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Best gifts for readers in 2021: Kindle, Kobo, iPad Mini and more

Save a tree, read an ebook! And remember: The Amazon Kindle isn't the only electronic ink game in town.

This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2021, our list of ideas, by topic, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the perfect gift.

There's something about reading an actual book that's refreshing during a time of so many video-streaming options, endless video games and a workplace culture built around Zoom meetings. Books always make great gifts, but here we're focusing on the latest devices on which you can read ebooks. The most famous digital book reader is Amazon's Kindle line, which uses E Ink displays. Current models offer self-illuminated screens, eliminating the need for an external book light. But beyond Kindle's hardware, the Kindle app (along with other ebook-reading apps) work great on smartphones, iPads and other devices. 

Plenty of alternatives exist if you don't want to buy through Amazon -- for instance, Rakuten's Kobo ebook readers work with most third-party vendors using the ePub book standard. And both Kobo and Kindle let you freely read loaner books from your local library.

One important note: You should never pay full price for a Kindle device or Fire tablet, as they get frequent deep discounts throughout the year. We expect the Black Friday season to offer the best prices of the year for most of these.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Yes, Amazon's top-end Kindle is too expensive for what it is, but when I upgraded from a Kindle Paperwhite to the Oasis, I was knocked out by how much better the Oasis is in terms of book readability and responsiveness. Plus, the physical page-turn buttons are so much better than swiping. The latest version can adjust the color temperature of the (monochromatic) screen, for better nighttime reading. 

Amazon runs a lot of deals on this, and also watch out for trade-in bonuses on older Kindles to get it for a reasonable price.

Read our Amazon Kindle Oasis (2019) review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

The Paperwhite is Amazon's middle-of-the-road Kindle, between the base model and the Oasis. It just received a big upgrade in the form of a larger 6.8-inch screen and better battery life. It's also waterproof and can adjust its display color temperature, but it lacks the Oasis' physical page-turn buttons. There's even an upgraded model, the Signature Edition ($190), with 32GB of storage (versus 8GB) and an auto-adjusting front light. That one also works with the same wireless charging pads as your iPhone. Hopefully, we'll see this new Kindle drop below $100 this holiday season. Read our Kindle Paperwhite (2021) review

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm not going to sugarcoat it. This basic Kindle is nowhere as good as the Paperwhite or Oasis. But it's also a great impulse purchase gift for a casual reader or book lover getting into ebooks. The latest version adds a built-in light, which makes it much more usable, but I'd only buy if it was decently discounted. The price to seek is $60 or less. 

Read our Amazon Kindle (2019) review.

 

Scott Stein/CNET

The iPad Mini received what might be the best tech product makeover of the year, with a bigger, better screen (now 8.3 inches), new processor, optional 5G and a thinner, lighter design. It's the perfect size for ebooks, and the color screen makes it a great choice for reading digital comics (ahem, graphic novels). At $500, it's more expensive than the fanciest Kindle reader, but you get a full-fledged iPadOS device that can serve as a streaming video player or game machine as well.

Read our Apple iPad Mini (2021) review.

 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Kindles are great, but the screens are paperback-sized at best. This is one of a handful of larger E Ink devices, and one of the few that can run Amazon's Kindle software. That's because the Note Air runs the Android mobile OS and can download apps from the Google Play Store. Just beware, the device feels sluggish when not in book-reading mode, and setting up Google Play access is tricky (see details in my Boox Note Air hands-on here). I don't care, I still think giant E Ink devices are very cool. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Kobo readers are basically the anti-Kindles. Kobo has its own ebook store, and it lets you check out ebooks from your local library right on the device (Kindles require you to use the Libby app). Kobo's high-end readers can go for as much as $400, but the Clara HD is the Goldilocks in the company's line, with an integrated ComfortLight Pro illumination, a 300ppi (1,072x1,448 resolution) "HD" display, 8GB of storage and a 1GHz processor.