For an immersive reading experience, there’s no tech solution better than print books. But dedicated e-readers run a close second. They’re cheaper and far less distracting than iPads, and some are waterproof. The New York Times’ Wirecutter lists the top choices as Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo’s Clara. Both are lightweight, backlit, use long-life batteries (lasting for weeks), and have the look (and supposed lack of eyestrain) of paper, thanks to e-ink.
Most recent e-readers have similar readability (300 pixels per inch); the sizes vary, though a 6-inch screen is popular; several have external buttons (helpful for those with joint or mobility issues) to turn pages; and all can be used in varying light conditions—from the beach to a dark bedroom. The deciding factor may be the seamlessness of the reading experience; no one wants to waste reading time troubleshooting. If you primarily read or publish (via KDP) in the Amazon world, which uses a proprietary format, a Kindle device is the only option that doesn’t require using a third-party app to access content. To support indie bookstores and/or opt out of the Amazon universe, Kobo is ideal. Both the Paperwhite and Clara integrate with library systems that use OverDrive (a download fulfillment service for libraries, schools, corporations, and retailers) or Libby, OverDrive’s app.
PCMag, CNET, and many more consider the Paperwhite 4, which came out in 2018, the clear choice. Wirecutter says, it’s “the best device dedicated to reading.” The basic, ad-supported model is $129.99, waterproof, and has Bluetooth capability (to listen to audiobooks) and 8GB of storage. The compact device feels well made, and the flush screen is nearly glare free. The Paperwhite is intuitive, and navigating to Amazon’s store and Kindle Unlimited requires few clicks. Via the Kindle app, Paperwhite syncs with NetGalley, which publishers and authors use to send digital review copies to book reviewers, and multiple Libby/Overdrive accounts. It even manages most PDFs well (PDFs can be mailed to the user’s Amazon account, which converts the format so the entire document or book can be resized similar to other e-books).
Kobo Clara is Paperwhite’s leading rival. PCMag says, it’s “the best all-around e-reader for anyone who borrows books from public libraries.” Wirecutter says, “If you don’t want an e-reader from Amazon, this is the next-best choice. It’s not waterproof, there’s no Bluetooth, and the device isn’t tied into the Amazon ecosystem, but the hardware is otherwise nearly identical and the book selection is similar.” CNET also considers it a good alternative to the Paperwhite. The $119 Clara has a warm-light option for night reading, an option I missed on the Paperwhite. Connecting with the Pocket app and one library system (and only one) via Overdrive/Libby is easy. Netgalley and other DRM titles must be sideloaded (a term I hadn’t used for about 15 years) by using Adobe Reader. The Kobo Elipsa has a stylus, which allows for note taking on e-books and PDFs, and offers smooth integration with Pocket, Overdrive, and Dropbox. The larger Elipsa (10.3-inch screen) is a much better device for reading graphic novels than either the Paperwhite or the Clara.
Like Amazon, Kobo has a publishing platform for independent authors, and Kobo readers have access to free and for-purchase indie titles as well as its extensive bookstore of traditionally pubbed titles, which can also be bought from independent bookstores, an advantage over the Paperwhite.
Overall, the Paperwhite and Clara are delightful, small devices that make reading e-books pleasurable. The Paperwhite, however, has the advantage. It makes downloading content from multiple sources painless, and Amazon’s customer service is considerably better than Kobo’s. But buying a Paperwhite doesn’t rule out supporting independent bookstores. If Amazon averse, use the Paperwhite for all borrowed books and buy print books from your local indie.
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Indie.