E-ink ereader with a strong screen - or a strong case
September 28, 2014 9:30 AM   Subscribe

I've broken my second e-ink reader in as many years, by cracking the screen. Both breaks have the same basic cause: I forgot it was there and leaned on it. The second time was just for a second and not with that much weight, but it still cracked. And, of course, that means it is completely gone. Both readers were a full-size Kobo Touch. Are these readers more prone to crack than other e-ink devices?

My SO has never cracked his, but he is extremely careful with electronics. I have tried to be careful, but I've also learned that I function much better with a tougher device. I've had an ipod touch that I've never had trouble with, despite sitting on it, sleeping on it, etc.

But I need an e-ink reader because reading from backlit devices (like my ipod touch) disrupts my sleep patterns. Are there any on the market that have a strong screen like the ipod or ipad, or perhaps there are cases available that fully protect the device from any pressure or twisting of the screen? Would a smaller e-ink device be less likely to crack?

For purchasing purposes: I'm only interested in devices that natively support epubs and will allow sideloading from calibre. I only have epubs, my public library lends epubs, and when I purchase books, I purchase epubs.
posted by jb to Technology (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The closest I know of is the Kindle Voyage, the only e-ink reader I've seen with a glass screen. It was just released, so I'd wait for reviews. Like previous Kindles it doesn't natively support epub, but Calibre will automatically transcode epub to mobi for uploading to the Kindle, so this shouldn't make any practical difference if you're already using Calibre.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:48 AM on September 28, 2014

Oops, just noticed the note about your library. That is indeed a reason not to get a Kindle. :(
posted by mbrubeck at 9:54 AM on September 28, 2014

They are starting to make some of these, and after a successful Kickstarter you can preorder one for $300. Don't know if you want to spend that much money, though. They call it the Earl. There are current models by different companies, but they are specialized devices made for military or remote area pipeline inspection, and are hard to get and more expensive. But the term you want to look for in your searches is "ruggedized".
posted by seasparrow at 9:56 AM on September 28, 2014

Given your limiting factor of "natively support epub", it's going to be pretty difficult to make suggestions other than 1) get a STRONG case, and 2) make sure it's always closed when you're not actively using it.

If you know anyone with a Kindle, another option might be to try out what it takes to convert your epubs to use on it and see if it's really as much a dealbreaker for you as you think it will be. I previously had much the same mindset, but have changed it for pricing/convenience/etc reasons, and Calibre makes it fairly easy to do as I darn well please with my epubs. I'm now over-the-moon happy with my Paperwhite, which is lovely for reading before and in bed.
posted by stormyteal at 9:58 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

My primitive kindle ($79) reads epubs but they look better on my Kobo.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:13 AM on September 28, 2014

What kind of cover have you had on your Kobo? I really, really recommend covers that are stiffish, with a bit of padding, and that zip closed all the way around --- my current Kindle has been in one from a company called M-Edge since the day I got it five years ago.

Sure, stiff padded and zippable covers add bulk to the e-reader plus often cost more, but we spend lots of money on these devices, so spending a bit on a good protective cover is just taking care of your investment. (And I recommend the fully-zippable ones because they'll protect from stuff getting poked in from the sides.)

Alternatively, and as a lifelong reads-in-bed person I hate to suggest this, but maybe you shouldn't read yours in bed any more?
posted by easily confused at 10:24 AM on September 28, 2014

Response by poster: Both ereaders were actually broken within their thick case - I think it gave me a false sense of protection. Previously, I had a cloth slipcover and was very careful with the ereader - and that one lasted until this current case.

Is the screen on a kindle any stronger than a kobo? I've never seen anything to suggest that. The kobo has a glass screen under the first surface, but it is very thin. Unless there is strong evidence that a kindle is much better, I would rather not support Amazon at all.
posted by jb at 10:24 AM on September 28, 2014

Response by poster: The case was a book-cover, which also had a notebook/pad of paper on one side. It is stiff and padded, though maybe not stiff enough not to bend just enough to crack the screen. I've never had issues with damage from the side; both times, the pressure was from the front cover.
posted by jb at 10:27 AM on September 28, 2014

I've not gone on a hunt but I've imagined a carbon fiber reinforced case with internal cushioning. Dropping is mostly what killed a couple for me. Sealed for liquids would be a good idea although a ziplock works ok for the occasional wet environment.

But, small and light these things are just unlikely to ever be robust or seriously ruggedized, not to be lecturing but you probably should revise you usage habits. Love the kindle (each one as long as it lasted, sigh) and continuously remind myself to be more careful.
posted by sammyo at 10:34 AM on September 28, 2014

I broke my Kindle screen by leaning on it, so I don't think kindles are any stronger than other eReaders in this regard. A replacement screen was only £25 or so from Shenzhen via an eBay vendor & pretty straightforward to fit though.
posted by pharm at 11:04 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've cracked one kindle to the point of it not being fixable and my current one is also slightly cracked but it's minor enough that it still works as it should (without any case for both). I'm not really rough on them but I am a bit clumsy and such so I wouldn't reccomend a kindle as sturdier.
posted by Aranquis at 11:48 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

To clarify, it's only the brand-new Kindle Voyage that purports to be stronger than other readers. It has a "specially-reinforced glass front" which is flush like an iPad, rather than a recessed screen behind a raised bezel like the Kobo and previous Kindles. It also has a magnesium back rather than plastic.

But while it's easy to read non-DRM ePub files on the Kindle (by converting them to mobi), there's no simple way to read DRM-protected ePub files like the ones from your public library. There are probably ways to break the DRM, but that adds complications, and publishers will keep trying to prevent it.

Something like this Pelican hard case might be your best bet. It looks like it'll fit the standard-sized Nook or Kobo e-ink readers.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:49 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Since you already use Calibre, you might consider getting the Calibre plugins that allow you to rip DRM so you can convert epub to whatever file format you want. It's easier to use than you might think -- once you download the plugin, all you have to do is import books to Calibre for the DRM to be stripped. Just an idea in case you do decide you want the new Kindle Voyage.
posted by Librarypt at 1:28 PM on September 28, 2014

A small e-reader like a Kobo Pocket might give you less screen to lean on. However, you're already using calibre, there's no reason to worry about format. Caliber can convert files from epub to mob/kindle and vice versa, with no problem at all. If you decide to get a kindle, you can load your books on to it. I have both a kindle and two kobos and have never had problems. As you know, I do this just fine with library files too (using the plugin you showed me, so I'm not sure how you don't know you can do this).

Anyway, your problem is clearly with the cover, so I would buy whatever is cheapest within your requirements and focus your keep-it-intact energies on a sturdier cover.

Finally, you can also consider getting Flux for your sleep pattern issues. It will work on windows and iOS and it is free.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2014

I have a Nook, and while I don't know whether they make any claims to stronger screens, I can say that I am ridiculously careless with it and have had it for years with no cracking or damage issues. It has one of those cheap silicone cases around the outside, but nothing on the screen. I toss it in my bag, drop it on the sidewalk at least monthly, and roll over it in bed...I don't intentionally throw it at things or attempt to damage it, but I'm certainly not particularly careful with it. Obviously that is anecdotal only, but for what it's worth, that's been my experience.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:32 PM on September 28, 2014

The new Kobo Aura HD is supposed to be a lot tougher than the other versions. It is about twice the price of a regular Kobo.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:06 AM on September 29, 2014

Kindles (leaving aside the new one) are as breakable as anything else. Screens breaking has been a problem with every brand that I'm aware of.

Pelican makes cases that are supposedly extremely protective, though the one I saw for ereaders did not exactly seem beautiful or comfortable. It seemed like the kind of case you'd want to store your kobo in between readings. Along those lines, you could get in the habit of putting it in a nice cardboard box (ideally padded, I guess) or something similar. If you go with the kind of cover that's always on the reader, I agree with the recommendations to get one that has both softer padding on the inside and, more importantly, a harder layer on the outside, though I don't know what covers are available for the kobo.

In my case, I had to get used to always putting my reader aside after using it. It's become a pretty automatic habit, but having a box or case to store it in might help get used to it, psychologically.

Another place to ask this question could be mobilereads, where people might know about some rare model that's harder to break.
posted by trig at 7:33 AM on September 29, 2014

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
Shortly after I asked this question, I bought a Kobo Mini (a kobo with a smaller screen), and it's lasted wonderfully. I am still using it five years later. It's gotten a few nicks in the body, but the screen is fine.

That said, I also realised that the case I was using a large part of the problem: the attached notepad caused more pressure to be put directly on the screen. After I removed this notepad, I was able to use the same case for several more years with the Mini with no ill-effect (and yes, a couple of more times leaning a little on it).

Sadly: the Kobo Mini was discontinued at the same time - I got mine very cheap as a remaindered product. It is such a nice form factor - very portable, perfect for light reading on the go.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:22 PM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

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