“cheapism helps you find the cheapest "best buys"” — lifehacker
In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Ereaders
  2. Display and Readability
  3. Ebook Stores and Formats
  4. Storage, Navigation, and Battery Life
  5. Discount Ereaders Features Comparison Table

Cheap Ereaders Buying Guide

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.

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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.

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.

Review continues below

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.

Review continues below

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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Filed in: Amazon, Back to School, Books,

Best Cheap Ereaders

Kindle
Gold Medal

Kindle

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.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Nook Simple Touch GlowLight
Gold Medal

Nook Simple Touch GlowLight

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.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »

Good Cheap Ereaders

Nook Simple Touch
Gold Medal

Nook Simple Touch

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.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Sony Reader PRS-T2
Gold Medal

Sony Reader PRS-T2

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.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
 

Don't Bother

Kobo Mini

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.

Read more »

Ectaco JetBook Mini

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.

Read more »

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