[Last updated February 25, 2013]
[Note: If you have comments or questions about this page, if we made a mistake, or if you want to relate an experience about any ereader on it (or not on it), please let us know. We'll be updating this page as much as possible, and we welcome your help and feedback. The prices below might not be entirely up-to-date because they fluctuate so often; please let us know if a price has changed.]
[P.S. After you find the right ereader for you, be sure to check our free Digital Downloads, including our lit mag, C4, and The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology, a collection of 25 outstanding short stories from the web. You can also find our books at Smashwords through Stanza, at Barnes & Noble through the Nook, and at the Kobo store, by searching for "Chamber Four."]
TABLE OF CONTENTS
[Our picks for the best ereaders for several genres of reading (books, newspapers, magazines, etc.)]
[All ereaders on this page: the ones we like, and the ones we don't.]
[Miscellaneous ereaders we don't like, and brief explanations why.]
[A quick guide to formats for ebook beginners.]
[While you're here, check out our guide on how to get ebooks.]
Best ereader for casual/interactive book reading: The Kobo Mini ($80), formerly the Kobo Touch, is still our top pick for casual ereading, because Kobo offers the most open ebook environment (the $80 Kobo Mini has ads, but we think that’s an acceptable tradeoff). Kobo will let you take books you buy on your Mini with you to other ereader platforms, and they’re the only company that will—that makes your Kobo ebook purchases safer and more useful than books bought from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
The Kindle ($70 with ads) used to be a great target, back when the Touch model was comparable in price to the Kobo Mini. Without that touchscreen, the basic Kindle is best bought by casual readers who never take notes—the directional pad is fine for navigation, but hell on highlighting. We definitely recommend these two devices over all off-brand ereaders and other iterations like the Kindle 3G, and the Nook Touch. The Nook Touch has come down in price to $80, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Barnes & Noble announced bankruptcy within the lifetime of a Nook Touch bought today, and if that happens, your books will probably vanish. Same goes for the Nook Touch with Glowlight ($120). The Kindle Paperwhite ($120) has some interesting features, but we’d only recommend it if you need a Kindle with a touchscreen or you have poor vision. In all other cases, go with the Kobo Mini (and use your smartphone in lowlight situations), or upgrade to the $200 Nexus 7.
Best ereader for newspapers, magazines, kids’ books and more: We believe the iPad mini and the iPad ($330-500) outclass all other tablets. If you can’t abide the iPad’s hefty price tag, we recommend Google’s Nexus family of tablets ($200-500). We’re no longer interested in any “color ereader” from any ebooks-oriented company. We’ve liked B&N’s tablet line (current models are the Nook HD and HD+, $200-270) in the past, but Barnes & Noble has never delivered on their potential. The Kindle Fire Family (~$200 and up) seemed like a good option… until Google came out with its own at-cost 7″ tablet. The Kobo Vox ($180) (or soon the Arc) is an also-ran here, it’s not as cheap as the Nook Color and it lacks some crucial features, like the ability to search within books. But if you’re nervous about losing ebooks because of DRM, Kobo has the most open DRM scheme, and might be worth a look. Just remember that you can read Kobo books (or Nook books, or Kindle books), on either the iPad or the Nexus 7.
A note on formats for ebook beginners
If you’re just getting into ebooks and ereaders, some of the jargon might get a little confusing, but it’s not as complex as it sounds. Here’s a few quick definitions that should give you a handle on the major formats and jargon.
First, you’ve got DRM, which stands for Digital Rights Management. It’s basically a lock that publishers put on ebooks to prevent piracy. You buy the ebook, only your registered ereader can open it. Most major publishers release ebooks with DRM, and most formats we’re concerned with are DRM formats (most ereaders support most non-DRM formats as well). Generally, only one kind of DRM is allowed on any given device. DRM is annoying for customers, and if you buy DRMed books, you should know that you won’t be able to keep them forever, because sooner or later something like this will happen. In the meantime, however, you can borrow ebooks from the library. Check it out at your local library’s website, or find an elibrary near you on OverDrive’s website. And Calibre is a great, free program you can use to organize and load your non-DRM ebooks.
Adobe ePub and PDF: ePub has become the major non-Amazon DRM format. You can get library ebooks in ePub, and a wide variety of ereaders support it. Most ePub-compatible ereaders also support PDF. If you have a choice, get ePub; PDF is a visual format, not a text-based format, so it often has problems when you zoom in or alter text formatting. Warning: Some ebookstores are now selling “ePubs” locked with their own proprietary DRM, which is not Adobe DRM. Notably, Apple’s iBookstore sells “ePubs,” but those books will not work with any device other than the iPad. Be aware that “ePub” no longer necessarily means an open format that will work across devices.
Mobipocket, or mobi, used to be a widely prevalent format, but has been overtaken by ePub, and now mobi’s on its way out. Get an ereader with ePub support instead.
Amazon Kindle format: This is a specialized brand of mobi that only Kindles and the Kindle iPhone app can read. Because this format locks you into a single account, we recommend getting an ePub-compatible ereader and not a Kindle. Hopefully, Amazon will allow ePubs later this year, but wait until that’s a reality.
eReader is the format of choice at Fictionwise. It’s the evolution of the old Palm .pdb format, usually with DRM added on. The problem is that no standalone ereader is compatible with eReader, so your device options are limited to mobile devices like iPhones and BlackBerrys, and desktop (or laptop) PCs. Update: According to Ectaco, the jetBook is now compatible with eReader (but only eReader, which makes it a sacrifice).
Other: Non-DRM formats like .doc and .rtf and .txt are supported by most ereaders. If you need a more arcane format, check this ereader matrix to see which devices support it.
OUR PICKS — DESCRIPTIONS
Best ereader for: Social book readers who don’t need a color screen. One of our top picks.
Upsides: All the basic features we like, and you can take your Kobo books with you to other ereading platforms, which is a huge plus. Kobo’s social side is the best of the major ereaders.
Downsides: The $80 version has ads. It’s $100 without ads.
DRM content supported: Adobe ePubs. (Library books supported as ePubs.)
Quick summary: Like the original Kobo, the Kobo Mini seems to be a bare-bones reading device. This version has a touchscreen and measures only 5″, a size which is great if you want to take it on your commute, less great if you need to bump the font size up. The touchscreen will let you take advantage of Kobo Reading Life, a cool little idea that makes reading social. With it, you can track your reading, earn or give rewards, and other fun stuff (read more about it here).
A touchscreen will also make general navigation easier, and will greatly speed up searching and note-taking.
So, if you like the idea of a touchscreen ereader, and you don’t need color for magazines or videos, your two best options are the Kobo Mini, and the Kindle with ads, which is now cheaper at $70 but doesn’t have a touchscreen.
The Kobo/Kindle face-off was more of a coin flip before Amazon removed that touchscreen, now we’d go with the Kobo unless you specifically need a Kindle for something (Prime lending and reading foreign books are the top two cases).
The Nook Touch comes in at a distant third because Barnes & Noble is likely to go bankrupt soon and we don’t trust Barnes & Noble’s ebooks to remain valid after that. (We don’t entirely trust any of these companies, but that’s why we put such a premium on Kobo’s transferable ebooks.)
Links: a thorough preview of the Kobo Touch, including a video; a video of the competing Nook Touch; spec comparison between Kobo Touch and Nook Touch; the Kobo Mini page. The Kindle Touch page at the Verge, including their review (note their prices are out-of-date).
Best ereader for: Casual book readers. One of our top picks.
Upsides: Prime subscribers can borrow a book each month for free. Cheapest E-Ink reader out there.
Downsides: You’re locked into Amazon ereaders. No touchscreen.
DRM content supported: Amazon proprietary. (Library books supported as Kindle books. But beware.)
Quick summary: The base-model Kindle is the only E-Ink Kindle we’d consider, unless you need a touchscreen or have poor vision, in which case we’ll look the other way while you get a Paperwhite (like Nico did). The basic Kindle model had a great balance between price and feature set—until its latest iteration lost the touchscreen.
If you just want to read books, go for this model. If you want to highlight and take notes, go with the Kobo. If you want the freedom to take your books with you to future ereaders, definitely go with the Kobo, as it’s the only device that will let you. But the Kindle Touch is $10 cheaper than the Kobo, and Prime subscribers can borrow an ebook every month, for free (more info here).
The Kindle doesn’t have real page numbers, only “locations” which confuse and irritate us, as does the fact that Amazon sneakily discontinued the Kindle Touch, which had been clearly the best Kindle.
Links: See this post for more about why one of our writers, a longtime Kindle hater, bought a Paperwhite. The Ars review of the old Kindle Touch. GigaOM review. The old Kindle Touch page at Amazon. The new Kindle basic page. Functionally, all these E-Ink ereaders are the same. Beware that the Kindle Lending Library is not an ideal system.
Best ereader for: People who must have a Kindle and need a touchscreen.
Upsides: Prime subscribers can borrow a book each month for free. Capacitive touchscreen.
Downsides: You’re locked into Amazon ereaders. It’s $50 more than the base model.
DRM content supported: Amazon proprietary. (Library books supported as Kindle books. But beware.)
Quick summary: There’s no question that the Kindle Paperwhite has better features than either the Kobo Mini or the basic Kindle. The question is whether those better features are worth the extra $40-50 you’ll be spending on this model.
There are a few valid reasons to get a Paperwhite. The frontlight is not worth $50 if you have a smartphone you can read on, and the extra contrast is not worth the money either (unless you have poor vision, and need that contrast). But the Paperwhite is the cheapest Amazon ereader with a touchscreen.
So there’s a new case for a Paperwhite: if you want a Kindle and need a touchscreen, this is your best option. If you have a lot of Kindle books, or you’re learning a foreign language, or you’re a Prime subscriber and want a free book to borrow every month, the Kindle ecosystem might be worth the tradeoffs (which include harsh DRM and the ickiness of buying things from Amazon). [See this post for more about why one of our writers, a longtime Kindle hater, bought a Paperwhite.]
If you don’t need a touchscreen (i.e., you don’t notate or highlight very much), get the basic Kindle and don’t look back. If you don’t need a Kindle-specific feature, get the Kobo and don’t look back. If you’re the rare legit Paperwhite case, go ahead and get one, but never ever look back because Jeff Bezo is right behind you.
Links: See this post for more about why one of our writers, a longtime Kindle hater, bought a Paperwhite. The Verge review of the Kindle Paperwhite. Beware that the Kindle Lending Library is not an ideal system. If you don’t need a specific Kindle Paperwhite function, remember that the basic functions of all these E-Ink ereaders are the same. The Paperwhite page at Amazon.
Upsides: Great hardware and interface, no doubt. Full-color screen means great magazine, comic book, and newspaper reading. A wide variety of apps means you can get books and magazines from all over the place. Library books supported.
Downsides: The Mini is the most expensive of 7″ tablet options.
DRM content supported: The widest range available, through various apps. Kindle format, Adobe ePub, and more. Library books supported.
Quick summary: The iPad is certainly an attractive toy, and if the price of it isn’t an issue, it’s going to be the best ereader around, because it simply offers the most content, and the best experience.
Additionally, the iPad has been around for the longest time (among color devices), and has the best reputation. You know exactly what you’re going to get with it, and you’re probably going to be happy.
That said, what if the price is an issue? Then we recommend the Nexus 7 over all other discount tablets (like the Kindle Fire or the Nook tablets), because it appears to be the best design, and the only tablet that might hold a candle to the iPad. Just remember that almost any tablet feels great out of the box—the real test comes six months or a year down the road, and Apple wins those long-distance races every time.
Whatever you do, don’t buy a Surface.
Upsides: Great price point (the 32 Gb model is only $250), and great reviews so far.
Downsides: This isn’t an iPad, and won’t be as good as one.. Don’t harbor unrealistic expectations.
DRM content supported: A wide range, including Kindle and Kobo apps. Library ebooks available as ePubs.
Quick summary: The 7-inch tablet is a terrific form factor: perfect for books and videos, super-portable, and coming in at a great price point. And the Nexus 7 looks like the first full-featured $200 tablet that you’ll actually be able to use—it’s gotten great reviews, and Google’s a company that can make at-cost tablets make sense.
But it’s important to note here: almost every current smartphone/tablet device feels great out of the box, so you need to take those rave reviews with a grain of salt. The real test is how well they perform after six months or a year, and the iPad is the only one that you don’t have to worry about. So the Nexus is a risk, and you should know that going in. But, for the price, it’s not a huge risk.
We think the certainty that your tablet will work well in a year is worth an extra $130—we’d go with the iPad Mini. But the difference between $200 and $330 is huge, almost a 70% bump, so we can understand a different choice.
So, if you’re shopping for a 7″ tablet and you refuse to shell out for the iPad, go for the Nexus 7 above all challengers. But if you’re considering a Nexus 10, starting at $400, we definitely recommend an iPad instead—the price difference there is only 25%, and the quality upgrade will justify the extra money.
FULL LIST OF EREADERS ON THIS PAGE
Those we like
Kobo Mini, ($80)
Kindle Paperwhite ($120)
Apple iPad Mini and iPad, ($330 – $830)
Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 ($200 – $500)
Those we don’t like
Barnes & Noble Nook Touch, ($100)
Kindle Fire, ($200)
Kobo Arc, (not available in US?)
Amazon Kindle other edition (3G, etc.), ($120-180)
Nook Color/Nook Tablet/Nook HD, ($140-300)
The entries below here are not updated regularly. We definitely do not recommend any of the following devices.
Sony Reader Wi-Fi, ($130)
BeBook Neo, ($250 + duties)
Aluratek Libre, ($120)
Velocity Micro Cruz Reader, ($200)
Velocity Micro Cruz Tablet, ($300)
Astak Pocket Pro, ($160)
Spring Design Alex, ($400)
Plastic Logic QUE, (out of business)
Amazon Kindle DX, ($380)
iRex 1000S, (out of business)
Bookeen CyBook/Orizon, ($250)
Bookeen Cybook Opus, ($190)
Cool-er Reader, (out of business)
Ectaco jetBook, jetBook Lite, and jetBook Mini, ($99 and up)
Foxit eSlick, ($200)
iPHONE/iPOD TOUCH EREADER APPS
Appbooks (such as TouchBooks Reader and Iceberg Reader)
OTHER EREADERS — (THOSE WE DON’T LIKE)
Best ereader for: Casual and interactive book readers, and grandmothers (their words). One of our top picks.
Upsides: All the basic features we like, including a touchscreen. You can lend books to friends with Nooks.
Downsides: The Kobo Touch looks to have a better social side. Both Kobo Touch and Kindle Touch have better prices. Barnes & Noble might declare bankruptcy any day now.
DRM content supported: Adobe ePubs. (Library books supported as ePubs.)
Quick summary: If you’re interested in an E-Ink ereader, and a touchscreen, it comes down to the Nook Touch, the Kobo Touch ($80), and the Kindle Touch ($70). The Nook Touch recently came down to $80, which almost makes it a legit contender. But we would caution you of the possibility that Barnes & Noble might not be in this book business for the long haul, and so we rate the Nook Touch the riskiest out of the big three, and recommend you do not buy it if possible.
If B&N does go bankrupt, Nook buyers will probably lose their Nook books. This is always a concern when buying any media in a DRMed format, but it looks like an elevated danger here. The Kobo, on the other hand, will let you install your Kobo books on other devices. So if you’re worried about that, get off the fence on Kobo’s side.
Best ereader for: People who want a tablet but not an iPad (also check out the Nexus 7).
Upsides: Appears to have a good content system and a zealous development team, but we’d trust the Nexus 7 more.
Downsides: Not without some rough edges.
DRM content supported: Kindle format. Supports library books and lets Amazon Prime members download a (backlist) ebook once a month for free. This is not an ideal system.
Quick summary: The Kindle Fire family boasts screens ranging from 7″ to 8.9″, access to all kinds of media from National Geographic to Netflix, and a stellar price tag, just $200 for the Fire HD.
Amazon can afford to sell these devices at or below cost because they move so much content. The only other company that can compete is Google, and the Nexus 7 (also $200) seems to give you a better experience for the money. We’d pick the iPad Mini out of these three, but there’s a lot to be said for buying a Nexus 7 and saving 40%.
Because Nexus 7 reviews have been wholly more positive than Kindle Fire reviews, we’d choose the Nexus for those who want a 7″ tablet (a great form factor, by the way), and want it on a budget.
One Amazon bonus is that, if you’re a Prime subscriber, you can borrow a book each month for free (but those books only work on dedicated Kindle devices). More info here.
Links: Comparing the Kindle Fire to the iPad is moronic. As a bonus, it’s really easy to side-load Android apps (even the Nook app) onto the Fire. Don’t get excited about the super-hyped Silk browser. Engadget’s review; Gizmodo’s review; Instapaper founder’s review; a review roundup; and the Kindle Fire page at Amazon.
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Not good for: People who want a really polished device (or an iPad).
Upsides: Read your books across all your devices, and take them with you if you migrate to a different ereader.
Downsides: Reviews have been lackluster. You’ll probably get more content and more extras with the Kindle Fire.
DRM content supported: Adobe ePub. Library ebooks supported as ePubs.
Quick summary: Kobo is the most frustrating major ebook platform around. On the one hand, they’ve designed some of the most forward-thinking ereading software yet created, featuring intricate social features, like Kobo Pulse, which lets you comment on books as you read them in a great big meta-conversation among Kobo readers. They also created Reading Life, which keeps track of your books and reading in a fun and unique way.
But, their last contender, the Vox, had some real shortcomings. You can’t search within books, and there’s no dictionary, which are industry-standard ereader functions. Additionally, some reviews say the Vox feels cheap and thrown-together.
On the plus side, you can export Kobo books to other platforms, so you’re never tied to Kobo the way you’d be tied to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
This new ereader, the Arc, might be better, but it might not either. For those considering it, we’d trust the Nexus 7 more.
Best ereader for: None of these are really worth their various price points, except the Paperwhite if you must have a Kindle and a touchscreen.
Upsides: Amazon ebooks.
Downsides: The Kindle is just a better all-around deal.
DRM content supported: Library books supported.
If you want a one-purpose device like an ereader, we recommend defaulting toward the cheaper models. So, while Amazon offers a range of other Kindles besides the basic Touch model, we don’t think any of their price points justify their drawbacks.
The Kindle Paperwhite ($120) has some interesting features, and we think there are certain cases when it could be worth the money: if you need both a Kindle and a touchscreen, the Paperwhite is now the default option; if you’re buying for a grandparent with bad vision, the Paperwhite’s high contrast is key. But don’t buy it for the frontlight. The rather convincing TV ad shows people reading in low light, but if you have a smartphone, you can get the Kindle app and read away in impromptu spots. We think the Kindle is worth it if you want to curl up for a while at home—just like a regular book. If you want more, upgrade all the way to a Nexus 7, and you’ll get a full-featured tablet.
The Kindle Keyboard 3G ($140) charges an extra fifty bucks for free 3G internet. We don’t think that’s worth the money, especially if you have a smartphone (you’ll also lose the touchscreen).
Bottom line, if you’re considering upgrading to one of the more expensive Kindles, get the Paperwhite or go ahead and upgrade all the way to the full-color Nexus 7. If you want an E-Ink ereader, look at the Kobo Mini first. If you’re deadset on a Kindle, the Kindle is the way to go.
Links: The Kindle page on Amazon.
Upsides: Great color touchscreen, micro-SD card, WiFi.
Downsides: Barnes & Noble hasn’t shown much interest in keeping their flagship devices on the cutting edge.
DRM content supported: Adobe ePub, library books supported as ePubs.
Quick summary: The Nook Color is a 7-inch color touchscreen Android-powered ereader, retailing at $170. It has: WiFi, but no 3G; a sharp LCD color touchscreen; an 800Mhz processor; 8Gb of onboard storage and a micro-SD card for more; and it claims an 8-hour battery with WiFi off.
The Nook Tablet has the same form factor, with a better processor, and 16 GB of hard drive space, (but you can only use 1 GB for non-B&N media). It retails for $200.
In 2010, we liked the Nook Color quite a bit. It was a completely different type of device, a great size for ereading, a great-looking interface, and half the cost of a full tablet.
Since then, our enthusiasm has waned. The Nook Color’s original firmware had some missing pieces. It didn’t support comic books or certain magazines, like the New Yorker. It didn’t allow any apps. You could barely take notes on it. But Barnes & Noble promised an update was coming just a few weeks after the device’s launch. That update was four months late and lackluster.
Barnes and Noble is still promising updates, but they can’t save our original Nook Color, which is now an unusable brick. The Kindle Fire team, for comparison, released the Fire’s first update on the day it went on sale, addressing issues raised by early reviewers. That’s astounding.
In the debate between the Nook Color/Nook Tablet and the Amazon Fire, the largest difference lies in the devices’ manufacturers and development teams. Having spent a frustrating year with a Nook Color, we can assure you that B&N’s development team will not win that fight, against almost anybody.
To make matters worse, there are growing signs that Barnes & Noble wants to get out of the book business. If they do, there’s a significant risk that B&N ebook customers will simply lose all the DRMed books they’ve bought.
In sum, if you have the budget, upgrade to an iPad. If you’re capped at $250 and you really want a color ereader, we have to recommend the Kindle Fire by default.
Links: The CNET review of the Nook Tablet; the GigaOM review; the Verge review. A roundup of reviews of the Nook Tablet, Kindle Fire, and iPad. More on our disappointment with the Nook Tablet. And the Nook homepage at Barnes & Noble.
NOTE: We don’t keep the entries below this line updated, so information will likely be out-of-date. We don’t recommend any device below here.
Sony Reader Wi-Fi, $130
Upsides: Touchscreen, library ebooks.
Downsides: Suspect Sony software*. Suspect Sony touchscreen.
DRM content supported: Adobe ePub. (Library books supported as ePubs.)
Quick summary: The Sony Reader Wi-Fi is Sony’s last remaining ereader. There’s unfortunately not a lot to recommend it anymore, and certainly not enough to justify spending $30 more.
Links: Our review of the PRS-700; the trouble with Sony’s eBook Library; the trouble with Sony’s new EBL 3.0 for Macs; the headache you’ll have if you get a lemon; a comparison of the original Kindle and the PRS-700; our complete archive of Sony Reader-related posts; and a video review of the 600 at Mobiletechreview―they say the screen isn’t as bad as the 700′s and isn’t as good as the 505′s.
A reader also tipped us off to the Sony Reader Forums, where Sony users discuss their experiences with various models and more.
*UPDATE: Sony has put out a new desktop (and Android) application that actually works, and alleviates most of the software headaches past Sony users had to endure.
Upsides: The WACOM (stylus) touchscreen might be more comfortable for note-taking. Endless Ideas (the parent company) does great customer support. Also has WiFi.
Downsides: Too expensive.
DRM content supported: Adobe ePub. Library books supported as ePubs.
Upsides: Adobe DRM means you can buy from a wide selection of bookstores. LCD screen means it’ll be faster than E-Ink ereaders. The Libre can also play mp3s.
Downsides: LCD screen also means less contrast and possibly less direct-sunlight readability (see review links at the bottom of this entry for more info). It does not appear that the Libre can sync with smartphones like the Kobo.
DRM content supported: Adobe PDFs and ePubs. (Library books supported as PDFs and ePubs.)
Quick summary: The Libre doesn’t have wireless, but like the Sony Pocket and the Kobo it supports Adobe ePub, which is a much more attractive format than Kindle or Apple proprietary—not least because ePub allows you to borrow library ebooks.
The interface is reportedly a bit clunky, and it “feels cheaper” than the Sony Pocket, according to the ZDNet review linked below. But, to be honest, it’ll probably be fine, just like almost all other ereaders we’ve tried. The Libre also syncs with Adobe Digital Editions, which means that you can buy ebooks anywhere with Adobe DRM (it also means you don’t need to worry about Borders going under). That’s a big plus, and we like the Digital Editions software.
So it mostly comes down to LCD vs. E-Ink. If you’re tempted by the Libre, we recommend you find a Borders and compare it to the Kobo in person. Kobo and E-Ink over the speed of LCD. Also take a look at the Kobo with WiFi, and the Nook (also with WiFi). For the same money, we’d side with E-Ink. If you’re interested in LCD, also check out the jetBooks.
Links: The Aluratek ereader line.
Upsides: It’s a cheap tablet.
Downsides: Too much cheap, not enough tablet.
DRM content supported: PDFs and ePubs (we think—it’s linked to the Borders ebookstore). It’s unclear if library books will be supported as PDFs and ePubs.
Quick summary: The Velocity Micro Cruz Reader is a bargain-basement Android tablet. It’s as cheap as a tablet can possibly get, and it will show.
The biggest problem: it has a resistive touchscreen, which means that you should use a stylus to control it, like an old-school PDA. But there is no stylus, so you’ll wind up mashing the screen over and over, helpless.
If that doesn’t sound like a complete dealbreaker, you also won’t get newspapers or magazines, so we’re not sure why readers would want the downsides of LCD (low battery life, alleged eye strain) with none of the upsides (specifically, content that benefits from color).
Links: Here’s a hilarious video review of the Reader, which some guy conducts in a store—he mashes the screen over and over, helpless. Here’s the promotional video from Velocity Micro, with a guy who has obviously mastered the screen, but that does not make it look too much better. Here’s the Cruz Reader homepage.
Downsides: Does not look very good for readers.
DRM content supported: None. (Library books not supported.)
Quick summary: The Cruz Tablet seems like an interesting option—as they say, $300 for a fully featured tablet ain’t bad. But we can’t help but think that it isn’t, in face, fully featured. It has a few little bonuses, like a webcam and an included dock. But, if you’re looking for an ereader, this just doesn’t seem like a very good bet.
The Cruz Tablet comes preloaded with a set of Android apps (you can see them on this page if you click the “Uses” tab), but there’s no access to the Android Market to get more. While Velocity Micro boasts that the “Cruz Market” will provide other options, do not hold your breath.
That means you’ll have a few Android freebie ereader apps like Aldiko, but we’d be willing to bet that the Kobo and Nook apps won’t be available. Which means that most of your book shopping will be through the Borders store, and you won’t be able to get library ebooks, newspapers, or magazines.
If you’re looking for a tablet primarily for reading, we’re leaning toward the Nook Color—it’ll offer all the content this Cruz Tablet won’t, it should do most things this Cruz Tablet can, and it’s $50 cheaper.
Best for: Casual book readers, but can’t quite justify its price tag.
Upsides: Full featured. Offers searching within books, and text-to-speech.
Downsides: The Astak’s interface is clunkier than the Sony PRS-300′s.
DRM content supported: Adobe DRM PDF and ePub; library books supported as PDF and ePub.
Quick summary: When Astak first announced its EZ Reader in May (when it was called the Mentor), it looked like a line of all-new designs. Now that it’s here, it appears to be the same build as the 6-inch model (i.e. a Hanlin V3) with a smaller screen and a choice of colors (on the case, the screen is still black and white).
There are a couple of interesting features that Astak can brag about: most noticeably text-to-speech, a search function, SD card support up to 16 GB, and support for a wider range of non-DRM formats (such as .pdb, .lit, .prc, as well as the usual suspects). Also, they’re evidently working on support for the eReader format (popular at Fictionwise), which is currently only available for smartphones and the like.
In our side-by-side comparison of the Sony PRS-505 and the BeBook (also a Hanlin V3 build), the Sony had a better build quality and a better user interface. However, the comparison between the Pocket Pro and Sony’s new bargain ereader, the PRS-350 (at $180), is closer. The PRS-350 has no extra features, including no SD card slot and no hard case, only a “sleeve.” The Pocket Pro has a slightly clunkier interface, however. Read more details at our review of the Pocket Pro.
So, while the Astak has some intriguing features like text-to-speech and searching within books, we can’t recommend it over the cheaper Kobo or Nook. If you don’t need WiFi, you can get the much cheaper Kobo without WiFi for $100.
Spring Design Alex, ($400 DISCONTINUED)
Best for: Interactive book readers (note-takers)—but waaaay too expensive. Barnes & Noble was able to undersell them, and the Alex has been discontinued. They claim to be working on a new product. This entry has been left up for reference.
Upsides: The two-screen interface has tons of potential. Comes with WiFi and note-taking features.
Downsides: Price tag. If this were the same price as the Kindle, it’d be a no-brainer.
DRM content supported: Adobe DRMed ePub. Library books supported as ePubs.
Quick summary: Basically, the Alex has an E-Ink ereader in its top screen, and an Android phone in its bottom screen (it can’t make calls, obviously, but it can run apps and browse the web like a Droid). The idea is that you scroll through your books, or the web, on the smaller LCD screen, and then you read long-form with the top screen. It’s a much more refined version of the Nook.
Unfortunately, it’s also much more expensive. At $400, it’s very tempting to throw in an extra c-note and get an iPad. We’ll be keeping our eye on the Alex—if the price comes down by $200, this is a done deal—but we’re not holding our breath. Reviewers have also complained about the lack of selection with the Alex’s store, but it supports Adobe ePub, so you can always get books from the library or one of the many other ePub stores (see our page, The Best Ways to Get eBooks, for specific stores and instructions on borrowing library ebooks).
Alex currently has WiFi, and there are rumors of a 3G version in the works. There have been some complaints about the Alex store’s book selection, but since the Alex supports Adobe ePub, it will be compatible with books from a wide range of ebookstores, and with library ebooks, so don’t let that stop you. Let the price stop you instead.
Upsides: Wireless-everywhere means you can get books everywhere.
Downsides: Constant free wireless comes at a premium: $50 extra. If you’re not absolutely sure you need it, get the WiFi-only edition. A proprietary Kindle format makes this device a bad one for book readers, especially now that Amazon has no book-price advantage. Clunky interface.
DRM content supported: Amazon has recently announced that Kindle users will be able to borrow library books in the future, but they haven’t said how yet. Stay tuned.
Quick summary: The Kindle’s big selling point has always been its wireless-everywhere, but with the Kindle 3, they’ve put a price tag on it: $50 extra. The wi-fi-only Kindle is $140, and you should have a pretty good reason to spend the extra money. Amazon recently announced that the Kindle will be able to borrow library books, which was one of our big reservations about their device, so that’s nice. But library books still haven’t materialized, so we’d say hold off until they do.
Amazon has recently come out with a “Special Offers” Kindle 3G that will knock $25 off the asking price in exchange for showing you ads forever. We don’t recommend getting the Special Offers Kindle.
[Note: the Kindle 3 is nearly identical to the Kindle 2, so we're leaving up our Kindle 2 links.]
After years of development and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of funding, Plastic Logic realized that nobody wanted to pay $800 for a device with less functionality than many cheaper devices, like the iPad. So they canceled the whole thing. Sell your Plastic Logic stock now.
The rest of this is our original entry on the QUE.
Quick summary: The QUE seemed like the best ereader in the world when it was first shown off…. two years ago. Since then, smart phones have become ubiquitous and ereaders have become cheap(er). So when the QUE finally debuted, its calendar wasn’t all that impressive. To make matters worse, the iPad is more functional and cheaper.
The only things the QUE has going for it are its ability to hand-write notes, and its E-Ink screen. Those don’t add up to $800 worth of value.
Until the price comes down by half, there’s no reason to get a QUE.
Best ereader for: Wealthy textbook or PDF readers.
Not good for: Casual book readers.
DRM content supported: Amazon-proprietary only. (Library books not supported.)
Quick summary: The Kindle DX is the big brother of the Kindle 2.0. With a 9.7″ screen and native PDF support, it’s designed to be used by students and businesspeople for etextbooks and PDFs. However, it still doesn’t have a touchscreen, which makes the highlighting process kludgy at best. In fact, other than the screen, the DX’s specs are very similar to the Kindle 2.0′s, and its downsides are very similar as well.
DX still doesn’t have folders, still can’t read any DRMed file you don’t get from Amazon, and is even more expensive than most casual ereaders. Amazon’s Whispersyncing annotation feature, called “Clippings,” is promising (although, it might have a secret limit), and, indeed, the DX is the first step toward a revolution in textbooks. However, it’s hard to recommend in its current state.
Links: A thorough review of the DX at TeleRead; a video of the kludgy highlighting process; a comparison of the DX and the iRex; an explanation of the mediocre Clippings feature, and its limits; the DX page at Amazon.
Sony Reader PRS-950SC (Daily Edition), $300
Not good for: The budget-conscious; book readers.
Quick summary: Sony’s Daily Edition ereader has a 7.1″ touchscreen that seems designed for “two-page view” (pictured).
The Daily also features 3G wireless, hooks to lesser-known content sources, and a big price tag at 300 bucks. Admittedly, Sony’s come down from where the 900 started—at $400—but still, this is a tough sell.
Sony’s touchscreens have been notoriously disliked because of low-contrast glare problems, and fragility. They seem to have improved from the heady days of the 700, and in fact this TeleRead contributor loves his 950.
Sony’s hyped the Daily Edition’s tie-ins to the New York Public Library and ebookstores like Powells.com, but those aren’t enough to justify the price tag, or the lack of a plain browser feature (something the Nook and Kindle both have).
The bottom line: if you need newspapers, try a Kindle, an iPad, or a Nook Color. If you read books, get a Kobo. The Kobo’s more than $100 cheaper than the 900 and you can still get books and get into any library you’ve got a card to, at your regular computer.
A reader also tipped us off to the Sony Reader Forums, where Sony users discuss their experiences with various models and more.
UPDATE: Sony has put out a new desktop (and Android) application that actually works, and alleviates most of the software headaches past Sony users had to endure.
Shockingly, iRex, makers of the world’s most expensive ereaders, didn’t survive the Great eReader Adoption. This entry is left up for reference.
Quick summary: This device has a pretty slick-looking interface, tablet-like note-taking abilities, and a 10.2-inch screen. However, iRex products are far overpriced. Unless you’re an exec who spends all day reading full-size PDFS, only consider buying an iRex if you can afford to throw away $900 on a toy that will be obsolete in a year or two.
(iRex also makes a slightly cheaper ($699) ereader called the iLiad, but it’s difficult to tell from the iLiad’s webpage what exactly justifies the price tag.) There’s news of a $400 version, too. But honestly, this company’s products don’t seem designed for anybody without buckets of money to burn.
Verdict: It’s overpriced.
DRM content supported: Adobe ePub and PDF
Quick summary: The previous CyBook was an also-ran: it could only use Mobipocket, and it was way overpriced. This one’s in the conversation: it’s cheaper than ever and features an allegedly multitouch screen. But it’s still expensive and we like the BeBook Neo better, or the Sony Touch if you live in America.
If you need multi-language capabilities, however, reader Alan says a CyBook is your best bet (see next entry, just below).
Links: BeBook v. 505 comparison (including why CyBook was out of the running); CyBook reviews at the Future of Things and Trusted Reviews; BeBook v. CyBook at MobileRead; the CyBook webpage; the CyBook at BooksOnBoard.
Verdict: The Opus is a Europe-based clone of the Sony Pocket Edition. However, if you read in languages other than English, this is one of your only options.
DRM content supported: Adobe ePub and PDF (library books supported as ePub and PDF).
Quick summary: Reader Alan tells us that the Opus has multi-language capabilities that other ereaders don’t.
We haven’t tried out the language capabilities of many ereaders, but if that’s something you need, start here.
(Alan also said, “Most of the readers sold in America are frustratingly monolingual, like most Americans, I suppose.” So that was pretty funny.)
Other than the language thing, there’s not a lot to get excited about here. The Opus is Bookeen’s latest ereader. It’s got all the usual suspects, feature-wise: DRMed ePub/PDF support. E-Ink. An interface.
This is basically a European version of the Sony Pocket Edition, or the Astak Pocket Pro. If you live in Europe or speak languages other than English, give it a look. If you live in America, go for the Sony or Astak. The other major ereader that supports multiple languages is the jetBook. If you don’t need languages, check out our picks.
Guess color wasn’t that big a deal. Cool-er’s out of business. This entry is left up for reference.
Quick summary: The Cool-er’s big selling point is that it’s colorful (on the outside, that is; the screen is still monochrome). Other than that, it’s underlying specs are very similar to the PRS-300′s, and it’s interface seems to be a lot worse.
Like the Sony Readers, Cool-er supports Adobe Digital Editions, and DRMed ePub and PDF through Adobe. It has the regular E-Ink screen, the regular battery, etc., etc. But its build quality and user interface don’t compare. There are also complaints about the font and the mp3 execution.
If this device was $50 cheaper than the Sony Reader, we might have a race; as it is, no contest.
When Cool-er was first announced, they claimed to be the iPod of ereaders. Evidently they didn’t understand that it was the iPod’s user interface, and not its form factor, that made it a game-changer.
Verdict: These LCD devices were once the cheapest ereaders available, and the Mini still is. Plus, they are the cheapest ereaders that support multiple languages and alphabets, if you need that feature.
DRM content supported: Adobe DRM. Library books supported as ePubs and PDFs.
Quick summary: The jetBook is an interesting device, because it uses a non-backlit LCD screen instead of the usual E-Ink. That’s good because it’s faster, but opinions are mixed on whether it’s a better screen or not (we haven’t used one personally).
The only jetBook you should consider is the Mini—if you can spend $150, get a Nook or a Kobo. Unfortunately, the the Mini doesn’t support DRM, which makes it very tough to get books on it. Here’s the thing: if you’re not sure if you need DRM support, you probably need it. Only consider the jetBook Mini if you’re absolutely sure you won’t need any DRMed books.
jetBook also supports text input through T9 predictive typing, and boasts built-in translation dictionaries—which makes sense, since that’s parent company Ectaco’s bread and butter.
If it were me, I’d get one of these casual book reading ereaders, all of which are cheaper. But if you want a translator, too, or you read in languages other than English give jetBook a look. The other main ereader that supports multiple languages is the Cybook Opus.
Links: here’s a detailed user review; another helpful review (since it’s old, price and DRM info aren’t accurate); video of the jetBook in action; and the newly revamped and much better jetBook homepage.
Foxit eSlick, $259
Best ereader for: ???
Not good for: ???
DRM content supported: eReader. (Library books not supported.)
Quick summary: The Foxit eSlick recently upgraded and added the ability to read eReader DRM books. That’s better than nothing, but at this price point the eSlick still isn’t a viable option. If you’re an eReader fan, you’re better off with a jetBook (see above) for $80 less.
If you’re interested in newspapers and RSS feeds or the like, the eSlick’s asking price will buy you a Kindle or a Nook, both of which have 3G.
Verdict: These are usually overpriced.
Quick summary: It’s a popular way to jump into the ereader marketplace: you start with a Hanlin V3, which is an established (and cheap) ereader. Then you design your own firmware for it, and sell it under your own name. The original BeBook is a rebranded Hanlin, as is the Astak 6-inch EZReader. They look like the picture at right (plus or minus a logo).
Rebranded Hanlins are generally overpriced because there’s an extra middleman (whoever’s making a new firmware and pasting on their logo). So unless you find one for cheap, don’t bother. I’d say $200 is the most I’d pay for a 6-inch Hanlin these days. The going rate is closer to $300, like this one at Wal-Mart.
Keep an eye out for it, and realize what you’re getting before you buy.
The exception to the Hanlin rule is the Pocket Pro, which offers all the features of a six-inch Hanlin, except for a five-inch screen, and is priced at $199. If you’re in the market for a casual, cheap ereader, your decision is between the Pocket Pro and Sony’s PRS-300. The jetBook also comes into play, but only offers eReader DRM support (which isn’t as desirable as Sony and Astak’s ePub support).
MISCELLANEOUS EREADERS WE DON’T LIKE
We’ve been getting a lot of emails recently about some lesser known ereaders that, after research, aren’t worth full entries in this comparison. Instead, we’ll compile a list of them below, including a link and a brief explanation of why we don’t like each device.
Here’s a rule of thumb for these devices: if you want an ereader, look elsewhere. Go for the Nook Color, or an E-Ink reader like the Kobo Wireless, or a cheap LCD ereader. If you’re looking for an all-purpose tablet and you want to spend as little as possible, you might consider these. But just be warned that there’s a reason they’re all so cheap.
Pandigital Novel ($150): We have yet to see an even luke-warm review of the Novel, and Pandigital actually had to take it off shelves for a month after so they could rework the firmware (here’s an average review). Often uber-cheap gadgets are not worth even their low ticket prices; that will become a theme in this list. Another theme: this cheap tablet will make an unsatisfying ereader.
Nextbook 7″ Touchscreen Tablet ($160): This little device looks like the best deal of the sub-$200 color tablet ereaders, but that’s probably because literally the only information we could get on it is its HSN promo video—there are zero reviews out there, which gives us major pause. It also has a resistive touchscreen, which is a drag because it makes its screen noticeably more washed out. Still, this is the ubercheap tablet that makes the most sense, but prepare to get frustrated if you pull the trigger on it.
Coby 7″ Touchscreen Tablet ($180-200): Another HSN tablet, with another resistive touchscreen, and another tempting price tag. But this one is creeping up out of the sub-$200 range, which means you might as well get a Nook Color (if you want an ereader). We also couldn’t find a legit review of this device, but as an ereader it leaves a lot to be desired. It boasts Aldiko, which is not our favorite Android ereader.
Shaper Image Literati ($99): We think they’ve already stopped making the Literati, or at least this version of it. That $99 price suggest a fire sale on remaining stock. What you get is a really slow LCD ereader with a B&W (non-touch)screen. And it just sounds awful.
Samsung e60 ($299): Three hundred bucks!? No, sorry, not for three hundred bucks. It’s a touchscreen E-Ink ereader that looks pretty decent, but it’s far too expensive.
iPAD/iPHONE/iPOD TOUCH EREADER APPS
Note: We no longer update our mobile reader apps with any sort of regularity since most fizzled out and even the good ones like Stanza were quashed by iBooks (on iOS devices anyway) and the Kindle app. If you have a particular app you like, let us know and we’ll add it below for others to try out.
Best app for: iOS devices.
Not good for: People with large Kindle libraries.
Formats supported: ePub (iBooks bought from Apple are ePub with DRM), PDF.
Quick summary: Most iOS users will find this to be the most convenient app for reading. It does pretty much everything all the rest of the reader apps do, and has the Apple polish you’d expect. Unless you have a deep library tied to an app such as Kindle, iBooks is probably your best bet.
Notes: To read library books on iOS, use Overdrive.
Best app for: Kindle owners.
Not good for: Anyone else.
Formats supported: Kindle format only.
Quick summary: Though anyone can download to and read straight from this from Amazon, it’s much less a standalone reader app than it is a supplement to the Kindle. For Kindlers it provides a nice way to quickly pick up a page or two on the fly without breaking out your Kindle, and while retaining your place in whatever text you’re reading. For everyone else its an inferior reader app hamstrung by DRM. (Note: Kindle will be releasing an iPad compatible app that is purported to be a bit more feature rich. Even if this turns out to be the case, the decision to use it should still boil down to whether or not you want a Kindle library exclusively for your ebooks–and buying and using both a Kindle and an iPad is a tad insane.)
Best app for: Serious public domain readers.
Not good for: Penny pinchers; those who want read books outside the public domain
Formats supported: connects exclusively to Project Gutenberg.
Quick summary: High quality presentation and organization. Lots of visual touches that make it really easy to use and easy on the eyes. It’s a bit pricey and limited to public domain works, so not for everyone. (Unlike Classics and Classics2Go, however, the entire Project Gutenberg library is available in the improved format.) It is now supported by iPad, and the stylization and library are of the quality that users who would find this worthwhile on the iPhone should also on the iPad, despite iBooks.
Best app for: Most everyone with an iPhone or iPod Touch who wants to read with any sort of seriousness (at least in the realm allowable by the device). Those who don’t have a very good reason for choosing one of the other programs below. It is also supported by the iPad, so will be a nice open-format accompaniment to iBooks for users who go that Route.
Formats supported: DRM-free: anything. DRM: eReader format.
Quick summary: Stanza is hands-down the easiest and most open and user-friendly reader app available through iTunes. Using Calibre or their free Stanza Desktop, you can easily sync files from you computer to your device in seconds. It handles most every file format (with some DRM exceptions), and the interface and accessibility are hard to beat. Stanza is better than the competition, and it’s free of charge and free from advertising.
Best app for: Anyone who already has an eReader/Fictionwise account, or a library of eReader PDB files. Palm holdouts.
Not good for: Anyone else
Formats supported: eReader PDB only. You can convert files via their website if you really want to bother.
Quick summary: eReader does most everything right and is a competent reader app. But the file organization is not as intuitive as Stanza, and you must use the PDB format. Ultimately, the choice between Stanza and eReader boils down to you whether you already have a collection with eReader/Fictionwise or wish to start one, or whether want to manage your own files as you wish, as Stanza allows. The latter option is not for everyone, and if it’s not for you, eReader is likely to be your app of choice. There is no word yet whether this will become available to iPad users.
Best app for: Readers who only want a few casual choices in their pocket. Those who prefer form to function.
Not good for: People who take mobile device reading seriously.
Formats supported: None. You get what they give you.
Quick summary: Classics is actually a nice little app. Just don’t expect it to be anything more than it is. The books look nice, and the text flows well, even if it is a bit too large. There are nice graphics and animations, and the app regularly updates with new books every month or so (at no additional charge)–when I first got it there were 7 books, now it’s at 20. There are no customization options besides organizing your books on the virtual shelf, and no way to add or remove content. (Note: the shelving presentation is very similar to what Apple has done with iBooks. At this point, Classics is pretty much obsolete.)
Best app for: Readers who want a few more public domain books than Classics offers, and a lot less than Eucalyptus does.
Not good for: People who take mobile device reading seriously.
Formats supported: None. You get what they give you.
Quick summary: Classics2Go is essentially the same app as Classics. It has a similar presentation (though not quite as pretty), and a slightly larger library. If you want a quick preset library of public domain books, flip a coin and pick up one of these apps. Otherwise go for Stanza or Eucalyptus.
Links: Our review.
Barnes & Noble eReader
Best app for: Frequent Barnes & Noble customers, users looking for a low-hassle Kindle alternative on the iPhone.
Not good for: Getting books from somewhere other than Barnes & Noble.
Formats supported: ePub (I think).
Quick summary: This app is actually pretty feature rich and is one of the better iPhone reader apps. It does a lot right, and if you’re willing to filter your library through a Barnes & Noble account you’ll find a lot to like about this app. (Note: B&N is releasing a iPad enhanced app much like Amazon-sse above. The same reasoning there applies here.)
Best app for: Masochistic crazy people who prefer TXT files exclusively.
Not good for: Anybody.
Formats supported: TXT only. (There are sites that will convert non-DRM PDFs to TXT for you if you want).
Quick summary: Bookz is the lame horse that ran out of the gate first then tumbled over its own feet, crippling its left knee and leaving the jockey a tiny quadraplegic. It’s currently grazing on a sunny ranch right know, seemingly unaware it’s about to get a calming shot and a free trip to the Elmer’s factory.
Best app for: Dupes. Mid-nineties era Mac freaks nostalgic for the way things were.
Not good for: People who value their time and money.
Formats supported: TXT, HTML, FB2, Plucker, PalmDoc, Mobi, and some (non-ereader) PDB.
Quick summary: BookShelf isn’t terrible, it’s just worse than Stanza in every single department. The $6 price tag is ridiculous for the lack of format support and the hassle that syncing is. And the free version has ads that the better, freer, programs do not.
Appbooks using engines such as TouchBooks Reader and Iceberg Reader
Best app for: People who don’t want to deal with managing a digital library. Impulsive, non-serious mobile readers.
Not good for: People who hate cluttered devices, or those who like organizing digital libraries.
Formats Supported: None.
Quick summary: TouchBooks is just one example (and I think a nice one) of the types of software available in the single books apps (known unofficially as Appbooks) available through iTunes. Iceberg too is very user-friendly. None of these tried have hindered our reading, but having a single file attached to an app feels like sneaky DRM to us and I don’t like it. If that’s what you’re looking for, download away and enjoy. Ultimately it’s the book and not the conveyance that matters.
ANDROID APPS AND OTHER MOBILE READING OPTIONS
We know there are plenty more reading apps across more platforms than just Apple’s. While a lot of these seem to be throw away shovelware, there are bound to be many that are worthwhile. We don’t have the means to be as comprehensive on mobile phone reader programs as perhaps some would like. If you know of a program that really ought to be included, please let us know, and we will add it to the below list.
RECOMMENDED BY C4 READERS
Reader Paul recommends the FBReader app for Android.
Reader Oxana recommends uBooks for iPad.