Comparison of ebook readers

Notes published the
9 - 12 minutes to read, 2354 words
Categories: backup
Keywords: backup drm epub

Normally I do not have a lot of opinions about hardware, but for ebook readers, it turns out that I do have enough to make most readers non-viable for me.

Similarly to smartphones, I am mostly disappointed with what is available.

I used to read a lot. Because of reasons, especially lack of time, I do not read as much as I used to. Nonetheless, there is a particular genre that I am still reading with little to no time available: comic books.

Comic books, compared to normal books, are made basically of images and generally need much more space (both the physical and digital versions).

While I found a nice use-case for my old Kindle sitting in the drawer, it is not as comfortable as I would like it for reading comics.

Thus I decided to search for a new ebook reader (without tossing the old one!) and see if I could find something interesting.

An important feature is how the ebook reader can be interfaced with my PC. Ideally, it is recognized as a simple USB drive.

The MTP protocol is problematic, I do not want to use it, and also relying on a third-party program is a big no.

Last but not least, I want to be able to read at least cbz, pdf, epub, and txt files, and be able to view images (at least jpg and png, and the image viewer should not be completely crippled)

It does not need to support all possible formats, but I do not want to convert files for separate devices, just like I do not want to do it for my audio library.

Bonus point if KOReader supports the device, as

  • I’m familiar with the interface as I’ve already used the software

  • supports all the formats I am interested in, and many more

  • can be updated independently of the OS (which makes downgrading much easier)

Since it supports a lot of devices I was optimistic that I could find a device I liked and continue using it.

I do not care if the ebook reader supports DRM because I do not want to manage an account, the necessity to have an internet connection, or have some artificial limitation on where I can consume my library (see for example when using Adobe Digital Editions)

Kindle Touch

This is the device I already own, and after all those years still works fine.

I unlocked it a long time ago and installed KOReader as an ebook reader for reading epub files, which are still not supported on newer Kindle devices.

The main properties of this device are that

  • it supports the desired formats (only thanks to KOReader)

  • it works offline (at least with my library, might not be the case for content downloaded from Amazon with DRM)

  • it is recognized as an external FAT32 memory

  • display size is 6"

As mentioned, it works flawlessly but has some drawbacks.

The first one is the 4GB internal memory. There is no way to expand it, and it does not have a slot for SD cards.

While 4GB is a lot for textual data (some estimations are for more than 1000 e-books per gigabyte, although it depends on the content, and how the books are made), it is not as much space for images. I’ve used to rotate the comics on my device, but I would prefer if I would simply be able to move them all on the device.

Maybe I could synchronize them on demand online, but it sounds too complicated (and I do not want my device to depend on one another, or have a "central" device that needs to be always available).

Last but not least: the screen size is a little bit too small for comic books. It is more than enough for epubs, but not so much for images with embedded text.

PDF files are also problematic, since contrary to epub files, the text normally does not reflow. In particular, multi-column articles are a headache, but I find those hard to read on a PC too…​

Alone the magazines I have on my drive are more than 6GB of data.

And the library consists of books (as in novels), comics, manuals, magazines, and technical books (which are mostly pdf). I am not claiming that I want to read everything on an ebook device, but it would be great if I could simply copy the library over. It would serve as an additional backup.

Considered devices

Since the Kindle Touch is the device I own, other devices are compared to this one and should be, according to my criteria, better.

Otherwise taking a new one does not make sense.

The list of requirements is not that long:

  • bigger screen (even if it makes them less portable)

  • bigger memory capacity

  • recognized as a USB stick from the PC

and

  • no account should be required

  • support KOReader/formats I’m interested in

Kindle paperwhite

As my only experience so far was with a Kindle device, I looked at the specification of the Kindle Paperwhite.⁠[1]

I cannot see anywhere if the device is recognized as an external drive or not. The fact that it is the fifth version of the "Kindle Paperwhite", makes it hard to search for accurate information, as many websites omit the version number, and also because most reviewers do not seem to care about this feature.

The screen is 6.8", thus slightly bigger.

But it does not support the formats I’m interested in; the Kindle still does not support epubs, you can use the "Sending Document Service", and Amazon will convert the book on the cloud and send the converted version on the device.

This means that one needs an internet connection and an account.

An alternate approach would be to unlock the device and install KOReader, as I’ve already done on my older device.

Honestly, if I had the device it would not be an issue (I mean, it is; I have to find out if it is possible, how it is possible, and pray not to brick my device), but if I have to buy a new one and hack around it…​ I rather look at something that might even cost something more but supports what I’m interested in.

Tolino devices

Just like there are multiple Kindle ebook readers, there is a range of Tolino devices.

Those are based on the Android system, which has a couple of implications.

The first one is that the device would probably not be recognized as a USB stick, but uses the MTP protocol, introduce in Android 4. I could not find this information anywhere, so I’ll assume that the Tolino developer did not make such a drastic change in their Android version. (I mean, why would they if most Android users are happy with the status quo?)

KOReader is supported, as it is also distributed on F-Droid. Here I am assuming that sideloading is supported, I did not search for further information.

As it is based on Android, another whole range of applications is supported. What might be interesting are games like a crossword puzzle, sudoku, rebus, or other "paper games".

If there is a connection to the internet, being able to read mail or articles through RSS feeds might also be interesting.

Screen sizes range from 6" to 8", and the internal memory is 16GB (some devices have 32GB). This is a lot more compared to the current device, but not enough, and they do not seem to have a microSD card reader.

reMarkable devices

There are two devices of reMarkable, the screen size is 10.3"

They are not sold as devices for reading books but as E-Ink writing tablets.

The big screen size makes it appealing for reading those multi-column PDF articles, and being able to write is surely an interesting feature, but as far as I’ve understood, you need an application/browser for accessing the files. The internal storage is about 8GB, and as far as I could see not expandable.

Boyue Likebook Mars

The Boyue Likebook Mars is based on Android, with the already mentioned advantages and disadvantages.

Contrary to the Tolino devices it has a microSD card reader and seems to supports up to additionally 128GB space!

PocketBook

PocketBook offers different devices.

The most interesting thing is that all devices have a micro USB reader. According to the manual with a maximum size of 32GB, but with a bit of luck even bigger might be supported. Worst case scenario one could bring with the device multiple labeled SD cards.

I got always confused, there was the

The marketing department should use more different names, as often both are just called "InkPad Color" and/or "Color Moon Silver".

I did not consider the "PocketBook Color Moon Silver" because of its screen size (6", like the Kindle Touch), but I had to enlist it somewhere, as I confused the device specifications at least three or four times.

Kobo

Honestly, I did not look much further.

It seems that Kobo and Tolino devices are the same but branded differently.

ONYX BOOX

I did not do exhaustive research about those devices.

Some if not all devices are based on Android, and most, if not all, do not have a slot for (micro)SD cards.

Comparison table

To get some overlook over the data I gathered:

model Kindle Touch Kindle Paperwhite Tolino Epos 3 Tolino vision 6 Tolino shine 4 Boyue Likebook Mars InkPad 3 Color Moon Silver InkPad Color Remarkable 2

price

150€

280€

169€

250€

200€

280€

system

custom

Android >=8.1

Android >=8.1

Android >=8.1

Android 6.0

Linux

Linux

Linux

cable

Micro-USB

USB-C

USB-C

USB-C

USB-C

Micro-USB

Micro-USB

Micro-USB

USB-C

USB-C

storage

4GB

16GB

32GB

16GB

16GB

16GB+microSD

8GB+microSD(32GB)

16GB+microSD(32GB)

16GB+microSD(32GB)

8GB

FS access

FAT32

???

assume SMB

assume SMB

assume SMB

assume SMB

???

???

???

App, browser

KOReader

after unlocking

maybe after unlocking

apk

apk

apk

apk

yes

yes

yes

yes

display

6"

6.8"

8"

7"

6"

7,8"

7,8"

6"

7.8"

10.3"

audio

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

size (mm)

172x120x10.1

181,4x160,5x7,6

144,6x161,6x5,9

112,1x158,8x8,3

198x144x8,3

195x136,5x8

195x137x8

246x187x4.7

weight

220g

232g

215g

162g

295g

210g

225g

light

no

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

no

water prot

no

yes

yes

yes

no

no

no

no

colors

gray (16)

gray (16)

gray

gray

gray (16)

gray (16)

gray (16), color (4096)

gray (16), color (4096)

An empty cell means that I did not see the information and that I did not bother searching it further. ??? means that I searched for the information but could not find it.

For example; no matter how much the Remarkable 2 costs, I want to be able to access my files, and using a third-party application or a browser is not acceptable.

I was not concerned about weight, water protection, or support for audio files, but since this information was easy to find, I’ve included it for completeness. In case two e-readers had all the desired features, I wanted to see what additional features they had to offer (and at what price), as some might be nice to have.

The information If a device is accessible like a USB stick, is mostly missing and nowhere to be found. In the case of devices with support for micro(SD) cards, it is not as tragic, as one can extract the card from the e-reader and connect it directly to the PC.

Kobo devices are rebranded Tolino devices, and ONYX BOOX devices are also Android-based, so I was not compelled to research those devices further.

Conclusion

It was the most expensive, but I’ve chosen the InkPad Color.

I ruled the Kindle device out because it does not support the formats I’m interested in, without unblocking the device, and I did not want to do it, even if economically it seems to be the best device. Also, the fact that the memory is not expandable is an issue, 16GB is a lot more than 4GB, but still limited, especially considering that some models of iPods sold in 2003 had 40GB and in 2008 even 160GB of disk space.

For similar reasons, I ruled the Tolino devices out: no expandable memory, thus "only" 16GB of space. The 32 GB device looks more interesting, but I am sure that I cannot access the file system directly.

Contrary to most devices, the InkPad Color, as the name implies, also supports colors. Note that this was not even a requirement when I began looking around, and it is not a feature I strictly required. Since some (actually most) comics are colored, price aside,…​ why not?

The screen dimensions are 7.8", initially I thought 7" would be big enough for my comics, but after looking at the device, I think now that 7" would not have been enough.

Looking at how big one of my comics is (approximately 210x160mm), 7.8" seems a good fit

comic on ebook reader

Yes, the device does not fit in a pocket as the Kindle Touch does, but it fits in any bag.

Single-columned PDF files are easier to read, but still cumbersome. Two columned PDF files are still a PITA.

Both the internal memory and the microSD card are recognized by the PC as two separate external memories 🎉🥳🙌.

According to the documentation, the InkPad Color supports microSD cards up to 32 GB, but it accepted and recognized correctly bigger microSD cards.

I want to stress that the decision criteria are mine, this is not general advice on what e-reader you should buy. Your decision criteria are surely different, but I hope that my comparison table can help to find out some relevant and less known differences between devices.

Oh, and do not forget that there is a comparison of e-readers on Wikipedia, I was not aware of it, but it seems that it would not have helped me a lot to decide which device to buy.


1. I am aware that at of the time of publishing this notes, a newer Kindle device has been announced. But the notes were taken some time ago before deciding to clean them up.

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