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How to choose the best e-Reader for traveling?

As many e-books as you want in 240 grams (8.4 oz case included). Not bad for an e-readerAs many e-books as you want in 240 grams (8.4 oz case included). Not bad for an e-reader

If I think of the best buy I did in the last 10 years, it's no doubts my inseparable e-Reader! So if you are planning to take one and you don't know how to choose the best, then keep reading my article. We all know that travelers have a low budget, so once you decide to invest in one, you want it to be the best e-Reader available for you!
While this article is written from a traveler point of view, it's clearly a useful guide for anybody wishing to take an e-Book Reader.

Why should I buy an e-Book Reader for my travels?

If you think that you will miss the feeling and the smell of the paper pages, there are so many advantages in buying an e-book Reader, that you'll soon forget about them.
While traveling I had lost the pleasure of reading, because it wasn't possible to take my whole library with me. I was usually carrying a couple of books in my rucksack, to keep the weight low. But you never know when you feel like reading and when you'll have time to relax, since being a traveler means to have an active and busy life, and if you don't take the books in your daypack, then you'll not read them. Not to say that I use to change book frequently according to my mood, so having just 2 choices was never enough.
And let's talk also about travel guidebooks. Most of the times me and Oti travel spontaneously, having no guides with us. But when I was in India alone I decided to take a second hand guidebook, and it was huge! So I had to cut it in chapters, to take with me only what I needed, and at the end of the travel I glued it with tape to try to sell it back. Well, with the e-Reader you don't have to worry of all of this, it doesn't matter if you have 1 or 1000 books: it will still weight the same!
And what about money? For budget travellers like us, money really matters, and you don't want to waste even a single cent. If you can't afford to buy a new model, just take a second hand one as I did, and you'll save over 50% on the retail price. From this moment on, you won't need to pay anything anymore for your books, so you'll soon amortise the investment and discover again the pleasure of reading in every moment of your trips. In fact not only you'll find plenty of free e-books on the net (basically all of the classical books that have no copyrights anymore) but you can also borrow a recent book for free from a digital library like OpenLibrary.

Hardware characteristics that you want to consider before buying an e-Reader

Now that I almost convinced you of the necessity to buy an e-Book Reader, let's see what you have to consider if you want to buy the best e-Reader on the market for your needs. The options and brands available are many: Sony e-Reader, Kindle Paperwhite, Nook Glowlight, Kobo Glo, just to say a few. By following my guide you'll know how to orient yourself in this jungle and how to choose the best e-Reader.

  • Screen Size: This is a quite personal choice. There are mini versions, intended mostly for kids, normal, and maxi. My screen is 6", it's about the size of a novel book and I'm satisfied with it.
  • Screen type: Avoid colors and tablet like screen, look for e-ink technology. Your battery will last much longer and you eyes won't get tired and damaged. Check also what's the color of the background: some models have a nice tint of white, others are too much grayish.
  • Battery: This is an essential point for a traveler. While a person with a traditional lifestyle, could read ebooks even with a tablet or a smartphone, this is not an option for a traveler, since it would mean to have access to electricity constantly, and this is often not the case. The great thing is that if you choose well, the battery can last several weeks of intensive use!
  • Weight: This is quite intuitive: the lighter the better, and you'll be able to carry it always with you.
  • Charger: Do you need to carry a bulky charger in your backpack, or can you plug your e-Reader with a small USB cable to you laptop?
  • Keyboard: This is an essential feature if you like to take notes and highlights. What's the input method? Touch screen? Physical keyboard? Joy-pad? My suggestion is to look only for a touch screen model. While a physical keyboard might still be practical, it increases the weight. The Joy-pad instead is totally useless.
  • Backlighting: It's a really appealing characteristic to have the possibility to easily read at night. But  how much is it going to influence the battery consumption, and can it be switched off when not needed? If you are convinced to look for a backlit model, then check also if it's possible to adjust the brightness.
  • Audio: While some models integrate the possibility to use the e-Reader as an MP3 player, I preferred one without this function, since it's maximizing the length of the battery.
  • Internet: The most recent models have an integrated browser and wireless connection. I don't find it that essential, since the experience while browsing is quite frustrating (the e-ink technology has a slow screen refresh frequency), and most of the travelers already have a smartphone or a laptop to access internet.
  • Memory: Is there an internal memory and how big is it? Is there a slot for external memories, and what's the maximum capacity? Having a full memory with a lot of books is slowing down the software of the e-Book Reader?
  • Uploading books: How can you upload books to the e-Reader? Cable? Wireless? Bluetooth? Sd Card? I personally use only the cable to connect it to my laptop, and I don't have the need for other methods.
  • Reflections: Can you read even in the sunshine or is the screen prone to glare? The finishing of the frame is matte or glossy? For this details you better read reviews over the web, you won't find it in the product description.
  • Battery replacement: Most of the models available unfortunately don't have the possibility to change the battery by yourself. If you wish to do so, you'll have to take it at the customer service and pay almost as much as a new model. But given the life expectancy of the batteries, this is a relatively important feature.
  • Case: Whilst this is not essential, it is strongly suggested to see if it's possible to integrate the e-Reader in a case, and the cost of it,in particular if you just throw things in your backpack as I do.

Software characteristics that you want to consider before buying an e-Reader

While "in theory" the software is not permanent, this is what is going to influence the most your reading experience. Read review over the web about the software used on the model you are interested in. It would still technically be possible to change the software, doing a firmware update. But it's not suggested to try to inexperienced people, since the risk to "brick" the eReader is real.

  • Formats: Not all of the e-Readers use the same e-Book format. Some companies have proprietary formats, others use the open-source ePub format (probably the best option). In any case don't worry too much since you can convert them with free tools like Calibre. Apart from genuine e-Books, some e-Readers will allow you to read also PDF or Words documents.
  • PDF: You will find more PDF books than you can expect. And if you already have an archive of scanned books, it will be easier to upload them in PDF, since converting them with an OCR software is often messing up text, layout and images. You should check for the possibility to change orientation, contrast, zoom in, change layout (1,2,3 columns...), take notes, and to see how fast or slow the e-Book reader is browsing between pages. My advice is to look for reviews on the net, and videos on YouTube, to understand how the different models deal with PDF.
  • DRM: How the e-Reader is dealing with the Digital rights management? Is it using the Adobe ID?
  • Compatibility: What Operative system do you need to use the e-Reader? Windows? Apple? Linux?
  • Notes: Can you to take annotations, and if yes, how? Handwriting? Keyboard? Voice?
  • Highlight: Is it possible to highlight some text? How to access it later? Is it possible to export it to a text file on a computer? Is there a word limit? With my e-Reader unfortunately it's possible to export only up to 200 words per highlight. The solution would be either to make shorter highlights, or to change the firmware.
  • Bookmark: Is it possible to bookmark pages and how to browse and access bookmarks?
  • Search: Is it possible to search for content inside the books and inside the notes?
  • A drawing that Oti did with the e-book reader of our couchsurfing hostsA drawing that Oti did with the e-book reader of our couchsurfing hostsDrawing: Some touch screen models have the possibility to draw basic vectorial drawings and then export them in Jpeg. It's a useful function for a traveler, to sketch an idea, a landscape or take a note in example.
  • Dictionaries: Very useful to check words you don't know, or to translate them to another language. You should look for the possibility to upload new dictionaries apart from the default one, and how it is possible to access the dictionaries.
  • Brand-Library: This might be important if you prefer to buy new and recent books rather than downloading free e-Books from the web, since each brand has a partnership with one or more online libraries, and you might need to stick to them to buy new books compatible with your eReader. So check first if their books are overpriced or not: this will influence your future investment.
  • Journal: The possibility to take notes, outside of the books, is quite useful in example if you are a blogger and you want to write an article while moving by train, or if you want to keep track of your experiences in a travel journal. A calendar entry would be even more useful.
  • Customization: Is there the possibility to customize the home page? In my e-Reader it's shown the last read book and the last 4 uploaded books, plus links to applications and bookshelves. I would have rather preferred to have the 4 last read books in the home page, or the possibility to stick selected books to the home page, since I tend to change the book that I read quite frequently. I can't customize my home page and each time I have to browse through the bookshelves to open my books.
  • Warranty: How may years of Warranty? If second hand, is there any Warranty availability left?

Now you have the knowledge to start searching for your next present, you won't regret it! We definitely don't promote consumerism, but in this case the money are well worth spent. We can't suggest for a particular model, since the market is in continuous evolution, and it would be obsolete by the time you are reading this article. After you'll select one out of the many available options, don't forget to look for reviews on the net, to understand if there are any hidden flaws in your model that you can't see from the specifications.
I hope that this article was useful and you now know how to choose the best e-Reader for your needs. Enjoy your readings while traveling!

Davide VadalàDavide Vadalà
I like to say that I'm a gypsy traveller. Some years ago I quit my job to chase my dream of exploring our wonderful planet in a sustainable way. Thanks to my itchy feet, I had a lot of incredible adventures, and I'm just back after an amazing travel of almost 3 years by land, mainly hitchhiking. I love nature, sustainability, outdoor and hiking, and my dream is to become a travel photographer. Content attribution on Google +

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