2013 eReader Comparison Guide
Remember when everyone asked if the first iPad was a "Kindle killer?" Well, although tablets have certainly put the brakes on e-readers' momentum, the Kindle is still alive and kicking. Is it your best e-reader option this holiday season? Join Gizmag, as we break down several of the top e-readers you can buy today.
Meet the e-readers
The Kindle is still the dominant player in this field, but Barnes & Noble's Nook and Rakuten's Kobo are still churning out some quality products. We focused our group on those three brands:
- Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2013)
- Amazon Kindle
- Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight
- Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch
- Kobo Aura HD
There's also a standard (non-HD) Kobo Aura, but we chose the Aura HD because it differentiates itself more from the other readers in this group. The Kobo Aura, though, is another solid choice if you want a 6-in e-reader with a high-resolution display.
Sizes are pretty similar, though the Nooks stand out for their beefy side bezels. The Kobo also has a bigger frame to house its bigger screen. All of these e-readers are much smaller than tablets though, including miniature ones like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire.
All of our e-readers are pretty light, with the standard Kindle taking the prize for lightest. The Nook GlowLight is particularly light for a frontlit reader, and its feathery weight is probably the biggest reason to consider it over the Paperwhite.
Display (size and resolution)
Four of our five readers have 6-in screens, the de facto standard in this field. The Aura HD mixes that up with a 28 percent bigger (6.8-in) screen. The Aura's screen is also much sharper than the others, though the Paperwhite and Nook GlowLight are also pretty crisp.
Though several media outlets have reported that the Paperwhite has a 1024 x 768 screen, we confirmed with Amazon that it's in fact 1024 x 758. Makes no difference in your experience, but sometimes it's nice to set the record straight on tiny details like that.
The big innovation in e-readers during the last couple of years has been frontlit displays. They eliminate the need to sit in a brightly-lit room or clip a bulky book light onto your svelte e-reader. The frontlit displays of the Paperwhite, GlowLight, and Aura HD let you read in darker lighting conditions, while also simulating the look of white paper.
All but the old-school Kindle rely on touchscreens for navigation. Navigating them is a lot like a tablet, only you have a black & white e-ink screen instead of a color LCD.
Physical page-turning buttons
The standard Kindle and the Nook Simple Touch are the only readers in this bunch to include physical page-turning buttons.
Each e-reader offers a handful of font styles to choose from. You can also sideload your own custom fonts onto the Kindles and the Kobo (you'll have to root your Nook to add your own fonts).
Each of our devices gives you at least 2 GB of storage. If that doesn't sound like much, just remember that e-books don't take up much space (they're usually less than 1 MB each). You also only need to keep the books you're currently reading on the device; everything else can hang out in the cloud.
Battery life isn't going to be a concern with any e-reader. These estimates are from the manufacturers, and are measured with wireless turned off.
The Kindle Paperwhite and Aura HD give you the fastest processors, which should translate to slightly faster page-turns.
In-store customer service
If you live near a Barnes & Noble retail store, then you can take either of the Nooks in to get serviced. B&N also lets you read an hour of any Nook e-book for free when you're on the store's Wi-Fi network. Neither Amazon or Kobo can offer such a perk.
If you have DRM-free e-book files or documents in epub format, then the Nooks and the Kobo will directly serve your needs. On the Kindle, you'll need to use an app like Calibre to convert them into a Kindle-friendly file format.
All five of the devices directly support PDFs.
Only the Kindle Paperwhite is sold in a 3G-capable model. Since you'll probably only need data for buying and downloading new books, cellular capabilities probably aren't essential on an e-reader (as long as you're often near a Wi-Fi network).
Original release dates
Only three of these readers launched in 2013, with B&N's Nook Simple Touch hanging around for a third straight year.
The oldest model is also the cheapest, with the Nook Simple Touch ringing up for a rock-bottom US$60. The non-frontlit Kindle isn't far behind, but remember that both Kindles include Amazon's "Special Offers." They won't interfere with your reading, but the ads will show as screensavers and at the bottom of your home screen. You can pay $20 (at checkout or anytime after) to do away with them.
The Kobo Aura HD is the priciest in the bunch, at $30 more than the ad-free version of the Kindle Paperwhite. The Aura does, however, give you that bigger, sharper display (and very solid all-around hardware) in return. The standard Kobo Aura (not pictured), meanwhile, matches the Paperwhite and GlowLight with a 6-in 1024 x 758 frontlit display, and rings up for $150.
If you're wanting a more versatile device (and don't mind sacrificing some readability in direct sunlight), then you can check out our 2013 Tablet Comparison Guide.