Choosing the best ereader for your needs will largely depend on where you live which brands you have easy access to. And with two big names currently dominating the market, the choice might be easier, coming down to Amazon's Kindles and Rakuten's Kobo ereaders.
But what exactly is the difference between the two and does it really matter which one you choose? While ereaders in general are similar to each other, each brand offers something a little different in terms of features.
To help you make the best buying choice possible, we've put together this little guide to help you answer the ereader conundrum of Kindle vs Kobo – which is best.
Kindle, of course, is owned by Amazon, while Japanese company Rakuten owns Kobo. Both make exquisite ereaders to suit all types of readers and budgets, but they are cut from different cloth. There are other players in the ereader market, of course, with the likes of Onyx Boox, Barnes & Noble's Nook ereaders and even PocketBook offering alternatives, but their availability around the world is limited and, even though they can be imported, can cost a pretty penny to do so.
That leaves Kindles and Kobos as the main choice, so here’s what you need to know before you buy.
Kindle vs Kobo price and available models
When it comes to the different models, Kobo provides the larger range in most markets as compared to Kindle.
Currently, there are seven Kobo ereaders in the range, with only the 8-inch Forma unavailable in the US (refurbished Formas can be purchased):
• the basic 6-inch Kobo Nia ($109.99 / £94.99 / AU$159.95)
• the 6-inch Kobo Clara 2E ($139.99 / £129.99 / AU$229.95)
• the mid-range 7-inch Kobo Libra 2 ($189.99 / £169.99 / AU$299.99)
• the 8-inch Kobo Forma (£239.99 / AU$429.95 – unavailable in the US)
• the 8-inch Kobo Sage with stylus support ($269.99 / £259.99 / AU$459.95)
• the 10.3-inch stylus-toting Kobo Elipsa ($399.99 / £349.99 / AU$599.95)
• the newly released 10.3-inch Kobo Elipsa 2E ($399.99 / £349.99 / AU$599.95)
In the second half of 2022, Kobo quietly increased the prices of older ereaders released prior to that timeline, so the likes of the Libra 2, Sage and the Nia are slightly costlier than at launch. Only the Kobo Forma and the older Elipsa Pack still carry the same price they arrived with. And that makes the available Kindles a little cheaper but, again, not all models are available in all regions.
The Kindle range starts with:
• the basic 6-inch Kindle released in 2022 ($119.99 / £94.99 / AU$179)
• the 6-inch 2022 Kindle Kids ($109.99 / £99.99 – unavailable in Australia)
• the 6.8-inch Kindle Paperwhite Kids ($159.99 / £149.99 – unavailable in Australia)
• the 6.8-inch Kindle Paperwhite from 2021 ($139.99 / £139.99 / AU$239)
• the 6.8-inch Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition ($189 / £179.99 / AU$289)
• the 7-inch Kindle Oasis ($249.99 / £229.99 / AU$399)
• the 10.3-inch stylus-toting Kindle Scribe (from $339.99 / £339.99 / AU$549.99)
It’s worth knowing that some of the Kindles are available for a slightly lower price in the UK and the US if you don’t mind seeing adverts. All prices listed above are for the no-ads version of the Kindle models.
Kindle vs Kobo design, display and features
When it comes to screen technology, both Kobo and Kindle ereaders are pretty much the same across the board. All the newer models (launched since 2021) use the E Ink Carta 1200 display that makes text appear sharper, with better screen contrast, as compared to the older E Ink Carta HD tech.
The lowest screen resolution was on the 10th-generation Amazon Kindle at 167ppi. While it's still available to buy in some markets, it's been replaced by the 2022 11th-gen Kindle that boasts a 300ppi screen resolution. That mean, the lowest resolution is now on the Kobo Nia at 212ppi. All the current 6.8-inch, 7-inch and 8-inch models also have a 300ppi screen resolution across both brands. However, in terms of design, every Kobo screen is covered in plastic, while Kindle has a couple of models that's topped with glass, giving them a premium look.
Speaking of 8-inch models, you'll find those only with Kobo.
IPX8 water resistance is available from both (except on the 10.3-inch models from both brands), as are adjustable illuminated displays for reading in the dark. Most of the higher-end models also allow you to change the hue (or temperature) of the light from cold to warmer yellow for nighttime reading. However, only the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition has a front light with an ambient light sensor that auto-adjusts its brightness. That device is also capable of wireless charging, which Kobo doesn’t offer at all.
A new and increasingly popular feature available from both Kobo and Kindle is Bluetooth, great for pairing wireless earphones, primarily for listening to audiobooks. The same goes for page-turn buttons on the models with an asymmetric design, which make it easier to navigate a book while holding an ereader in one hand.
Kindle vs Kobo storage and connectivity
Current ereaders from both Kobo and Kindle go from 8GB through to 64GB (the high-end Kindle Scribe) of onboard storage, with all Kobo models from the LIbra 2 and higher-end offer 32GB as default. We’re not convinced that internal storage is hugely important unless you intend to cram an insane number of audiobooks onto your ereader at the same time, as otherwise, the basic 8GB can store many hundreds of ebooks.
Kobo devices offer basic Wi-Fi across the entire range, which will suffice for most users, and that’s true on most Kindles, too, although dual-band Wi-Fi is now available on the newer Paperwhite models.
Amazon used to give Kindle users cellular connectivity for downloading ebooks too (and checking email) while away from Wi-Fi, though that’s now only an option on its flagship Kindle Oasis.
Kindle vs Kobo software, side-loading and storefronts
The most important differences between the Kindle and Kobo are in their software. Both devices are slick enough, especially since Kindle revamped its OS in 2021. Since then, it's become very Kobo-like, and now it's very difficult to tell them apart or decide which one is the better of the two.
Depending on which ereader model you buy from either brand, your home screen setup will appear differently, with the number of tabs at the bottom changing if you have a note-taking ereader. Kobo’s OS is a bit more comprehensive here, with multiple tabs for ebooks, notes and Kobo’s own store.
Both ereaders offer direct access to online stores hosting many millions of ebooks. The major difference between Kindle and Kobo is that the former is locked to the Amazon store and the latter offers a more widely accessible experience. Kindles are best for those happy to download ebooks (and Audible audiobooks) to their device only from Amazon, whether via one-time downloads or while using Kindle Unlimited and/or Amazon Prime Reading.
However, Kindles only support AZW ebook files and not EPUB. While it’s possible to convert and transfer other document formats onto Kindle (principally by emailing documents for conversion or by using third-party software, like Calibre), it’s time-consuming.
On the other hand, Kobo offers unlimited reading via Kobo Plus in some markets, while its ereaders natively support all kinds of file formats from EPUB and MOBI to PDF and CBZ and CBR Comic Book formats, all of which can be side-loaded. Kobo will also allow you to side-load custom fonts too, including Amazon's own (and rather popular) Bookerly.
In short, Amazon Kindles suit anyone willing to get tied up in a relatively closed ecosystem, while Kobo is more open. The only exception that Kobo makes is audiobooks, which will play on it Bluetooth-enabled models when only purchased from the Kobo Store – no side-loaded audiobooks will work on a Kobo.
Kindle vs Kobo note-taking
It’s not much talked about, but ereaders from Kindle and Kobo allow users to highlight passages of text and type notes by pressing, holding and dragging a finger across text. On a Kindle those notes are fully searchable within an online notebook and accessible via the Kindle app on a smartphone.
For Kobo it’s more basic, with no online notebook accessible via the app. However, the step-up Kobo Elipsa and Kobo Sage are note-taking ereaders in their own way, with ‘digitizer’ screens that allow handwriting and drawings to appear when using the Kobo Stylus ($39.99 / £39.99 / AU$69.95).
Kobo released the Elipsa 2E in 2023 which comes with a redesigned Kobo Stylus 2, offering Amazon's Kindle Scribe stiff competition by virtue of its more versatile writing tools.
You can scribble in the margins of ebooks on a Kobo Elipsa, Sage or Elipsa 2E, but not the Kindle Scribe where they're more like sticky notes. You can, however, create notes/notebooks of various kinds on note-taking ereaders from both brands, although the pen types and ink shades are far better on a Kobo. Moreover, Kobo's Advanced Notebooks offer a staggering number of tools that include handwriting recognition for converting your notes to text, plus the capability of inserting drawings, diagrams and formulae into your notes.
Borrowing library books
If you live in the US, your options to borrow ebooks from your local public library are much more. Both Kindle and Kobo ereaders will work, with the latter using OverDrive support to do so.
However, if you live outside the US and you wish to borrow library books, then Kobo should be your port of call. Every single Kobo ereader has OverDrive baked in, so you can check with your local library if support is available. After that, you just need a library card to get set up. Kobo is available in select countries, so you will need to check on library support in your local area before deciding to purchase – in Australia, for example, most public libraries now offer OverDrive support.
There was a time when Kobo would have been your port of call if you wanted to display the book cover on the sleep screen of your ereader, but Kindle now lets you do that too.
However, if you really want to tinker with the parameters of the text, bring in ebooks and documents in several different formats and arrange them in custom collections, then you should be looking at a Kobo ereader. That goes double if you live outside the US and are keen on borrowing library books.
However, if you’re a bit less demanding and you’re fine with just downloading books from Amazon, a Kindle is probably going to be the most convenient option for you. Or if you live in the US, where there's wider library support for Kindles.
Either way, both of these brands make excellent ereaders and we've reviewed the lot. Check the links throughout this feature to find learn more on any of the ereaders mentioned, or check our best ereader guide to find the best fit for you from other brands as well.