2016 E-Reader Comparison Guide
Voracious readers – especially those with an appreciation for light bags and uncluttered bookselves – should appreciate this spec-by-spec comparison of top e-readers.
Amazon's Kindle line dominates this space, but there are still quality options from other manufacturers. In this comparison, we've included all the current Kindles: the basic 8th-generation Kindle, the Paperwhite, the Voyage and the Oasis. We've also selected the Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight Plus and the Kobo Aura One.
Kindle devices all have the same size display, but their bezel width and thickness varies. The higher-end Kindle Voyage is 16-percent thinner than its entry-level counterparts, and the Kindle Oasis is a mere 4.6 mm thick. That's including the removable battery case bundled with it.
In terms of size, the Nook is most comparable to the Kindle Paperwhite. The Kobo Aura One is one of the largest e-readers available, but it's still a fraction of the size of a mid-sized paperback.
Weight differences in grams may seem trivial, but keep in mind that e-readers are typically held one-handed. Lighter devices make it easier to read in different positions by being less likely to trigger fatigue.
Cellular data-equipped variants (see "Cellular connectivity option", below) weigh more than Wi-Fi only versions. In cases where two values are given, the heavier figure corresponds with the Wi-Fi + cellular model. The lighter is Wi-Fi only.
The super-slender Kindle Oasis is notably light on its own, but keep in mind that the removable cover adds an additional 107 grams.
The Kindles' all-plastic bodies don't win any style points, but they are fairly rugged and easy to keep clean. The Nook Glowlight Plus has plastic bezels with an aluminum frame and back for a slightly classier look. Aura One looks similar to a Kindle from the front, but its back is rubbery and textured.
The Kobo Aura One's display is 41-percent bigger than the others, based on area.
With the exception of the entry-level Kindle, all of these displays have 300 pixel-per-inch resolution. Visually, that comes very close to approximating the look of a printed page (high contrast with continuous tones, no pixels in sight).
The entry-level Kindle and the Paperwhite are available in white or black. The rest of the devices have only one color option, although the Oasis' bundled case is available in black, brown or maroon leather.
Bathtub and poolside readers rejoice, for water resistance has come to e-readers. Unfortunately, that does not include Kindles.
The Nook GlowLight Plus' IP67 rating means that it can withstand a dunking in up to one meter of water for as long as 30 minutes. The waterproof, IPX8-rated Aura One is safe in two meters of water for up to an hour.
Book & text file formats
Depending on your buying style, file compatibility could make a huge difference. If you're happy shopping in Amazon's Kindle shop exclusively (which many people are), you'll never need to worry about file formats.
If you need to get material from a variety of sources, you may wish to consider an e-reader from another manufacturer. The Nook and Kobo offerings are compatible with the ePub format (the leading file type, next to Amazon's proprietary .azw), but only the Aura One accepts .cbz and .cbr comic book formats.
The basic Kindle is the only e-reader we've listed that does not have a built-in reading light. The others have front lit displays that enable reading in a variety of lighting conditions.
Amongst the Kindles, the higher-end offerings have more LEDs for more evenly lit reading. The Paperwhite has four LEDs, the Voyage has six plus an adaptive light sensor, and the Oasis has 10 LEDs.
The Nook and Kobo displays both provide adaptive, ambient lighting.
Page turning buttons
The most common way to"turn the page" on an e-reader is to tap or swipe the touchscreen display. The Kindle Voyage and Oasis also have page-turning buttons, which can make them easier to use and hold with one hand.
These two Kindles take different approaches to the buttons. The Voyage's buttons are capacitive; its PagePress sensors allow you to turn the page without lifting a finger. Just squeeze the bezel, and PagePress technology provides silent haptic feedback while moving you to the next page.
The Oasis has physical buttons on the right side of the bezel. Don't worry, lefties – the Oasis display automatically switches orientations depending on how it's held, so don't fret about using your non-dominant hand.
Cellular connectivity option
All of these e-readers connect to Wi-Fi networks, but the Kindle Paperwhite, Voyage and Oasis are also available in Wi-Fi plus 3G variants. With these, you won't be dependent on a wireless network to download new material.
Still, keep in mind that the cellular-enabled versions are slightly heavier and more expensive. Since you only need a connection to browse, purchase and download, and each of these devices can fit thousands of books, it's unlikely you need round-the-clock connectivity.
Also don't forget that, if you have hotspot tethering enabled on your smartphone, you can use that to get Kindle data away from Wi-Fi.
Extensive typeface selection
One of the great things about e-readers (including this selection) is that you can adjust the text size, margin and line spacing exactly to your comfort. But in most of them, you have little control over typeface and font weight options.
The Aura One is the exception here. It has 11 built-in font options plus font weight and sharpness settings.
If you're used to looking at specs for smartphones or tablets, 4 GB of storage seems like a pitifully small amount. But keep in mind that e-book files are small (about 300 KB to 1 MB each) so 4 GB could reasonably fit thousands of them, even with device software taking up its share of the storage space. Almost needlessly, Kobo doubles that amount.
There is also free unlimited cloud storage synced with each one of these devices. If you need to make room on your e-reader, just delete away. You can re-download titles at any time.
Of these, only the Kindle Oasis is bundled with its own cover, but that is by design.
The super-skinny Oasis doesn't hold much battery power on its own, so its case doubles as a battery pack, meant to be charged simultaneously. Once charged, you can use the Oasis with or without its cover. However, battery life is limited without it.
It's also worth noting that the basic Kindle is also available as part of a Kids Bundle (US$100). In this configuration, it comes with a protective polyurethane cover, a two-year no-questions-asked warranty, parental controls and educational tools.
Manufacturers – especially Amazon, in this case – are fond of assigning battery life estimates in vague, generous terms. Actual battery life depends on many factors, including frequency of page turns, lighting levels and Wi-Fi use.
These estimates should be taken with a grain of salt, but most users can expect days to weeks between charges. The exception is the Kindle Oasis, which has less staying power. On its own, Amazon says the battery life will last up to two weeks with light use, though using the battery cover extends that.
Processor and RAM
These devices all have the same processing power and amount of memory. Presumably, e-readers don't need aggressive internals to provide smooth page turns and grayscale text-heavy graphics rendering.
In-store customer service
Provided that you have a Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar store in your area, you can bring the Nook GlowLight Plus there for in-person customer support for the entire life of the device.
The basic Kindle received an upgrade this summer. The Kobo Aura and Kindle Oasis were also launched this year. The rest are 1-2 year holdovers: The e-reader market has much lower turnover than other areas of consumer tech.
You've read correctly: You'll have to pay extra to remove Amazon ads from your Kindle device. Amazon calls them "Special Offers," so keep that in mind as you're navigating the check-out process.
The basic Kindle starts at an affordable $80. From there, prices creep incrementally higher dependent on features, but the $290+ Kindle Oasis has the highest price tag of the bunch.