During 2020, the world took an unprecedented turn. One year later, despite the effort the world has put in, we are still under strict guidance to stay at home. To get the most out of this time where entertainment and relaxation are limited indoors, I decided to focus some of my energy into self-growth. As Margaret Fuller once said “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”, reading more books is my baby step towards bettering myself.
If you are reading this, you have now probably done some digging into the world of e-readers and are still a bit undecided whether to pull the trigger. Hopefully by reading through my thought process and experience in getting one, you can have a clearer idea of whether you should be getting one, and if so, which one.
What is an e-reader and do you need one?
Just a background for those who are unfamiliar to e-readers. It is an electronic device that one can use to read electronic versions of books, magazines, newspapers etc. Amazon’s Kindle and Rakuten’s Kobo are arguably amongst the most popular choices available. But why do you need a dedicated device when nowadays almost everyone has a smart phone or tablet on them to download a reading app and more importantly why choose them over a physical book?
- Natural reading experience: Most e-readers use E Ink’s technology to mimic the appearance of traditional ink on paper, giving a more natural or even a nostalgic reading experience compared to the modern era of bright LCD/LED phone and computer screens.
- Less glare: Most e-readers are optimised to offer a matt screen that reduce glare compared to glossy screen finish in most modern-day phones and tablets. Although you may argue putting on a matt finished screen protector can achieve a very similar result, you are however sacrificing the visual quality for other tasks your phones/tablets are capable of doing such as watching a movie. And although expert opinions and research does not suggest any obvious benefits on eye straining, in my personal experience, it certainly feels easier to read in certain lighting condition.
- Battery life: E Ink technology is sometimes referred to as bistable meaning it retains an image even when the power source is removed. That significantly reduces the power consumption of the device and you can therefore enjoy a battery life measuring in weeks rather than hours. And you don’t have to worry about not being able to pick up that important phone call after long hours of being absorbed by that murder scene in Gotham City or fighting the fire breathing dragon of tomorrow land.
- No distraction: One big issue reading on your phone or tablets is the distraction. The constant notifications from your mum asking when you are coming home for dinner or your favourite YouTuber has just uploaded a new video, stop you from fully immersing into the world of the story. E-readers cut out all those background distractions and noise so you can just immerse into the magical world.
- E-books tend to be cheaper: Without the cost of having to physically print out the books, delivering to or stocking on the book stores’ shelves, authors and publishers can afford to offer a lower price to retain the same profit margins and therefore e-book version tends to be lower in price.
- Portability: Maybe less of an issue at present which hopefully will change in a very near future, it can make a massive difference while travelling. From being able to read one handed on the train without worrying about flipping pages on your day to day commute, to no longer having to sacrifice that extra pair of shoes or jacket in your weekend trip backpack. The small form factor means you can carry that 500+ pages book without having that internal turmoil of choosing between your what-if-I-need-to-go-to-a-fancy-restaurant shoes and finding out if Harry defeated Voldemort.
- Read anywhere: Some e-readers provide water-resistance capability that allow you to read by the pool side or in the comfort of your bath tub without the worry of dropping and ruining it.
- One more thing to carry: Nowadays, everyone has a handheld device of some sort be that a phone or a tablet. They are more than capable of downloading a free app that displays some texts and images. This might be a deal breaker for a lot of people especially if you are one who is trying to cut down the number of items carried with you to only your phone.
- Upfront cost: Yes, e-books tend to be cheaper but don’t forget you have to purchase the device in the first place and that should come into calculating the cost. If on average you are saving £4 a book, depending on which e-reader you get, you are going to at least buy 20 books over the course of the e-reader life cycle to just break even. Let’s assume the reader lasts you 5 years, that’s at least 4 books a year. Not a difficult target, but worth assessing how reading fits into your life before investing into one.
- It cannot replace the feel of a book: Yes the screen technology is impressive in mimicking the ink and paper look. But the physical feeling of holding a chunky book, able to feel the coarse texture of the paper and that “book smell” is irreplaceable.
In my specific case, I was looking for something that could help me make this new resolution of mine sustainable – which means the easier reading is, the more likely I would keep doing it. I summed up 3 main points that would make me more likely to read:
- Read everywhere, even when I am in my bath
- I don’t find it a chore to bring it around with me
- Give me a break from my phone and computer screen
Given those 3 main needs, e-readers are almost a no brainer for me, the upfront cost of it can give me some motivation to read more so as to not feel like a tube wasting money.
Kindle vs Kobo
By now, if you have come to the same conclusion as me – I need one in my life. You might want to know who to give your money to. Most people are likely to have heard of Amazon’s Kindle even if you are not in the market of getting an e-reader. And if you are, you will perhaps have also heard of Rakuten’s Kobo. These two companies are the Samson and Goliath of the e-book realm. What they offer on their e-readers’ line up are very similar but each have their own edge over the other, making it unclear who wins and really it just depends on what you need. Let’s start with the gut as I think it is the most important decision to make – which eco-system to buy into?
|Ebook titles||Over 6 millions||Over 5 millions|
|File support||.Azw or .mobiNot support .epub||Most file type including .epub|
|External app support||Goodreads||OverDrive, Pocket, Dropbox|
|Subscription service||Prime members have access to selected titles for free on top of their existing Prime service Monthly £7.99Annual £79||VIP programme to collect 2x points for discount on future purchase and 1 free book per year Annual £6|
Amazon remains the largest e-book store on the internet, having over 6 millions title to choose from, which means if you can think of it, they are likely to have it. Being the largest also means there is a good chance that any new titles being released will be on the kindle bookstore as well. Some might even be exclusively on it. That being said, Kobo is by no means far behind with roughly 5 million titles plus it has a big advantage over Kindle in that it supports .epub format. This means you can buy and import e-books from other e-book shops online. Both book stores offer audiobooks as well for those of you who also enjoy a good story.
External app support
Amazon purchased Goodreads, an online social community of book lovers, back in 2013. The integration between Kindle’s personalised recommendation and Goodreads’ list of recommended books provide a powerful way to discover new titles. On the other hand, instead of gearing towards discoverability which is great for business, Kobo’s external app support seems to focus on providing a supportive environment to encourage reading. OverDrive is a service that allows people to borrow e-books and audiobooks from local libraries for free. This opens up even more channels for readers to source their next adventure at no extra cost to them. Just head down or go on your local library website to register your library card and you are set to go. You might find your “local-local” ones do not support OverDrive and you might need to use someone’s address to gain access to one that does (Not that I would suggest this…). Pocket and Dropbox integration is also surprisingly handy, just Pocket any article you find on the web or drag and drop any e-book you have on your Dropbox account, and they will sync to your Kobo automatically for you to read next time you link your Kobo to Wi-Fi.
Amazon Prime Reading gives Prime members a sizable selection of titles to read for free without any limit. So if you already have a Prime membership to enjoy Amazon’s other services such as shipping with no extra cost, music and video streaming, you can now take advantage of their massive e-book collection as well to maximise your benefits with your Prime account. If you don’t have an Amazon Prime account already and don’t see the need for the other benefits such as delivery and streaming service associated with it, to a normal reader, a monthly cost of £7.99 (annual £79) is not exactly a bargain just to read only a part of their e-book collection. On the other hand, Kobo’s VIP programme only charge £6 for the whole year, which turns out to be 50p a month. It gives you one free book every year, 10% off on a large e-book collection and allows you to earn their Super Points twice as quickly as their free basic account. Super Point is essentially like your flight miles, you can use it to buy more books once you get to a certain amount of points. And even if you decide not to opt for their VIP programme, you are still earning points every time you purchase any book on their store, and redeem a book free once and a while.
Although I am a Prime member of Amazon and in the last few years have turned to rely heavily on their incredibly fast delivery and movie streaming service, the difference between both Kindle and Kobo’s service in terms of the amount of native e-book titles are so minimal that I will be happy with either. However, how Kobo had the edge over Kindle in my case was the fact that they support .epub natively and I appreciate the OverDrive, Pocket and Dropbox integration that make importing books and articles just that much easier. But that decision wasn’t set in stone yet…
Which model to get though?
At this point of the blog, if you are still here, you might be leaning towards one or the other but yet still not 100% sure. Because let’s be honest, at the end of the day, which e-reader model to get is the million dollar question. I have summarised the boring spec into two tables of what Kindle and Kobo offer in their ranges that you can still purchase directly from their website.
|Kobo Nia||Kobo Clara||Kobo Libra H2O||Kobo Forma|
|Screen||6” 212ppi1024 x 758 res||6” 300ppi1072 x 1448 res||7” 300ppi1680 x 1264 res||8” Mobius 300ppi1440 x 1920 res|
|Size (H x W x D) and weight||160 x 112 x 9.2mm172g||160 x 110 x 8.4mm166g||159 x 144 x 7.8mm192g||178 x 160 x 8.5mm197g|
|Storage||8GB||8GB||8GB||8GB / 32GB|
|Other features||Adjustable brightness. One-colour light||Adjustable brightness and colour temperature||Adjustable brightness and colour temperature,page turn buttons, auto-rotation||Adjustable brightness and colour temperature, page turn buttons, auto-rotation|
|Kindle||Kindle Paperwhite||–||Kindle Oasis|
|Price||From £69.99||From £119.99||–||From £229.99|
|Screen||6″ 167ppi||6″ 300ppi||–||6″ 300ppi|
|Size (H x W x D) and weight||160 x 130 x 8.7mm|
|167 x 116 x 8.2mm|
191g Wi-Fi + mobile connectivity
|–||159 x 141 x 8.4mm|
|Storage||8 GB||8 GB / 32 GB||–||8 GB / 32GB|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi +/- free mobile connectivity||–||Wi-Fi +/- free mobile connectivity|
|Other features||–||–||–||Physical page turn button, adjustable warm light, auto-rotation, Aluminium body|
Why I bought it.
Both Kindle and Kobo offer very similar line up and I have constructed the table above in a way to also give a visual comparison between the line ups. Kindle offers 3 devices, the most basic of Kindle, the middle ground Kindle Paperwhite and the flagship Kindle Oasis. Kobo offers similar line up with Kobo Nia competing with Kindle at the basic level, Kobo Clara fighting with Kindle Paperwhite for the middle ground market and Kobo Forma to lock horns at the flagship market with the Kindle Oasis. You may ask how about the Kobo Libra H2O then? That, in my opinion, is where Kobo excel. Kobo launched the Kobo Libra H2O back in September 2019 and positioned it perfectly to bridge the gap between Clara/Paperwhite and Forma/Oasis, having the flagship features that you would appreciate but cut down on the luxury features to keep it at a reasonable price point.
Water-resistance/-proofing is my top priority feature. I would like to read anywhere I feel like picking up a book, so I don’t have to worry about dropping it when I am using it in my bath tub. The waterproof rating of IPX8 (meaning able to immerse in up to 2 meters of water for up to 60 minutes) is an important feature. That helps me narrow down to only a handful of options. I am from a generation who still appreciate the tactile feeling of actually pressing a button rather than just pure touch screen. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with touch screen especially nowadays the technology is so good that there is no issue with swiping to turn a page like you would in a normal book. But I grew up in the era where touch screen wasn’t as sensitive as today’s, and that has left me with an ingrained bias that once in a while, I just enjoy the physical feedback I get from pressing a button. Plus that extra grip gives a substantial area for my hand to hold on to the tablet more comfortably. So that left me with 3 options, Oasis/Libra H2O/Forma. I have concluded that I don’t need the highest quality of screen. At the end of the day, I am getting an e-reader to display text rather than watching movies. With Kobo Libra H2O, it gives me the “luxury reading experience” without the premium price tag.
This is a very smart pricing tactic from Kobo, a product that bridges the massive £130 price gap between their middle product and flagship product. Utilising the psychology of paying an extra £40 instead of £130, you can get the majority of the Forma’s feature with only a small compromise on the screen quality. This makes Libra H2O look even more attractive. Although done so at the expense of the sales of Forma and Clara to boost the sale of Libra H2O, they , in the process, can even take away some potential customer swaying between Paperwhite and Oasis as well. I am definitely one of them. When I was debating between Kindle vs Kobo for my needs, Kobo was only leading very slightly and it was the Libra H2O that sealed the deal.
In the ever expanding world of e-books, Kindle and Kobo stand out as the leaders. They both provide a very similar line up to each other but, in my opinion, Kobo won by investing into the void between the mid-tier and flagship product. If you are just looking into getting an e-reader in the most simple form to read text, both of their basic products do that brilliantly and price may be the most important factor. Just remember that Kindle’s price mentioned above included “special offers” (just another word for ads) at their home screen that you have to pay an extra £10 to get rid of. And if you are looking for something a bit more sophisticated, like a better screen because you want to read some comics, Kobo Libra H2O is a very solid choice if you can stretch that extra £30-40.