Tell me about Kindles (or other non-Nook E-Ink e-readers)
November 13, 2018 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in obtaining an E-Ink e-reader. I currently do my e-reading on an iPad Mini, upon which I have the Kindle app and Books. People tell me that e-Ink is the way to go, but it's hard to find the information I want. Everything is all "do this online! use the cloud!", but I don't want to. I want to read books offline. I want to transfer books onto the device offline.

I have lots of ebooks, mostly in epub format -- I want a device I can put them on, preferably without reformatting them.

I tried a Nook a few months ago, but it went back to B&N after a week -- it was slow to find and open books, organizing books took forever, and I couldn't read Nook books offline. I would like to be able to sort files more efficiently than the Nook (every file had to be sorted individually - couldn't just open a directory and tap things and put them in "category A", then do the same for "category B").

What are my choices? Can I sideload on a Kindle? How? Can I put Epubs on a Kindle?

I have Calibre for file handling and reformatting if necessary.
posted by jlkr to Technology (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Calibre can convert epub to mobi which is the format kindle use. I mostly have epub so I got a kobo ereader which supports epub. I use calibre to manage and load files onto it.
E-ink tech is quite slow so I don't use the ereader to manage books much, just load new books on every so often and only have a few tens max to browse through - no cloud involved! Getting one with a back-light is really useful.
posted by JonB at 8:07 AM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Can I sideload on a Kindle? How? Can I put Epubs on a Kindle?

The two Kindle's I've had (a DX and a Voyage) both happily accepted all kinds of files from Calibre over USB. They're good for reflowable text reading but poor for images and tables.
posted by exogenous at 8:08 AM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's been a little while since I had to do this, so someone may chime in and say they've broken this functionality since (wouldn't surprise me), but....why can't you just convert the files to mobi with Calibre and read them on your Mini that way?
posted by praemunire at 8:16 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

We had Nooks for a while and then got a Kobo, and it works just fine. It's not as tied into a single ecosystem as either the Nook or the Kindle, and it sideloads fine. I ended up converting and sideloading all of my Nook books onto it, although that's a slightly hairy process since B&N really doesn't want you to have control over your own files.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:20 AM on November 13, 2018

Kobo or Kobo Aura both store books offline. They use epub format, which you can buy from many places and load via calibre. Kobos are great, and have the advantage of not being part of the amazon monolith. I've owned them for years (I also own a kindle and have owned a nook). If you have further questions, feel free to pm me.
posted by liminal_shadows at 8:20 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Re: restless_nomad's comment (side loading should be easy and not "hairy" with the calibre plugins which do this automatically, unlike years ago, if you get the up-to-date plugins). Buying from the kobo store makes side loading easy, as are any other epub providers.

You can put epubs on kindle but only after you reformat them via calibre.

Is there a reason you're not just using your iPad as a reader? I like ereaders better than tablets too, but it's not clear to me that this is your reason for not reading them on the iPad.
posted by liminal_shadows at 8:25 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

why can't you just convert the files to mobi with Calibre and read them on your Mini that way?
Because the OP wants eInk. The screens are less taxing on your eyes and the batteries last so much longer.

I still use an older nook and the lack of organization is the only problem with it. If I had to replace it, I would go to a Kobo. It seems like the shelving there is not perfect but it is at least better than the nook.
posted by soelo at 8:29 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had a Kindle DX years ago, and upgraded to a Paperwhite c.2014 or so. They've both been happy to take files converted via Calibre, and the organization (I think Amazon's software on the Kindle calls them "collections") is easy enough, albeit kind of annoying to move stuff into once it's on the Kindle.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 8:31 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

As already noted, Kindles can handle offline reading and epubs-through-conversion if you use Calibre to organize and sync your library (or part of your library); organizing is more easily done on the Calibre side than the Kindle side. I do this myself and I haven't run into any issues outside of (occasionally) issues around images, but if you're mostly reading text it's really great.

For me, e-ink was just immediately worth it, and that (plus battery time) is really the selling point -- if you're trying one out and not finding e-ink to be an improvement, there's not really a reason to switch. I know people who don't find it makes a difference for them, even though I think it makes all the difference in the world.

Within the Kobo and Kindle ecosystems, your best bet in terms of value is probably either the clara HD or the paperwhite -- they both have comparable high-ppi screens (so the text looks like text and not like a computer screen) and optional lights to read at night, at a conveniently small paperback-ish size. That's if you're looking for value, rather than the cheapest possible option (there are less expensive options) or the best possibly quality (there are more expensive options, which I don't personally think are worth it but you might) or the largest possible screen (which these are not).
posted by cjelli at 8:37 AM on November 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

You can read Nook books offline, I do it every day. Not sure what was going on there but it's definitely possible. In fact I have never not done that
posted by fshgrl at 8:46 AM on November 13, 2018

Bonus Kindle offline functionality:

If you borrow ebooks through your library, and leave it on airplane mode, the library book will stay on your device until you reconnect with wifi/what have you. In the meantime, you can upload new library books via a USB cable (when you check the book out on Amazon, there should be a "Download" option once you get to the "This book will sync with your device next time it's online!" page).

For an unselfish reason to do this, this also means you can mark the library book as "returned", and free up the copy for the next person in your library's queue.

This is different from the Nook, which would, at least when I last had one, have the books expire and go away, regardless of offline/online status.
posted by damayanti at 8:50 AM on November 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

As folks have said, a Kindle device will do what you want. Since you care about the eInk let me just suggest you pay extra for what they call a "Paperwhite" display. They are significantly better.

You'll find the Kindle software runs slowly, probably about the same as the Nook. Way slower than you're used to on an iPad. OTOH 98% of the time all you're doing is turning the pages of a book. That part works fine.
posted by Nelson at 9:04 AM on November 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

The e-readers trade performance for battery life, a smart and inevitable direction due to the limitations of the e-ink display technology. Thus they just will never have the features of a tablet or laptop so managing the library just has to occur on a different system. Calibre, as idiosyncratic a it is, is the default personal library manager.

Calibre sideloads to kindle just fine, but the menu item "Send to main memory" is certainly contr-intuitive. It can be configured to auto convert to amazons mobi format.

There are search tools and bookmarking an note taking features that are functional but just limited at best but for just straight reading the eink is vastly better than any other display!!
posted by sammyo at 9:10 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can also email your converted mobi books to your Kindle and that will back them up to the Amazon cloud if you really want to have a second copy laying around. Also, I adore my Paperwhite and won't be without it.
posted by teleri025 at 9:23 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like my Kobo, which can do epub, mobi, and cbr/cbz natively. Calibre for organization. E-ink is going to be pretty slow compared to tablet screens no matter what you do.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2018

I am using the Mini as an eReader, mostly in Book because it does epub without (further) conversion. I would like to try a dedicated eInk reader, but the Nook, quite frankly, was horrid at anything but actually reading. Opening, closing, finding, all pretty much "ICK", and I couldn't get past that to appreciate the eInk. I understand that eInk is slower than tablet, and there are other limitations, but does the user interface have to suck?

I used to have a Nook, but hated when they went to color. Somewhere about the time that Nook went color I got my first Mini and have used that since. Now I'd like to try eInk again, but I don't know what my options are besides Nook, which, just, NO.

fshgrl - I have never been able to read a Nook book natively on a Nook or in the Nook app unless I'm logged in to my B&N account, even if it's downloaded onto the device. I generally download to PC, strip the DRM using Calibre, and read in Books on the Mini -- back before I got the Mini, I used to sideload Nook books onto the Nook so I could read them offline.
posted by jlkr at 9:53 AM on November 13, 2018

I have a Paperwhite and it's pretty much perfect. Much lighter, more responsive, and easier to handle than the keyboard Kindle (which I had before). I use Calibre to convert and load any non-Amazon books. The lighting is very adjustable (from no lighting to fairly bright) and much nicer than the pullout booklight from the older Kindles. Just hit the airplane mode icon to go offline/back online. Also (important to me as a lefty) it's easy to hold with either hand and use your thumb to 'turn' pages.

Sorting is pretty basic (no nested folders! Oh, how I want nested folders...), but you can open a list of your books and hit tickyboxes to put them into folders all at once.

It's not going to be as fast as a tablet, but it's faster than my aunt's Nook, and faster than the older Kindles. It's easy to get used to though, and your eyes will thank you.
posted by lovecrafty at 10:00 AM on November 13, 2018

As noted above, all e-ink readers prioritize battery life over performance. Also, e-ink screens always take more time to change than LCDs, because they are physically flipping little beads (well, electronically - but it's moving tiny particles). I don't notice this while reading because it's still faster than turning a piece of paper, but it's very noticeable while browsing or otherwise interacting with the device. I've just learned to be patient.

The advantages of e-ink devices are: astounding battery life (e.g. every 2-3 weeks with heavy use) and a reflective surface to read from (like paper), rather than a light emitting screen. This is much better for most people's eyes and sleep patterns.

If you're committed to going e-ink, you'll probably find that the Kobo and Kindle are very, very similar in terms of performance. These are the two main devices on the market. Individual models will vary; you can find comparison reviews easily if you're interested in specific models.

Both Kobos and Kindles should work perfectly well offline. I almost never turn on the wireless receiver on my Kobo, as I prefer to load it via USB (much faster). Both support USB or wireless loading; neither need to be connected to the internet or an account to work. In fact, I'm pretty sure I only logged into my Kobo account once (to install the first software), and then won't again until I have a new device (I borrow books from the library and buy directly from publishers).

For organizing books: my experience is with the Kobo, and organization is a bit limited. I believe that you can bulk load books onto "shelves" (eg, open a shelf, click on a lot of titles and load them all there), but I don't use that function. The native sorting includes by Author, Title, Most Recently Read or Size. The internal search function is very good. I regularly have 100-200 books and can search by keyword/partial word in title and author very quickly - I just start typing a bit of a title or author name, and all the matching pop up (e.g. I'll type "can" and I get "Candice Jones" from my author list and "Candyland" from my book list right away, and can chose which I'm looking for).

As for which one you would prefer between Kindle & Kobo:

- If you are purchasing/borrowing epubs and especially if you live outside of the US, I would recommend Kobo (native support for epubs, libraries more likely to support, especially in Canada where Kobo was developed).

- If you have lots of Amazon books already (.mobi or their own format), then I've heard Kindles can be cheaper and/or have better features.
posted by jb at 10:11 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have to say that the thing I enjoy most about my Kobo is that the one I bought is waterproof. I really like relaxing in the bathtub while reading. I see that there was a waterproof Kindle released last month. A must-have feature for me.

On my Kobo, loading via USB used to be much faster than wireless. However, they did a recent update that drastically sped up wireless speeds, at least for me, and I don't bother with hooking the Kobo up to the computer anymore unless I am loading a third-party book. The charger for my phone works with my Kobo, which is nice.

I haven't had any problems with the Kobo not recognizing outside files. I did have to register with Adobe Digital Editions to use some pdfs from my school library. No problems after that.
posted by Quonab at 11:33 AM on November 13, 2018

Yeah, I love my kindle but I would still second jb that browsing interfaces (choosing books, organizing, browsing goodreads, etc.) are inherently worse on e-ink devices since the little beads are slower to change. We've become accustomed to really quick response times and super-sensitive touchscreens and those e-ink screens can't really provide that in the same way.

I find that the transition time feels completely fine/un-noticeable while I'm reading, so for me it's very worth it, but it's part of the nature of the beast for all non-reading tasks. For that reason, some people just try to do those tasks within calibre. Otherwise, they do require a measure of patience. If neither of those options work for you, you might prefer to stick with the mini (no judgment, it might just be better for you!)
posted by mosst at 1:16 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I manage my e-books on a laptop with Calibre (for conversions, tagging, metadata, etc.), and then I push a subset of them onto the Kindle every so often.

With fewer things to page through, the poky interface doesn't bother me much....and once I have a book open, it's fine. But dog help me if I wanted to search for something on the Kindle, ugh!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:18 PM on November 13, 2018

Also, Calibre is from here:
posted by wenestvedt at 1:19 PM on November 13, 2018

I have never been able to read a Nook book natively on a Nook or in the Nook app unless I'm logged in to my B&N account, even if it's downloaded onto the device.

You mean you need an active internet connection, because that can't be right? I have a Nook in front of me and it's only every connected to a network when I want to download new files. What you describe isn't normal (or I'm misunderstanding it).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:28 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's Never Lurgi yes, I need to be logged in with an active internet connection. I haven't tried it with an actual Nook since I sent the last one back, but with the Nook app on my computer (because that's the only way to download Nook books) I either have to be actively logged in to my B&N account or enter the credit card number associated with my B&N account. I just tried it. I haven't tried the Nook app on the mini in a few years, but I do recall that I deleted the app and went with iBooks (at the time) because I couldn't read Nook books if I was in airplane mode. I have no idea why, and frankly, I have no real desire to wade through customer service to figure it out. (The only Nook in the house is so old that B&N no longer supports it, or I'd try it again.)
posted by jlkr at 1:54 PM on November 13, 2018

I have a Kindle Paperwhite which is never, ever online, nor is it synced to an Amazon account. I use Calibre on my desktop and load everything onto the Kindle via USB. It is really easy, I have never had any problems, and I LOVE the Paperwhite. I also used to use a keyboard Kindle (which I still have) and this device is so super much better.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 4:47 PM on November 13, 2018

I just replaced my 7-year-old Kindle Keyboard with the new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite. I haven't gotten it yet, but I was able to sideload fine from Calibre to Kindle via USB. Just make sure you've installed the DRM removal plugins so that you can mass-convert all of your epubs to mobi format in Calibre.
posted by serelliya at 1:42 PM on November 14, 2018

Thanks all!

I'm keeping an eye on Paperwhites -- they'll go on sale sometime within the next couple of weeks, I'm sure.
posted by jlkr at 10:48 AM on November 15, 2018

The Nook app may be different, but you definitely don't need to be logged in with the Nook device (which I have and like).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:49 PM on November 19, 2018

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