While e-reader sales may be slowing as tablets become more popular, there are still plenty of reasons to choose one. And if there’s a reader on your list, picking up one of the best e-readers on the market is bound to make them very happy. You’ll save trees too.
Where tablets are multi-purpose devices with backlit, LCD displays and beefy processors needed to play games, the best e-readers are designed with a single purpose in mind: reading. They typically use a grayscale E Ink display from E Ink Holdings (PVWIF) and their processor needs are much more modest.
As a result, an e-reader is more lightweight, using it causes less eye fatigue than a tablet, instead of suffering from faded display and glare an e-reader actually looks even better outdoors in the sun. Oh, and battery life is measured in months instead of hours. And an e-reader also costs less than a tablet — an important consideration for gift givers.
Amazon (AMZN) kicked off the e-reader craze with its Kindle line and it still makes the most popular e-readers out there, but there are other compelling choices to consider. Our e-reader buying guide includes five of the best e-readers being offered for the 2013 holidays including models from Kobo and Barnes & Noble (BKS) and just for good measure, a tablet alternative (for those tablet die-hards) from Apple (AAPL).
Best E-Readers 2013, on a Budget: B&N NOOK Simple Touch
It wasn’t that long ago that the best e-readers were going for $399. Today they’re almost affordable enough to be impulse purchases. All the major e-book manufacturers now have a budget model priced below $100, but Barnes & Noble has been running a sweet NOOK sale (still live at time of publication). It offers a NOOK Simple Touch e-reader for just $59 with free shipping.
I spent a few weeks with a B&N NOOK Simple Touch last summer and there’s really nothing low rent about this e-reader. It has a unique form factor with wide bezels that makes it look a little chunky compared to others, but I find this makes it easy to hold (it still weighs just 7.48 oz). Text isn’t as crisp as the best e-readers at 600 x 800 or 167 ppi (pixels per inch) but it is a high quality E Ink Pearl display.
Other B&N NOOK e-reader features: There are 7 fonts to choose from, 2GB of built-in memory for 1,000 books or so, it offers microSD card expandability, 2 months of battery life and includes Wi-Fi for online shopping (just like any of the best e-readers in the current crop do).
The NOOK Simple Touch can take advantage of free Wi-Fi in B&N stores and 24,000 AT&T (T) hotspots. Because it supports the ePub format, e-books can be read on many other devices — just not Kindles.
Best E-Readers 2013, for the Amazon Fan: Kindle Paperwhite
There’s no doubt that Amazon got e-readers into the mainstream. And Amazon continues make some of the best e-readers and dominate e-reader sales. In fact, the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is easily one of the best e-readers you can buy.
The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite e-reader includes built-in lighting for reading in the dark without needing a clip-on accessory or turning on a light, yet it doesn’t cause eye strain the way a backlit LCD display can. Amazon claims page turns are 25% faster than the previous generation, and it weighs just 7.3 ounces.
And Kindle Paperwhite review also notes that this e-reader includes Wi-Fi, 2GB of storage, the latest Carta 16-level grayscale E Ink display at 212 ppi, 2 months battery life (that will go down with Wi-Fi and light use) and options such as 3G connectivity or a Special Offers (advertising) screen saver for cost savings.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite prices start at $139, with the ability to cut that to $119 if you opt for special offers.
For someone who is invested in the Amazon ecosystem, the Kindle Paperwhite tops the list of best e-readers to buy for the 2013 holidays. That’s especially true considering there are so many great free books for the Kindle.
However, if you’re buying this for someone who’s new to e-books, it’s important to note that the device is locked in to Amazon and is optimized for e-books using its proprietary AZW format — that means most e-books from Google Play, iBookStore, Kobo and Sony (SNE) will be incompatible.
Best E-Readers 2013, to Avoid Amazon Lock-in: B&N NOOK GlowLight
If you’re looking for an experience similar to the Amazn Kindle Paperwhite, but without the Amazon lock-in, we are back to another NOOK tablet. Look no further than new NOOK GlowLight — one of the best e-readers this long-time bookseller has ever produced.
The new NOOK GlowLight has the same 212 ppi display resolution, same Wi-Fi and battery life and same ability to read at night as the Kindle Paperwhite. But the B&N NOOK GlowLight is more svelte at 6.2 ounces and has twice as much storage (4GB) … yet his NOOK base price is just $119 –without having to put up with ads– and the native format of e-books it uses is ePub.
That means you can’t access the Kindle e-books Amazon sells, but you have the B&N e-bookstore, as well as the other online bookstores that sell ePub titles. If you want to avoid Amazon lock-in without spending a lot of money I’d say the NOOK GlowLight is tough to beat among the best e-readers for the job.
Best E-Readers 2013, Premium Choice: Kobo Aura HD
Kobo started out as a Canadian e-reader maker, owned by Indigo (IDGBF) but was bought by Japanese Amazon competitor Rakuten (RKUNF). Of course, you don’t care about that. What you care about is that Kobo makes the AURA HD — hands down tops any list of the best e-readers available for someone who is a hardcore reader.
What makes the Kobo Aura HD special? Like the other top e-readers we’ve looked at, it uses an E Ink display, but the Kobo Aura HD’s is a bit larger at 6.8-inches (most e-readers are 6-inches). This means the Aura HD is slightly less compact, but makes for a more natural reading experience.
That display, which Kobo calls ClarityScreen+, also offers the highest resolution of any e-reader at 1440 x 1080 pixels (265 ppi) for incredible text sharpness. It also offers unbeatable levels of font customization (10 styles and 24 sizes) for personalizing the reading experience. That display alone positions the Kobo Aura HD among the best e-readers available from any manufacturer.
Onboard storage is 4GB, while the Kobo e-reader also has Wi-Fi, a two month battery life and its case offers a unique ‘folded’ appearance that helps make it easier to hold, while visually distinguishing it from the rest. Kobo books include over 4 million titles in the ePub format.
I own a half dozen e-readers and a handful of tablets (yeah, I have a bit of problem with electronics hoarding) and I’ve tested many of the ones I don’t own. The Kobo Aura HD is the device I use almost exclusively for reading e-books, day or night, indoors or outdoors.
The downside to the Kobo Aura HD is the price. At $169.99, it’s at least 30 bucks more than an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and getting close to tablet territory. But I can forgive a bit of a premium for the device that tops my Best E-Readers 2013 list.
Best E-Readers 2013, for the Tablet Hold-out: Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display
Some people love reading but just don’t want to carry around two devices. Fair enough. And as long as you’re willing to put up with some trade-offs (namely cost, battery life and outdoor readability), then today’s tablets do a pretty good job of taking on the best e-readers with E Ink screens. If I had to pick among the current crop, I’d go with Apple’s iPad Mini with Retina Display.
With a starting price of $399, it’s not cheap, but it’s still my choice over Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch tablet or Google’s (GOOG) Nexus 7. Why? The iPad Mini benefits from Apple’s App Store and its unbeatable selection of apps that are optimized for tablets. (Google Play has more apps in general, but its tablet selection is loaded with smartphone apps that don’t look great on a tablet.)
The iPad Mini Retina also has native access to the Apple iBookstore and you can still buy and read e-books from Amazon using the Kindle app — choice is good and being able to shop from multiple e-bookstores means more titles and cost savings by watching for sales. Buy the Amazon Kindle Fire and you don’t have the same options.
Now that the iPad Mini has been upgraded to a Retina display (2048 x 1536 pixels for 326 PPI), text is crisp and the tablet’s compact size makes it easy to hold in one hand. When it comes to picking a tablet to be among the best e-readers to buy for the 2013 holidays, the iPad Mini with Retina Display is a solid choice.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.