When attempting to read a PDF, whether it be a scientific journal, an article, scanned books, or something 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.
Not all e-book readers have the same screen size. While most have 6-inch screens, some are bigger, reaching 7.8, 8 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, offer the option to reflow documents. This feature increases the size of the text while adapting it 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 see the notes and enjoy the design of the original page. However, adapted software allows the user to either cut the edges of the PDF or format the text, as if it were an epub, or even to read it in “landscape” mode, which would make it work better with a 6-inch e-book reader, specifically with respect to literature or works in “pocket” format. For some documents (i.e. pdf’s with images or graphics, or text documents A4 without margins), a bigger format will be more comfortable and beneficial for viewing the original layout.
The next question to ask is: 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? If you simply want to keep the original pagination to take more-precise notes, you could read the book on epub with the reader and then refer back to the PDF on a computer to find the right page number.
We are now going to focus on readers for the general public, before reviewing what is available for big-screen readers, some of which are dedicated to PDF reading.
€50 – €250: Readers for the general public and PDF reading
All these readers are well-manufactured and their screens are endowed with e-ink technology and are of good quality; however, the size of the screen varies from 6 to 7.8 inches. Later in this discussion we will take a look at the “high range” readers with bigger screens. Most of these readers have an e-ink Carta screen. This is the last generation of e-ink screens. We notice this in the contrast when we compare them to the performance of previous versions.
A Reader’s internal software is where it differs the most, most-notably on their PDF reader: the type of PDF reader used seems to be more important than the performance of an ereader’s processor or even the size of its screen!
Kobo readers and PDF reading
With its great 8-inch Carta screen, the new Kobo Forma 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 without KOReader browsing the files from nickel, which is Kobo’s 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 function, but we need to be willing to tweak the reader a bit, which is pretty easy and not very dangerous. 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 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, similar to the 6-inch screen. 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 the comfort not being the same as with readers dedicated to PDF and closer to the A4 format.
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What about Pocketbook ereaders?
The PocketBook 740/TEA Inkpad 3 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 the alternative software directly onto its interface software, which allows for choosing which software will open a specific format, as with a computer.
Users prefer this type of software behavior, as it really is more practical if you plan to read books in different formats (PDF, epub, mobi…). In terms of the screen, the Inkpad 2 wasn’t as good as the Kobo e-ink Carta screen or the Kobo Aura One, but the PocketBook Inkpad 3 makes the leap and is a good compromise for the user who prefers a bigger, more-versatile PDF reader at the best value for their money. It has an adaptive backlight that limits the blue light that is quite homogeneous, and it’s possible to setup profiles so that the lightning changes automatically during the day. Available for less than €200 on Decitre and only slightly more-expensive than Amazon, it is the reader currently offering the best value for the money. On the other hand, 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.
Its little sister, the PocketBook Touch HD is a 6-inch reader. It has a slightly-smaller screen but is just as versatile as its big sister. This is interesting for anyone who’s looking for either a more compact model or who cannot afford the Inkpad 3.
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The Kindle – Paperwhite 3 or Oasis?
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, or its big sister, the Kindle Oasis, can be very good choices, as can be seen in our tests. But they don’t offer an adaptive backlight, a feature which adjusts the luminosity towards yellow for more comfort at night. We are prisoners of the Amazon universe, unlike the readers further below, which allow for the opening of all or nearly-all formats.
That being said, this is not a real problem. The free software suite, Calibre, can quickly convert to .mobi or .pub and with a click, send them to a reader. Additionally, it is possible to make a “jailbreak” from the Kindle by breaking the lock reducing its usage and installing other applications. Similar to 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. It is not recommended for those users looking for a simple and fast solution. In addition, if the jailbreak procedure is unsuccessful there are consequences, like invalidating the device’s warranty. While it may not be dangerous, it is better to have at least a general understanding of what you are doing so as to avoid any mistakes. However, for those looking for a less-expensive reader option, this one should be considered. Once jailbroken, the Kindle PaperWhite will read most PDFs quite well, despite its 6-inch screen. The “landscape” mode can be used for some documents, but it is not comfortable. It is merely an unbeatable value for the money. Then there’s the base Kindle Touch, which shares the same qualities as its big sister. The refurbished version is often on sale on Amazon for around €50. If you are interested in the jailbreak option, you can check out an updated how to onMobileRead Wiki.
Without any software modification, the Kindle is a good device for reading PDFs. With its big screen, the Kindle Oasis rivals the Inkpad 3. But in this price range, the PocketBook Inkpad 3 appears preferable due to its larger screen, adaptation for all types of documents, the ability to regulate the “temperature” of the lighting and most-importantly, the ease with which it is possible to install alternative applications, like KOReader. It should also be taken into consideradion 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, unlike readers from more exotic brands, which can be reassuring. As the Kindles are more reactive and better for reading formats besides PDF than a PocketBook ereader, it could be a great reader if you are ready to use the PDF reader it comes with and to convert books in ePub, into azw3 for an optimal reading experience.
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What about the lesser-known brands, like Onyx Boox and Icarus?
Readers like Onyx Boox are interesting because they are endowed with an adaptive sensor and pen that allows for PDF writing, like a physical book! By running Android 6, users can install several different apps, so users need to be versatile readers.
The Onyx Boox Nova Pro and Onyx Boox Note pro release in April. For those users not in a rush, the waiting could be worth the while and we will update this article once we’ve had the opportunity to test them. Until then, the BOOX Note S provides a good value for the money. Endowed with a 9.7-inch screen, it offers great reading comfort, even with A4 documents or comics. It allows for the taking of notes and is only slightly-more expensive than an Inkpad 3!
It is important to note that these Android readers do not have a PlayStore, which means that you cannot rely on the installation of all the existing Android apps. But is this necessary for a reader? The customer service support for these more exotic brands can also more complicated; thus, it could be a better idea to purchase a brand you can trust!
That being said, as we’ll see, the Onyx products are even more interesting if we look at their higher end products…
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Fight of the giants: Sony DPT-RP1 vs. Onyx Boox Max2 vs. reMarkable
At an upgraded range and price, users can find the Sony DPT-RP1, the Onyx Boox Max 2 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 with respect to the PDF format. With a screen of more than 13 inches and a 1650 x 2200-pixel resolution, the Sony is most-likely 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 exudes quality, being lightweight and made from high-grade materials, it cannot connect to an ordinary computer using a USB key by cutting and pasting any PDF files. For copyright reasons, Sony forces the user to connect its reader to an ethernet port when transferring a file. Additionally, its internal software is limited, maybe too much, given its price. The reMarkable seems more interesting, even if it is more of a sketchbook than a reader: isn’t there a viable alternative?
Our comparison wouldn’t be complete without considering the Onyx Boox Max 2, that is within the same price range. With a Carta 13.3-inch screen, it sells for around €770. It is well- manufactured and versatile, featuring Android v. 6, and allowing for the installation of various applications, so that you can read any file type. The value of the reMarkable seems to tilt the scale in its favor, despite its slightly smaller screen. The DPT-RP1 is portrayed as a high-range reader and marketed to those looking to only read PDFs. For versatility, the Onyx Boox Max 2 is a good choice. It’s a well engineered high-end reader with a big screen, capable of reading PDFs as well as all other types of formats.
With readers in this range, a 13-inch screen and the ability to take notes, users are not necessarily reading for pleasure, instead, they 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 research professors, doctors or students.
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Conclusion: Which reader is best for reading PDFs?
We can’t make this decision for you; however, in our opinion the middle -range PocketBook Inkpad 3 offers the best value for the money. Priced at €199 on Decitre (though slightly more expensive on Amazon), its screen is of good quality, and it features an adaptive backlight and allows users to read PDFs easily it’s easy to install a good alternative reader for even better performance. For those users not focused on PDFs, but rather on integration with the Amazon library, a Kindle Oasis is a viable alternative to the Inkpad 3.
For users with the budget for an higher-end device, and who plan to read only PDFs, the Sony DPT-RP1 is an ereader to consider. Less versatile than an Inkpad 3, it offers a bigger screen and was conceived around the PDF format. For more versatility, we recommend the Onyx Boox Max 2, a versatile, high-range alternative, endowed with a 13-inch screen and the ability to take notes.
Conversely, for those users wishing to reduce their investment, the Kobo Aura H2O2 (H20 edition 2) provides a good value for the money. KOReader can be easily-installed, it makes for a very good PDF reader that is less expensive than an Inkpad 3 or a Kindle Oasis, even though a larger screen would be more comfortable for reading non-fiction (philosophy, technical books…).
For those users on a small budget, a Paperwhite Kindle refurbished can be the right choice. Price 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 best choice depends on users’ budget, as well as what they wish to do with the reader: do they want to read only PDFs? Mostly ePub and occasionally PDF? Do they want to be able to write down the files they read? It is from these questions that it will be possible to determine the model that is the most adapted to the user.