How to buy the best ebook reader

Ebook readers

How to buy the best ebook reader

by Mike Plant

Kindle or Kobo? Wi-fi or 3G? Ebook reader or tablet? Our expert guide will help you pick out the best ebook reader for you.

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The best ebook readers can store thousands of books, magazines and newspapers, so you'll never run out of reading material while you’re out and about. They might cost a bit more up front, but you can expect to pay much less for an ebook than you would on the latest hardback, or even paperback, once you've made that initial outlay.

Take a look at our ebook reader Best Buys, to discover the models that Which? recommends.

Ebook readers range in price from around £65 at the lower end to more than £175. But our Best Buy ebook readers can be found at all price ranges. However, to get a Best Buy that can be read in all light conditions - from a sunny summer's day, to the middle of the night - it's worth paying a bit extra to get a superior display and adjustable built-in light.

What to think about before you buy

Ebook reader brands

The most popular ebook readers are from the Amazon Kindle range, and you can find out more about Amazon's ebook readers over on our Kindle reviews page. Even so, both Kobo and Barnes & Noble produce alternatives to Amazon's range, with each brand having its pros and cons.

Wi-fi or 3G ebook readers?

All modern ebook readers are wi-fi enabled, meaning that you can connect directly to your home internet (without the need for a computer in between) to download books.

Ebook readers are often sold with a choice of two models, with a second, more expensive version offering 3G mobile internet connectivity. This will let you use the internet to download new books when you're on the go. This can be handy if you can’t connect to wi-fi.

Ebook stores

Even a top-quality ebook reader is little use without a huge range of books to read on it. We've compared the breadth of choice and prices from all the top stores. Find out which stores are the cheapest and most expensive to buy from in our ebook store guide.

Ebook file formats

Not all ebook readers accept the same file formats. For example, the Amazon Kindle only accepts the AZW format that's unique to Amazon books, while others will be able to access many more ebook types. Our expert ebook reader reviews will let you know exactly what formats an ebook reader can display.

Ebook reader built-in lights

Older ebook readers used e-ink screens which weren’t illuminated and couldn’t be read in the dark. However, newer models have illuminated screens so that you can read in bed long after your partner has turned out the lights. We rate how well these lights perform in near dark and dark conditions so you can find the right ebook reader for you.

Which ebook reader is right for you? Our Which Kindle Should I buy? advice page has the answers.

Ebook reader, tablet or smartphone?

An ebook reader is designed specifically for reading ebooks and not a great deal else. However, you can also read ebooks on a tablet or smartphone via a selection of ebook apps from Amazon Kindle, Google Play, Kobo and more.

The main decision is whether to spend your money on a dedicated ebook reader, or to read ebooks on a tablet or smartphone using an ebook reader app. We take a look at the pros and cons of each below.

Ebook readers

  • Pros - The matte e-ink display of an ebook reader is designed to be easy on the eye so that you should be able to read even under direct sunlight. They're designed to be light and slim - even lighter than the average paperback - and offer weeks of battery life at a time so you'll seldom need to charge one. Ebook readers also tend to be cheaper than smartphones and tablets, with basic models costing less than £70.
  • Cons - Where the black and white e-ink screens of ebook readers fall down slightly is when it comes to displaying images or any content designed to be shown in colour. Ebooks also offer a relatively poor web browsing experience compared with tablets and smartphones, while some ebook readers won't offer any internet browsing at all. Finally, ebook readers usually don't have speakers, so you can't use them for listening to audiobooks.

Ebook reader apps on tablets and mobile phones

  • Pros - The most popular ebook reader apps, such as Kindle and Kobo, are often free on mobile devices, meaning you won't have to pay extra for an ebook reader to get access to a whole library of ebooks. The screens of the best tablets and smartphones are bright and colourful and will display picture books in a much more vibrant style than an ebook reader. Tablets and mobiles are versatile and able to browse the web, play videos and perform all kinds of other functions.
  • Cons - Average battery life on tablets and smartphones is much lower than ebook readers, so you might find yourself running low on charge while you spend hour after hour reading while on holiday or at home. Reading in bright light is also problematic on a tablet, for example, with sunlight tending to glare off the screen in a way that renders text unreadable, or causes eyestrain.

Ebook formats and compatibility

Ebook formats

Not all ebooks are published in the same format, so where you shop will to some extent depend on the type of ebook reader you have.

The ePub format

Most ebook stores sell ebooks published in the ePub, or 'electrical publication', format, an official standard of the International Digital Publishing forum (IDPF).

This industry standard format is the most widespread, and is used by almost all the main stores: Apple's iBooks, Kobo, WHSmith, Waterstones, Google Play and for Android devices.

Using this open format means ebooks can be downloaded into one library - wherever you shop - and moved between devices if you decide to upgrade your ebook reader. But ePub content can't be downloaded onto the Amazon Kindle, which uses its own format.

Amazon Kindle AZW format

Unlike the other ebook stores, Amazon's Kindle store sells ebooks published in its own proprietary format, AZW. This is the only format that the Kindle accepts, so buying a Kindle ties you to the Amazon store for your ebooks.

You can still shop on Amazon if you have a different brand of e-reader, but you'll need to download an app for buying and storing ebooks bought on Amazon.

If you decide to shop elsewhere, you'll end up with two separate libraries that split your ebooks up, so you won't be able to search across all your titles in one go.

Other stores with linked devices

Amazon isn't the only store to have its own dedicated e-reader platform linked to its own ebooks store. Apple's iBooks app will display ebooks in your iPhone or iPad's iTunes media library, and Kobo has its own store linking to its ebook reader device.

However, because these stores sell ebooks published in the widespread ePub format, any titles downloaded from different stores will be merged in the same place on your ebook reader.

Ebook readers on test

We’ve put plenty of ebook readers from Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Sony through our rigorous lab tests in recent years, so we can give you a definitive verdict on which one is best and how they rate against each other.

Take a look at all our Best Buy ebook readers reviews to find out which one tops our tests.