Summary List Placement
- We read novel after novel on several e-readers and Amazon Kindles to find the best e-readers at every price point.
- A few page-turners later, we found that the Amazon Kindle Oasis remains the absolute best e-reader you can buy in 2021.
- We also recommend more affordable Kindles and e-readers from Kobo, Amazon’s main competitor.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
To a bookworm, there is no greater pleasure in life than diving into a good book. Although many people still prefer paperbacks, there are those who simply prefer ebooks and e-readers.
Ebook readers have come quite a long way since Amazon’s first Kindle came out in 2007. They are now much faster and more compact. Amazon still offers the widest range of e-readers, but its main competitor, Kobo, has a lot of great e-readers available, too. There is a big difference between the two when it comes to ebook file support — check our FAQ before you commit to one or the other.
I’ve been testing e-readers since 2014 as a tech journalist and book worm. In that time, I’ve tested every new Kindle and Kobo that has hit the market to find the best ones for all kinds of readers. Whether you love page-turning buttons, enjoy reading in the bath, or just want a cheap e-reader for travel, there’s one for you in our buying guide.
Note that all Kindles come in two versions: with special offers and without. If you choose the ones with special offers, you will see ads on the lock screen and potentially elsewhere, but you will save some cash upfront.
Here are the best e-readers and Kindles:
- Best e-reader overall: Kindle Oasis
- Best budget Kindle: Amazon Kindle
- Best budget e-reader: Kobo Clara HD
- Best mid-range Kindle: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
- Best big-screen e-reader: Kobo Forma
The best e-reader overall
Amazon revolutionized the e-reader with the Kindle Oasis‘ daring design, great page-turn buttons, sharp screen, and giant ebook library.
Pros: Bright screen, page-turning buttons, thin and modern design, robust Kindle ebook store, easy library book access, waterproof, works with Audible
Cons: No EPUB file support and it’s expensive
Although the Paperwhite and Kindle are more budget friendly, Amazon’s Kindle Oasis remains the best e-reader I’ve ever tested. It’s the one I use every day when I’m not testing new contenders.
The Oasis has a modern design that removes the rubbery bezels around the screen and leaves you with a panel of glass and a 7-inch E-Ink screen. The new model is even thinner than the first Oasis and it’s waterproof.
The asymmetrical design puts two page-turning buttons on the slightly thicker side of the e-reader along with the battery. On the opposite side, the bezel is super thin, as is the e-reader’s body. It is light and easy to hold during hours of reading.
The new adjustable color temperature screen limits the blue light that filters through, which can help prevent eyestrain and sleep disruptions if you’re reading at night.
Amazon’s Kindle ebook library is very robust, its $9.99/month Kindle Unlimited subscription lets you read as many ebooks as you want, and Prime Members can enjoy a selection of free ebooks each month. Library books are also easy to download once you’ve linked your library card.
You can also pair the e-reader with Bluetooth headphones to listen to Audible audiobooks.
Kindle Unlimited (Monthly price after free trial) (small)
The best budget Kindle
Amazon updated its basic Kindle, and now that it has a front light, it’s the perfect e-reader for anyone who is on a budget.
Pros: It’s affordable, big Kindle ebook store, long battery life, a good option for kids, front light lets you read in the dark
Cons: A lower-resolution screen, not waterproof
Amazon’s basic Kindle is a great bargain. It may not have the highest resolution screen or water resistance, but it’s still a good e-reader for budget hunters and parents. After years of testing, this basic Kindle still performs perfectly and is a great reading device.
The Kindle comes in both black and white colors. Although the white color is nice, we’ve found that the black one holds up better over time.
It’s the lightest Kindle in Amazon’s lineup, so it’s very comfortable to hold while reading. The 6-inch screen isn’t as crisp or bright as the Paperwhite’s, so if you have a little more to spend, we recommend you upgrade to the Paperwhite. However, the basic Kindle’s screen is just fine and the built-in front light lets you read at night without having to turn on the lights.
Amazon’s Kindle ebook library has great variety. If you read a lot, the $9.99/month Kindle Unlimited subscription service lets you read as many ebooks as you want. Prime Members also get a selection of free ebook titles each month and you can link your library card to borrow ebooks.
Thanks to Bluetooth, you can listen to Audible books from it when you pair wireless headphones.
Kindle Unlimited (Monthly price after free trial) (small)
The best budget e-reader
The Kobo Clara HD is an affordable Kindle alternative that supports more ebook formats and has a blue light blocking mode to protect your eyes.
Pros: Supports wide range of book formats, affordable, good size,
Cons: Slightly pricier than budget Kindle, doesn’t support Kindle files
If you want an affordable ebook reader that supports a wider variety of ebook formats, Kobo’s Clara HD is the e-reader for you. The new Kobo Nia may be a bit cheaper, but it doesn’t perform as well as the Clara HD.
In my testing, this was the clear winner for an e-reader alternative for people who do not want to buy a Kindle.
Its 6-inch screen has a 300-ppi resolution so text is sharp and crisp, plus, the Clara features Kobo’s special ComfortLight PRO tech, which reduces blue light so reading before bed doesn’t disturb your sleep. The Clara HD weighs only 166 grams, so I found it comfortable to hold for long reading periods.
Kobo’s e-readers support 14 file formats, including EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, and CBR. You can also read ebooks in several languages, including English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Brazilian, Portuguese, Japanese, and Turkish.
Some ebooks won’t work, of course, so if you own titles from Amazon’s Kindle store or Apple’s iBooks store, don’t buy this e-reader. Otherwise, Kobo has its own bookstore with more than five million titles to supplement your collection. Borrowing from the library is also effortless, thanks to the app Overdrive, which is built into the e-reader.
The best mid-range Kindle
Amazon’s waterproof Kindle Paperwhite sits in the middle of the Kindle lineup with a sharp 6-inch screen and lots of excellent ebooks.
Pros: Sharp screen, tons of ebooks in Kindle Store, lightweight design, grippy rubber finish, long battery life, Bluetooth for Audible audiobooks
Cons: No EPUB file support
If you want a Kindle but you don’t want to pay top dollar for the Kindle Oasis, the waterproof Kindle Paperwhite is the answer. It’s less than half the price, and if you manage to grab it when it’s on sale, you’ll pay even less.
The Paperwhite has a super sharp 6-inch E Ink screen that’s great for reading. There aren’t any page-turning buttons, so if you hate swiping to turn the page, you ought to get the Oasis instead. The grippy rubber finish makes it easy to hold for hours on end.
When we tested the new Paperwhite, we were impressed with the crisp screen and how bright it was. I still periodically use the Paperwhite to test it, and it’s held up well over time.
Amazon’s Kindle ebook library is robust. If you read more than one ebook a month, you might also want to get the $9.99/month Kindle Unlimited subscription service to read as many ebooks as you want.
Additionally, Prime Members can access a selection of free ebooks each month. Library books are also easy to download after linking a library card.
It has Bluetooth as well, so you can listen to Audible books from the Paperwhite when you pair it with wireless headphones.
Kindle Unlimited (Monthly price after free trial) (small)
The best big-screen e-reader
You can read in the bath with the water-resistant Kobo Forma and enjoy your favorite books on its big 8-inch screen.
Pros: Water-resistant design, big screen, blue-light filter, supports EPUB formats, easy to get library books with OneDrive integration, supports graphic novels, and long battery life, page-turning buttons
Cons: It’s pricey and there’s no ebook subscription service
You’ll want to get your hands on the Kobo Forma if you’re not an Amazon user, you typically own EPUB ebooks, you enjoy reading graphic novels, or you want to have access to more file types on your e-reader.
You’re not limited to ebooks from Kobo’s store, either. As long as the file type is supported by Kobo, you can drag and drop the content from your computer onto the Kobo when they’re connected with a USB-to-Micro-USB cable. The Forma even has the popular library app OneDrive pre-installed, so you can easily connect your library account on your e-reader.
Perhaps the best thing about the Kobo Forma is that it is water-resistant enough to take in the bath or to the beach.
The large 8-inch screen is crisp, sharp, and even offers a blue-light filter to help minimize the amount of blue light the screen emits. This can help lessen eye strain and sleep disruptions.
The Forma also has page-turning buttons like the Kindle Oasis, which make it easier to read one-handed. It’s also the thinnest ebook-reader Kobo makes, so it’s very portable.
What else we considered
I’ve tested ebook readers since 2014 during my time as a tech journalist. Over the years, I’ve tested dozens of e-readers by Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. Here are the other e-readers we considered for this guide, and why they didn’t make the cut.
Other e-readers we recommend:
Kobo Libra H2O: Its 7-inch Carta E-Ink touchscreen is manageable to hold, and the screen is super sharp with a 300 pixel-per-inch pixel density that mimics print. It’s waterproof and more affordable than the Kobo Forma, though pricier than the entry-level Clara HD and Nia.
Amazon Kindle Kids’ Edition: The kids’ version of Amazon popular basic Kindle is more or less the same, but it comes with a special kids’ case, a year’s subscription to Amazon Kids+ (FreeTime Unlimited), and two-year guarantee that covers damage. For parents, these kid-friendly features may be worth the extra money, but we still think the regular budget Kindle is good enough and it’s cheaper.
Kobo Nia: The Kobo Nia is an affordable Kindle alternative that supports more ebook formats and comes with enough storage to hold up 6,000 ebooks. It’s still a decent budget e-reader, but the resolution is lower, making the text less crisp, and it has a slower processor that can make searching for titles irritating.
E-readers we don’t recommend:
Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 3: The downfall of the Nook is that it is tied to Barnes & Noble’s ebook store, which is not as robust or budget-friendly as the Kindle ebook store or the Kobo ebook store. The Nook is also more expensive than the entry-level Kindle and Kobo e-readers we recommend, but doesn’t have any cool features to justify the extra money.
Kobo Aura Edition 2: The Kobo Aura isn’t waterproof and it has half the amount of storage, so we recommend the Aura H20 Edition 2 instead.
Sony Digital Paper: Sony’s Digital Paper is an expensive, but intriguing 10-inch e-reader that doubles as something of a smart notebook. It’s more of a smart notebook than an e-reader, though, and the price makes us hesitate to recommend it, even though it is certainly cool.
Onyx Boox Nova Pro (currently unavailable): Like Sony Digital Paper, Onyx Boox straddles the line between e-reader and smart notebook. This one is 7.8-inches in size, so it’s smaller and cheaper than the Sony model.
Older Kindles: Amazon has discontinued older Kindles like the Voyage, the 8th-gen Kindle without a backlight, and the original Oasis. Since they’re no longer available, we don’t recommend them.
How we test e-readers
To state the obvious, to test an e-reader, you need to read on it — a lot! But there is a lot more to it than just that. Here’s what we look for when we test e-readers.
- Is it easy to set up?
- Is it easy to get ebooks on the device to read?
- How wide is the selection of compatible ebooks?
- Can you get ebooks from other sources (like the library) on the device easily?
- What special features does it have (Bluetooth for audiobooks, adjustable light, etc)?
- How long does the battery last and how long does it take to recharge?
- Is it comfortable to hold while reading for hours at a time?
- Is the text clear and can it be enlarged as needed?
- Is the screen bright enough to read in the dark?
- If it’s rated for water resistance, does it survive a dunk in the tub?
- Is it good to travel with, based on its durability, weight, and portability?
First, we set up the e-readers and download ebooks on them from a variety of sources, including the built-in ebook store, the library, Project Gutenberg, PDFs, and articles online. We note how easy or difficult the process is and we pay attention to the ebook selection available to ensure that popular titles and classics are readily available.
Then, we read on them until we run out of battery, paying attention to how long that takes, using the brightness setting recommended by the manufacturer. We then charge the e-readers and time how long they take to recharge.
After that, we check how long the battery lasts when we read at whatever brightness we need for however long we like to see how the e-readers handle extreme book reading binges. We also test special features like adjustable lighting, Bluetooth audiobooks, and so on.
If an e-reader claims to be water resistant, we test the claim by dunking it in a tub of water for the time it’s rated to withstand. For further durability tests, we travel around with the e-readers in our work bags and travel bags without cases. We also drop them from the height of a bed, chair, and table to see how they handle falling.
The most important test is obviously what it’s like to read on the e-reader, but all these other factors matter, too.
Is Kindle or Kobo better?
Kindle and Kobo are both excellent e-readers. They are fairly evenly matched in terms of features, book selection, and hardware pricing. The main advantage of Kobo is that it supports the more readily available EPUB format natively, while Kindle does not. It is also easier to borrow ebooks on a Kobo e-reader with OverDrive integration. If you do not want to buy ebooks from Amazon, you already have a collection of EPUB-format ebooks, or you prefer library books, Kobo is the better option for you. Alternatively, if you already have Amazon’s Kindle ebooks, Kindles are the better choice because Amazon’s ebook format is not supported on the Kobo e-readers. It is also really easy to get library books on Kindle, though it does take an extra step.
Should I get an e-reader or a tablet?
If you read regularly, you should get an e-reader instead of a tablet. Not only do e-readers have E INK screens that are easier on the eye, but they also provide zero distractions from your reading material. When you read on a tablet, it’s easy to get distracted, go check email, hop on social media, and lose your focus while reading. E-readers also have longer battery life so you can read more between charges. However, know that all the platforms offer an app for iOS, Android, and more, which means you can put down an e-reader before you go to bed and continue reading on your phone, tablet, or computer during a lunch break.
What is the best e-reader for library books?
Kobo’s e-readers are the best e-readers for library books. They have a library book borrowing app called OverDrive installed so it’s super easy to download library books for free. However, it is also very easy to borrow ebooks on a Kindle, too. It just takes a few extra steps.
What is the cheapest ebook reader?
The Kindle is the cheapest ebook reader we recommend in our guide. Its full retail price is $90 and it frequently goes on sale or less. Kobo also has a cheap e-reader called the Kobo Nia for $100 full retail price, but we recommend spending a bit more on the Kobo Clara HD, which costs $110 full retail price, if you prefer a Kobo to a Kindle.
Is there a color e-reader?
Yes, there are a few, but they are harder to find and buy in the US. Color e-readers are still in their infancy and the colors displayed do not rival those of the LCD or OLED screens on phones and tablets. The site Good EReader lists several color e-reader options, some of which you can buy through its online store. I have not yet tested any of these e-readers.