The real question, if you’re just getting started in e-readers, is whether you want a Kindle or a Kobo. Each have their own advantages, but shifting from one to the other can be painful after you’ve built up a library, so you’ll want to really think about it up front.
I find Kindles nicer in the hand generally, with smoother finishes and snugger official cases, although I do enjoy how Kobos display your book cover on the screen while the device is not in use.
In terms of actual reading, the biggest difference is that Kindle basically requires you to buy books from Amazon, while Kobo makes it a bit easier to get free books — or books from sources outside its official store — onto the device.
For starters Kobo supports ePUB, the format used by many stores including Google Books and Booktopia, as well as DRM-protected PDF files, while Kindle supports neither.
More vitally, if your local library supports Rakuten’s Overdrive system for eBooks you can borrow items directly using your Kobo and read them instantly. My library has heaps of ebooks, and even comics and magazines, so I get a lot of value out of this feature (particularly now there’s no way I’m physically going to the library). With a bit of research you’ll also find participating libraries in your state that will sign you up for a digital membership even if you live far away.
On the other hand, if you only want to buy books from the official store, both are great but Amazon’s has a bigger selection. And if you’re a Prime member you can read books from Amazon’s Prime Reading service for no extra cost, as long as keep paying your fees.
If you’re keen to dive in but want something a little extra from your e-reader, both Amazon and Rakuten offer “better” and a “best” options beyond the basic devices, all of which feature lovely 300ppi screens.
The $190 Kobo Clara has a schedulable blue light filter for more comfy reading at night, while the $199 Kindle Paperwhite has a waterproof body.
The $270 Kobo Libra and $399 Kindle Oasis have both waterproofing and blue light filtering, plus an ergonomic asymmetrical design with a 7-inch screen. But the Kindle has a more sophisticated automatic light and a metal body, thus the big price difference.
Rakuten also offers the massive 8-inch Kobo Forma, but for $430 it isn’t as big an upgrade over the Libra as you might expect.
Whichever you go for, e-readers offer a utility and convenience that — even if you can’t fully leave printed books behind — makes sourcing new reads much easier in our current locked down situation.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.