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The best e-reader for 2021

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

While you can read a book with any phone or tablet if you have an app like Apple Books, Kobo, Kindle or Nook, a dedicated e-reader promises a far less distracting and much more enjoyable reading experience. You can access any ebook category with a quick download, whether you're looking for classic literature or the latest guilty-pleasure thriller.

Dedicated e-readers don't have the internet, email, social media or other entertainment options to lure you away from your book, and they have great battery life to boot. Unlike phones and tablets, which can get washed out in direct sunlight, many ebook readers use E Ink technology and are water-resistant, so they're great for reading at the beach or by the pool without causing eyestrain. Your local library may offer free ebook downloads for its members, and free ebooks are also widely available online.

Are you looking for a better way to read all those digital books in your e-library? Time to upgrade your e-reader. While many people are still attached to their dead-tree books, e-readers offer a wealth of advantages. You can search and highlight passages with a touch screen and change the font size. And you're never out of luck if you don't have a reading light because all of the best e-readers on the market have self-illuminated screens. 

This list, which I update periodically, is dominated by Amazon Kindle models, including the Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Oasis and the classic Amazon Kindle, because I think that's still the best digital "ecosystem" for reading. Amazon offers plenty of budget and subscription options, too. And while Barnes & Noble still makes its Nook reader, if you want to steer clear of Amazon then I'd suggest opting for a Kobo model instead. 

So, ready to start reading? Whether you're into biographies or graphic novels, you'll find the best e-reader for your digital book needs on this list.

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 CNET editors 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 highly likely that Amazon will update the Kindle Paperwhite in 2021, 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, don'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 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, the Oasis is expensive for an e-reader. Most people will be happy with the more affordable Paperwhite for their Kindle ebook 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.

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. 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. It's likely to be updated in 2021.

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 is a Kindle alternative that will probably read them. The Kobo device 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 $150, 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.

David Carnoy/CNET

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 1404 x 1872 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.

David Carnoy/CNET

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

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