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9 June 2021

Which ebook readers support PDF, ePub and AZW?

Find out which Amazon Kindle and Kobo ebook readers support PDF, ePub and AZW files, and how to read library ebooks, digital newspapers and magazines on an ebook reader.
Michael Passingham
Kobo 2016

If you want to do more with your ebook reader than read books you've bought– rent library ebooks, or flick through a digital magazine, for example – it's important to know which models support which file formats. 

The most popular formats you're likely to encounter using an ebook reader include:

  • PDFs (which can include images)
  • ePubs (ebooks you can rent from public libraries and buy from some third-party stores)
  • AZW (a type of file exclusive to the Kindle)

Amazon Kindle and Kobo are the only two brands of ebook reader available these days. Read on to find out which popular ebook readers from Amazon and Kobo will work best with different file formats.

To see which top-rated ebook readers we've reviewed in our test lab, head to our Best Buy ebook readers page.

Which ebook readers let you borrow free library books?

You can borrow ebooks from most public libraries using a system called Overdrive, shared in the ePub format. In the UK, only Kobo ebook readers support this. Kobo's most recent devices have Overdrive built in, while older models require you to manually download borrowed books from your computer to the ebook reader. 

To get access to Overdrive, you'll need to be registered with a local library (you'll probably need to provide the library with proof of address) and have an active library card. 

Although you can borrow Kindle books from public libraries in the United States, this service is yet to reach the UK. Amazon previously offered the 'Kindle Owners Lending Library' where members could borrow a book a month for free, but this service was discontinued in January 2021. 

If you want to access library books digitally but don't have a Kobo ebook reader, the OverDrive app is available for Amazon Fire tablets, Android devices, Apple iOS devices and Windows 10 computers.

How to read magazines and newspapers on ebook readers

Amazon has the advantage over Kobo in this regard, because none of Kobo's ebook readers allow users to easily download and view magazines and newspapers. 

Kobo used to feature magazines via a service called Texture, but this was shut down a few years ago. It is possible to read magazines in PDF format if your magazine of choice provides PDF digital editions, but the experience is unlikely to be smooth or easy (see 'PDF files on ebook readers', below).

While it's handy that Kindles allow you to read magazines, their black-and-white screens mean images will lose some impact. But if you're only interested in the words, it's a useful feature to have.

The best way to read digital magazines is on a tablet, with apps such as Google Play, Readly and Apple Newsstand all offering premium magazines.

We've tested some decent tablets that are similarly priced to many ebook readers, so if you're looking for more versatility than you'll get from an ebook reader, take a look at our top tablets for less than £200

PDF files on ebook readers

PDF files are commonly used in a work environment. They can include images, graphics and interactive buttons, and can be password protected. 

Both Kobo and Kindle devices accept PDF files, but because ebook readers aren't as powerful as tablets, the process of swiping through image-heavy documents can sometimes be sluggish.

If you're reading a PDF that contains lots of images, you'll have a better experience using an ebook reader with a large screen. The Kobo Forma has the biggest screen on the market, at eight inches. If you're reading on a smaller device, such as the regular Kindle, turning the reader to landscape orientation can improve things, and you can also try zooming in.

PDFs on Kobos

Kobo ebook readers offer a fairly basic experience when it comes to viewing PDF files. You can expect some slowdown if you're opening a large file, and in some instances we've found that margins eat up a fair chunk of display space. You can manually use the zoom slider to improve things, but it can be fiddly.

Converting PDFs on Kindle

One really handy, and lesser-known, feature of Amazon Kindles is Send-To-Kindle. 

This feature allows you to email documents to your device so you can easily read them later. PDF files can also be converted to the AZW format (see below), meaning they'll work more smoothly and enable more features such as text-to-speech and the ability to change the font size. This will work best for purely text-based PDFs.

Send-To-Kindle also works for Word, HTML, RTF, JPEG, MOBI, GIF, PNG and BMP format files, although these can't be converted to AZW format. 

For more on how to do this, visit Amazon's Send-To-Kindle help page.

Amazon Kindle and AZW files

All Amazon's ebook readers support the AZW format, which is exclusive to the Kindle range.

AZW files are capable of storing page bookmarks, and can remember where you got to in the book when you last read a particular title. They also allow you to use text-to-speech so the book can be read aloud to you, and you can adjust font type and size.

 If you download an ebook from Amazon's store, the file will be DRM-restricted (locked to the account that bought it), so it can't be transferred between Kindle accounts unless you have activated Family Libraries. This shares books between different people in the same household. 

To find out more on Amazon's ebook reader range, head over to our guide on which Kindle should I buy?.