What is the best e-book reader for PDF reading in 2020?

When looking for an e-book reader to read PDF documents, whether it be scientific / academic articles, scanned books, or anything else, it’s important to understand that not all e-book readers have the same PDF-reading capabilities. Some come with a minimal PDF reader, while others are really good at PDF reading.

Given this, which is currently the best e-book reader for those wanting to read PDF? Below we will look at the different criteria to consider when researching the best possible e-reader, before comparing how the most popular e-readers handle PDF files. We’ll finish up with the best models currently available on the market.

A few words about screen size:

Not all e-book readers have the same screen size. While most have 6-inch screens, some are bigger, reaching 8, 10 or even 13.3 inches.

While a 6-inch e-reader is convenient for reading epub or mobi formatted files, something bigger is generally preferred for reading PDF files. Some software, like Koreader, offers the option to reflow documents. This feature makes it possible to adapt the text to the size of the screen. Despite this feature, it is still usually better, for reading purposes, to keep the document “as is”, to be better-able to read the footnotes and enjoy the design of the original page. However, cutting the edges of the PDF document or reading it in “landscape” mode, makes reading PDFs possible on a 6-inch e-book reader; but for most documents (i.e. pdf’s with images or graphics, non-fiction, or full page A4 documents without margins) a bigger format will always be more comfortable.

Then the question arises: Which type of pdf? Knowing this will allow the user to determine whether a big screen format is necessary or not. A follow-up question would then be: Why pdf? For example, if you simply want to keep the original pagination in order to take more-precise notes, you could read a book in epub on your eReader and then refer back to the corresponding PDF on a computer to find the right page number…

We are first going to focus on readers for the general public and their ability (or not!) to read PDF documents, we will then review e-book readers available with bigger screens, some of which are dedicated to PDF reading.

6 to 10 inch: eReaders for the general public and PDF reading

Most readers are well-manufactured and they all use e-ink technology. This is more comfortable for the eyes than reading on a computer screen or a tablet, and more power-efficient: these devices all have an autonomy of several days, or even weeks. Current e-book readers use an e-ink Carta screen, this is the last generation of e-ink screens. The contrast is very good and it works really well with PDF documents. Most eReaders currently available have enough horse power (CPU, RAM…) to open PDF documents.

That being said, an eReader’s internal software is where it differs the most, most-notably on their PDF reader: the software used to render PDF documents appears to be more important than the performance of an e-book reader’s processor or even the size of its screen! The most powerful electronic reading device will be unable to give you a good PDF reading experience without the right piece of software…

Kobo e-ink readers and PDF reading

With its great 8-inch Carta screen, the new Kobo Forma (AmazonEbay) seems born to dethrone the concurrence in this area of pdf reading; however, honestly, the Kobo PDF reader is not a good choice. Any alterations made to correct the document, for example, reducing the image, is lost with each turn of the page, which becomes quickly tiring. It’s possible to install the KOReader alternative-reader, adapted for PDF, but on Kobos, it’s necessary to first launch the KOReader and then use it to navigate your PDF. A user can’t simply launch the PDF directly within KOReader browsing the files from nickel, which is Kobo’s operating system. It’s a shame, because the Kobo Forma, as well as the Kobo H2o v.2, are really good readers in all other respects! Still, we can get used to this, but we need to be willing to tweak the reader a bit: If you’re looking for an easy solution for reading PDFs, then it’s not Kobo you should turn to. For those users willing to get their hands a little dirty to install a good PDF reader, the Kobo Forma offers good value for your money.

Slightly less expensive, the Kobo H2o v.2 (AmazonEbay) is interesting: It’s endowed with a 6.8-inch screen, which is bigger than the 6-inch screen reader and makes reading small PDFs (i.e. pocket formats, for example) comfortable. It also features a good grip and is very easy to transport. On the other hand, the 6.8-inch format is too limiting for big documents, except when reading in landscape mode. With its 8-inch screen, the Kobo Forma is more versatile, despite not being the perfect eReader for PDF files.

What about Pocketbook eReaders?

The PocketBook 740/TEA Inkpad 3 (AmazonEbay) is a better alternative. It also features a big Carta 7.8-inch screen with a default PDF-reading software that is much nicer to use. It’s even possible to install an alternative reader directly onto its interface, which allows for choosing which software will open a specific format, as with a computer.

This type of software behavior is better, as it really is more practical if you plan to read books in different formats (PDF, epub, mobi…). In terms of screen quality, the Inkpad 2 wasn’t as good as the e-ink Carta screen on the Kobo Aura One, but the PocketBook Inkpad 3 makes the leap and, with the latest generation e-ink Carta screen, it can be a good compromise for the user who is looking for a decent PDF reader at the best value for money. It has an adaptive back-light that limits the blue light and is quite homogeneous, and it’s possible to setup profiles so that the lightning changes automatically during the day. Available for around 200 euros on Amazon, it is the reader currently offering the best value for the money.

Its little sister, the PocketBook Touch HD (AmazonEbay) is a 6-inch reader. It has a slightly-smaller screen but is almost as versatile as an Inkpad 3. This is interesting for anyone who’s looking for either a more compact model or who cannot afford the Inkpad 3.

That being said, the 7.8-inch screen, while perfect for many documents, is limited for A4 documents, though reading them in “landscape” mode is possible. For users who want to read documents in larger formats, a reader with a screen size of at least 10 inches is more adequate. The PocketBook Inkpad X, while not widely distributed and more expensive thank the Inkpad 3 is very interesting in this aspect: with a good quality 10 inch screen and the ability to read PDF files easily, it’s a pretty nice reader to read PDF documents of any size.

Kindles: Paperwhite 3 or Oasis for PDF documents…

The Kindle’s default PDF reader is not bad; in fact, it’s one of the best. Often on sale for €89, the Kindle Paperwhite (AmazonEbay), or its big sister, the Kindle Oasis (AmazonEbay), can be very good choices, as can be seen in our tests. The only decive to come with an adaptative backlight, a feature which adjusts the luminosity towards yellow for more comfort at night is the Oasis 3. The price difference is worth it for those who want to read in the dark. Users are also more or less “locked” in the Amazon universe, unlike with the readers from most other brands, which allow for the easy opening of all or nearly-all formats.

That being said, this is not a real problem. The free software suite Calibre, available on calibre-ebook.com, can quickly convert most files to .mobi or .pub and send them to the eReader with a click.

Additionally, it is possible to “jailbreak” a Kindle device, to be able to install other applications. Similar to what can natively be done with PocketBook readers, users can then launch KOReader directly from the Kindle interface, which can also take reading statistics into account. This requires a willingness to tweak the reader and the need for some technical competences. In addition, if the jailbreak procedure is unsuccessful, it can invalidate the device’s warranty: it is better to have at least a general understanding of what you are doing so as to avoid any mistake. However, for those looking for a cheap option, this should be considered, as once jailbroken, a Kindle PaperWhite will be able to read most PDFs quite well with koreader, despite its 6-inch screen, for an unbeatable value for the money. The “landscape” mode can be used for wide documents, but it isn’t ideal. An interesting model for those looking to lower even more the cost of their purchase is a more basic Kindle Touch, which shares most of the qualities of the Paperwhite: the refurbished version is often on sale on Amazon for around €50. If you are interested in jailbreaking your Kindle, you can check out an updated how-to on MobileRead Wiki. I wish you good luck!

Without any software modification, the Kindle is a really decent device for reading PDFs. With its big screen, the Kindle Oasis (AmazonEbay ] rivals the Inkpad 3. But in this price range, the PocketBook Inkpad 3 appears preferable due to its larger screen, its ability to open all types of documents and, most-importantly, the ease with which it is possible to install alternative applications, like KOReader. It should also be taken into consideration that jailbreaking a Kindle is complicated if your e-reader comes with a recent firmware. Once again, the perfect choice depends on what the user is looking for and how much the user is willing to spend.

Amazon’s customer support has a good reputation, thereby making the purchase of a Kindle a good investment in the long term, which can be reassuring. As the Kindles are more reactive and better for reading awz3 books than PocketBook readers, it can be a great choice if you are ready to use the PDF reader it comes with and to convert your books in ePub into azw3 for an optimal reading experience, if you are ready to jailbreak your device so that it fits your needs perfectly, or if you want to be able to buy books on Amazon directly from your device.

Onyx Boox: Great value for the money, but… with Android 6.

Onyx Boox ereaders are interesting because they come with a stylus and the ability to write on PDF documents, like you could do on a physical book. They run Android, and it’s possible to install several apps. However, most ereaders don’t come with adaptative backlight. The Boox Note 2 (Mobius screen, 10.3 inch) and the Boox Nova Pro (7.8 inch) both come with a great backlight and are very well built.

It should be noted that these Android e-readers have the PlayStore: it is therefore possible to install most Android applications on them, including the applications of major bookstores (Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook, etc.) and therefore read the books purchased from them.

The PDF support is really good with the default reader application. Moreover, with a 10.3-inch screen like the one in Boox Note 2 (AmazonEbay) it is not too necessary to try to optimize the display as much as possible, it being large enough to display a few margins, which is ideal for public domain scanned books from archive.org, for example.

Moreover, these e-readers come with a stylus, which changes the game compared to most e-Ink machines on the market: it is possible to annotate the PDF and then export the notes. That said, finger highlighting works very well with e-readers without a stylus, if the goal is only to mark certain passages, no need for a stylus!

One problem to take into account though: some e-readers of this brand are provided with Android 6. While Boyue says it will offer an upgrade to Android 8, this is not the case with Boox e-readers. How will an Android 6 e-reader age? Will the manufacturers of these e-readers continue to upgrade? In the long run, maybe in the absence of updates you should not rely too much on the PlayStore, which is not necessarily a problem, as long as the e-reader is stable and the basic applications are of good quality, as is the case here. Hence the interest to favor models running Android 9 (like the Onyx Boox Note 2) over models whose update is not certain (like the otherwise very good Onyx Boox Note Pro or the cheapest Onyx Boox Note (AmazonEbay).

These e-readers can offer a good quality/price relation, even if we can consider that an Android e-reader is interesting on a more high-end model: in 8 inches, the PocketBook / Vivlio Inkpad 3 works quite well for 100 euros less than a Boox Nova Pro, and with the certainty of being able to benefit from updates on the long term…

Boyue / LikeBook: eReader made in China.

All (or most) e-readers are made in China. But unlike previous e-readers, Boyue / LikeBook e-readers are also design in China. This is not a problem in itself, in the audio world for example, the Chinese have shown that they can produce high quality Hi-Fi equipment at an unbeatable price. Couldn’t we find the same situation in the world of electronic ink e-readers?

Boyue LikeBook e-readers are similar in hardware to Onyx Boox e-readers (although they use a slightly less powerful CPU, RK3268 while the Onyx uses RK3388, 30% more powerful). On the software side, we’re also on an Android 6 base with the possibility to switch to Android 8. That said, does that make LikeBooks better devices than Boox?

The LikeBook Ares is cheaper than a Boox Nova Pro and offers similar performance (without the stylus), but the interface is less fluid: the Boox Nova Pro is more pleasant to use. However, both can be very well suited if the goal is to read PDFs and the LikeBook Ares is unbeatable in price! In 10.3 inches, the LikeBook Alita is a model to consider. Moreover, it should be updated soon under Android 8, which would be the best thing for the future.

Indeed, for now, a black spot with many of these Android-based e-readers, in addition to the higher power consumption of an Android e-reader compared to a device using a Linux core-based firmware (and therefore less autonomy) is their use of Android 6, an outdated version, which is not ideal from a security point of view, especially for those who want to use their e-reader to go on the Internet!

Anyway, at the moment we can say that at software level, Boox e-readers are more pleasant to use than Boyue LikeBook e-readers; the backlighting management is also finer and easier. Moreover, with a website only in Chinese, even if the manufacturer is active on twitter, how can we consider serenely the customer service? It is perhaps safer to stay with the better known brands for the moment, even if, for those who feel like trying the adventure, these e-readers can be worth it, offering a cost/performance relation clearly better than the competition. As such, the LikeBook Alita seems very well placed for those who are looking for an e-Ink e-reader dedicated to PDF, is ready to accept to use a reader on Android with the advantages and disadvantages that this implies, and can afford to go on a fairly large format reader.

Big screen: Sony DPT-RP1 vs. Onyx Boox Max 3 vs. reMarkable

At an upgraded range and price, users can find the Sony DPT-RP1, the Onyx Boox Max 3 and the reMarkable. Compared to the Sony DPT-RP1, the reMarkable has a grayer screen background, but it supports ePub natively, while the Sony is limited to the PDF format. With a screen of more than 13 inches and a 1650 x 2200-pixel resolution, the Sony appears to be the Rolls Royce of PDF readers!

These three document readers are not actual readers but true “digital notebooks”. They were designed for taking notes and users can write on them with a stiletto. They may seem a bit pricey for simple PDF readers, but it is the going rate for decent, well-conceived readers, endowed with large screens and the note-taking ability. While the Sony DPT-RP1 (amazonebay) exudes quality, being lightweight and made from high-grade materials, for copyright reason, Sony forces the user to connect its reader to an Ethernet port when transferring a file and it can’t read many formats. Its internal software is rather limited, maybe too much, given its price. The reMarkable could appear more interesting, but if it is more of a sketchbook than a reader: isn’t there a viable alternative?

The Onyx Boox Max 3 (AmazonEbay) comes with a Carta 13.3 screen, runs Android 9, is well- manufactured and versatile. It is possible to install many apps to read any filetype. It can be used to answer emails, or to open two documents side by side, and even to use it as a secondary screen, connected to a computer (laptop of desktop) using HDMI. If the Sony DPT-RP1 is a great unit for who is willing to read only PDFs, the Onyx Boox Max 3 is a good choice for who want to be able to open PDF documents as well as ePub eBooks, web pages, Microsoft Office or Libre Office documents

With readers in this range, a 13-inch screen and the ability to take notes, users are not necessarily reading for pleasure, instead, these eReaders are more like work tools for those frequently handling certain texts, and who might want to write on their PDFs. In this case, a high-range reader is the best choice for reading PDF format: the written-on PDF could then be transferred to a computer or loaned, making it a good work tool for writers, academics and students, even though an 8 inch device can be enough to read books in PDF format.

Conclusion: Which eReader is the best for reading PDFs?

We can’t make this decision for you; however, if you are in the EU and have the ability to grab one at the fair price, in our opinion the middle-range PocketBook Inkpad 3 currently offers the best value for the money. Available on Amazon, its screen is of good quality, and it features an adaptive back-light and allows users to read PDFs easily. If needed, it’s really easy to install alternative software (like Koreader) for even better comfort and performance. For those users who can’t grab one, or those would would like the integration with the Amazon library, a Kindle Oasis can be a viable alternative to the Inkpad 3.

For those with the budget for an higher-end device, and who plan to read only PDFs, the Sony DPT-RP1 is an ereader to consider. Another high end option is the more versatile Onyx Boox Max 3 (available on Amazon) running on Android 9.0 and the ability to take notes. For those who prefer a 10-inch screen – or a cheaper device – an Onyx Boox Note 2 (Amazon – available almost worldwide) seems to be a very balanced choice. Indeed, this e-reader seems to be durable, with its Mobius screen more resistant to shocks than a Carta screen, and, running on Android 9 and equipped with a powerful processor, it should prove to be a good performer for years to come.

Conversely, for those users on a small budget, a Kindle Paperwhite refurbished can be the right choice. Priced at less than €100, its default PDF reader is highly-capable. For those not needing the backlight, a “basic” Kindle can be great. With both readers, the 6-inch screen may force users to consider occasionally moving to “landscape” mode to read documents where the pages are bigger than those of novels. The Kobo Aura H2O2 (H20 edition 2) also provides a good value for the money, even though a larger screen would be more comfortable for reading non-fiction (philosophy, technical books…).

The best choice depends on each users’ budget, as well as what they wish to do with the reader: do they want to read only PDFs, or mostly ePub and occasionally PDF? Do they want to be able to write on the files they read? It is from the answers to these questions that it will be possible to determine the model the most adapted to each person…

If you found the perfect e-book reader for your use case or have any question regarding an eReader or PDF reading with an eink device, feel free to write a comment below!

5 thoughts on “What is the best e-book reader for PDF reading in 2020?”

  1. Great article, thanks. Isn’t the Inkpad 3 too small for scanned books? The formatting is often far from perfect on these…

    1. Using Koreader as well as PocketBook’s native PDF reader, you can remove (crop) the margins, either automatically or manually.

      Once you’ve found the good setting for your book, it’ll stay that way for next pages.

    1. Hi Victor. Thanks for your message.

      It seems like a really decent ereader. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to review it yet, I’ll try to do that soon.

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