E-readers are some of this year's hottest gifts. And good news: they have dropped way down in price. But in the battle for Best E-reader for Under $100, which one comes out the winner?
The basic model Kindle, the Nook Simple Touch, and the Kobo Touch all share a few traits other than a reasonable price. They all feature 6-inch screens, 2 GB of storage, Wi-Fi for downloading books, and good readability. But a few differentiating factors may tip the balance.
The Kindle line offers a range of devices priced from $89 (or $69 if you don't mind the ad-supported version) to the $499, 8.9-inch, 4G Kindle Fire HD, which is an Android-based tablet computer rather than a straight e-reader. But for the under-$100 e-reader market, Amazon really only offers one option, simply called "Kindle." It's physical dimensions are sleek, it's thin and fits nicely in your hand; it's the smallest of the three top contenders. Another defining factor: it has a very high contrast screen; text stands out more clearly on the Kindle than on any other of the competitors.
But this reader has some serious drawbacks: All Amazon Kindles have limited access to open e-book formats. You can still borrow books from the library if they support Kindle lending, but both Nook and Kobo support EPUB formats, which are more widely available for free.
Another important issue: this Kindle model does NOT have a touch screen. That's not a big deal if you download all your books over one secure Wi-Fi network, but if you consistently need to enter passwords or search terms, toggling the cursor around to select letters instead of typing is a P-A-I-N.
Kobo Touch ($99)
You may not have heard much about the Kobo Touch, but it's been around for a few years and is actually the most popular e-reader in Canada. Their bookstore is well stocked; like the Amazon and Barnes & Noble online stores, they offer millions of titles. Kobo is also compatible with the open ebook formats like EPUB, so you can borrow a wide range of titles from your library.
Kobo isn't the zippiest of the e-readers, but I like this device. It's thin and light, just like the others, and its textured back feels quilted, like you're holding an expensive purse. Also, as the name implies, the Kobo Touch has a touch screen, which makes me rank this device ahead of the Kindle.
Nook Simple Touch ($99)
As you might have guessed, it too has a touch screen. It's the biggest of all the devices, with physical buttons along the edges to turn the pages, yet I like the feel of this device best. And while you can get it for $99, an extra $20 upgrades you to the Glow Touch, which adds backlighting to the screen for night reading. Sure, this pushes it out of the "under $100" category, but for me, it's an extra worth having. The Nook is responsive and zippy as you move between menus, it has lots of extra features, and the screen looks good (not as good as the Kindle, but very readable). I liked the Nook a lot.
[Related: Is iPad Mini Worth Buying?]
There are some other sub-$100 options. The Aluratek Libre has a smaller, darker screen, and it's painfully slow. But it's discounted to about $79 dollars and comes preloaded with 100 of the classics. There's also rumor of a new ereader, the TXTR Beagle, which the company claims will be introduced to the US soon for just $13. Wow. I'll believe it when I see it.
And remember, you may already have an e-reader — your smartphone. The Kindle, Nook, and Kobo apps are free. And while the screen isn't as big as a true e-reader, the price is right, and it's always with you.
You can't really go wrong with any of the top contenders, but since touchscreen is such a handy feature, I have to rule out the low-end Kindle. Kobo is easy to use, but it's not the most polished or zippiest. So that makes the Nook Simple Touch my pick for Best E-reader for Under $100.
[Related: Where to Get the Most Money for Your Used Gadgets]
Brad Marshland contributed to this story.