Nothing beats a relaxing evening at home with a good book. Of course, not everyone has room for a stack of books, let alone a library. But that shouldn’t stop you from reading. It can definitely make reading difficult as you often have to pause to unload books on other people or thrift stores. Fortunately, e-readers present a better option that keeps all your books stored on a single device (or in the cloud), making it easy to read one book and then move on to the next without worry. And if you’re someone who likes to read in bed or lying down, the best e-readers are well-lit and much easier to handle than an unlit book that requires you to turn pages.
Sure, you can use your phone, but it’s not an ideal experience. The thing about dedicated e-readers: They don’t have email, the Internet, social media, or other distracting entertainment options to lure you away from reading. They also have good battery life. Unlike popular phones and tablets, which can wash out in direct sunlight or boast a powerful and painful glare, many e-readers use E Ink technology, which provides something of a monochromatic text display.
I love E Ink screens because the suspended layer and non-glossy screen makes your e-reader look like printed paper. It’s probably the best e-reader feature if you have sensitive vision, as it’s much kinder on the eyes. The glare-free touchscreens make reading on a device a pleasure again. The best e-reader models are now water-resistant, so they’re perfect for reading on the beach or by the pool. You may find that your the local library offers free e-book downloads for members
and free e-books are widely available and easy to find online.
Many are still attached to their physical book collections, and I can’t blame them. But with an e-reader, you not only have the freedom to take as many books as you want with you, you can also search for and highlight pieces of text and easily change the font size. Many also come with an accompanying stylus for taking notes, and you will never be without a chance if you don’t have a reading light. All the best e-readers on the market have self-lit screens.
The list below (which I update regularly) is mostly populated by Amazon Kindle e-reader devices, including the classic Amazon Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite, and Kindle Oasis, because I believe it remains the best digital “ecosystem” for your best e- reading experience. Amazon also offers many low-budget and subscription options. And while Barnes & Noble is still making its Nook e-reader, I’m in no rush to recommend it. If you want to avoid Amazon products, I suggest you go for a Kobo model instead.
So, are you ready to start reading again? Whether you’re big on biographies, dread fantasy, rave about sci-fi, or go for a graphic novel, you’ll find the best e-reader for your digital book needs on this list.
One of the problems with having a sophisticated, already excellent e-reader like the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is that it’s hard to make it much better. The same can be said for Apple’s iPhones and many other devices. But with an e-reader, you’re dealing with a limited feature set and a core technology, E Ink, that seems pretty much stuck in neutral.
Unsurprisingly, the new 11th-generation Kindle Paperwhite (2021) ($130) isn’t a huge upgrade over the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite. Although we can give Amazon credit for improving it with new features — namely a larger 6.8-inch screen with an upgraded light scheme and USB-C charging — offering just enough improvements to tempt you into buying one, whether you’re an existing Paperwhite owner or not. It is the winner of the CNET Editors’ Choice Award in the e-reader category.
Note that the new version costs $10 more than the previous Paperwhite. And a beefed-up model, the Paperwhite Signature Edition, adds wireless charging and extra storage — 32GB instead of 8GB — as well as an auto-adjusting light sensor for $190. A Kids Edition is also available. As with previous Kindle models, expect the new Paperwhite to go on sale sporadically throughout the year. It should cost around $100 during sales.
Read our Kindle Paperwhite (2021) review.
Amazon’s premium E Ink e-reader got a bit of a refresh in 2019 – but this Kindle e-reader is basically identical to the previous Kindle Oasis except for one key difference: It has a new color-adjustable integrated light that lets you customize the hue from cool to warm , depending on whether you read during the day or at night. You can also schedule the display temperature to update automatically with sunrise and sunset – not unlike the night shift mode on Apple devices.
At $250 for the basic configuration, the Oasis is expensive for an e-reader. Most people will be happy with the more affordable Paperwhite for Kindle e-reading, but if you want the best of the best with an anti-glare screen for your reading experience – and don’t mind paying a premium for it – – the Oasis is without a doubt the one. The Kobo Forma, which also sells for $250, has an 8-inch screen, larger than the Oasis’ 7-inch.
Read our Amazon Kindle Oasis (2019) review.
The 2019 version of Amazon’s entry-level e-reader, which Amazon simply calls Kindle, now has a self-illuminated screen and an upgraded design. At $90, this e-reader is already affordable, but this Kindle regularly sells for as little as $55. I prefer the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, which has a high-resolution screen (text and images appear slightly sharper), is waterproof and has better lighting. But if you don’t want to spend a lot for an e-reader, the standard Kindle is a good option, especially when it’s discounted.
Read our Amazon Kindle (2019) review.
Rakuten makes a series of Kobo e-readers that are not only powered by the Kobo store, but also support 14 file and e-book formats (EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ and CBR). In other words, if you get your e-books – or other digital documents – from anywhere in addition Amazon, this device is a Kindle alternative that will likely read them. The Kobo device has its own e-book store with thousands of books, and it has built-in support for checking out e-books from local libraries via the OverDrive service. (You can get library books on Kindles via OverDrive’s Libby app, but it’s not as smooth a process.)
The $170 Kobo Libra H20 sits in the middle of the line, and as the name suggests, it’s completely waterproof. It has a 7-inch HD (1,680×1,264-pixel resolution) E Ink display, a built-in light, and no ads (you have to pay $20 to remove them from Kindle devices).
Available in black or white, you can use Kobo Libra in portrait or landscape mode. Other Kobo e-readers include the entry-level Kobo Nia ($100), the Kobo Clara HD ($118) and the flagship Kobo e-reader, the Kobo Forma ($250), which has a larger 8-inch high-resolution screen.
There was a select group of readers who loved the 9.7-inch Kindle DX, which was discontinued several years ago. Sony and others have made iPad-sized E Ink “tablets”, but they tend to be quite expensive. Kobo is now trying to fill the jumbo e-reader niche with its 10.3-inch Elipsa, which is sold as the “Elipsa Pack” and includes a SleepCover and stylus. The screen is quite sharp and easy to read with an E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen that has 1404×1872 resolution (227 PPI) and dark mode.
Despite having a quad-core 1.8GHz processor with 32GB of storage, an E Ink device like this still feels relatively slow compared to an iPad (using an Apple Pencil). But performance is decent enough, and battery life remains a big strong point for E Ink devices — like other e-readers, the Elipsa’s battery life is rated in weeks rather than hours.
Elipsa supports 15 file formats (EPUB, EPUB3, FlePub, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, CBR) and weighs in at 13.5 ounces (383g), plus the cover provides extra weight, making this a rather heavy e-reader. However, you can use the case to prop up the e-reader so you don’t have to hold it while reading, taking notes, or reviewing and marking up documents.
Large e-readers aren’t for everyone, but if you like to see a lot of words on a page or increase the font size, this Kobo e-reader is an appealing option. They are also great for viewing PDF files.
The LifeBook P10 is an option for slightly less, but CNET has yet to review that model.
If you don’t want to pay a premium for Kobo’s larger e-readers, the Clara HD is a good option at $120. It’s a simple e-reader that features Kobo’s ComfortLight Pro integrated lighting and a 300ppi (1,072 x 1,448 resolution) “HD” display, 8GB of storage and a 1GHz processor.