Why Dedicated E-readers Are Still Popular

They’re as great today as they ever were

Key Takeaways

  • Dedicated e-readers are just as great today as they have ever been.
  • By design, they are robust, easier, and more pleasant to read, and have battery life a phone couldn’t even dream of matching.
  • Almost nobody needs an expensive e-reader—the mid-level models are just great.
A couple sits on the couching, each using an eReader.
Kobo

Why would you buy a slow, black-and-white, single-purpose e-reader when you almost certainly have a great phone and probably a tablet? My Kindle Oasis just died, and I’m asking myself the same question.

E-readers like the Kindle and Kobo are niche products. They’re designed for reading black text on a white background, and little else. But they’re so good at what they do and offer such great perks in exchange for a lack of fancy features that users tend to love them.

"E-readers are much like running shoes in the sense that they are designed for a specific use case," e-reader fan and gift blogger Vance Targa told Lifewire via email.

"While, yes, you can technically read on regular tablets and phones as much as you can run on the treadmill with a pair of Chelsea boots...the experience is not quite as pleasant."

The Advantages of E-Readers

It might be 2021, and we might all have smartphones with beautiful big screens or maybe tablets. But dedicated e-readers still offer several significant advantages over our more complex pocket computers. 

The first is the screen, itself. E-ink screens act like paper, instead of shining lights into our eyes. This makes them as comfortable to read as paper, and also means they use way less power.

Many people prefer reading a Kindle late at night (in bed, for instance) over a phone or tablet because it’s more restful. You also can read an e-book in full sunlight, just like paper. Try that with an iPad. 

"You can technically read on regular tablets and phones as much as you can run on the treadmill with a pair of Chelsea boots, but the experience is not quite as pleasant."

"The e-Ink provides an experience that is closer to reading on paper," tech writer Plamen Beshkov told Lifewire via email.

"It doesn't cause as much fatigue to the reader's eyes as the regular LED, LCD, or similar screens. I know many people that would rather have long reading sessions on an e-reader than on any other device (myself included)."

Those low-power screens also mean that the battery life is measured in weeks, not hours. This screen, the small battery, and the simple computer running it all also leads to slim, light devices. These are easier to hold, easier to read when you’re lying down, and easier to carry in a pocket or bag than an iPad.

An e-reader is also a lot cheaper than a phone or tablet and often more rugged. Many are waterproof, and I’ve personally never seen a Kindle with a cracked screen, but I’ve seen plenty of shattered phones.

Focus

Another less quantifiable advantage is that e-readers can be less distracting than tablets and phones. On an iPad, you may suddenly decide to look up something you just read in the Kindle app. Safari is only a swipe away, as is your mail app or your favorite game. 

A Kindle or Kobo won’t stop you from grabbing your phone, but some people say that the context-switch required is enough to keep them in the book instead of flipping through Instagram or Facebook.

Someone reading on an Amazon Oasis tablet while soaking in a bath tub.
Amazon

"Being a dedicated reading device is another great thing going for the e-readers," says Beshkov. "No notifications popping up, no apps demanding our attention, or calls interrupting our reading."

You can use this independence to enforce internet downtime. "I have three daughters—the eldest of which will shortly be 10, and I'm considering buying her a simple e-reader for her birthday," artist Adam Bartosik told Lifewire via email.

"She is an avid reader, and its dedicated nature would avoid her using reading time to browse the internet."

Now that so many of us are working from home, having a small escape from constant connectivity may be even more critical.

Are Fancy E-readers Worth the Extra Cost?

We’ve seen that e-readers are significantly better than tablets or phones, precisely because of their simplified, ultra-focused feature set. They may not be for everyone, but if you’re an avid reader, you probably will love them.

This brings us to the final question: Which one should you buy? There are several options, depending on where in the world you are, whether you require library-borrowing support, and more.

That’s all beyond the scope of this article (and Lifewire has a whole post on buying e-readers), so we’ll just look into one aspect. Should you buy a cheap, entry-level model or jump to one of the fancier models?

"I know many people that would rather have long reading sessions on an e-reader than on any other device."

For most people, the $150 Kindle Paperwhite is the best option. It’s not the cheapest Kindle, but it is waterproof and has a much higher-resolution screen for crisper text.

The Kindle Oasis is a lot more expensive, but it has a larger screen, slimmer body, a front light that can tint towards orange for comfortable late-night reading, and physical page-turn buttons. These buttons, and the asymmetrical sidebar that houses them, make it easy to just hold the device and thumb a button. 

In the Kobo lineup, some basic models mimic the basic Kindles—the Kobo Libra H2O, which is like a cheaper, plastic Oasis, and the oddball Forma, with an even larger 8-inch screen and much higher price tag. 

Are these features worth the extra hundred bucks or so? That’s up to you. Having used the original Oasis until it died this week, I find I love the page turn buttons, but I’m struggling to justify the extra cost this time around.

All I know is I have to buy something because reading books on my iPad is just terrible.

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