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The best e-reader for 2020

Why read on your phone or tablet when there are great E Ink e-readers out there? Here are our current top picks.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, your local library and bookstore are no longer places to linger while reading, but ebooks offer access to anything from classic works of literature to the latest guilty-pleasure thrillers with an quick download. Pro tip: Any phone or tablet with the Nook, Apple Books, Kobo or Kindle app installed can pull up a book, but investing in a dedicated e-reader will deliver a far more enjoyable reading experience. 

Those dedicated devices don't have social media, email, the internet and other entertainment options that make reading on a phone or iPad a minefield of distractions, and they have great battery life to boot. And since many ebook readers use E Ink technology, their displays don't get washed out in direct sunlight (unlike tablets and smartphones), so they're great for reading by the pool or at the beach without eyestrain. Many newer models are water-resistant, too. Your local library may well offer free ebook downloads for its members, and free ebooks abound online.

These are the best e-reader options right now, all of which have self-illuminated screens. The list, which we update periodically, is dominated by Amazon Kindle models including the Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Oasis and Amazon Kindle, because we think that's still the best digital "ecosystem" for reading. It offers plenty of budget and subscription options, too. And while Barnes & Noble still makes its Nook reader, we suggest anyone who wants to steer clear of Amazon instead opt for a Kobo model. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're shopping for someone who's looking for the latest Kindle e-reader, this is the Goldilocks in Amazon's line and our current CNET Editors' Choice Award winner in the category. Here are some things we love about the Kindle Paperwhite:

  • It's 10% thinner and lighter than the previous version.
  • It has a "flush-front" design with a back made of a softer, grippy material instead of hard plastic. 
  • It's a fully waterproof Kindle, like the high-end Kindle Oasis, and has a plastic screen that Amazon says is shatter- and scratch-resistant.
  • It has built-in Bluetooth, so you can download Amazon Audible audiobooks and listen to them with wireless headphones.

While the waterproof Kindle Paperwhite lists for $130, it regularly gets discounted to $90 (and sometimes even $85), which is when you should buy it. It's likely that Amazon will update the Kindle Paperwhite in 2020, but it's unclear when or how much of an upgrade it will be. For instance, USB-C charging could be added and perhaps the lighting scheme could be updated, but we wouldn't expect any dramatic upgrades. Read our Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018) review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon's top-of-the-line E Ink e-reader was slightly updated in 2019 -- but this Kindle ereader device is basically identical to the previous Kindle Oasis except for one key difference: It has a new color-adjustable integrated light that allows you to customize the color tone from cool to warm, depending on whether you're reading during the day or at night. You can also schedule the screen warmth to update automatically with sunrise and sunset -- not unlike Night Shift mode on Apple devices.

At $250, the Oasis is expensive for an e-reader. Most people will be happy with the more affordable Paperwhite for their Kindle ebook reading and basic Kindle needs, 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 arguably the one. The Kobo Forma, which also sells for $250, does have an 8-inch screen, bigger than the Oasis' 7-incher. Read our Amazon Kindle Oasis (2019) review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The latest iteration of Amazon's entry-level ebook reader, which Amazon simply calls the Kindle, now has a self-illuminated screen and an upgraded design. At $90 this ebook reader does cost $10 more than the previous model, the Kindle 2016, but this Kindle device regularly goes on sale for as little as $60. We prefer the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, which has the high-resolution display (text and images appear a bit sharper), is waterproof and has a slightly better lighting scheme. But if you don't want to spend much for an e-reader, the standard Kindle is a good option, especially when it's discounted. Read our Amazon Kindle (2019) review.

Kobo

Rakuten makes a line of Kobo e-readers that are not only powered by the Kobo store but also support 14 file and ebook formats natively (EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ and CBR). In other words, if you get your ebooks -- or any other digital documents -- from any place besides Amazon, this device will probably read them. The Kobo has its own ebook store with thousands of books, and it has built-in support for checking out ebooks from local libraries via the OverDrive service. (You can get library books onto Kindles via OverDrive's Libby app, but it's not as smooth a process.)

The Kobo Libra H20, which retails for $170, sits in the middle of the line and, as its name implies, it's fully waterproof. It has a 7-inch HD (1,680x1,264-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 the Kobo Libra in portrait or landscape mode. Other Kobo devices include the Kobo Clara HD ($120) and the flagship Kobo ereader, Kobo Forma ($250), which has a larger 8-inch high-resolution screen.

More e-reader and tablet recommendations

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