Sunday, March 29, 2020

Kindle vs Kobo: the best ereaders for Australians in 2020

With both the Federal and state/territory governments asking Australians to stay indoors to curb the community spread of the novel coronavirus, many of us have found ourselves with a few extra spare hours each day to spend. 

While you could use that time to binge watch shows on Netflix or Stan, or get some pending DIY projects done and dusted, you could also spend that time catching up on your reading.

However, many booksellers and libraries across the country are now closed, although you can still buy and borrow ebooks. To read the digital versions of your favourite books, though, you will need a dedicated ereader, a device that can be fairly easy to dismiss if you've got a modern big-screen smartphone or tablet and using Amazon's Kindle app to get your ebook fix.

According to a 2014 report from the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning, however, the way we read on our smartphones and PCs is different from how we read on paper. Thanks to the internet, we've trained our eyes to skim and dart around on screens, constantly hunting for the information we're after – a non-linear behaviour the Stanford paper calls 'surface reading'.

When reading from a paper book, by contrast, our brains switch to a more concentrated form of information processing – dubbed 'deep reading' – and it's a mode that actually helps us better absorb and comprehend what's on the page.

To us, that sounds like a great argument for giving books their own space, away from the distractions of apps and constant notifications on our modern do-all devices.

And while there's certainly something irreplaceable about curling up with a good hardcover or paperback, nothing beats the convenience of a digital device when it comes to size and browsing for new books – but with a dedicated ereader, you can arguably have the advantages of both.

By design, they're a simpler device made for the singular purpose of reading – and they have advantages too, such as batteries that last weeks rather than hours, and much-clearer legibility in direct sunlight.

There are only two companies that sell their ereaders in Australia: Amazon (with its range of Kindle ereaders) and Kobo. We've divided this page with into two sections to highlight the best both companies have to offer, so you can choose which ereader works best for you.

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If money is no object and you want the most luxurious reading experience a digital ebook reader can give you, then it doesn't get any better than the 2019 version of Amazon's Kindle Oasis.

While the older 2018 model is also still available on Amazon, the new model is lighter than its predecessor, and its IPX8 waterproofing means it can easily handle an accidental dunk in the bath or the pool.

The backlight can be adjusted from white to warmer yellow hues to reduce eye strain, and it can even be scheduled to become warmer at bedtime (say, 9:30pm for example).

There's also the usual Kindle Oasis features we saw in the previous generation – a high-quality and large 7-inch display with E Ink technology that makes words on the page crisp and clear, and a 'ridge' on one side of the sleek-looking aluminium chassis that has been designed for easy and comfortable single-hand use.

The buttons to turn pages are within easy for the thumb even if you have small mitts, and the device can be turned upside down for use with either hand, with the pages swapping automatically to suit.

WhisperSync support means you can stop reading on your Oasis and pick up reading where you left on the Kindle app, or another Kindle device, although this will require your devices to be on the same W-Fi network.

There's also plenty of storage space onboard, with 8GB being the starting point, but you can get a 32GB version of the Oasis if you've got (or planning on having) a large digital library. The base model comes with Wi-Fi enabled, but there is an LTE option as well, which allows you to download ebooks from the Kindle Store no matter where you are.

It's the ereader that comes with all the bells and whistles, if you can stomach the premium price.

Read the full review: Amazon Kindle Oasis 

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There was a time when Amazon had a Kindle called Voyage, but that has been discontinued. Instead, some of the features from the Voyage have been added to the Kindle Paperwhite, making it one of the best, affordable Kindles till date.

The new Paperwhite is thinner and lighter than the previous generation, and offers 8GB of storage on its base model – twice that on the predecessor. Like the Oasis, though, you can opt for a 32GB flavour as well, in case you'd like to store a staggering number of ebooks on the device. And, like the Oasis, there are Wi-Fi and 4G models available too.

The 6-inch screen is a gorgeous HD display with 300ppi pixel density that makes the words on the page appear sharp and clear, even in bright sunlight. The built-in light can be adjusted from white to warmer hues to reduce eye strain, although you can't schedule the light to change for nighttime reading as you can with the Oasis.

Compared to the Oasis' sleek, premium design, the Paperwhite's chassis is rather boring and feels plasticky in the hand, but it's remarkably functional, as long as you don't need need to use it with a single hand. 

Thanks to its IPX8 waterproofing, you can safely relax in the bath or lounge by the pool with your favourite titles and not worry about it falling into the water.

Battery life doesn't seem to be as good as it was in the older version, but you'll still get days of use out a single charge with the current model of the Paperwhite. 

Read the full review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

These are unprecedented times and everyone is budget conscious at the moment. So if you'd like an ereader that won't burn a hole in your pocket, then Amazon's latest Kindle is for you.

It retails for AU$139 a pop, but you get what you pay for. It's an entry-level, no-frills device that comes with a backlight which cannot be adjusted. The 6-inch display is glare-free but it's not the sharpest screen available on the Kindle range.

That said, the screen is adequate for reading indoors, the battery will see you through a few days of reading and you'll get up to 8GB of storage (with the base model coming with 4GB).

The user interface is basic but intuitive and makes readying digital books and magazines a breeze. It's also slim and light, making a highly portable library for all the titles you own.

Read the full review: Amazon Kindle

The Forma is Kobo's answer to the Kindle Oasis, albeit with a much steeper price tag.  Like it's Amazon competition, the Forma has an asymmetrical design that's meant to make prolonged one-handed holding comfortable. Where the Forma one-ups the Kindle – and perhaps attempts to justify its AU$30 price premium over the AU$399 Oasis – is by adding an extra inch to the display, for an expansive 8-inches in total.  

Despite the size disparity, both premium ereaders have similar weights, although the Forma's plastic body tends to lose its shiny look over time and use. But while the Oasis’ metal exterior certainly feels more durable, it's also much more slippery. The Forma's rubbery and textured back, on the other hand, means that despite its bigger size your grip never wavers and its bigger footprint helps keep that weight feel more evenly distributed. 

You can hold the Forma in either your left or right hand (or even in landscape) and the display orientation automatically rotates within a couple of seconds of switching. And it’s clear the Forma uses newer and snappier E Ink tech than Kobo’s previous flagship device, the Aura One, with full screen refreshes required less often and a touch more responsiveness when turning pages or using the onscreen keyboard. It’s fast.  

As is common with all Kobo devices from the last few years, the Forma's backlight also offers colour-temperature adjustment, so you can opt for an orangey-yellow light tone rather than the standard (and potentially sleep-disrupting) blue light, which can even be scheduled.  

Unlike the Oasis, though, there's only a single 8GB version of the Forma available but   it's the reading experience that ultimately counts, though, and the Forma undoubtedly shines in that regard: it’s asymmetrical design and large screen do undeniably make it more comfortable to use for long periods, and it's user interface has a lot more features than the Kindle alternatives, particularly when it comes to organising your library. 

Another advantage to using a Kobo ereader is OverDrive support, which allows users to borrow books from their local libraries – and most of the libraries in Australia allow you to do so. So if you’re an ebook junkie looking for an ereader that can keep pace, this one’s got the goods. 

Read the full review: Kobo Forma

Kobo's Clara HD ereader is more than capable of giving its direct competition – Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite – a run for its money. Priced cheaper than its Kindle counterpart, the Clara HD manages to outperform Amazon's most popular ereader in almost every area that matters.

Key among those is the screen. The Clara HD's 6-inch front-lit display matches the Kindle for sharpness (both are 300ppi) but integrates a blue-light filter which uses your timezone to automatically change screen brightness at night to reduce your exposure to sleep-disrupting blue light. It fits that display into a compact body that's lighter than the Paperwhite, making it easier to slip into just about any bag.

Cover art and text are rendered at a higher DPI (dots per inch) on the Clara HD than other older Kobo ereaders, making them appear significantly sharper in comparison. The Clara HD also introduces a new 'rapid page turn' engine which allows you to quickly move forward in an ebook by holding down the bottom left corner of the screen. The slight caveat is that this feature only works with KEPUB ebooks, i.e. the ones bought directly from Kobo.

The responsiveness of the new E-Ink screen was also much faster and more precise than we're used to seeing on either Kindle of Kobo ereaders, which makes things like text selection for dictionary lookup (or highlighting  and note-taking) much less hit-and-miss than before. It also has wireless OverDrive functionality, so you can browse and borrow from your local library's ebook collection directly on the device.

With battery life that lasts a few of weeks, the Clara HD is a feature-packed device with a display that's the best-in-class for an ereader at this price point.

Read the full review: Kobo Clara HD

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