Ereader recommendation
March 20, 2020 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering buying an e-ink reader for the first time. What models should I look at?

After reading this thread introduced me to the wonders of Calibre, I have been enjoying reading ebooks on my phone.

Now that I'm going to be spending lots of time at home and access to paper library books is limited, I'm thinking a dedicated e-ink reader seems worth trying.

Ideal uses:
- Read Calibre books. I'll never use a dedicated store, so amazon or whatever ecosystem doesn't matter
- Read at night. Backlight or frontlight needed.
- Read PDFs of scientific papers. So probably a 10" or larger screen is best.
- Annotate scientific PDFs. Decent storage would be good for this.
- Use as a digital notebook.
- (maybe) Access kids' distance learning resources that are Android apps. This makes me consider an Android ereader.

I don't care that much about portability or battery life right now when I have nowhere to go. I'm looking at the Onyx Boox Note 2. Good idea? Bad idea? What else should I look at?
posted by medusa to Shopping (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I just got a cheap Kindle, and having the backlight is really all I needed.

I also load mine from a Calibre library, and it's awesome.

PDFs will always be shabby on an ereader display, I fear, especially if they have stuff like scatterplots and finely-drawn art.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:22 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

Love my kindle.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 5:39 PM on March 20

I think you’re out of luck: nobody makes an e-ink reader that is good for reading and annotating scientific PDFs. You’ll have to give up either e-ink or ease of use with journal articles, for now.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:34 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]

I don't think you'll find something that will do all of those things well. If your impetus is that you can't get paper books from the library anymore, maybe just get a comparatively cheap, comparatively small e-ink kindle or similar that will be a great substitute for library books, and get a different tablet for the other tasks. A smaller ereader (not 10"--kindles are 6 or 7 inches) will probably be more comfortable to hold in different positions while you're reading and will also allow you to mentally separate business from pleasure (assuming you were doing recreational reading with paper library books and that annotating scientific PDFs is for work or school rather than for fun...)
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:51 PM on March 20

There's a new ReMarkable device coming out, which is supposed to be designed for annotations and note-taking.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:11 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]

You're not getting very good advice upthread IMO (except for the advice about screen size and how that affects the pleasure reading experience). I've used Sony Digital Paper, reMarkable, and various Onyx and Likebook readers and this is my report:

Sony is an amazing reader because it renders PDFs native size, but it has many quirks -- you have to charge the stylus, you have to use a proprietary app to get PDFs on and off it, it's a little too big to carry comfortably, has no light, plus it doesn't work to read books unless you're reading PDFs, so emphatically not recommended for your use.

reMarkable is most excellent for note-taking but sucks for reading, handles PDFs awkwardly (too small/bad cropping functions), the first version had a greyish tint to the screen, and it also doesn't have a light. Not recommended for your use.

So yes, what you want is an Onyx (though maybe the newest Likebook would work too -- the Alita has an SD card slot, which is nice). I have the Note 2 and it does everything you want. It reads Calibre books, it handles PDFs really well (check out "article mode" shown in this medium post, which is the way I like to read, but you can crop, read in landscape, or reflow too), it's a good notetaker, and it can run Android apps (though since they're all optimized for LCD some of them are nonfunctional on e-ink, because the colors make things unreadable). You have to be a little willing to tinker to get really happy with an Onyx or Likebook, they're not seamless like an iPad, I haven't been able to get my data to sync in a graceful way and occasionally the English in the OS is weird or something will appear in Chinese -- but I use mine every day and I really get a lot out of it.

The one extra thing to think about, though, is do you really need it to be so big? How much is scientific PDF reading central to your purchase? Because "article mode" would work on most articles on an Onyx Nova Pro or a Likebook Ares also, and then you're looking at a substantially smaller/cheaper device that's also more the size of a paperback for when you want to hit the pleasure reading.

(Also, for posterity's sake, the best e-ink ereader forum is Mobilereads, where there are also people selling used devices -- and if you aren't satisfied with answers you get here, or if you need help setting your device up once you've got it, I advise checking them out. There are also decent e-ink/ereader forums on reddit and Onyx has a lively Facebook group.)
posted by hungrytiger at 7:49 PM on March 20 [10 favorites]

I have a kobo glo which I like but I can confirm it doesn't work for papers or as a digital notebook. I use a tablet for those.
posted by mark k at 7:52 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I have a coworker who uses a Onyx for taking notes during meetings, and he loves it.
posted by devrim at 8:50 PM on March 20

We just got a Kobo for our girls, because here in Australia there's a service for library borrowing that will not work with Kindle, but does work with Kobo.
posted by kandinski at 9:07 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

My mum's been through a few Kobos while reading the complete works of....George Elliot, John Galsworthy, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Wilkie Collins, John Galsworthy, Luisa May Alcott, Thomas Hardy, Elisabeth Gaskell, Henry James, Alexander Dumas, George Gissing, and Anthony Trollop...over the past 7 or 8 years.

Last Xmas I got her a Kobo Forma. While she had to send the first one back, the second has been pretty reliable, except for requiring periodic reboots. The best feature is that she can very easily access books from her local library. For her (an 8o+ year old) and me, it's easier than finding and side loading them with Caliber. It's got a big, gently lit screen and an ergonomic grip. It's her favourite Kobo so far. She lives in a small Canadian town - the fact that she can put in a request for a book, read it and know that it'll be automatically returned, is amazing to her.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:37 PM on March 20

Update: I got the Onyx Boox Note 2 and it's great. Reading and annotating PDFs in article mode is fantastic. I wish I'd bought an ereader ages ago. Thanks.
posted by medusa at 2:44 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]

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