There’s no doubting the convenience and simplicity of the e-book reader (though for an alternative point of view, and why you should be reading real books, read this.)
Ever found yourself on holiday and you finish the book you’re reading sooner than you expected? With paper you need to traipse to the local store and depend on it having what you want. With an e-book reader you simply call up the bookstore app, choose from a very wide selection and within seconds the new title is on board. Or you could go and take in some of the, you know, local culture, but it’s up to you.
So which should you go for: LCD or e-ink, touchscreen or keyboard? E-ink is the kind of screen that is only black and white but is not backlit so you can read it in the sun, through sunglasses. Backlit screens cannot compete with this. But the page turns on e-ink screens are jarring and invasive as the whole display flashes from black to white and back. You can’t turn this off though in the two models here you can set it so the flashing only happens every six page turns. Colour display machines mean that many more books are readable – cookery books spring to life, for instance. And you can surf the net more easily, not to mention watch video and play an hour or two of Where’s My Perry? to pass the time.
Those are the basics, now here’s our choice of six of the best e-readers.
If space is really at a premium, you can opt for the Mini. It’s a very neat gadget that fits the pocket better than rivals thanks to its five-inch e-ink display. There’s no front light (but, hey, books don’t have those either) but it has a decent touchscreen interface – if occasionally a little sluggish. The power switch is more conveniently placed on the top edge, unlike the Kindle’s easy-to-turn-off button on the bottom. Kobo’s Reading Life feature includes stats for how much reading you’ve done, which seems to me a recipe for guilt. This reader, like the Nook, is only available in wi-fi versions so you’ll need to be in a hotspot to download that next book in a hurry. This ebook reader is also tremendous value.
From £109, amazon.co.uk
This is Amazon’s best e-ink reader yet. It’s great in the sunshine, but what about indoors, when it’s not well-lit, you say? This screen has a front light which illuminates the page, and doesn’t tire the eyes like backlit screens do. You’re tied into Amazon’s bookstore, just as rival ereaders lock you into their stores, but note that you can read Amazon books on iPad, iPhone, iPod, Android phones and more thanks to apps for the appropriate machine. Handy if the Paperwhite runs out of juice, though frankly it lasts for weeks (less if you have the light on all the time). Like most other Kindles with e-ink, this has a six-inch display.
From £269, apple.com/uk
This new tablet has a backlit screen, and not the highest-resolution one, at that. It makes up for an average display, though, by having the neatest design and is the thinnest, lightest colour-screen tablet – it’s super-light even thought he display is 7.9ins, noticeably bigger than on most rivals. Of course, it has Apple’s exceptional user interface and more apps designed specifically for larger screened devices than rivals can offer (275,000 and counting). The Apple iBooks app has the most elegant page animations so you feel you’re really reading a book (well, almost). But though it’s the priciest on test and performs poorly in bright light, it’s the most appealing and successful gadget here.
The newest tablet on the block has the best colour screen yet – high-resolution, pin-sharp and colourful. It also has a feature the others lack, and should strive to emulate: you can set it up with separate user accounts so family members see the content they want to, their own apps and library. Or kids can use the same device but parents can prevent them from using it for email, say. The design, though not as pleasing as Apple’s, is great, though the absence of a flat, all-over glass front takes getting used to. Even so, the rubberised back means it sits safely in the hand. Like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, it uses Android as its operating system, but it’s so heavily altered you wouldn’t know. If you’re at all uncertain about Android – and it can be a bit geeky – this is a real benefit. The downside is that there are much fewer apps to choose from in this curated store (10,000 instead of the over half a million on a regular Android device). Really excellent.
From £159, amazon.co.uk
This seven-inch display is bright and colourful, though no match for the Nook’s. Still, this is a neat colour-screen reader with much to recommend it. Like Amazon’s daily free app, for instance, and, for Amazon Prime readers there’s even a selection of books available for free rental like a public library but with fewer dog-ears. Like the Nook, Amazon has manhandled Android into a less intimidating guise, though the apps available are substantially reduced (well under 50,000). The Fire HD has powerful stereo speakers on the back, which is handy if you’re watching a movie, say. The price reflects the fact that the lock screen displays Amazon special offers. If you tire of these, paying £10 once will turn them off.
From £159, play.google.com
Unlike the Fire, Nook or Kobo Mini, you can choose an option with a 3G connection as well as wi-fi, so you can check your email, download apps, stream movies and so on wherever you are. Note that, like with the iPad mini, you need a data tariff to do this. With the Paperwhite’s 3G model all downloads are free. This is a pure Google tablet so not hobbled by any manufacturer’s whim. Great if you want complete freedom to do anything Android does, but not so good if you find the system off-putting. Still, it’s a fast, powerful machine, with the latest version of Android software on board. Unusually, even the wi-fi only version has a GPS chip so you can use it as a satnav. Versatile.