been awarded an IPX8 rating. This means that it will continue to function, even if it’s left in close to seven feet of freshwater, for up to an hour.
At the time this review was written, Amazon offered two different versions of the 2021 Kindle Paperwhite. The premium version of the device called the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition (available at Amazon), comes with 32GB of internal storage, a light sensor to automatically change the device’s display brightness to match exterior lighting conditions, and 10-Watt wireless Qi charging. The entry-level Paperwhite comes with packing 8GB of storage and forgoes the Signature Edition’s light sensor and Qi charging capabilities.
It’s our opinion that most people should invest in the entry-level Paperwhite. While 8GB isn’t a lot of storage if you’re using a laptop full of software, it’s more than enough space to store thousands of e-books. Additionally, for a device that can go for weeks between charges, wireless charging isn’t so much a convenience as it is an absurdity. Charging your Kindle’s battery via USB-C is faster and more efficient.
I’m Séamus Bellamy, the Updates Editor at Reviewed. I'm a voracious reader who doesn’t have space in my home for more than a handful of paperbacks. Over the past five years, I’ve relied on e-readers to satisfy my passion for reading. I’m familiar with most of the e-readers on the market and, in the past, have reviewed them for multiple publications.
The best way to test an e-reader is by reading—a lot. I spent several weeks with each device, using them to PDF files, trashy mystery masterpieces published in a number of e-book file types, digital comic books and image files, in an attempt to get a feel for how each one performed. I also noted the amount of content that could be accessed by each e-reader.
I paid attention to the quality of text displayed on its screen, its refresh rate (how often the device erases the artifacts left on its display from the previous pages you’ve perused), and the effectiveness of its front lighting. I noted how responsive its user interface was.
What You Should Know About E-Readers
If you read for more than a few hours a week or find yourself too distracted by app notifications to settle into a good book, owning an e-reader—rather than downloading an e-reading app on your tablet—is an absolute must.
Most e-readers are designed for one task: the consumption of literature, be it in print or narrated as an audiobook. Some models are smaller and lighter than a tablet, making them more comfortable to hold during long reading sessions. Others, like the reMarkable 2, are as large as an iPad, making them ideal for perusing PDFs or comics. In most cases, an e-reader’s non-reflective display and adjustable front lighting make it possible to use them in any lighting condition.
E-readers are also great when it comes to battery life. Even with moderate use, a tablet, like an iPad, needs to be charged, often. Depending on your reading habits, you may be able to go for weeks at a time before your e-reader’s battery requires charging.
What’s The Difference Between a Kindle and an E-Reader?
Nothing! Kindle is simply the brand name of the line of e-readers that Amazon sells. The Amazon Kindle is arguably the best-known e-reader brand in North America. Think of it along the same vein as when someone asks for a Kleenex, they’re actually asking for a tissue.
Only Amazon Kindle devices and Amazon’s Kindle apps for iOS, Android and computers can read the e-books you’ve purchased from the Amazon Kindle Store (with a few exceptions that we’ll talk about, in a moment). This is because Amazon’s e-book files are protected by DRM (Digital Rights Management).
This isn’t a practice that’s unique to Amazon, however: most e-books from Barnes & Noble or Kobo’s digital stores, for example, are protected also protected by DRM. So, they can only be read using Barnes & Noble’s or Kobo’s hardware and apps, respectively.
Where Can I Get E-Books That Aren’t Protected by DRM?
If you’re like me, you believe that the digital content you own should be able to be used in any way you see fit. Investing in DRM-free e-books allows you to do this, as they can be read on most any e-reader, tablet or computer.
To get you started, here are a few outlets that offer DRM-free content:
Project Gutenberg:Project Gutenberg offers over 60,000 free, DRM-free e-books to download and read. You’ll find that most of the e-books here are books and publications that are old enough to have entered the public domain. If you love the classics, this is a great place to start.
Rakuten Kobo: The Kobo bookstore offers a small number of DRM-free e-books that can be downloaded from their website to be sideloaded onto an e-reader.
Amazon Kindle Store: While the majority of e-books you can download from the Kindle Store are DRM-protected, there are a few exceptions. A number of publishers, such as Baen and Tor, for example, have requested that their books be sold by Amazon, without Digital Rights Management measures in place. Amazon doesn’t make it easy to find their selection of DRM-free titles. Finding books through Amazon without DRM protection in place takes time and research.
SmashWords:SmashWords is an e-book distribution site that features a huge selection of titles from well-known publishers as well as self-published material. It’s possible to buy books from most genres from their website.
E-Reader Terms to Know
There are a few terms we discuss in this guide that may not be familiar to you but are important to know when shopping for an e-reader:
E Ink Carta or electronic paper display: Types of low-powered displays often found in an e-reader. Small electrical charges are used to move microcapsules towards and away from the surface of the display, forming text and images. The content shown on most e-reader displays is monochromatic. These displays consume far less power than traditional laptop and tablet displays do.
Ghosting: The outline of letters and images leftover from reading previous pages of a book.
Refresh Rate: How often an e-reader clears its display of all content before loading new content. The more frequent the refresh, the less ghosting you’ll see.
Front lighting: A ring of LEDs embedded in an e-reader’s display bezel.
Sideloading: Using a computer to transfer content to an e-reader.
DPI and PPI: Dots Per Inch and Pixels Per Inch: Measures of an e-reader’s display resolution.
What About Color E-readers?
E-readers with color displays are a relatively new development. We’ll review them as the technology matures.
Other E-Readers We Tested
The Kobo Elipsa (32GB model tested) with its 10.3" front-lit display, is the best large-screen e-reader around. The fact that it can take handwritten notes is just icing on the cake. Currently, the Elipsa is only available as part of a set that includes a protective leather and rubber case and a battery-powered stylus.
The Elipsa offers access to over three million books via the Kobo Store, as well as the ability to peruse saved web content via Pocket or library books using Kobo's OverDrive service. It's game-on for side-loaded content as well: the Elipsa is compatible with 15 different file types. If you want to read it, this device can likely handle it.
Despite its large size, the Elipsa weighs just 13 ounces, making it comfortable to hold and read for an extended period of time. However, its protective case doubles this weight. But that's OK: while you can hold it like you might a magazine, this is a device designed to be cradled in the lap or used on a tabletop.
During testing, I found the Elipsa to be very responsive: page turns and display refreshes were pain-free. I was pleased to find that the Elipsa is no slouch in the note-taking department, either. Using the device's active (a nerdy way of saying that the stylus is battery-powered) stylus, I found that its pen latency was a very close second to what users of the reMarkable 2 enjoy. You’ll be glad this is the case as you use the stylus to highlight and markup passages in PDFs or ebooks. The Elipsa can handle hand-written notebooks as well. User notebooks can be synced to Dropbox for reference on other devices.
That said, there is considerable room for improvement. For starters, the Elipsa isn't waterproof: use it in the bathtub to your peril. There are two buttons that allow users to highlight content or erase pen input that are built into the shaft of the Elipsa’s stylus. These buttons can be frustratingly easy to press by mistake.
There are some software issues as well. Hand occlusion (the way that a touchscreen device ignores the palm of your hand while accepting input from your fingers or a stylus) while writing on the Elipsa is spotty at times, making it occasionally impossible for the device to recognize stylus input. I was also less than impressed with the limited number of templates available to write and draw on. Fortunately, all of these irritants can be corrected with software updates—an area that Kobo has always excelled in.
The PocketBook Inkpad 3 Pro comes with a built-in bookstore, its offerings are, to be blunt, are pretty awful. However, it could be a good option for anyone comfortable with sideloading content from their personal digital library of DRM-free e-books.
I liked its bright 7.8-inch 300 PPI display and front lighting controls. However, I did notice some significant ghosting (barely visible letters and images from the last page you read, that are there when you ‘turn’ to the next page of an e-book) between refreshes. The Inkpad 3 Pro’s reading software makes navigating a large collection of e-books easy and provides a number of features that allow for a customized reading experience. Users can use a row of physical buttons or its touchscreen to interact with the device.
The Inkpad 3 Pro is waterproof. However, I have concerns about its build quality: I found that its plastic body routinely cracked and popped.
The Onyx Boox Nova 3 is really more of a tablet with an E Ink display than an e-reader. It comes preloaded with a number of apps, including an excellent e-reading app and a note-taking application that can be used with the tablet’s included WACOM stylus. When writing or drawing on its screen there was a noticeable amount of input lag, which was jarring. The Nova 3’s bright 7.8-inch 300 DPI display was easy on the eyes, in all lighting conditions. During testing, I found the tablet felt sturdy and I appreciated that it charges and transfers data via USB-C.
The real draw of this device, however, is that as it runs a customized version of Android 10, it’s possible to add a wide variety of apps to it, such as Amazon’s Kindle app or Comixology—provided you’re able to install the Google Play app. Doing so vastly expands the number of outlets to draw reading material from.
Unfortunately, despite owning an Onyx device and having previously gone through the process, I found that installing Google’s app services to the Nova 3 took three attempts. That the device is this fussy, out of the box, could make it less accessible to less tech-savvy users.
Excellent build quality
Stylus included for drawing and note-taking
Charges via USB-C
Difficult Google Play Store installation
Downloaded apps can distract from reading
Running on the same Android operating system as the Nova 3, the Boox Poke 3 lacks the Nova 3’s WACOM digitizer display. At 153 x 107 x 6.8mm in size and weighing a mere 150 grams, it’s small and light enough to use, one-handed, for hours at a time. Its crisp, six-inch 300 PPI display, will make you want to use it, often.
Unfortunately, it’s similar enough to its larger sibling to be subject to many of the same shortcomings. The Google Play store can be installed on the Poke3, but doing so can be a frustrating process. Additionally, the ability to install games and social media apps, and the pop-up notifications that come with them, could make your reading experience on this device less immersive.
Finally, the Poke 3’s smaller size means that it contains a smaller battery than the Nova 3. That these two e-readers are so similar in function means that you’ll get less use out of the Poke 3 than with Onyx’s larger e-reader, before it needs to be recharged.
If I had to use one word to describe the Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight Plus, it would be ‘slow.’
While setting it up for the first time, it took forever to turn on. It took ages to find my WiFi network and a long time to create a user account. The device lets you use Gmail or Facebook accounts to sign in, but when I tried both, neither allowed me to continue with the setup process. The e-reader's snail’s pace continued once the setup was complete. While typing with its on-screen keyboard, It took so long for what I had written to register that I was left wondering whether or not the e-reader’s operating system had accepted my input.
However, the GlowlLight Plus isn’t without its charms. Its library management system makes it easy to categorize and keep track of any books on the device. Barnes and Noble’s Nook Bookstore has a very respectable selection of reading material to choose from and it’s possible to sideload books from other sources onto the device from a computer. Whatever you choose to load on it, you’ll find that the GlowLight Plus’ crisp text and excellent color temperature-controllable front lighting make reading a pleasure—provided you can stand how long it takes to move on to the next page in your book.
Decent digital bookstore
Good e-book management
excellent lighting color temperature controls
Software slow to respond to most interface commands
If you read a lot of large-format books, like academic texts or PDFs, the reMarkable 2 is for you—with a few significant caveats.
When I tested it, the reMarkable 2 was only capable of opening two file types: ePub-formatted e-books and PDF files. This limitation could, for anyone that wants to use the device to view other file types such as Microsoft Word documents or e-books published as a .mobi file, be a deal-breaker. Another knock against it is the fact that it has no front lighting. So, you can only use it when there is enough ambient light to view its large 10.3-inch, 226 PPI display.
That said, the reMarkable 2 offers the best electronic writing experience that I have ever encountered. It was created for note-taking, drawing and annotating documents. Those PDFs and ePub files? You can write on and highlight sections of them to your heart’s content.
Using its included stylus to scribble on its display nails the feel of writing on paper. There’s no noticeable input lag—a technical feat made possible, in part, by having no front lighting to get in the way of the device’s digitizer. There are plenty of pen types and line options to choose from, making it easy to customize the device to your scribbling needs.
If scads of handwritten notes are a part of your everyday life, you’ll love this thing. Those looking for a more substantial e-reading experience should buy something else.
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