Nearly every family has that one forgotten sibling. You know the type: he’s a little dull, doesn’t talk much, and goes to bed early. His sister pursues a PhD; he pursues cats around the house. His brother excels at the violin; he excels at watching TV. His birthday parties are drab affairs, with few friends, deflated balloons, and cake that’s just a little less tasty.
Such is the plight of the e-reader, the long-forgotten sibling of the smartphone and tablet. Yes, the gloomy signs are all there: dropping sales, troubling figures from screen-maker E Ink, and an IDC report predicting steady declines through the year 2017. Then there are the underwhelming features: low pixel densities, gray-white backgrounds, and pages of text without a single Angry Bird in sight.
But e-readers have something that the top smartphones and tablets don’t: an undeniable sense of identity. Quite simply, they’re designed for reading books. Meanwhile, tablets and smartphones are designed to do about 30 different things, few of which most customers really care about. In all likelihood, Apple will continue to assault us with 4.5-minute-long Infinity Blade demos from now until the iPhone 13c, but that doesn’t mean we want to play a repetitive fighting game with one-dimensional gameplay. The same goes for GarageBand on iPad…who’s actually spending Sunday afternoons tapping away at virtual drums?
Then there’s the matter of distraction. “I can get absorbed in my Kindle more than the iPad,” said Sid Savara, who has owned three e-readers and two tablets. “With the iPad there are notifications, games, browsing. I feel kind of mentally exhausted. With the e-reader, I can just get lost in a book for hours and when I put it down I feel relaxed.”
“The lack of clutter [with e-readers] allows the users to dive straight into the content without distraction,” said Jordan Edelson, CEO of Appetizer Mobile. “For users that can filter those distractions out, a tablet is the way to go. For everyone else, I would recommend the e-reader.”
Finally, there’s price. When you buy a flashy tablet for $500, you’re paying for everything, even if all you ever do is surf Pinterest after work. When you buy an e-reader at $100, you get exactly what you pay for.
With this in mind, we’ve picked the best five e-readers you can buy today. Still not interested? Grab one for your family’s forgotten sibling. It’ll be the best thing he’s gotten since that Microsoft Zune in 2011.
When you’re on page 617 of Moby Dick, you’ll be happy you invested in a screen that keeps the content crisp and your eyes fresh. We researched the various technologies—E-Ink, Backlit E-Ink, Color LCD, Paperwhite—and assigned scores based on their visual appeal and consistency under various conditions.
We incorporated scores from expert publications like CNET, PC Mag, Wired, PCWorld, and Macworld.
We considered key features, from weight and battery life (most critical) to memory and audio features (less critical).
The Top 5
#5 Kobo Aura HD
It’s a little heavier than its fellow top-scorers, but the Kobo Aura HD’s solid screen density (265 PPI) and giant capacity (3,000 books) make it a great choice for fanatical readers and e-book hoarders.
#4 Barnes & Noble NOOK Simple Touch Reader
Barnes & Noble bookstores may be closing across the nation, but the NOOK Simple Touch soldiers on, offering a competitive price and obnoxious product name capitalization. If you’re waiting for a gentle breeze to nudge you into an e-reader, consider this one. It retails for $79 and you can often find it for considerably less.
#3 Kobo Glo
The lighter brother of the Aura, the Kobo Glo boasts an incredible battery life of 70 hours, while still offering a backlit display for nighttime reading. If you’ve dreamed of reading The Riverside Shakespeare on one charge, now’s your chance.
#2 Barnes & Noble NOOK Simple Touch Reader with GlowLight
The best non-Amazon e-reader you can buy, the NOOK GlowLight pioneered nighttime e-ink technology, and remains an excellent device today. If you’d rather not dive head-first into Amazon’s e-book ecosystem, start here.
#1 Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Amazon remains king of e-books, and the newest Paperwhite only tightens its grip on the e-reader throne. At a glance, the 2013 Kindle Paperwhite might seem more like an incremental upgrade: the design and style remain fairly familiar. And yet, with a faster processor, even better lighting, a new Page Flip feature, and the best e-book ecosystem in the business, the Kindle Paperwhite is our top pick for this holiday season.