Know your Fire from your Vox with our guide to the ultimate e-readers

Steve Dinneen
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People said e-books would never catch on. For some reason, this was quite often backed up by the argument that e-readers don’t smell like real books. But – and this is no slight on the aroma of the works of Mark Twain – these people were wrong. Retailers are rubbing their hands at the prospect of blistering Christmas sales and the digital word has provided a welcome shot in the arm for publishers.

Amazon has built up a formidable lead in the nascent market, there are a host of challengers worth considering before you part with your money.

Colour e-readers have enjoyed a flurry of publicity since the announcement of the Kindle Fire, which went on sale in the US this month. But colour (and other additional functionality, such as the ability to browse the web) comes at a cost – the more you pack into a reader, the more it weighs, both in your pocket and on your wallet. Whatever you need a reader for – be it beach reading or browsing spreadsheets before a big meeting – our guide will help you choose the right one.

The new six inch Kindle is smaller, lighter and faster than its predecessor – and it was already the e-reader to beat. At just £89 it undercuts all of its rivals without compromising on quality. Amazon has the most comprehensive e-book library out there and its seamless integration with the online book store makes sourcing reading material easy. The e-ink display looks great, with very little glare even in direct sunlight (not that you’ll have to worry about that for a few months) and the page turn speed is impressive. For first-time e-reader buyers who are looking for a gadget that does everything you need without confusing you with options, it’s hard to see past the Kindle.

$199 (US)
The Kindle Fire has been touted as the first real competitor to Apple in the tablet market – but it owes as much to its e-book roots as to the iPad. While it has all the functionality of a tablet, it is also deeply integrated with Amazon’s Kindle store, making it very easy to use. It is sure to pick up people wanting a cheap tablet as well as those after a colour e-reader. Expect it in the UK in spring next year.

This ultra-light reader is one of the best on the market. It fits easily in a suit jacket pocket, making it ideal for commuters. The e-ink display is crisp and easy to read, while the durable rubber coating feels comfortable in your hand. Kobo has teamed up with WH Smith in the UK, giving access to a large catalogue of e-books.

The Vox is the latest reader from Canadian outfit Kobo. This colour version, though, is far less impressive than its little brother. It is thick – almost twice as thick as an iPad, and feels as heavy despite its far smaller screen. It runs on a version of Android, meaning you can browse the web and check emails. But it lacks the flexibility of a tablet, while missing out on the e-ink display of a proper reader. In trying to be all things to all men it falls flat.

The Touch edition of Sony’s reader is an inch bigger than the pocket version (below), although it feels like more. It isn’t just a big screen though: this version also comes with a headphone option for when you want to lie back and enjoy an audio book. It’s solid and has a quality feel to it but – like so many Sony products – the price is the real drawback. At almost the price of a tablet this is very steep.

from £160
If even a smartphone is too bulky for your portable reading needs, then the iPod Touch could be the solution. The ultra-thin device has most of the functionality of an iPhone without the possibility of being hit by a big bill at the end of the month. There are a host of apps for downloading content meaning you won’t be short of reading meterial. The size of the screen, though, makes it uncomfortable to read for long periods.

iPAD 2
from £400
It’s far more than an e-reader but the iPad 2 is still one of the best options for digital book fans who crave a bit of colour in their life. It is sleek, light and incredibly intuitive to use, although the backlit screen is a drawback for anyone planning on reading for long periods. The Kindle app will automatically sync all of your downloaded content onto your iPad but you will have to click through your browser to buy books.

This pocket sized reader is an attractive gadget, with a sleek, aluminium casing. It is light enough to carry without noticing it, while maintaining an air of the luxurious. It comes at a price though – at £160 it comes at a massive premium to the Kindle and all but the most ardent Amazon-haters will find it hard to justify the extra expense.