The first models of electronic book readers, created about 25 years ago, weighed more than a pound and had to be connected to a computer. These clunky panels paved the way for modern, lightweight devices that can download the latest bestsellers and old classics (which are often free) in seconds.
E-book hardware and reading apps continue to evolve, so if you’re looking to upgrade your device, find a gift idea, or start e-reading, here’s a guide.
Choose your material
You can read e-books on e-readers, smartphones, tablets, computers, and other devices. Before choosing a device, think about what you want to read.
If you prefer text books, an e-reader like an Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, or Rakuten Kobo makes sense. Compared to tablets, the paper-like monochrome displays are easier on the eyes, the devices have great battery life, and there are no interruptions to other apps.
If you enjoy reading comics, picture books, digital magazines, and other visual materials, you should consider a tablet with a large color screen. With a tablet or phone, you can use one device for a variety of tasks and entertainment options.
Text-only books also work well on these, though screen glare and eye strain can get in the way of your reading.
If you need advice on which e-reader to buy, Wirecutter, the New York Times-owned product review site, recommends Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite Kids as the top e-reader choice this year, along with the Kobo Clara HD and the Kobo Libra. 2 as alternatives.
The site also offers recommendations for the best tablets at various price points, favoring Apple’s iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 Lite and the Amazon Fire HD8.
If you’re upgrading your hardware, consider donating your old Kindle or iPad to an organization that can reuse it, after erasing your personal information.
Choose your platform
An e-book reader allows you to purchase and download books directly over a wireless connection. If you already have a phone, tablet, or computer and want to buy eBooks, you can install one or more eBookstore apps on it and create an account.
Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Rakuten Kobo all have Android and iOS apps that let you read eBooks, organize your library, and listen to audiobooks (or books with built-in text narration).
These digital bookstores also offer desktop software or browser-based reading options, which can be ideal for those who prefer to read on a large desktop screen.
A word of warning: you can’t buy e-books directly from these apps. You have to purchase the book or other content from the company’s website, thanks to Apple and Google’s in-app purchase policies, and then your books are delivered electronically to your app.
And app store owners have their own rules. The Apple Books app lets you purchase content directly on your Apple hardware. The browser-based Google Play Books & Audiobooks has apps for Android and iOS, but iOS users must purchase content from the web first.
Adjust your screen
Once you’ve downloaded a book, explore your device and app settings to customize your reading experience, such as enlarging the text.
The steps vary by app and device, but tapping the top of the screen usually reveals a toolbar where you can adjust the font, font size, spacing lines and the background color of your e-book. (The iOS 16 update to Apple Books moves its menu and toolbar to the bottom of the screen.)
If you want to look up a word in the dictionary or Wikipedia, translate a phrase, highlight a passage, make a note, or look up the book, press and hold your finger on the screen over the text until a bar appears. tools appears with reference and annotation options.
In addition to reference tools, some Kindle books include Amazon’s X-Ray, a feature that provides character, plot, and background information.
When you’re ready to take a break, you can usually tap in the top right corner to set a bookmark. If you use your Books app on multiple devices, bookmarks and other annotations can be set to sync so you don’t lose your place.
find free books
Online bookstores offer sample chapters to try before you buy, and most also offer free public domain books.
Check with your local library to see if they lend e-books to their cardholders. Libraries using the OverDrive distribution system typically lend digital materials through the Libby app for Android and iOS. (However, the New York Public Library uses the SimplyE app for Android and iOS.)
The Internet Archive, a vast repository of digitized content, has books in the public domain as well as an online lending library. The Google Books website is another mine of digitized books and digital text. many titles are free, but the site directs users to stores and libraries for copyrighted works.
Finally, there’s Project Gutenberg, a site that offers free downloads of 60,000 public domain books in a variety of file formats. The site’s founder, Michael Hart, is often credited with creating the first modern e-book available for download when he typed the Declaration of Independence into a university mainframe on July 4, 1971.