Welcome to Engadget's back to school guide! Today, we're taking a look at your best e-reader options. Head to the back to school hub to see the rest of the product guides as we add them throughout the month. Be sure to keep checking back; in early September, we'll be giving away a ton of gear, including some of the picks in our guides.
Schoolbooks? What is this, the late 20th century? Granted, we still have a ways to go before all the world's textbooks go digital, but e-readers should be able to stand in for most of those paperbacks, at least. So lose a little backpack weight, save a couple of trees and take notes without ruining your copy. We have got your e-reader needs covered, no matter what your back to school budget.
On the cheap
Kobo gets some serious credit for going out on a bit of a limb in the past year. For those not looking to spend an arm and a leg (and let's face it, it's easier to read with two hands), the Canadian-turned-Japanese company has shaken up the standard 6-inch form factor -- ever so slightly -- with this 5-incher. The Mini is lightweight, affordable and easy to use, and it's small enough to slip into a pocket. Still, the size does have a few trade-offs, including a predictable loss of reading real estate on that smaller display.
Key specs: 5-inch Pearl E Ink display, 2GB built-in storage, 800MHz processor.
Price: $79 from Kobo
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Amazon's dropped the price of its non-touch Kindle to an extremely appealing $69. There are a few key sacrifices here too, of course. First, that price includes Special Offers. Second, this guy doesn't have a touchscreen or keyboard, so when you're searching for something in the store, typing is a bit of a pain. Still, this is far and away the cheapest way to get yourself a new Kindle.
Price: $69 (With Special Offers) on Amazon
Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch
Good e-readers don't die; they just get deeply discounted. When the similarly specced Simple Touch with GlowLight became the centerpiece of Barnes & Noble's e-reader lineup last year, the bookseller cut this model's already low price down to $99. A year since our last back to school guide, and the ergonomic reader comes in just under the $80 price point.
Price: $79 from Barnes & Noble
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble all have solid offerings in the e-reader space -- in many cases utilizing the same or extremely similar components. So, how do you pick a winner? For starters, there's Amazon's expansive e-book selection -- and let's face it, whether or not you own a Kindle, you've no doubt already got an Amazon account. There's also some great software on board, such as the Time to Read and X-Ray features. Finally, the Paperwhite's front lighting also improves on the Nook display's bluish cast by leaps and bounds.
Key specs: 6-inch Paperwhite built-in light display, 2GB built-in storage, 800MHz processor.
Price: $119 (with Special Offers) on Amazon
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Kobo blew us away with the front lighting on the Glo, besting both Barnes & Noble's and Amazon's offerings (though the Paperwhite still comes out on top overall). The reader's design isn't particularly inspired, but if you find yourself already locked into the Kobo ecosystem, the Glo's a great option.
Price: $130 from Kobo
Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight
The first of the big three to hit the market with a front-lit option, the GlowLight was novel, but quickly eclipsed by Amazon and Kobo in terms of quality. Still, this is a solid option, particularly given the Nook's contoured design, which sits nicely in your hand for long reads.
Price: $119 from Barnes & Noble
The tablet reader
Barnes & Noble Nook HD+
There was a lot to like about the Nook HD+ when it dropped at the end of last year. At the top of the heap was that lovely 1,920 x 1,280 display, complementing the tablet's snappy processor and tailor-made reading experience. There was just one major caveat: a limited app selection. Thankfully, things changed back in May, when the company opened the tablet up to Google Play, making this a terrific offering for its price.
Key specs: 9-inch (1,920 x 1,280) display, 16 / 32GB storage, 1.5GHz dual-core processor.
Price: $149 (16GB), $179 (32GB) from Barnes & Noble
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Amazon Kindle Fire HD
The centerpiece of the Fire HD is an 8.9-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 IPS LCD (there's also a 7-inch version, mind). There's no Google Play access, but Amazon has plenty of entertainment options to keep you busy, and interested parties can soup things up with some optional LTE.
Price: $269 (16GB with Special Offers) on Amazon
Google Play access? The Arc's had that since the beginning. Priced from $199, the tablet also has frugality on its side. Compared to Kobo's prior offering, the Vox, this e-reader is a huge improvement. Hardware-wise, though, Barnes & Noble and Amazon both beat the Arc.
Price: $199 (16GB), $249 (32GB), $299 (64GB) at Kobo