Nothing beats a relaxing evening in your home with a good book. Of course, not everybody has the 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're often having to pause to unload books on other people or secondhand stores. Thankfully, e-readers present a better option that keeps all of your books stored on a single device (or in the cloud), making it easy to read a book and then move on to the next one without worry. And if you're someone who enjoys reading 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 could use your phone, but that'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 great battery life. Unlike popular phones and tablets, which can get washed out in direct sunlight or boast a mighty and painful glare, many e-readers use E Ink technology, which produces something of a monochromatic text display.
I love E Ink displays because the suspended layer and non-glossy screen make your e-reader resemble printed paper. That's probably the best e-reader feature if you have sensitive vision, since 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 at the beach or by the pool. You might find that your local library offers free e-book downloads for its members , and free e-books are widely available and easy to find online.
Many people are still attached to their physical book collections, and I can't blame them. But with an e-reader, not only do you have the freedom to take as many books with you as you like, you can also search for and highlight passages of text and easily change the font size. Many also come with an accompanying stylus for note-taking, and you'll never be out of luck if you don't have a reading light. All of the best e-readers on the market have self-illuminated screens.
The list below (which I periodically update) is mostly populated by Amazon Kindle e-reader devices, including the classic Amazon Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite and the Kindle Oasis, because I believe that it's still the best digital "ecosystem" for your best e-reader experience. Amazon offers plenty of low budget and subscription options, as well. And while Barnes & Noble still makes its Nook e-reader, I wouldn't be in a hurry to recommend it. If you want to steer clear of Amazon products, I'd suggest opting for a Kobo model instead.
So, are you ready to start reading again? Whether you're big on biographies, freak out over fantasy, get stirred up over sci-fi or go for the grit of 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 might be said for Apple's iPhones and plenty of 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.
Not surprisingly, then, the new 11th-generation Kindle Paperwhite (2021) ($130) isn't a huge upgrade over the Kindle Paperwhite 2018. Though we can give Amazon credit for enhancing it with new features -- namely, a larger 6.8-inch display with an upgraded lighting scheme and USB-C charging -- that offer just enough improvements to tempt you into buying one, whether you're an existing Paperwhite owner or not. It's our CNET Editors' Choice Award winner in the e-reader category.
Note that the new version costs $10 more than the previous Paperwhite. And a step-up model, the Paperwhite Signature Edition, adds wireless charging and additional storage -- 32GB instead of 8GB -- as well 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.
Amazon's top-of-the-line E Ink e-reader was slightly updated in 2019 -- but this Kindle e-reader 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 for the basic configuration, the Oasis is expensive for an e-reader. Most people will be happy with the more affordable Paperwhite for their Kindle e-book 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 arguably the one. The Kobo Forma, which also sells for $250, does have an 8-inch screen, bigger than the Oasis' 7-incher.
The 2019 version Amazon's entry-level e-book reader, which Amazon simply calls the Kindle, now has a self-illuminated screen and an upgraded design. At $90 this e-book reader is already reasonably priced, but this Kindle device regularly goes on sale for as little as $55. I prefer the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, which has a high-resolution display (text and images appear a bit sharper), is waterproof and has a 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.
Rakuten makes a line of Kobo e-readers that are not only powered by the Kobo store but also support 14 file and e-book formats natively (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 any other digital documents -- from any place besides Amazon, this device is a Kindle alternative that will probably 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 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 e-reader devices include the entry-level Kobo Nia ($100), 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-size E Ink "tablets," but they tend to be quite expensive. Kobo is now trying to fill that 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 pretty sharp and easy to read with an E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen that has 1,404x1,872 resolution (227 PPI) and a dark mode.
Despite having a quad-core 1.8 GHz processor with 32GB of storage, an E Ink device like this still feels relatively sluggish compared to an iPad (using an Apple Pencil). But the 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.
The Elipsa supports 15 file formats natively (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 adds additional weight, making this a pretty 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.
Big e-readers aren't for everybody, but if you like to see a lot of words on a page or bump up the font size, this Kobo e-reader is an appealing option. They're also good for looking at PDF files.
The LifeBook P10 is an alternative 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 alternative at $120. It's a straightforward e-reader that has Kobo's ComfortLight Pro integrated illumination and a 300ppi (1,072x1,448 resolution) "HD" display, 8GB of storage and a 1GHz processor.
More e-reader and tablet recommendations
- Amazon Debuts Its First Kindle Kids Edition