Ditch that pile of dusty old tomes for a sleek ebook reader. We’ll help you choose the right one, whatever your budget
For several years now, Amazon’s Kindle devices have been deemed by many to be the best ebook readers out there, with the e-commerce giant achieving near-total domination of the ereader market. The only other company that can fairly say it holds a light to Amazon is Kobo (it’s an anagram of “book”), the Canadian underdog that released its first ebook reader in 2010.
Between the two of them, they’ve not left much room for other companies to elbow their way into the market but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In Kobo, Amazon does at least have some competition to ensure it’s not resting on its laurels.
Despite the lack of companies performing competitively in the ebook reader game right now, there are still plenty of models available, each with varying levels of performance. In this article, we’ll assess the best ebook readers on the market today and, hopefully, help you make a decision about which one is right for you. First, though, we’ll explain all about the services they offer.
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How we test ebook readers
Given that we recommend two main brands of ebook reader, the first step of testing is to look at the available materials on each device, and see how the library compares to the other brand. From there, most of the testing just comes down to using the reader as a personal device, noting how effective the brightness is, how comfortable it is to hold and the accuracy of the battery life claims.
Some ebook readers market to more specific audiences, whether it be as a first reader for children or incorporating audiobooks into the available selection. Our reviewer will assess how well the device achieves its goals, looking at child-friendly options and parental controls on a kids’ reader or testing out the stability of the Bluetooth connection when listening to an audiobook.
How to buy the best ebook reader for you
Is Amazon the best ebook provider?
Not necessarily. All Amazon’s ebook reader devices have exclusive access to Amazon’s ridiculously large library of ebooks and magazines, which are often reasonably priced – and many are free. The downside is that the Amazon Kindle won’t read certain file types, as it’s only programmed to work with files purchased through Amazon’s Kindle library. If Amazon doesn’t have what you want (which is unlikely) you’ll have to go without.
Are there any Amazon Prime benefits?
There are, indeed. Boons of siding with Amazon include family ebook sharing and the perks of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and Prime Reading service for Prime subscribers. The former allows Amazon Prime subscribers with a Kindle device to borrow one book per month at no cost, with no due dates, from a choice of 600,000 books. Prime Reading gives Prime members free access to a smaller library of 1,000 titles – including books, magazines, and comics – which they can download and keep.
READ NEXT: How to find the best free UK Kindle books
What does Kobo’s service have to offer?
Kobo users can buy or borrow ebooks from pretty much anywhere – apart from Amazon. The Kobo Library and local library OverDrive system are where you’ll source your ebooks. Certain Amazon Kindle file types even work, too.
You can also buy through indie bookstores to support physical businesses that have partnered with Kobo. An added benefit is that Kobo ebook readers are compatible with a wider range of file types than Kindle, and Kobo’s own library of ebooks is more comprehensive these days. It’s now rare to find a hot new best-seller that is on Amazon but not on Kobo.
Are there no other competitors out there?
There are, but they’re just not on the level of Kindle and Kobo. Barnes & Noble, the American book store chain, makes its own line of electronic book readers called Nook. Although they are still being made, new models don’t come out anywhere near as frequently as Kindle or Kobo devices. What’s more, they’re hard to find in the UK. The latest B&N ebook reader is a premium offering called the Nook GlowLight Plus. Released in May 2019, it is currently only available to buy in America.
READ NEXT: The best fiction and non-fiction audiobooks
The best ebook readers you can buy in 2023
1. Amazon Kindle: Best cheap ebook reader, now with a reading light
Price: £70-£80 | Buy now from Amazon
The standard Amazon Kindle remains a stalwart of the ebook reader market and an excellent choice for anybody buying their first ebook reader. The Kindle has been upgraded time and again since its initial launch back in November 2007 with better memory, longer battery life, and now it has a touchscreen as well. The latest refresh, which came out in mid-2019, is a major upgrade for this humblest of ebook readers.
It costs £10 more than the previous generation device, but the Amazon Kindle (2019) at last has LED lighting for reading in the dark or outdoors. This was a long-awaited feature and, for many, it will be a good reason to choose the basic Kindle over the premium Kindle Paperwhite. As if that wasn’t enough, build quality has been improved and Bluetooth has been added, which allows users to download and listen to Audible audiobooks via speakers or headphones.
Prior to the release of the 2019 Kindle, many people would opt for the slightly pricier Paperwhite because of its LED reading light, waterproofing and Bluetooth. Now, though, the basic option in the range has two out of those three elements while costing £50 less. The Amazon Kindle (2019) is the perfect ebook reader for a first-time ebook user and, if you happen to own an older generation, it’s well worth upgrading to the latest model to make use of the new features.
Read our full Amazon Kindle review for more details
Key specs — Storage: 8GB; Screen size: 6”; Front light: 5 LEDs ; Waterproof? No; Resolution: 167 ppi
2. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: The best all-round ebook reader
Price: £130 – £140 | Buy now from Amazon
While not as big a change as the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite, the 2021 edition builds on the already excellent foundations to make the best all-round ebook reader even better, and for just £10 more. With thinner bezels and a larger 6.8in screen, you now get more words per page, and lighting is also improved with 17 LEDs rather than five, which are also capable of producing eye-friendly warm lighting for night-time readers. All of this alongside the advancements from the previous generation: IPX8 waterproofing and Audible support.
It’s also the first Kindle to offer USB-C charging, which is handy for Android users who want one less charger to pack. Not that you need to charge it very often, as the battery will now last ten weeks rather than six. That may be down to a more efficient processor, which also makes the ebook reader than bit nippier when booting up, turning pages and browsing the Kindle store.
Great as the new Kindle Paperwhite is, however, we wouldn’t recommend spending an extra £50 on the ‘Signature Edition’. While the extra features it offers are welcome (wireless charging, automatic screen brightness adjustment and 32GB storage rather than 8GB), if you’re spending £180 on an ebook reader, you may as well go all in and purchase the Kindle Oasis instead.
Read our full Kindle Paperwhite review for more details
Key specs — Storage: 8GB; Screen size: 6.8”; Front light: 17 LEDs ; Waterproof? IPX8; Resolution: 300 ppi
3. Amazon Kindle Oasis: The most luxurious Kindle of all
Price: £230-320 | Buy now from Amazon
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this is the best ebook reader ever made. Amazon’s Kindle Oasis doesn’t come cheap but if you’re already into ereading and fancy an upgrade then this is what you’ll want. Weighing just 194g, it’s lighter and thinner than the Kindle Paperwhite, it comes with up to 32GB of storage, and cleaner, crisper lighting on a 7in touch screen. Not only that, but the newest edition of the Oasis has Audible integration, Bluetooth connectivity and is IPX8 waterproof up to two metres.
Admittedly, it is an expensive device. It’s twice the price of the mid-range Kindles and a lot more expensive than the Kobo Aura One but it is the most luxurious ebook reader available. It has 25 built-in LED lights for clear glare-free reading, an ambient light sensor, and page turn buttons if you prefer that to the touchscreen. Battery life is roughly the same as an Amazon Voyage (now discontinued) or Paperwhite. Three models are available, with the most expensive featuring 4G connectivity and more storage.
The Oasis is the perfect companion for any high-flying, speed-reading adventurer who wants to read every book in the world and is damned well prepared to try. Also for the clumsy; if you drop in it the hot tub or the pool, it’ll keep right on ticking.
Read our full Amazon Kindle Oasis review for more details
Key specs — Storage: 8GB/ 32GB; Screen size: 7”; Front light: 25 LEDs ; Waterproof? IPX8; Resolution: 300 ppi
4. Kobo Forma: Perfect for late-night readers
Price: £240 | Buy now from Argos
Amazon dominates the ebook market to such a degree that most other competitors have been wiped out. But there is one rival ebook manufacturer left that still draws breath: Rakuten Kobo. Granted, Kobo is nowhere near as well known as Kindle but it does offer some features that Amazon can’t. The Kobo Forma is the current flagship ebook reader from Rakuten, replacing the excellent Kobo Aura One (now discontinued). Though a blatant design clone of the 2017 Kindle Oasis, there are some subtle differences with the Kobo Forma.
For a start, it has a fantastic 8in E-ink Carta display, a full 1in bigger than the Oasis. It’s also got Comfort Light technology which adjusts the lighting automatically as it approaches bedtime, tuning down the blue light and transforming into a warm red hue that doesn’t interfere with your sleep. The back of the Oasis is rounded due to the battery bump, but the Kobo Forma – which has an equally commendable battery life that can last weeks – is flat and lies completely flush. Kobo ebook readers are able to read more formats than Kindle devices too, and you can even access the free OverDrive ebook library service.
If money is no object then the Kobo Forma might be the ebook reader for you. At £240 for the 8GB and £290 for the 32GB model, you’re looking at a big spend for a single-purpose device. But it has a lot to offer, with IPX8 waterproofing, access to an online library of free books via OverDrive and a battery that has the potential to last weeks. And thanks to its Comfort Light technology it’s the ultimate ebook reader for late-night fiction fiends.
Read our full Kobo Forma review for more details
Key specs — Storage: 8GB; Screen size: 6”; Front light: 5 LEDs ; Waterproof? No; Resolution: 167 ppi
5. Amazon Kindle Kids Edition: Best ebook reader for children
Price: £100 | Buy now from Amazon
Here’s an ebook reader with the young bookworm in mind. Essentially, the Kindle Kids Edition is exactly the same as a regular Kindle only with some neat child-friendly extras thrown in, such as a colourful protective case and a two-year damage guarantee. Better yet, it comes loaded with a year’s subscription to Amazon Fire for Kids Unlimited, which opens up a library of thousands of children’s ebooks at no extra cost. The entire Harry Potter collection is on there, for starters.
The Kindle Kids Edition prompts you to set up a kid’s account when you turn it on and, once that’s done, your child can browse the Kindle Kids library and get reading. The 6in touch-enabled E Ink display has a front light that aids visibility in dimly lit areas and the font size and style are fully customisable, just as they are on the standard Kindle. Elsewhere, the Word Wise and Vocabulary Builder features allow your child to constantly discover the meanings to new words and learn how to use them.
Key specs — Storage: 8GB/ 32GB; Screen size: 8”; Front light: 17 LEDs ; Waterproof? IPX8; Resolution: 300 ppi
6. Kobo Clara 2E: The most versatile e-reader
Price: £130 | Buy now from Kobo
The Kobo Clara 2E is a super lightweight, compact e-reader that provides another impressive alternative for people wanting to avoid or detach themselves from the Amazon ecosystem.
Like the Kobo Forma, the Clara 2E has Comfort Light technology, allowing users to reduce brightness and blue light closer to bedtime. It also comes without lock-screen ads as standard – a nice perk, especially considering that Amazon charges for the privilege on Kindle devices.
Navigating menus and audiobook playback using the buttons comes with an unfortunate input delay, meaning you can expect to wait around 2 seconds between pressing a button and getting the desired response. This kind of thing isn’t rare for e-readers but may frustrate users transitioning from using their phone or tablet, at least at first. There’s Bluetooth support, but no headphone jack – somewhat diminishing the Clara 2E’s potential as an e-book player. It’s a reasonable compromise, however, that means it’s IPX8 waterproof, a godsend for users who want to be able to read in the pool or the bath without worrying about water damage.
Happily – and most importantly – reading on the Clara 2E’s 6in glare-free HD touchscreen is a pleasant experience with text appearing in a sharp 300ppi and the option to adjust the size of the font, the margins and the line spacing. For many, the biggest draw of the Clara 2E will be the Pocket integration, allowing you to save content to the app’s account from anywhere on the web and be able to read it on your device. On top of this, the Clara 2E supports a vast range of formats, plus it works with the Overdrive system.
If you’re attracted by the features on offer from Kobo e-readers but don’t want to shell out for the Forma, the Clara E2 is a great budget-friendly option.
Read our full Kobo Clara 2E review for more details
Key specs – Storage: 16GB; Screen size: 6″; Front Light: ComfortLight PRO; Waterproof? IPX8; Resolution: 300 ppi
Want something cheaper? Try an app instead
Maybe you’re sick of losing books on the Tube, paying overdue library fees, or getting to the end of crime thriller purchased in a charity shop only to discover that some psychopath has carefully torn out the final ten pages. Perhaps you’re still not convinced by our ebook reader spiel. In that case, you could always try out a smartphone app first to test out the concept without laying out £60 or more or your hard-earned cash.
The accompanying apps from Kobo and Amazon, both of which are free, allow you to read on your tablet or smartphone without having to buy an ebook reader first and there are other free apps available, too. Google Play Books, for example, allows you to choose from an extensive library containing millions of digital books and magazines, which can be previewed for free and purchased via the app. It also has a lovely collection of classics such as Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and Moby Dick, which can be downloaded and kept for free.