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6 best ebook readers that become your own portable library

Keep thousands of books at your fingertips without any of the bulk

The E-ink displays can be read even with sunlight hitting the screen ( The Independent/iStock )

There’s really nothing that beats the experience of reading a real book, with the tactile quality of paper and the pristine sharpness of ink. But if you’re planning to take more than a few books on holiday, then ebook readers are rather more convenient than lugging a suitcase full of paperbacks.

Even better, if you finish your book, you can simply buy and download another over the air in a matter of seconds. For most ebook readers you’ll need to be in a wifi area, but a few devices have a 3G connection built in so you can order a new book from wherever you are, assuming there’s a mobile phone signal.

Like paper, but unlike the screen on a tablet such as an iPad, the e-ink displays used on ebook readers can be read in bright sunshine, even through sunglasses. Increasingly, ebook readers include screen lights so you can read them in a darkened room. This is more restful on the eye than a regular tablet because it uses LEDs at the edge of the screen that spray the light across the display, instead of a backlight coming straight at you. Additionally, some Kobo readers adjust the colour of the light so it’s less tiring on the eyes.

The dominant brands in ebook readers are Amazon, with its three Kindle devices, and Kobo’s readers from the Japanese company Rakuten. For both brands, there are apps which mean you can also read the books you’ve bought on a tablet, smartphone or computer.

Technology for e-ink screens has advanced both in terms of resolution (most are now 300 pixels per inch) and refresh systems. Originally, every time you turned a page the screen would flash black to white intrusively. Now it’s common to only see this flash on menu screens and between chapters, say. Incidentally, the only battery drain occurs during page refreshes, which is why battery life on ebook readers is measured in days rather than hours. If you’re an avid reader, you should still take the charger with you on holiday, mind.

Note that Amazon offers some of its Kindles with or without special offers – with special offers the price is £10 lower but the welcome screen will have an advert on it. If you buy at the lower price and get fed up with the offers later, you can pay the £10 to get rid of them. The top-of-the-range Oasis does not have special offers.

A word on storage: unless you are going to listen to audio books, then the lowest available storage will be enough for most people. Even 2GB is enough for more than 1,000 books on average, and the cheapest Kindle has 4GB storage. All Kindles now have access to Audible, the Amazon-owned audio book company, but though these take up much more space (4GB may only hold a couple of dozen Audible books), don’t despair. If your storage is full you can delete any content and it will be stored in the cloud so you can download it again in the future.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent. 

 

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: From £119.99, Amazon

Screen size: 6in (15cm)
Screen resolution: 300 pixels per inch (ppi)
Screen light? Yes, with 5 LEDs
Waterproof? Yes
Storage: 8GB, 32GB
Wifi only? Wifi or wifi plus free 4G LTE

The Paperwhite has just been re-released by Amazon (if you have the one that was on sale before November 2018, it’s not waterproof, so be warned). The waterproofing means you can leave it in fresh water to a depth of two metres for up to an hour, though obviously this shouldn’t be your intention. The screenlight has been improved. Five LEDs give an even whiteness to the display in all lighting conditions, and the brightness is adjustable.

The latest model has a flush screen design (previously the display was indented). Like other Kindles, it has a touch-sensitive operation – with a capacitive touchscreen similar to a mobile phone, so you can’t use it with gloves on. There’s a larger-capacity model available with 32GB storage which costs £159.99. If you want 4G connectivity, it’s only available for this 32GB storage version and costs £219.99. Unlike with mobile phones, the 4G data costs are included for the life of the product.

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Amazon Kindle (2019): £69.99, Amazon

Screen size: 6in​ (15cm)
Screen resolution: 167 ppi
Screen light? Yes, with 4 LEDs​
Waterproof? No
Storage: 4GB
Wifi only? Yes

This brand new Kindle is tremendous, offering outstanding value. This is the first time the entry-level Kindle has a frontlight so you can read it even in the dark. It is not waterproof and doesn’t have the slick flush-front design of the Paperwhite or Oasis but it still looks great. Like some other Kindles there are no page turn buttons but the touchscreen is fast and responsive. And it’s compatible with Audible audio books.

The screen resolution is around half that of the Paperwhite and Oasis but the device is still highly readable. It is a little thicker than the pricier Kindles but it feels great in the hand and it looks good, too – especially in the white finish. Black is also available. There are only four LEDs in the frontlight so it’s not quite as smooth as some, but it’s still a pretty even effect. The light is adjustable to suit the environment, though it does not change automatically. 

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Kobo Forma: £239.99, Argos

Screen size: 8in (20cm)
Screen resolution: 300ppi
Screen light? Yes, with white and coloured LEDs
Waterproof? Yes
Storage: 8GB
Wifi only? Yes

The latest Kobo has a bigger screen than other ebook readers, making it ideal if you need a larger page (though with every reader you can increase the font size to suit your eyes). Although it’s bigger, it’s still lightweight, only three grams more than the 7in (17.5cm) Kindle Oasis, below. Unlike some readers, it has page turn buttons as well as a menu button, which some users prefer.

These buttons sit in a side panel which you can use to grip the reader, and turning it sideways changes the orientation of the words onscreen. The LED lights include red models which subtly reduce the amount of blue light hitting your eyes. You can adjust this or let the Forma do it automatically.

The number of books available to read on the Kobo store is similar to Amazon’s but it is not as intuitive to navigate. Unlike Kindles, Kobo’s readers support open ebook formats such as ePub so you can sideload books (that is, download onto your computer and transfer by cable to the reader). There’s also access to OverDrive, which lets you borrow ebooks from some public libraries, though there are none near where I live. 

The great screen, grippy design and clever light make this a strong Kindle alternative.

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Amazon Kindle Oasis: From £229.99, Amazon

Screen size: 7in (17.5cm)
Screen resolution: 300ppi
Screen light? Yes, with 12 LEDs
Waterproof? Yes
Storage: 8GB, 32GB
Wifi only? Wifi plus 3G available for 32GB

The Oasis is a stunning ebook reader. Unlike regular tablets such as iPads, ebook readers let you immerse yourself in the book with no email interruptions. The Oasis is very thin, waterproof and has a sleek aluminium design which is head and shoulders above other ebook readers.

The only reason this is not the best buy is that the metal casing can get hot in the sun, so you occasionally get a message the Oasis needs to be taken out of direct sunshine for a while, which can be frustrating. Still, at least you can cool it in water. The 12 LEDs make for an especially smooth light across the page, and an adaptive light sensor means you can leave the Kindle to sort this out.

Navigating an ebook is rarely as easy as flipping pages on a real book, but Amazon has made significant progress in simplifying things so you’re less likely to lose your place when roaming to a note or a favourite passage. The display is big enough to suit most, while not being too large. There are physical page turn buttons: turn it upside down as you switch to holding the Oasis in the other hand and the text turns with you and the button purposes switch accordingly, which is neat.

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Amazon Kindle (2016): £49.99, Amazon

Screen size: 6in (15cm)
Screen resolution: 167ppi
Screen light? No
Waterproof? No
Storage: 4GB
Wifi only? Yes

Amazon’s entry level Kindle from 2016 is outstanding value and works well, but the introduction of a new model means this one will soon be discontinued. For now, though, it’s better value than ever. Although it doesn’t have the higher screen resolution of other Kindles, it is still perfectly readable. It also manages compatibility with Audible audio books, though the 4GB storage, while plenty for books, limits how many audio books can be onboard at any one time. It also has the same appealing interface and operating system as pricier Kindles. There’s no screen light so you’ll need to read in light environments, as with real books. And page turns are managed exclusively through the touchscreen as there are no hardware buttons. Choose from either black or white finishes.

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Kobo Clara HD: £89.99, John Lewis & Partners

Screen size: 6in (15cm)
Screen resolution: 300ppi
Screen light? Yes, with coloured LEDs
Waterproof? No
Storage: 8GB
Wifi only? Yes

This Kobo sits at the bottom of the range, beating the entry level Kindle because of higher-resolution and Kobo’s clever screenlight, but at a price that’s less than the Paperwhite, which additionally offers waterproofing. It’s a very competent reader, and the price differential compared to the Kindle will make it attractive to many. Also, if Amazon’s closed system isn’t to your taste, then Kobo, with its wide range of compatible text formats, may be more appealing. Note that this price is a clearance offer from John Lewis, so it may not be around for long.

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The verdict: ebooks

With only two brands available in the UK, it partly comes down to whether you prefer Amazon’s slicker interface, with only books from Amazon available for it, or Kobo’s more open system which lets you add books from other sources. The Kindle Paperwhite stands out as the best balance of features and price, while the Kobo Forma is the best for those wanting the biggest screen and other features. If you only want to read in well-lit situations, then the entry level Kindle is a real bargain.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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