Basic ebook readers use monochrome

With prices starting at well below the magic $100 mark, it’s a great time to buy an ebook reader. But before you settle on a single device, you have some decisions to make. Here’s what you should consider when shopping for an ebook reader.

What Screen Type and How Big?
Basic ebook readers use monochrome, E Ink screens to display text. E Ink looks a lot like paper, and it’s easy on your eyes when reading for long periods. On the least expensive models, it’s not backlit, so you’ll need light to see the text, just as you would with a printed book. But most ebook readers now include edge lighting that lets you see in the dark, like the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, the Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight, and the Kobo Aura HD. With each model, you can vary the intensity of the brightness from barely there to flashlight-bright. On the lowest settings, you can read in the dark while your partner sleeps peacefully next to you.

In all cases, E Ink is much easier to read in bright sunlight, while color touch screens on tablets, like the Amazon Fire HD 6$99.00 at Amazon or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook$149.99 at TigerDirect.com, tend to wash out, and their glossy displays can show distracting reflections.

Kindle Voyage inline 3

The industry seems to have settled on six inches as the optimal display size for E Ink readers; this is what you’ll find on the current-gen, entry-level Amazon Kindle, for example. There are exceptions, though: Kobo’s waterproof Aura H2O is larger, at 6.8 inches, and has a sharper 1,430-by-1,080-pixel resolution. And if it’s clarity you’re after, the sharpest readers are the market are the Amazon Kindle Voyage and the Kobo Glo HD, which each boast a whopping 300 pixels per inch.

Manufacturers are also improving the quality of these E Ink displays. A few years ago, page refreshes were sluggish, the entire screen flashed black with each page turn, and some early ebook readers had problems with text contrast, which made for difficult reading. That’s all history. The latest readers have crisp, clear text, and employ caching schemes that almost never refresh the full page; most of the time, only the letters fade out and back in again. The page refreshes themselves are much faster than before.

Meanwhile, touch screens have an innate advantage: On-screen keyboards make it easy to take notes or run searches within the text of your books. As ebook readers with hardware QWERTY keyboards have all but disappeared, this is an important distinction for power users. Also, maneuvering a massive online book store on a device with a touch screen is a lot easier.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight

So E Ink is great for reading books, but tablet touch screens offer a bevy of other benefits. Their color screens mean you can read much more than books: magazines and comic books are just two examples. Best of all, even lower-cost tablets like the excellent LG G Pad$165.99 at Amazon can browse the Web, stream video from Netflix, Hulu or other sources, play music, and run Android apps. If you have more cash, the Apple iPad mini 3$333.94 at Amazon is more of a multifaceted device, with its razor-sharp 7.9-inch Retina screen, bevy of apps, and surprisingly light weight.