Technology

Product overview

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E-readers

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Get new fiction fast with an e-reader.

The popularity of e-readers might have peaked, but they're still a top choice for taking a virtual library on the move with you. Our latest test of 5 models makes for some good reading.

From our test

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Features to consider

If you're buying an e-reader, think about these features.

  • Connectivity: All models connect to the internet via USB for downloading. Some can also connect using WiFi or 3G (handy for when there’s no computer).
  • Controls: If the reader doesn’t have a touchscreen, check that the page-turning buttons are in a comfortable position. Go through the menus to see how easy it is to access menus and features.
  • E-book formats: E-books come in different file formats - EPUB, AZW and PDF are some examples. You should check the formats your e-reader supports before purchasing. See our test results for a full list of supported files.
  • All our tested models offer multiple font styles and have a built-in dictionary.
  • Memory capacity: All e-readers have onboard memory. Many also have memory-card slots that take SD, Micro SD or MS cards and allow you to read as many e-books as the card can store. 1GB of memory will hold about 1000 books.
  • Music and video: Some readers play MP3 and/or video files (although this will drain the battery more quickly).
  • Power options: All e-readers charge via USB and come with a USB cable, but only some come with a power adapter for use with an ordinary power socket. Our test results show whether each model comes with an adapter.
  • Size and weight: The most common screen size is 6 inches (measured diagonally). A larger screen can be easier to read and more suitable for magazines – but it’ll be less portable.
  • Screen type: Many e-readers use electronic ink (e-ink), a matte grey-on-grey image of text that doesn’t use any power until you turn to the next page and the screen is refreshed. Colour LCD screens are more visually stunning but are also more reflective.
  • Text-to-speech: This turns the e-reader into an “audio book” – although compared with the emotion and pace of a true audio book, some text-to-speech attempts can sound stilted and mechanical. There are also e-readers that “speak” the menu options – a bonus if you’re visually impaired.
  • Wallet or case: A wallet or case can protect your e-book reader, prevent screen scratches, and make it easier to hold.

Tablets and phones

Do you need a dedicated e-reader or will a tablet or phone app do the job?

We don't include tablets (such as iPads) in our e-reader test reports. That's because tablets are very different beasts from pure e-readers - so it's very much like comparing Apples with oranges.

Most smartphones and many portable media players have e-reader applications, making every smartphone a potential e-reader. For example Amazon's Kindle app is available on Android, Apple, Windows 7 phones and other platforms.

Some of the apps (like Kindle) allow you to read your books on whatever device you like – which means you can buy your book on an iPad and then transfer it to your phone. But others require you to buy a new copy of the book for each device.

Downloading e-books

It's dangerously easy to buy e-books once you've installed your e-reader's software on your computer.

  • Set up an account with an online store.

  • Buy an e-book – or pick from the collection of free e-books.

  • Download your book to your computer.

  • Sync your e-reader with your computer via USB.

If you buy a wireless e-reader, you can download books through a wireless internet connection (there's no need to connect your e-reader to your computer). All of our tested models have WiFi.

If you buy a 3G e-reader, you can search for, select and purchase an e-book via a 3G phone network.

Free e-books

You can pick up free e-books (especially classics) from commercial websites like Kobo and Amazon.

As well, some websites specialise in free books – gutenberg.org is one.

Many libraries now offer e-books. You “borrow” an e-book by downloading it via a digital platform like OverDrive Media Console. Borrowed books “expire” automatically after a couple of weeks. So there's no need to worry about fines for non-returned items.

NB: Kindles aren't compatible with library lending platforms (at least not outside the US). You can't use a Kindle to borrow books from your local library.

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