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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.

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