9 Things to Look for in an E-Reader

Consider these specs and features before buying your first e-reader

Kindle Paperwhite 2015
Amazon

E-readers allow you to carry thousands of books around with you in a single, easily transportable device. Is it any wonder they're so popular? For anyone interested in buying a new e-reader, there are lots of different styles, specs, and feature sets you should know about. Here's what to look for in an e-reader;

Screen type

E-reader displays used to be made with a technology called E Ink, but tablet computers like the Apple iPad introduced a number of backlit or LCD e-reader displays. Even E Ink stalwart Amazon launched tablet versions of its popular Kindle line, called the Kindle Fire.

When picking an e-reader, ask yourself if you'd prefer an unlit, paper-like display like E Ink or if you don't mind a typical LCD screen like the one on your phone. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. E Ink tends to reduce eye strain and greatly improve battery life. An LCD screen can display color and typically comes with touchscreen capabilities as well. Then you have hybrid readers such as the newer E Ink Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook, which feature both an electronic paper display and LCD touchscreen at the same time.

For electronic paper displays, make sure you compare screens because some have better contrast and higher resolution than others.

Size and weight

Size matters. Especially when it comes to how portable you want your e-reader to be. Fortunately, there are all sorts of options when it comes to size. On the smaller end is Amazon's basic Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook Glowlight+, both of which are pretty light and easy to take with you on the go. Then you’ve got larger ones, such as the Kindle Fire HD 10, the Apple iPad, and iPad Pro. None of those can fit in a pocket, but if you value a big screen then they're worth considering.

Interface

Controls for e-reading devices are typically based on either buttons, touchscreens, or a combination of both. Button-based controls require less power and are more accurate but can be more cumbersome to use. Touchscreens are more intuitive but can be laggy, smudge-prone, and typically drain more battery. They also appear to be gaining popularity as the interface of choice, even for E Ink-based displays.

Button-based devices include older models such as the Amazon’s Kindle 1, 2, 3 and DX models, plus Sony’s Reader Pocket and the original Kobo eReader. The iPad, Kindle Fire, and Nook Tablets all use LCD touchscreens. 

Battery life

Depending on whether you plan to read primarily at home or on the road, battery life is an important consideration. Basic e-readers without fancy bells or whistles typically have longer battery life. Devices with Wi-Fi and web browsing, on the other hand, tend to have shorter operating times.

Features

Do you want an e-reader just for reading eBooks or do you want to your device to do much more? Some devices—such as the older Reader Pocket and Kobo Reader—are designed purely for reading and skip on extra features, including music playback. The Nook, on the other hand, plays music, has a web browser, and include a touchscreen interface. At the higher end of the features spectrum are tablets such as the iPad, which function almost like a mini-computer.

Formats

You’ll also want to check the formats that a device is capable of handling. Popular file formats include EPUB, PDF, TXT and HTML, among others. The more formats a device can display the better.

Also check if an eReader is more open or uses a proprietary format. A more open format such as EPUB, for example, means you can move your eBooks easily from one device to another. In contrast, Amazon’s proprietary AZW format can only be displayed by Kindle devices.

Capacity

This determines just how much media you can fit into your device at one time. The higher the memory, the more eBooks and files you can fit. High capacity is especially important for multimedia eReaders that can also play music, video, and apps. Besides internal memory, some devices also come with a slot for an SD card, which allows you to bump up your capacity.

Store access

Depending on the device, an eReader can have direct access to certain eBook stores, which means extra convenience, a wider selection, and also the ability to get the latest bestsellers.

The Kindle, for example, has direct access to Amazon’s online bookstore, while the Nook and Kobo have access to Barnes & Noble and Borders respectively.

Devices that don’t have direct store access can still display compatible e-books, but you’ll have to download them from a PC first. Free eBook sources like Project Gutenberg are another option.

Price

Ultimately, this can be the biggest factor when deciding to buy an eBook reader. After all, your wallet pretty much dictates what you can or cannot afford. Analysts and industry insiders have always said that $99 is the magic price point for most e-readers, and there are plenty of options in that price range. In the early 2010s, you had many eReaders sporting price tags well over $400. These days that's enough to get you a tablet.