Which e-Book Reader Should You Buy?

Category: Mobile , Reference

Amazon has a big hit in the Kindle Paperwhite e-reader. There’s a lot to like about this portable, single-purpose device that does its job so well. But there are other excellent alternatives available. Read on to see how they compare...

Real Paper or Paperwhite?

Some people love the tactile sensation (and maybe even the smell) of reading a real paper book. But millions of people are finding it more convenient to carry around their reading library in a small portable gadget called an e-reader.

I've been asked “Do you need a dedicated e-book reader?” Why not just use a tablet to read e-books, or even a desktop or laptop computer? A lot of people do, and an iPad, Ultrabook or even a clunky old desktop PC is certainly adequate for displaying plain text, bookmarking passages, flipping virtual pages, and managing a digital library. The free Kindle app on whatever hardware is handy is all that casual readers require.

But hardcore bibliophiles won’t settle for “adequate,” even though it’s free, just like pool sharks won't settle for house cues. They want the “best,” with bells and whistles and “thoughtful touches.” They want an ideal hardware/software platform that perfectly understands how they read, that anticipates all their reading desires and exists solely to fulfill them. In other words, they want unconditional love from a machine, and they’re willing to pay for it.

Best eBook Readers

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite comes in two connectivity flavors: WiFi only and WiFi plus 3G cellular capability. Each model has two price points: one with “special offers” (ads) that display when you are not reading, and one without. The ad-laden versions are $119 for WiFi only and $189 for 3G too. Opting out of “special offers” costs an extra $20. (As of 3 Aug 2014, Amazon is showing a "today only" $20 discount on Paperwhites)

Fans of the Paperwhite claim it’s “the ideal e-reader.” Using it is as intuitive as using a book, they say. Plus, the backlighting is infinitely adjustable for comfortable reading in any ambient lighting conditions. Text size is adjustable too, of course. Battery life is astounding; one Paperwhite owner who claims to read “a lot of books” says he’s recharged his Paperwhite only twice in three months. Owners of power-hungry smartphones who charge twice DAILY find this hard to believe.

Looking for FREE ebooks? You can find plenty, if you know where to look!. See my article Where to Find Free eBooks for links to the best free ebook sources.

The Paperwhite can be held and used with one hand. At just 7.3 ounces and a slim 6.7" x 4.6" x 0.36" it fits in a pocket easily. Its 2 GB of memory will hold 1,100 e-books comfortably. It can read Kindle Format 8 (AZW3), Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.

Old-School Book or New-Fangled NOOK?

Barnes & Nobles’ NOOK Simple Touch e-reader is priced at $119 and has only WiFi connectivity. It’s about a half-inch wider and a quarter-inch shorter than the Kindle Paperwhite, yielding a squarer shape that still fits in a pocket. The NOOK is 16 grams heavier than the Kindle, a trivial difference. You won't miss having 3G connectivity, unless you find yourself trapped in a cheap motel that doesn't have wifi, and you absolutely must download a new ebook RIGHT NOW.

Display resolution is more important. The advantage goes to Kindle Paperwhite with 212 pixels per inch vs. NOOK Simple Touch’s 167. The Kindle’s backlighting is more even and white, too. Both Kindle and NOOK claim that you'll experience no glare - even in bright sun.

The NOOK's web page says you can read for over 2 months on just one charge. But down in the small print you'll find this caveat: "A single charge lasts for over two months with wireless off, based upon a half hour of daily reading time. Actual results may vary." I think it's a given that your results WILL vary. Why not just say the battery life is about 30 hours?

CNET's favorable "Best E-ink Reader" is dated 06/01/2011. Other reviews on the NOOK site such as "Superb Reading Machine" (NY Times) and "The eReader You Want" (Gizmodo) are undated, which leads me to believe they are even older, and therefore not applicable to the current product line.

An Aura of Readability

The Kobo Aura e-reader lists for $149. For that extra money you get 4 GB of memory instead of the 2 GB in the Kindle and NOOK, plus a high-res display of 1024 x 758 pixels. You can browse the Web with a Kobo Aura, and read e-books borrowed from public libraries. (Kindle also supports this.)

Kobo offers an array of e-reader products, including the 5-inch Kobo Mini ($59), and the 6-inch Kobo Touch ($99). Both of those models lack a frontlight, which means no reading in the dark. The Kobo Glo ($129), Aura ($149) and Aura HD ($169) add frontlighting and progressively higher resolution screens and longer battery life. The Kobo Arc lineup features Android-powered general purpose tablets, similar to the Kindle Fire line from Amazon.

The Kobo “experience” encompasses access to over 4 million books, news articles, comics, and children’s titles. You can track your reading habits, which means Kobo can, too. Enrollment in “Kobo Reading Life” connects you to other Kobo owners so you can share books and discuss them.

These proprietary ebook readers serve primarily as sales funnels for ebook sales, and try to lock you into reading only with those devices. Amazon and B&N both make it hard to buy from other vendors. For example, you don't have the option on a Kindle or Nook to decide what ebook store you'll use.

Kobo is a bit different. They do have their own bookstore, but you can also purchase titles from other ebook retailers. You'll find the Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/) software handy for converting ebooks to the open EPUB format that Kobo uses.

Buying a tablet or e-reader is one of those things that is best done in a physical store where you can see and compare models in person. So a trip to the mall or a local electronics megastore may in order, even if you prefer to buy online after making your informed choice about which e-reader is best for you.

Do you have a Kindle Paperwhite, a Nook Simple Touch, a Kobo Aura, or maybe some other e-reader? Tell me why you like it. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Which e-Book Reader Should You Buy?"

(See all 32 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

John F
04 Aug 2014

I reluctantly changed from bound books to a Kindle Paperwhite about a year ago. One feature that I enjoy requires having the Kindle app on my Android phone and my iPad. So long as I end a reading session with WIFI engaged, Amazon tracks where I stopped reading. Whichever device I pick up next to read, my phone or my iPad, the Kindle app will retrieve the data from Amazon and a dialog box will ask if I want to be brought to the page I was at on the other device.
Going one expensive step further, if you purchase the book as text AND audio from Audible - an Amazon company) you can cycle back and forth from text to audio with Amazon keeping your pages sync'ed. However, the cost for an Audible book is considerably higher than the text cost, so you are buying two copies of the same book.
One other feature that I appreciate on my Kindle Fire (yes, two K's) is that I can not only highlight text, but I can use 4 different highlight colors simultaneously. I missed underlining and notating my bound books, this is an appreciated feature. But, this Kindle reader is quite expensive, so mostly I highlight in grey on my Paperwhite (which transfers from format to format.)
BTW, if you haven't switched from bound to an ereader yet, when you do I suggest you get as your first book a page turner; something you can't put down. When you are engrossed in the reading you will quickly become desensitized to the format change.

Posted by:

John Beck
04 Aug 2014

I have a Kindle Fire HD. I love it. In fact I probably read more than I did before I got the Kindle. It has taken the place of my laptop, though there are somethings a computer does better.I do feel I am reading books I never would have read before. And also have found books I wanted for a long Tim because I wore out the hard copy I had.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2014

I had an Auroatek Pro. No WIFI; no 3G. Plug it into the computer to transfer a downloaded book. Works great. My husband prefers it because there is no electronic time stamp and books don't expire from the library. I prefer to read on my Google Nexus 7". Only drawback is that you can't read in the sun. Love electronic books, especially when we travel in our RV.

Posted by:

Frank D
04 Aug 2014

I have the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight and the Nook HD tablet. I have over 800 books, and can read all of the same books on both. It depends on which environment I'm in at the moment, and which one I have with me. I prefer reading on the Nook HD since it doubles as a computer when in range of a Wi-fi hotspot. But for plain reading, either will do fine. Of course the Simple Touch will last for days on a charge, while the HD would need a recharge after about 8 hours. As for e-books, I can buy Amazon Kindle e-books and read them easily on the Nook HD in the free Kindle app. I can also read Kindle e-books on the Simple Touch after importing them into the free Calibre PC program, formatting them if necessary, and de-DRMing them. So it's not important where I get my e-books from. With PDF's, it's really not practical to read them on the Simple Touch due to the inflexibility of their format and text size. They can be read beautifully, however, on the Nook HD.

As for reading real books, I don't bother anymore. Who wants to keep holding a paper book open (some larger tomes are bulky and heavy) and turning their pages? And how would I carry around 800 paper books and switch among them with a couple of finger-swipes? Also, you can't look up definitions of words in paper books, and you can't click on links to Internet sites and have you taken there in a few seconds (on the Nook HD) for in-depth reference? There's just no comparison!

Posted by:

04 Aug 2014

You are not entirely limited to only Amazon to download to Kindle. I buy from Baen Books .mobi and use Book View Cafe .mobi and they load very well. However many seem to go to docs instead of books. Does not really bother me. The main problem is that Amazon can and will remove things from your kindle without you knowing until you try to find them. I download onto my pc to make sure I still have the books I bought from other places. I still buy paper books and read them, the Kindle is for portability.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2014

I have the Kindle Paperwhite. It is my 4th kindle as I always buy the newest model when it comes out. I love the Kindles and I find they have more than enough titles, and usually the best prices. I also have an iPad Mini which I read library books on. Here in Canada the library's don't support Kindle.

I have arthritis in my fingers so an ereader, and the iPad Mini, is perfect for me.

Posted by:

Chris Roelke
04 Aug 2014

Love my Kindle Fire HD 8.9. I'll never look back.

I agree with John Beck. Having a Kindle Fire HD has increased my reading greatly. I happen to have the larger one (due to eyesight problems). It also has the ability to check email, surf and shop the internet. The Fire has color too which I absolutely love! A grand invention.

I also have a regular Kindle used less often. My home is full of books - books that I can really no longer care for. They own me. Not so with my Kindles. Main care is keeping things charged up which I can do while I charge up (sleep).

Posted by:

04 Aug 2014

I have 2 Kindle Fire tablets & a Kindle Basic e-reader. I prefer the Fire tablets but the basic e-reader is great to read on as well. You are not restricted to buying ebooks from Amazon only, it's just harder to get the files on the tablet or reader if you don't buy directly from Amazon. I know of a few other folks that have more ebooks from sources other than Amazon on their Kindles than they have gotten directly from Amazon. Like other technology, if you know more than the basic information, there are lots of options available for reading material on your Kindle.

Posted by:

JI Means
04 Aug 2014

Another great article. It never ceases to amaze me all of the different ways we use our toys. The past 8 months or so have found me on the road so I've had to depend on my toys (an old Kindle, an IPad mini, and an IPhone)to keep me entertained. I have discovered that I find the Kindle cumbersome now and not as handy as the two Apple products. I have the Kindle App on each of those. If my IPad mini had telephone capability, I would probably get rid of the IPhone. Thanks for the link to other relatively inexpensive ebooks.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2014

Gave my Kindle keyboard to my adult kids and got this Kindle Fire HDX instead. Kindle app on my computer or phone is o.k. in a pinch, but only a real Kindle reads most books aloud (without paying extra for audible) so I can listen while driving and walking the dog (2-3 hours of my day) I mainly read non-fiction, so don't need an expressive actor gushing over the latest in teaching techniques or game theory.

Posted by:

Dave Rooney
04 Aug 2014

Kindle Fire HD. I started with the original Kindle (second generation), broke it and moved on to the Kindle fire HD (1st generation) sunk it in a lake. I am now on me 3rd Kindle Fire HD.
I read about 2 to 3 books per week and have over a thousand in my library. Not all are on me current Kindle as I had no reason to download those I have already read once I got a new device. All of the books purchased for the Kindle from Amazon are stored on their servers, so I can access them at any time.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2014

We have a NOOK HD+ - I love it! Great for reading, but also a tablet. We originally bought it as a more-versatile alternative to a portable DVD player for our daughter - we travel by car A LOT. As a paper-book lover, I never expected to enjoy reading on it as much as I do - and there is a never-ending selection of cheap-to-free books to download for it. Anything downloaded from B&N can be "shelved" to their cloud to free up space on the device without having to delete anything, and (in addition to the usual vast assortment of freebies) they have "Free Fridays" every week that feature one (usually, occasionally there will be an additional "bonus" selection) each of a book and an app; lately, they've also been offering an episode of a TV show. It is a fabulous way of carrying all the books you can read (and more!) when you travel. I'll be buying another.

Posted by:

Dwight Simmons
04 Aug 2014

The 7 inch Azpen tablets make great ereaders. THey are light with good battery life. They are available from 20$ to 80$ for decent lightweight readers. The Azpen 727 can be expanded with 32 gigs of memory. It also does a decent job with video. The App Moon Reader is a full featured app that reads almost every format - epub, mobi, cbr, cbz, and pdf.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2014

You can read library books on a Nook too - I do it all the time. I have a Nook, an iPad, and an iPhone - I have read on all 3. I prefer the Nook, as the formatting is designed for books, where (even with Nook and Kindle software), the iPad is designed for other uses.

Posted by:

05 Aug 2014

I bought an early Kindle for travelling. Much easier and lighter to carry a dozen books in a Kindle than in print. I was hooked by the time I came back from that first trip.

Subsequently I dropped it and replaced it with a Kindle paperwhite. The fact that it is possible to read without any illumination is a great bonus on a night flight when the flight attendants want the lights off "so people can sleep". I don't sleep on airplanes so if I can't read I get really grumpy and fidgety.

I also like the way Amazon keeps track of your purchases, when I replace my Kindle and registered it and deregistered the original, all my books were downloaded very quickly.

Posted by:

05 Aug 2014

I have a Kindle touch (generaton before paperwhite)as well as an iPad, Antroid tablets, laptop and desktops. I still prefer the Kindle over any of the other devices for reading books.

The three main advantages are:
1. Readable in bright sunlight (eg. reading books on the beach which is my favourite pastime)
2. LONG battery life. An iPad or Kindle HD will not last more than 10 hours
3. Light when travelling. This is more an advantage compare to "real" books. When I go on holiday I have more than a hundred books with me in the hand luggage.

Posted by:

05 Aug 2014

I liked this tweet from @garwboy:

'Last night my mate asked to use a USB port to charge his cigarette, but I was using it to charge my book.

The future is stupid.'

Posted by:

05 Aug 2014

I get worried about privacy. I believe Amazon can track my book-reading habits on my Kindle. Do you know to what extent this is true? Do other companies do it too? Does going into aeroplane mode reduce the information-leakage - or just store it up until the next time I'm on wifi?

Posted by:

05 Aug 2014

I read a lot. Have had three Kindles so far. PW now. Loved my Keyboard because I could organize the books better. Stored them all on my computer, too.

My problem is with the lack of "hands-on" instruction at Amazon. They are fine on the phone but I probably need to look someone in the eye. I would assume that I can do what I could do with the older one but cannot figure it out.

I charge every three or four days and I read 3-400 pages a day and have 2-3 books going at once.

I would buy a Fire but live in Canada and my government and yours cannot get that protocol settled.

Posted by:

05 Aug 2014

To manage the books on your e-reader, install the free e-reader management "Calibre" program. Download books in any compatible format and use Calibre to 'Copy to Device,' it's great for non-store books.
I've two Kindle e-readers and two Kindle Fires, all good devices. The e-readers are naturally better for just reading; the Fires are full-blown color tablets.
For reading in the dark, the reverse video (white text on dark background) of the Kindle Fire is best for minimizing eye strain. Oddly, the 1st generation Fire is superior in this mode than the newest Fire HDX; the HDX uses grey, not black, for the background while reading books and documents. Somebody picked grey for esthetics, not readability. :-(

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