Best Cheap Ereaders
Published on By Michael Sweet
From $69 Best
Amazon's no-frills ereader is about as cheap as they come, as long as you don't mind the ads. It performs like a champ, and if you don't care about the absence of a built-in light, this is the best deal around.
The sheer number of favorable Kindle reviews is evidence enough: The cheapest ereader among our top picks happens to be the best overall. Entry-level Kindles haven't changed much in the past couple of years, but the latest version incorporates a small performance boost and claims an Editor's Choice award from PC Mag. This expert review says the update's display shows minor improvements in the contrast and the rapid page turns are now uninterrupted by the swift fade to black that marked the previous model. There's still no touchscreen, but the ad-supported low price makes the basic Kindle an excellent deal. (An escape from the commercial intrusions costs an extra $20.) At Amazon, more than 5,000 reviews rave about the value and user-friendly functionality. Users like the light weight, the crisp text, and a muted display that's easy on the eyes at night. Some find the screen insufficiently bright, however, and a few report problems with freeze-ups and navigation buttons that give out. Still, the vast majority appreciate the portability and convenience of being able to carry around a personal library. Few users gripe about the missing touchscreen -- one commenter even prefers it this way, noting there's no chance of accidentally initiating an action.
The Kindle (starting at $69 with ads, Amazon) uses a 6-inch E Ink Pearl display, like most ereaders, but forgoes a touchscreen and integrated light. It weighs 5.98 ounces and holds 2GB of internal memory, 1GB of which is available for storage. (Users can also store and access all their Amazon content in the Amazon Cloud for no extra charge.) The ereader features Wi-Fi support and a battery that runs up to a month between charges as long as the Wi-Fi is off when not in use. It offers a choice of three fonts and eight font sizes and three settings for line spacing. Supported file formats in addition to Amazon's proprietary AZW format include TXT, PDF, HDML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files. (Sorry, no support for EPUB.)
A true entry-level ereader, the Kindle eschews the extras increasingly common on these devices -- no touchscreen or integrated light, for example, and a rudimentary storage system that can't take cover art. But never mind. This is a stand-out product at a hard-to-beat price, one that delivers snappy performance with a screen that's easy to read.
Nook Simple Touch GlowLight Review
From $99 Best
Looking for an ereader with an integrated light? Barnes & Noble's Nook with GlowLight is the way to go. The Nook's screen is top drawer regardless, but the added feature lets users adjust the lighting to suit any environment. Overall performance is spot-on.
Nook Simple Touch GlowLight reviews confirm that this is the most well-rounded ereader for less than $100. It comes with desirable extras, such as a built-in light and touchscreen, even as the price remains in budget territory without the imposition of ads. The adjustable LED lighting is roundly praised in CNET's review for its even distribution across the display and enabling nighttime reading while others slumber away. This Nook now sets the standard for screens with light, the expert asserts, explaining that contrast remains sharp and text is nicely dark. Top Ten Reviews concludes that the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight (starting at $99, Amazon) is one of the best ereaders around. This review raves about the ergonomics (e.g., soft-touch coating) and silky edge lighting, but says the display contrast is a tad softer than some competing models although so subtly off it's noticeable only in a side-by-side comparison. Many user reviews mention a bigger problem with the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight: a small tear or hole that develops and allows bright light to leak through the screen. More common, though, are positive remarks about the responsive touchscreen, speedy page turns, or long battery life.
The hardware for the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight is nearly identical to that of the basic Nook but for one big difference: the light, which illuminates the entire display so users can read in low-light conditions. The Nook sports a six-inch E Ink Pearl screen (with an anti-glare protector) and offers six fonts at seven sizes; the touch feature is augmented by traditional navigation buttons. The device includes 2GB of internal memory, with about 1GB available for storage; a microSD card slot accepts cards up to 32GB. The Simple Touch GlowLight supports wireless connections and the rechargeable battery lasts up to a full month with the GlowLight on or two months with it off, assuming the Wi-Fi connection is used sparingly. The Nook supports the EPUB format as well as PDFs and JPG, GIF, PNG, and BMP image formats. It weighs less than 7 ounces.
The Nook Simple Touch GlowLight is the top full-featured ereader on the market given its just-shy-of-$100 price tag. The similar Amazon Kindle Paperwhite has comparable features and performance but costs quite a bit more. A stellar performer, the Nook with GlowLight is easy to read, easy to use, and worth a few extra pennies.
Where to buy
Sony Reader PRS-T2 Review
From $70 Good
The Sony Reader PRS-T2 is a perfectly capable ereader with a touchscreen but will soon exit the market. It's a good choice at a decent price as long as supplies last.
Sony has been making ereaders for years, and Reader PRS-T2 reviews say this version is undoubtedly its best to date. A reviewer at Engadget is impressed with the rapid page turns and deems the contrast superior to that of the edge-lit Nook but could still be crisper. All things considered, the review concludes, this model is a solid alternative to the Nook or Kindle. The Reader PRS-T2 also wins support from reviewers for the touchscreen and quick page refreshes. A CNET expert likes the Reader PRS-T2 well enough, praising the dark text and good contrast, but reckons there's no particular reason to opt for the Sony Reader over a Kindle or Nook -- a view that may explain why this model is being phased out with no updated or replacement model from Sony expected. Reviews also note that the Sony library can't compete with the vast troves offered by Amazon and Barnes & Noble for their respective devices.
Sony is a little coy about the exact hardware contained in the Reader PRS-T2, but we know it showcases a six-inch E Ink Pearl touchscreen and also sports navigation buttons. The lightweight device tips the scales at less than 6 ounces. Like all current ereaders, the Sony Reader supports Wi-Fi and its rechargeable lithium ion battery can last up to two months between charges if the Wi-Fi stays off when not in use. Like the Nook, the Reader comes with a microSD card slot that takes cards up to 32GB, offering users plenty of storage.
The Sony Reader PRS-T2 (starting at $70, Amazon) is a perfectly capable ereader, with an excellent screen and good, fast execution. It stands tall next to the Kindle and Nook Simple Touch GlowLight in terms of performance, but lacks integrated lighting and no price advantage. Plus, the Sony library is smaller and, given the company's pull-back from the U.S. market, not likely to get much larger. Still, this is a respectable ereader and the price could fall as vendors seek to sell off inventory.
Nook Simple Touch Review
From $79 Good
The Nook Simple Touch from Barnes & Noble is the best alternative to Amazon's Kindle. It's cheaper than the ad-free Kindle and it includes a touchscreen, which the basic Kindle does not.
The plain-vanilla sibling of the souped-up GlowLight, the Nook Simple Touch garners enthusiastic praise in expert and user reviews. PC Mag honors it with an Editor's Choice award, lauding its price, responsiveness, and touchscreen convenience. The expert Nook Simple Touch review extols the fast page turns, whether with a swipe or a press of the navigation buttons, and the crisp, dark text. The display is easy on the eyes and navigation is intuitive, according to users' posts at Best Buy, where they assert that it beats reading on a computer or tablet and also outdoes competing models. Many reviews make a point of saying that the Nook is very comfortable to hold and having one facilitates book buying; a few concede they now read more than before. Users also comment approvingly on the glare-free screen and long battery life.
The Nook Simple Touch (starting at $79, Amazon) may not have a built-in light but it does sport a touchscreen -- a six-inch E Ink Pearl display that offers the choice of six fonts and seven sizes. The basic Simple Touch weighs 7.48 ounces, which is somewhat heavier than other ereaders, including the Simple Touch GlowLight, although it's hardly a brick. The battery lasts up to two months if Wi-Fi use is kept to a minimum and the connection switched off when not needed. There is 2GB of storage, of which 1GB is taken up by Nook software and the remaining 1GB available for content. Like the GlowLight version, this Nook Simple Touch comes with a microSD card slot that can accommodate a microSD card with up to 32GB -- enough to store tens of thousands of books. The Nook Simple Touch supports EPUB and PDF files as well as JPG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files.
This ereader is every bit the equal of the Amazon Kindle, just slightly more expensive but also devoid of ads. If you want the cheapest good ereader available, the no-fuss basic Kindle is your champion. If you want a low-cost ereader with a touchscreen -- or one that's unencumbered by ads -- the Nook Simple Touch is it.
Kobo Mini Review
From $59 Think Twice
The Mini from Kobo has a few shortcomings, such as text that appears to be a shade lighter than black. The lack of a memory card slot is a letdown and some users say it occasionally lags.
Kobo makes a variety of ereaders, and the Kobo Mini is its cheapest. But reviews consistently identify weak spots that might deter potential buyers. A Kobo Mini review at CNET assigns it an overall average rating, with higher marks for the compact size and responsive E Ink Pearl touch display and lower marks for the resolution and price (before recent price cuts, that is). The comparatively small, five-inch display wins over reviewers, including one at TechHive who says the Kobo Mini looks "adorable" and fits easily in a pocket. The user-friendly interface and acceptable page-turn speed (albeit a half-step slower than our top picks) with a choice of how often to refresh, also attract positive notice. What weighs the Kobo Mini down, according to some reviews, are fonts that appear dark gray rather than black (some fiddling with the customization options seems to darken them up.) Also, the rechargeable battery isn't quite as powerful as those found in competitors' devices, lasting up to one month between charges compared with their two-month runs. The online Kobo library, meanwhile, gets dinged by one expert who finds browsing and downloading an exercise in frustration.
The Kobo Mini (starting at $59, Amazon) is smaller and lighter than most ereaders, weighing in at a mere 4.73 ounces, and very comfortable for one-handed reading. It offers Wi-Fi connectivity, and, like most ereaders, 2GB of storage, with 1GB available to users. Text options abound, with a choice of eight fonts and 24 font sizes and settings for font weight and sharpness, all of which make the Kobo Mini far more adjustable than other ereader devices. The Mini supports several formats, including EPUB, PDF, TXT, HTML, RTF, JPEG, GIF, and PNG.
The smaller size of the Kobo Mini may appeal to users who have smaller hands or who desire a reader that's even more portable than most others. But the Mini has its share of shortcomings, which its bargain-basement starting price can't quite overcome.
Ectaco JetBook Mini Review
From $83 Think Twice
The Jetbook Mini is a dinosaur compared to other ereaders. It has no built-in wireless support and users say converting EPUB and other files to the format the Jetbook Mini can read is a bother.
The JetBook Mini from Ectaco (starting at $83, Amazon) differs from the latest crop of ereaders in design and hardware, and reviews of this older model are mediocre, at best. This device features a five-inch TFT display rather than an E Ink screen, the result being that it looks less like a page in a book than like a smartphone display. Fonts appear jet black, however, and the ghosting and flashing that sometimes mar E Ink displays are absent -- qualities that draw praise in the few Ectaco JetBook Mini reviews posted at Amazon. Users also like the small size and light weight but are disappointed with the limited format compatibility and value for the money. Users' Ectaco JetBook Mini reviews grouse about having to convert almost all ebook formats to another one using open-source Calibre software, and say accessing menu items and loading books is tedious.
The five-inch screen is a nice change from the standard six inches, but the TFT display is old-school, as is the JetBook Mini's dependence on four AAA batteries, which should provide up to 90 hours of reading time. The single font can be adjusted to one of six sizes, and line spacing and line breaks can be customized. The JetBook Mini uses SD cards that can hold up to 16GB of data and it weighs 5.8 ounces, about average for an ereader. This is the only device we researched that doesn't support wireless connections, which means users must load books either through a PC or an SD card. Ectaco says the JetBook Mini supports MOBI, EPUB, HTML, PRC, RTF, PDB, and PDF formats, but they must all be converted using extra (but free) software.
The Ectaco JetBook Mini has been around for some time, and it's definitely showing its age. The lack of wireless support is almost unthinkable in today's ereaders and the need to convert pretty much every ebook format to another obscure format is a serious drawback. The TFT screen has some advantages -- text is jet black, and page turns are fast -- but overall performance is ho-hum. With a price that's hardly compelling, there's little reason to put this ereader in your basket.
In this rapidly expanding digital age, it's no wonder that even those of us who love holding a book and turning its pages are captivated by ereaders. Cheap ereaders are basically electronic tablets that display text on a small screen in a way that emulates the pages of a book. But they are not tablets, netbooks, or digital photo albums. They are portable libraries, pure and simple. And while additional functionalities are welcome, their presence shouldn't tempt consumers to disregard certain "must have" features or performance standards.
Cheap Ereaders Buying Guide
Our favorite budget ereader is the basic Amazon Kindle, which costs a mere $69 (with ads) and excels at its one and only function. The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch GlowLight (starting at $99) our other pick for best cheap ereader. An outstanding bargain, this model performs like a champ and sports built-in edge lighting -- a very popular feature among users -- yet costs a hair less than our cheap price ceiling. The entry-level Nook Simple Touch (starting at $79) is priced just right for a cheap ereader and includes a touchscreen but no light. The Sony Reader PRS-T2 (starting at $70) is equal to the Nook and Kindle in terms of overall performance and is an excellent deal, but it won't be available much longer and the company has no plans to sell an updated version in the U.S.
Two cheap ereaders that leave reviewers wanting more are the Kobo Mini (starting at $59) and the Ectaco JetBook Mini (starting at $83). The Kobo Mini seems like a product in search of an audience. It's slightly smaller than other ereaders, which arguably is a plus, but the screen's contrast isn't as sharp as the displays on competing models. Moreover, the Kobo library contains fewer titles than those maintained by Amazon and Barnes & Noble and it's a challenge to navigate. The Ectaco JetBook Mini has been around for several years and seems almost anachronistic. It features a sharp display but runs on AAA batteries (rather than the newer and preferred rechargeable fuel cell), its performance can be sluggish, and loading books onto the device is a real pain.
When shopping for a cheap ereader, the first thing to look for is a screen that's easy to read. The good news here is that almost all ereaders use some type of E Ink Pearl screen technology and a handful feature built-in lighting, which facilitates reading regardless of the surrounding light. The most common screen size for ereaders is 6 inches, although a few models, including the Kobo Mini and Ectaco JetBook Mini, use a 5-inch display. Touchscreens are becoming increasingly common even in cheap ereaders. It's a nice feature, but not necessarily a make-or-break option.
The best budget ereaders support several file formats. The EPUB format is the most popular and is supported by most ereaders as well as most libraries and online ebook stores. However, Amazon's Kindles do not and never have supported EPUB, which is one of the Kindles' few frustrating drawbacks. The various Kindle models support other popular formats, though, such as PDF, TXT, and DOC, so these devices are not completely locked into their own proprietary format, AZW. Most ereaders support PDF and a handful of other text formats and should also support a variety of image formats such as BMP, PNG, and GIF. In the past some ereaders supported audio formats, such as MP3, but audio support has fallen out of favor and none of the models we looked at support such files.
Wi-Fi is standard on newer ereaders, as it should be. Wi-Fi support makes it easy for users to find and download content directly to the device. As for storage capacity, a good low-cost ereader will have at least 1GB of useable built-in storage and some are graced with an expansion slot for a memory card. Of course, using the ereader should be intuitive, and it should run fast -- you don't want to wait 10 seconds after you turn a page for the new page to load on the screen. Finally, the best cheap ereaders boast long battery life.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Ereader Reviews: Display and Readability
Ereaders are mostly one-trick ponies -- they are meant for reading ebooks -- and the ereader reviews we read indicate that these little devices facilitate this activity quite well with screens that are easy on the eyes.
Ereaders try to emulate paperback books, so most have small screens, typically 5 or 6 inches. What matters more than size for the reading experience, though, is the underlying screen technology.
Most of the better budget ebook readers now incorporate E Ink Pearl, whose display mimics the look of printed text on paper. The latest E Ink technology delivers nearly instant page turns, a performance boost that ereader reviews praise. It also enables users to easily read the display even in bright daylight (the more light, the better) without the "page" looking washed out. The Nook Simple Touch GlowLight (starting at $99) and entry-level Simple Touch (starting at $79), Kindle (starting at $69 with ads), Sony Reader PRS-T2 (starting at $70), and Kobo Mini (starting at $59) all boast E Ink Pearl technology.
The Ectaco JetBook Mini (starting at $83) uses an older TFT display similar to those found in smartphones or small tablets. The screen is backlit, however, which makes for easy reading even in the dark. Note that built-in lights are starting to show up in E Ink displays and currently appear in the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight and Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (starting at $119, with ads). Other E Ink ebook readers rely on ambient light.
The screen on the latest entry-level Kindle is slightly better than that of its predecessor, asserts an expert ereader review at PC Mag. Contrast is crisper and text is darker, although the review notes that the difference doesn't jump out at you. In any case, a throng of users who have posted comments at Amazon declare that the screen affords a fine read.
The two Nook models on our list also boast excellent screens, ereader reviews conclude. Comments posted at sites like Walmart and Best Buy state that the display on the basic Simple Touch is clear, easy on the eyes, and free of glare, while PC Mag deems the text crisp. The Simple Touch GlowLight lights up evenly and retains good contrast and dark text even with the light turned on, notes a CNET expert, who adds that the GlowLight is a "killer feature" for nighttime reading. PC World agrees, saying the GlowLight's screen delivers a "silky smooth" reading experience and the integrated light is worth the higher price.
A similarly crisp and sharp display shows up on the Sony Reader PRS-T2 even in the absence of backlighting, according to online reviews. Engadget contends that text on the Reader is sharper than on the backlit Nook but not standard-setting. CNET experts like what they see -- clear contrast, dark text, and precise fonts.
Ereader reviews of the Kobo Mini screen are less effusive. An expert at Techhive says the screen is fairly easy on the eyes although fonts appear to be dark gray rather than black. An expert review by Digital Trends also considers the Mini's contrast and crispness subpar compared with a Nook or Kindle Paperwhite and the display a tad less responsive than competing models.
Two Ectaco JetBook Mini users who posted reviews on Amazon are satisfied with the display, which presents jet-black fonts due to its TFT screen. Resolution is quite low, however, and an ereader review at Newegg says the display looks rudimentary compared with a Kindle or the Sony Reader PRS-T2.
The Kindle Paperwhite may boast the best display of all the ereaders we researched, but it's priced above our $100 ceiling, even with ads. A CNET reviewer says the newest Paperwhite has a faster and more responsive screen than the previous iteration and its integrated light works well. An expert assessment by Digital Trends commends the bright screen and high black-on-white contrast, declaring this the best E Ink screen to date.
Ebook Stores and Formats
Once you've purchased an ereader, where will you buy ebooks? Each ereader is associated with an ebook store and supports certain ebook formats. Comparing these can be as crucial to your purchase decision as comparing the hardware. A sizeable ebook store and support for a variety of popular ebook formats provides the largest selection of titles.
Ebook Stores.Amazon sells ebooks for Kindles; Barnes & Noble sells ebooks for its Nooks; Sony maintains a sizeable ebook store for its Reader devices; and Kobo's library is also quite extensive. Ectaco doesn't have a library for the JetBook Mini, but the device can read EPUB files, which is the format most ebook libraries use. Ebook readers can also buy material from online ebook stores, such as Fictionwise.com or Ebooks.com. And most local libraries maintain inventories of lendable ebooks. Compared to prices of print books, ebooks are a virtual bargain. Lots of ebooks sell for less than $10 and best-sellers typically cost less than $15; some ebooks are even free. Many libraries lend ebooks at no charge, usually in the EPUB format. You can also find more than a million free ebooks from Google and online bookstores. These free ebooks are typically classics whose copyrights have expired, such as Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, and other well-known titles from yesteryear.
Ebook Formats.Older ebook readers sometimes support a variety of text, audio, and image formats, but today's devices focus mostly on text, with support for a few image formats. The more text formats an ebook reader supports, the easier it is to find reading material. Perhaps the most popular ebook format is EPUB. Many libraries, bookstores (such as Barnes & Noble), and online vendors make books available in the EPUB ebook format. Nook ereaders and the Kobo Mini support EPUB as well as Adobe's popular PDF format. The Ectaco JetBook Mini can read EPUB files after they've been converted using Calibre software. Other ebook formats include TXT, Mobi, and RTF. Our top picks among budget ereaders also support JPG, GIF, and PNG image formats. Amazon‘s Kindle ereaders and ebooks stand apart in the virtual world. They use a proprietary format called AZW, including a newer version called Kindle Format 8 (abbreviated as AZW3, curiously) that allows more behind-the-scenes formatting options such as drop caps and support for HTML5 files. Kindles do not support EPUB and cannot read ebooks that are DRM-protected files purchased outside of the Kindle library. Kindles can, however, read TXT and PDF files and they do support the common image formats noted above.
Titles purchased at ebook stores are often DRM-protected, meaning they will work on your ebook reader and PC but not on anyone else's. Sharing is out and everyone has to buy their own copies. (Nooks and Kindles are exceptions to this rule: If you own a Nook or Kindle you can share an ebook with another user of the respective device for up to 14 days.) Most ereaders include support for DRM-protected EPUB and PDF files by using a product called Adobe Digital Edition, which manages and "approves" DRM products on your ebook reader. All the ereaders on our list are compatible with at least some DRM-protected ebook formats. Libraries have accommodated to the many formats, so borrowing ebooks should be hassle-free.
Additional Products We Considered
Kindle Paperwhite Review
The Kindle Paperwhite is too expensive for Cheapism's taste, even with ads, but very strong reviews by experts and users compel attention. A favorite among experts at sites like Engadget and Digital Trends, the Kindle Paperwhite garners raves for its features and performance. The newest version is even better than the one it replaced, reviews assert, with the integrated light spreading evenly across the display, sharper and brighter contrast, quicker page turns, sprightlier navigation, and a slightly lighter body. The touchscreen is fast and responsive, Kindle Paperwhite reviews continue, and the battery will last for several weeks with the light set low. Users are thrilled with the reading experience, citing the absence of glare (all the more obvious when the sun is shining bright), adjustable screen lighting, and a near true replica of what it's like to read a hard-copy book. The vast collection of content for the Kindle is another big selling point for both expert and user reviewers.
The Kindle Paperwhite (starting at $119, with ads, Amazon) employs a new, six-inch E Ink "Paperwhite" display not found on other ereaders. The display has an integrated light and supports eight font sizes and six fonts. The Paperwhite is a little on the heavy side, at 7.3 ounces, but compensates with a host of features, such as note-taking capability and a vocabulary builder. Like its bare-bones Kindle sibling, the Paperwhite sits squarely in the Amazon AZW universe -- no EPUB for this device -- and also supports TXT, PDF, HDML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files. It includes Wi-Fi support and a rechargeable battery that lasts up to eight weeks assuming short daily reading sessions, low-light use, and a wireless connection set to "off" unless called for duty.
When comparing the Kindle Paperwhite with the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight and ignoring their respective prices, it's hard to choose one over the other. Both look sharp, work well, and feature built-in lighting with touchscreens. Both devices are also backed by massive libraries of content. The price difference can't be overlooked, however. Without ads, the Kindle Paperwhite costs $40 more than the Nook with GlowLight; with ads, it's still $20 more. For users tied to Amazon through a Prime membership or previous Kindle ownership, the Paperwhite is an upgrade that's worth grabbing. But in an unencumbered choice between the Kindle and Nook models with integrated light, the Nook's cheaper price breaks the tie.