2012 eReader Comparison Guide


November 21, 2012

How do the best eReaders from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo stack up?

How do the best eReaders from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo stack up?

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Five years ago, Amazon released one of the most important mobile gadgets of the decade. E-books had been around for years, but few cared until the arrival of the Kindle. Today Amazon's digital reader is now an entire product line.

Update: Though a couple of these readers are still around, this guide is outdated. Check out our brand new e-reader comparison for 2013.

Like any revolutionary product, the Kindle spawned rivals. The most prominent is Barnes & Noble's Nook. The competing products have evolved in sync with one another: getting smaller and cheaper, adding touch screens, and expanding into subsidized tablets.

As we compare the best eReaders on the market, we're focusing on the dominant players:

  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Amazon Kindle Keyboard
  • Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight
  • Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch
  • Kobo Glo

We could have easily included Sony's Reader, but we narrowed it to these top six. Our list is dominated by the Kindle and Nook, but they've proven themselves to be the undisputed market leaders.

So, without further ado, let's break down the top eReaders of the 2012 holiday season …


Sizes are all in the same ballpark. In terms of surface area, the standard Kindle is the smallest, and the Kindle Keyboard is the largest. The Kindle Keyboard is also the thinnest, with the beefy Nook Simple Touches measuring the thickest.


All of these readers are relatively light. The standard Kindle takes the crown for lightest, with the Kindle Keyboard weighing the heaviest.


Notice a pattern? Manufacturers have settled on six inches as the standard for e-ink readers. The Kindle Paperwhite, both Nook Simple Touches, and the Kobo Glo all have touch screens. The rest rely on physical controls.

Though text looks great on all of them, the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo have the highest resolution. The Paperwhite, Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight, and Kobo Glo offer backlit displays for low-light reading.


E-books don't take up much space, so the numbers you see above should suffice for most customers. Purchases are also stored in the cloud, so you can remove books from your device without losing your purchases.


All but the Kindle Keyboard are sold in Wi-Fi only models. Only the Paperwhite and Keyboard Kindles are sold with free 3G data. Frequent travelers may find these models to be worth the extra money.

Battery life

Low-powered e-ink screens always delivered great battery life, and this batch is no exception. The Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Keyboard, and Nook Simple Touch win the race at an absurd two months without a charge.

Charging time

For those times when you do need to charge your reader, the standard Kindle is the quickest. Its battery can go from dead to full in three hours.


Backlit displays are the biggest step forward for eReaders in years. The Kindle Paperwhite, Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, and Kobo Glo all let you read in the dark. The biggest concern is keeping that display evenly-lit, and the Paperwhite and Kobo achieve this better than the Nook.

The biggest reason to choose the standard Kindle is for its rock-bottom price (see below). The Kindle Keyboard, meanwhile, is for … well, those who want a keyboard. It features a rudimentary web browser, so you could hypothetically tap out emails in a pinch.

The standard Nook Simple Touch is a great reader, but with a higher price tag than the Kindle, it's primarily for those who prefer the Nook's content and design.

The Paperwhite and standard Kindles don't include a charger, so you may need to spend a few extra bucks on that.

Starting price

If you want cheap, the standard Kindle is affordable for almost anyone at US$69. All of the Kindles ship by default with "Special Offers." These advertisements are mostly non-intrusive, but if they bug you, you can turn them off for a one-time payment of $20.

Summing up

As much as smartphones and tablets have become integral parts of our lives, there's something to be said for eReaders. They're lighter, easier on the eyes, and better recreate the feeling of reading a book. Not to mention, they contain fewer distractions (Steinbeck or Angry Birds?).

Still, if you dare cross onto the other side of the fence, Amazon and Barnes & Noble will be happy to sell you a tablet. For help with that decision, you can check out our 2012 Tablet Comparison Guide.

Buy this on Amazon About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Before finding a home at Gizmag, he had stints at a number of other sites, including Android Central, Geek and the Huffington Post. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica. All articles by Will Shanklin

You left out the HP TABLET with its kindle app that I use, very sweet and can sync to an ipad mini.

Bill Bennett

@ Bill Bennett, I get (proven) 2 months battery on my Kindle, and comfortably hold it in one hand while reading. Whats the figures for you tab? :)


I do find it very annoying that the larger e-readers are ignored. If you read as fast as I do, or if you have impaired vision, there are very good reasons to go for the bigger reader.

Because an e-reader is heavily promoted and stocked does not actually mean there are not better options available

My Onyx Boox has a screen area of 2800 sq mm and I am guessing the small ones are about 1200sq mm . My dinky Sony eReader PRS 350 is around 800 sq mm of screen in a 1450 x 1050 package.

The Onyx Boox also does virtually all formats and is particularly good for reading large pdf. Ok its more expensive but if you value your eyes ypo may want the bigger screen.



Gizmag clearly stated they were focusing on the top six devices in terms of popularity. Most readers just wouldn't want the large Boox with its reduced portability and hefty weight compared with the smaller devices. Especially at its exorbitant price. You can buy a factory refurbished full-size iPad 3rd generation for less than the price of a Boox M92, which would give the same screen size, Retina display resolution, brilliant color, video playback, a ton of apps and games, and compatibility with iBooks, Kindle and Nook books. among many other advantages. Only people who desperately want the claimed battery life of e-paper and who don't mind websurfing in black and white would choose the Boox over an iPad. Never mind the very limited availability outside of Europe. Face it, Onyx is a company with no real future. I give them a couple of years at most.


I'm a novice on this, but being a non-native English reader, I am a bit concerned about the availability of content. I have been under the impression that buying an Amazon Kindle was the same as a 'marriage' to the Amazon book shelves, and that similar conditions where the rule for some of the other e-reader providers.

Could somebody comment on this please? It would help me decide which one to buy.

Jørgen Jakob Friis

I agree with a lot of the comments that the comparison is too narrow. Focusing on the 'most popular' models does not do justice to the technology. It only reinforces the advertising dollars that was spent on promoting those models. Maybe if the article focused on the technology itself and not on a products 'popularity' then the underdogs with less marketing budgets would have more sales. I consider this article to be lazily written. Anyone could have gone to an Online store and made this article. More research could have been done to make the article more inclusive of models and geographic regions. People have different needs. After owning an E-reader I know that a bigger display would be better for me. Trying to look at a pdf of a textbook(which is the format most of them are in) on a screen smaller than the actual size of the book is not fun. I also would never buy one of the popular models due to their use of propriety formats and the "you have to buy from us" e-book stores. I want a device unhindered by licensing and advertising. I want to read the formats I want without having someone try to sell me crap. Different needs require different readers, it does not do the e-readers or article readers justice by making the article so limited.



If you're so interested in a larger screen e-reader, there are plenty of places online to find information and reviews. There are entire websites dedicated to e-readers, and Gizmag is not one of them, nor should it be. Might as well complain that Gizmag doesn't review every laptop, tablet and gadget for you. But beware, because you may get more than you bargained for by focusing on this "bigger is better" obsession. For instance, quite a few reviews of the Boox say it's a slow, buggy piece of junk. Which is no real surprise, since the Chinese philosophy for now seems to be "make it quickly, make it cheaply, but don't worry about making it right." Software, usability and interface design are not their strong suits.


I was hoping for more when I read the title "2012 eReader Comparison Guide". However, I cannot argue that its not true... it is a comparison of some popular eReaders available in 2012, and it most certainly guides you... to the Kindle.

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