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E-book readers

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What's behind our E-book reader Ratings?

Experts at our National Testing and Research Center tested 13 models in E-book readers to see which ones perform best.
We look for:
  • Overall score
    Overall score is in performance order, based on display readability, e-book reader versatility, performance, page turn, navigation and file versatility. The displayed score is out of a total of 100 points.
  • Readability
    Readability is a measurement of how well the e-book reader can be viewed in various lighting conditions. E-book readers are tested in bright sunlight, a room replicating an average lit room and a dimly lit room.
  • Versatility
    Versatility mainly includes characteristics that aid in usefulness and convenience. Those include the presence of hardware and menu-based navigation features. Also considered are the number of memory-card slots, built-in memory, power and headphones jacks, touch screen, physical keyboard, WiFi, and accelerometer among other features.
  • Responsiveness
    Responsiveness is a speed measurement of how quickly an e-book reader can turn on from full off, resume from sleep, open an e-book, and transfer an e-book from a computer via USB.
  • Page turn
    Page turn is mostly a performance measurement of how quickly an e-book reader can turn to the next page of an e-book. It also takes into account the page turning experience and such qualities as whether or not the screen blinks while page turning, if there are dedicated page forward and back buttons, placement of those buttons and presence of a physical keyboard.
  • Navigation
    Navigation includes the ability of the e-book reader to rotate to landscape and portrait mode, automatically and manually bookmark a page, search for an e-book, search through an online bookstore and the presence of an accelerometer.
  • File support
    This is a rating of typical e-book formats supported as well as other typical file formats you may want to read on an e-book reader. The following formats are rated; EPUB, PDF, MOBI, Word documents, TXT, RTF, JPEG and GIF.
  • Claimed battery life
    This is the manufacturer's stated battery life. Most vendors report this in hours but some report it in number of page turns.
  • Viewable display size
    Viewable display size is the size of the display screen, measured diagonally to the nearest 10th of an inch.
  • Touch screen
    Full touch-sensitive displays respond to light contact with a stylus, finger, or both. They provide an alternate, and sometimes more direct, method to input data and launch e-book reader features and controls. But they smudge more frequently than their non-touch counterparts.

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Recommended e-book readers

Recommended e-book readers are standout choices with high scores. They include CR Best Buys, which offer exceptional value. When narrowing your choices, weigh features, price, and attributes that matter to you.
  • Buying Guide
  • Price & Shop
Though the Amazon Kindle and other so-called e-book readers may be hot topics on technology blogs, a lot of their buyers are hardly gadget freaks. They're simply people, some of them decidedly ungeeky, who love to read books. If you're looking for information about e-book readers, Consumer Reports is your best resource. Consumer Reports’ e-book reader reviews will give you honest buying advice that you can trust. Use our e-book reader buying guide to discover which features are most important to consider. We also provide unbiased Ratings and e-book reader reviews to help you choose the best e-book reader for your needs.

E-book reader buying guide

What are e-book readers anyway? They're portable devices, typically with 5-to-10-inch screens, primarily designed to display the digitized versions of printed books. They're typically quite light--mostly 8 ounces or so and up--and are about as thin as many smart phones. Prices typically range from around $80 to $300, with many models costing $100 or so.

Most use technologies such as E Ink that rely on reflected ambient light to illuminate their screen. That gives them a relatively long battery life--thousands of page turns, or upward of a week or so in standby mode. Others, however, including virtually all color models, use the LCD screen technology of laptops and many phones. While such LCD screens generally produce type that's less crisp, and more difficult to read in bright light, they're backlit, and so are easier to read in dim light.

E-book readers offer other capabilities, such as built-in music players, but they're designed primarily for reading. You select content and turn pages using buttons, bars, or (on touch-screen models) an onscreen swipe.

Can I read e-books on other devices? You can. The same e-book applications found on readers are also available for many smart phones, PCs, and Mac computers. Some tablet models such as Apple's iPad have their own e-book apps, too. But multipurpose devices are generally less suited to e-book reading than dedicated readers. Their LCD screens typically display type less crisply than reader screens, they run for hours on a charge rather than days, and they're more prone to wash out in bright light.

How do I get e-books onto my reader? They're typically downloaded directly from an e-book store maintained by the reader's manufacturer. Some readers come bundled with unlimited access to a 3G cellular network that allows wireless downloads from those stores wherever you have network coverage--a significant plus. Others allow wireless access via Wi-Fi, which may suffice for many people. A book typically requires a minute or less to download.

Many readers, like virtually all tablets, connect wirelessly only over a Wi-Fi connection to a home network or hotspot. Other units require you to connect the device to a computer to download content. Downloads using a USB cord and a computer are an option with all units, even wireless ones.

What do e-books cost? E-books can be less expensive than printed books. Prices typically range from free to $30 and up. New best-selling titles often cost less as e-books than as hardcovers. Many classic titles that are in the public domain cost only a few dollars or are available free from the Google Books database of more than 500,000 public domain titles. E-book retailers frequently offer free sample chapters.

The selection of e-books on all the major devices is large and rapidly expanding. That said, not every printed book is available in e-book form and the e-book release is sometimes delayed somewhat, to maximize sales of hardcover editions.

Is other content available? Yes, most readers also allow you to buy magazines and newspapers, either as single issues (typically for prices comparable to buying their printed counterpart) or as subscriptions, which can cost less than subscribing to the printed versions.

Is an e-book reader right for you? E-book readers are much thinner and lighter than a single hardcover book, and can hold thousands of titles. Buying an e-book reader makes the most sense if you're a voracious reader or someone who often lugs books among several favorite reading locations.

A reader can also be a fine choice for the visually impaired. Type size can be enlarged, and a few models also allow fonts to be changed. Amazon Kindle models will even read text to you, albeit in a somewhat mechanical voice.

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