When it comes to basic button-controlled e-book readers, experts say there's only one model that deserves serious consideration: the Amazon Kindle (*Est. $70 and up). This e-reader received just a minor refresh in 2012 -- including slight performance enhancements and a darker color to match the Kindle Fire tablet line -- but those additions make the best basic e-book reader even better, critics report.
The base Amazon Kindle is about the size of a paperback, but slimmer and lighter, weighing just 6 ounces and measuring about one-third of an inch thick. The screen's sharpness, contrast and page refresh rate easily top the display of its second-tier competitors. Battery life lasts weeks, especially if you turn off Wi-Fi when you're not using it.
The Kindle's 2 GB of storage space isn't best in class, but it's still capable of holding more than 1,000 e-books, and users get free cloud storage for e-books bought through Amazon.com. Amazon Prime subscribers also get access to a Kindle Owners' Lending Library, which lets them virtually "check out" one book at a time from a 180,000-strong catalog. Amazon Kindles can't read the widely used ePub format, however, and books downloaded through Amazon are stored in a proprietary format.
To achieve such a low price point, Amazon had to make some sacrifices. The base version lacks a memory card slot, offers no audio support and ditches a physical keyboard in favor of an onscreen virtual one. Since the Kindle also lacks a touchscreen, users must navigate the virtual keyboard using the small five-way controller at the base of the device, which reviewers call tedious at best. "Typing is t-o-r-t-u-r-e," Michael Calore writes at Wired. "Thankfully, you won't need to do this very often."
If you plan to search for e-books frequently, surf the Internet using the built-in web browser or take advantage of the Kindle's social sharing and annotation options, experts suggest springing for the Amazon Kindle Keyboard 3G (*Est. $140 and up). It adds a full QWERTY keyboard, free 3G connectivity, and stereo speakers for audiobooks and text-to-speech, albeit for twice the price of the base Kindle.
All Special Offer Kindles include advertisements on their lockscreens, which reviewers call unobtrusive and, surprisingly, often enticing. If you don't want ads on your e-book reader, non-Special Offer versions of the various Kindles can be had for $20 more than the base models. Those Special Offers enable Amazon to undercut the cost of its competitors despite the Kindle's superior hardware, which is why no other basic e-book readers get much critical attention. However, those same competitors do better at offering e-readers with advanced features, including touchscreen control.