You can readily read ebooks on your smartphone or tablet with the Kindle, Kobo, Nook or Apple Books app (to name but a few), but many people prefer to do their digital reading on an ebook reader. Firstly, those dedicated devices are free from the distractions of email, social media, the internet and other entertainment options. Even better, since ebook readers use E Ink digital paper technology, they have great battery life and — unlike tablets and smartphones — their displays don't get washed out in direct sunlight, so they're perfect for reading at the beach or by the pool. Many newer models are water-resistant, too.
Here are our current top picks, all of which have self-illuminated screens. The list is dominated by Amazon Kindle products because we think that's still the best digital "ecosystem" for reading, with plenty of budget and subscription book options, too. And while Barnes & Noble still makes its Nook reader, we suggest anyone who wants to steer clear of Amazon instead opt for a Kobo model.
If you're shopping for someone who's looking for a dedicated e-reader, the Paperwhite is the Goldilocks in Amazon's line and our current CNET Editors' Choice in the category:
- 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 fully waterproof, 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 it lists for $130, it regularly gets discounted to $90 (and sometimes even $85), which is when you should buy it. It's likely that Amazon will update the Paperwhite in 2020, 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, but we wouldn't expect any dramatic upgrades. Read our Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018) review.
Best premium ebook reader
The Kindle Oasis, Amazon's top-of-the-line E Ink e-reader, was slightly updated in 2019 — but it's 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 certainly expensive for an e-reader. Most people will be happy with the more affordable Paperwhite, but if you want the best of the best — and don't mind paying a premium for it — the Oasis is arguably it when it comes to ebook readers. The Kobo Forma, which also sells for $250, does have a bigger 8-inch screen compared to the Oasis' 7-incher. Read our Amazon Kindle Oasis (2019) review.
Best budget e-reader
Amazon Kindle 2019
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, it does cost $10 more than the previous model, the Kindle 2016, but this one regularly goes on sale for as little as $60. We prefer the Kindle Paperwhite, which has a higher resolution display (text and images appear a bit sharper), is waterproof and has a slightly 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. Read our Amazon Kindle (2019) review.
Best non-Amazon e-reader
Kobo Libra H20
Rakuten makes a line of Kobo e-readers that are not only powered by the Kobo ebook store but also support 14 file 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 will probably read them. Of course, Kobo has its own ebook store, too — and it has built-in support for checking out ebooks from local libraries via the OverDrive service, too. (You can get library books onto Kindles via OverDrive's Libby app, but it's not as smooth of a process.)
The Kobo Libra H20, which retails for $170, sits in the middle of the line and, as its name implies, it's fully waterproof. It has a 7-inch HD (1,680×1,264 resolution) E Ink display, a built-in light and no ads (you have to pay $20 to remove them from Kindle devices).
Read more: Kindle Paperwhite vs. Kindle Oasis