The best free ebook reader 2022: enjoy books on your PC or Mac

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

The best free ebook readers improve your reading experience on PC or Mac.

Best free ebook readers

1. Kindle for PC (opens in new tab)

2. Freda (opens in new tab)

3. Calibre (opens in new tab)

4. Sumatra PDF (opens in new tab)

5. Icecream Ebook Reader (opens in new tab)

The best free ebook reader software is great for when you need to get serious reading done. We like to read casually on a Kindle, but often we need more. We need tools at hand for taking notes. We need a bigger display and power to search. When we need more for reading, we turn to an ebook reader on our computer. 

Thankfully, some of the best software for reading ebooks is free. When we look for ebook software, we look for good organization, easy note taking, and synchronization across devices. We can find all of that in our top picks. 

If you're reading on a computer, you are probably dealing with ePub and PDF files. These are the most common free file types for ebooks. An Amazon Kindle cannot handle ePub files, but there are software options below that help you convert to Amazon's format if you want to send your ebook to your Kindle. 

You can find free ebooks from plenty of web sites, and most of our top picks also include a library or catalogue to find more. Your local public library probably has an ebook lending service in place, and these free ebook readers will help you read the titles you borrow. 

Except for Amazon's own Kindle ebook reader site, none of the other ebook readers can display a protected Amazon title, for obvious reasons. There is nothing superior about Amazon files, however, and Amazon even asks authors to submit books in ePub format before it wraps them with copy protection. If you have a large Kindle library, that's the only reason to prefer the Kindle ebook. 

(Image credit: Calibre)

1. Calibre

An open source ebook reader that’s a great choice for students

Reasons to buy

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Choice of reading modes
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Metadata can be edited manually

Reasons to avoid

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Can't read protected Kindle ebooks

Calibre (opens in new tab) is an open source ebook reader and manager that’s lightweight and lightning-fast. Unlike many free ebook readers, Calibre supports Amazon’s AWZ format (though it won’t open DRM-protected files) as well as all the other popular ebook file types, and if any metadata is missing (such as genre or cover art), you can add it yourself using the bookshelf’s options menu.

One of Calibre’s best features is Reference Mode, which displays the current chapter and paragraph number in the top left – ideal if you need to cite references in an essay. We also like Flow Mode, where text is shown as a continuous scrolling stream without page breaks; not as pleasant as simulated page-turning for recreational reading, but a handy time-saver to avoid flicking backwards and forwards through a textbook. 

(Image credit: Turnipsoft)

2. Freda

Premium features for free – Freda is a real rival to Amazon’s crown

Reasons to buy

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Connects to Project Gutenberg
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Bookmarks and annotations

Reasons to avoid

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Can't read protected Kindle books

Freda (opens in new tab) (from the delightfully-named Turnipsoft) is a superb ebook reader that integrates with Project Gutenberg, giving you access to thousands of free ebooks, and Smashwords, where you can find works from independent authors and publishers. Importing your own ebooks is a piece of cake too, with support for all the most popular formats. You can even connect Freda to your Dropbox account enabling you to access books from multiple devices.

Freda supports bookmarks, annotations and highlighting, making it a good choice for students. There’s also text-to-speech for anyone who has trouble with text on screens, as well as auto-scroll and speed-read – a tool that works much like Spritz (opens in new tab), displaying words in quick succession so you can read without moving your eyes. 

Freda is funded by ads, but these are discreet and are only visible on the bookshelf screen; they won’t interrupt your reading.

3.Kindle for PC

The best free ebook reader, whether you use Amazon or not

Reasons to buy

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Compatible with all ebook formats
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Automatic syncing
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Cross-platform

Amazon’s official Kindle app for Windows (opens in new tab) (as well as Mac and mobile devices) is smart and stylish, and although it tempts you with reading suggestions from the Kindle store, the sales pitch isn’t too in-your-face.

There’s no setup necessary if you already have an Amazon account. Just log in with your usual username and password and your virtual shelves will be populated automatically (though you’ll have to click a book’s cover to download it, so bear this in mind if you’re planning some offline reading). Notes and bookmarks are synced across devices automatically, as are flashcards – an extremely useful addition for students using digital textbooks for revision.

Kindle for Windows also includes text-to-speech function, and changing font sizes and color schemes is as simple as clicking or tapping a button.

(Image credit: Sumatra PDF)

4. Sumatra PDF

A PDF, ebook and comic reader that's ideal for multiple PCs

Reasons to buy

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Reads PDFs, ebooks and comics
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No need to install to your PC

Reasons to avoid

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No GUI for some interface options

Despite its name, Sumatra PDF (opens in new tab) is a great little ebook reader, capable of displaying books in EPUB and MOBI format, as well as comic books in CBZ and CBR comic books.

Sumatra PDF is a portable app, so you can save it to a USB stick or cloud storage service and use it on any PC. You can save your ebooks in the same place too, eliminating the need to sync your library.

It’s easy to adjust basic settings like font size, but Sumatra PDF’s advanced options can only be edited by opening a text file and typing in new values. If you want to change the page color, for example, you’ll need to find the hex code for your preferred shade and enter it on the appropriate line. It’s not difficult, but we’d prefer a graphical interface.

There’s no way to add notes or highlights, but the convenience of carrying your ebook library and reader anywhere might outweigh those drawbacks for you.

(Image credit: Icecream)

5. Icecream Ebook Reader

A stylish free ebook reader, but lacking advanced features

Reasons to buy

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Archives and exports ebooks

Reasons to avoid

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Can't read Kindle books
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No annotations or highlighting

Icecream specializes in smart, no-frills software, and Icecream Ebook Reader (opens in new tab) is no exception. It supports EPUB, MOBI, PDF and FB2 ebook formats, and once you’ve imported your books they’re arranged in a neat bookshelf with a choice of viewing options. One particularly handy feature is the ability to archive and export your ebooks; ideal if you use more than one PC and don’t want the hassle of importing your books twice. There’s no cloud syncing though.

The reader itself is similar to the Kindle app in appearance, with one-click (or tap) buttons for changing font size, color theme (day, night, or sepia), and viewing the table of contents.

Unfortunately, some of the options you can see in the menus are only available if you pay for the Pro version. Premium features include importing multiple ebooks simultaneously, adding notes, editing metadata, and copying text.

The free version of Icecream Ebook Reader is quick and very easy to use, but only really suitable for recreational reading. Students will find the lack of note-taking and copying frustrating.

Philip Berne
US Mobiles Editor

Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University. 


Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.

With contributions from