Ereaders in Australia: Everything you need to know

Once you go digital, you’ll never go back.

While they may seem like relatively new innovations, ereaders (also known as ebook readers) have actually been around since 1998, a year after the invention of electronic paper. It wasn’t until the early ‘00s, however, that ereaders began to skyrocket in popularity, thanks to the release of Sony ereaders and the ever-popular Amazon Kindle.

Nowadays, an estimated 16 per cent of Australians are ebook aficionados, spending around $136 million per year on digital reads. But for the uninitiated, ereaders can seem like something of an enigma. How exactly do they work? Are they really worth it? And if so, which one should you buy?

Well, that’s why we’re here. We’re breaking down everything you need to know about ereaders in Australia, from what they actually do to what you need to look for in a device.

What is an ereader?

Put simply, an ereader is a device that allows you to read ebooks. Ebooks are essentially just digital versions of physical books that allow you to customise the book’s font and text size, make notes, highlight passages and look up words and phrases. Ereaders are also typically Wi-Fi-enabled, meaning you don’t need to head to the shops or library to pick up a book – you can download one whenever you want.

Ereaders work by utilising electronic paper rather than a traditional LCD that you might find on a regular tablet. Electronic paper reflects the light around it without the need for a backlight (though most modern ereaders include one anyway, for night reading). As such, you can read it in bright daylight and, unlike your phone, it will be clear and easy to read. Plus, because they don’t rely on light or colour, ereaders can last weeks (even months, depending on how often you use it) on a single charge.

Size-wise, most ereaders are slightly wider than a small paperback (think Penguin Classics), meaning they fit easily in one or both hands. They’re usually about half a centimetre thick or so, have a screen between the size of six and eight inches and weigh less than 200g, making them perfect companions for commutes and holidays.

While there used to be a few more players in the ereader space, these days, there are really only two options: Amazon’s Kindle or a Rakuten Kobo. Both do essentially the same thing (that is, allowing you to read ebooks), but with a different user interface, different digital bookstores and different perks. Think of it like iPhone vs Android – they’re both great, it’s just a matter of preference. We’ll get into it in a bit more detail below.

What should I look for in an ereader?

Unlike phones and laptops, where a lot of money will get you far more perks than you’d find in a budget model, most ereaders do essentially the same thing. Forking out a little extra cash, however, will get you some added bonuses. Whether you’re getting a brand-new Kindle or Kobo or fetching a bargain on Facebook Marketplace or eBay, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for.

Storage

All current Kobo ereader models, from the budget buy Kobo Nia to the expensive Kobo Forma, come with 8GB storage. You’ll find the same storage on the entry-level Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Oasis, however, the latter two also come in 32GB variants.

You might think that 8GB isn’t a lot, considering how quickly our smartphone storage seems to fill up, but for an ereader, it’s actually quite a lot. Remember, your device isn’t holding photos or videos – only ebooks, which only take up about 2.6MB on average. That means it can house over 3,000 books, which is more than enough to keep even the most voracious readers occupied.

Buttons

All current Kobo and Kindle models use touch controls as standard. These are easy to use, intuitive and should suit most readers. However, more expensive models (namely the Kobo Libra, Kobo Forma and Kindle Oasis) tend to come with physical buttons for turning the page, which can be super useful if you like to read one-handed.

Another thing to keep in mind is the location of the power button. This might seem trivial, but it’s worth going in store and holding an ereader to figure out if the power button will or won’t get in the way of your grip. For example, as much as I love my Kindle Paperwhite, the power button just so happens to be located right where I rest my fingers, meaning I’m constantly turning it off by accident.

white ereader on top of a notebook

Backlight

All modern ereaders come with backlights nowadays, meaning you can read late into the night without bothering your sleeping partner. However, if you’re considering purchasing a second-hand ereader, it’s important to note that some older models don’t include a backlight and therefore can only be used in bright light.

One thing that sets the premium models (Kobo Clara HD, Kobo Libra H2O, Kobo Forma and Kindle Oasis) apart from their budget-friendly counterparts is warm light (and in the case of the Oasis, auto-brightness). Reading at night, though fun, isn’t exactly great on the eyes, so these models include the ability to shift the backlight from white to a warmer tone.

Waterproofing

If, like me, you like reading in the bath or at the beach, you’ll want to invest in a waterproof ereader. Both the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Oasis are rated IPX8 waterproof, as are the Kobo Libra H2O and Kobo Forma, meaning they should survive up to two hours of submersion in two-metre-deep fresh water.

Should I get a Kindle or a Kobo?

As I mentioned previously, choosing between a Kindle and a Kobo is a lot like choosing between iPhone and Android. They both serve the same purpose, but do it in different ways.

If you’re already deep into the Amazon ecosystem (i.e. you’re a Prime member or own Amazon Echo smart speakers), then it’s natural to gravitate towards the Kindle. If you are a Prime member, it does make the most sense, given you not only get access to Amazon Prime video, but also Prime Reading, which includes a regularly-updated selection of more than 1,000 ebooks available at no extra cost. If you want even more, Amazon also offers Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service that offers unlimited access to more than a million books for just $13.99 a month (kind of like Netflix, but for bookworms). On the downside, you’re pretty limited as to where you can buy your ebooks, as Kindles are only compatible with Kindle ebooks (.azw files), .mobi book files and PDFs. The big absence in this list is .epub book files, which are by far the most available ebook file type, especially if you are accessing free books from libraries and the public domain. By making it near impossible to use .epub files on Kindles, Amazon makes it so that you will visit the Kindle Book store whenever you need something new to read.

Here’s how each model compares.

ModelKindleKindle PaperwhiteKindle Oasis
Price$139 at Amazon$199 at Amazon$399 at Amazon
Screen size6-inch6-inch7-inch
Screen resolution167ppi300ppi300ppi
Storage8GB8GB or 32GB8GB or 32GB
BacklightYes, 4 LEDsYes, 5 LEDsYes, 25 LEDs
WaterproofNoYesYes
Page turn buttonsNoNoYes
Adjustable warm lightNoNoYes
Auto brightnessNoNoYes

Kobo, on the other hand, is something of a lone wolf. Rakuten Kobo only make ereaders. That’s their gig, and they’re damn good at it. There aren’t any fancy-schmancy book subscription services, but that doesn’t really matter because Kobo is compatible with any .epub file, meaning you can buy ebooks from places like Booktopia, borrow from your local library or even get some classics for free. Plus, like Kindle, you can also purchase books right on your ereader from Kobo’s own ebook store. Compare all the current Kobo models below.

ModelKobo NiaKobo Clara HDKobo Libra H2OKobo Forma
Price$149 at Booktopia$178 at Booktopia$268 at Booktopia$428 at Booktopia
Screen size6-inch6-inch7-inch8-inch
Screen resolution212ppi300ppi300ppi300dpi
Storage8GB8GB8GB8GB
BacklightYesYesYesYes
WaterproofNoNoYesYes
Page turn buttonsNoNoYesYes
Adjustable warm lightNoYesYesYes
Auto brightnessNoNoNoNo

Personally, if I wasn’t already an Amazon Prime member, I’d opt for the Kobo, but they’re so similar that you’ll be happy with either.

Whatever happened to the Sony ereader?

Sony was one of the pioneers of ereaders, releasing the Sony Librie back in 2004. However, there haven’t been any new Sony ereaders since 2014. While you can still use one if you’ve already got it, you won’t receive any new security or software updates, and can’t purchase new books directly from your device.

If your Sony ereader has had it, we’d recommend replacing it with a Kindle or Kobo. They’re both incredibly popular, meaning they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, and both get regular updates and offer ebooks in their own on-device store. To help you decide which model is best for you, check out the table above.