Is the Quality of eBook Readers Declining?


A reader sent in an email over the weekend commenting about how they were at a retail store and noticed some ereaders on display, and they thought the build quality of current devices is vastly inferior to what was available a few years ago.

In some ways I have to agree with that sentiment. The overall quality of the lower-end ereaders has gotten worse over the past few years, or has flatlined at best.

The entry-level Kindle Touch is a good example of this.

It has a blocky plastic design that feels and looks like a cheap child’s toy. Not only that but it’s actually a downgrade from the Kindle Touch that was released 3 years earlier in terms of overall features.

Sure, the page turns are slightly faster now and the software is more developed, but the build quality of the $79 Kindle is clearly inferior in every single way to the original Kindle Touch that was released way back in 2011.

The same kind of things can be said about the Kobo Touch 2.0. It’s actually a downgrade from the original Kobo Touch as well, and the build quality has gotten noticeably cheaper.

Think back a few years ago when Sony was still in the ereader game. Their older models had such nice build quality with the aluminum frames. Now everything is just cheap plastic.

There are some exceptions to the noticeable decline in ereader quality. The Kindle Voyage and Nook GlowLight Plus have definitely taken a step forward over previous models in terms of hardware quality.

Adding waterproofing is nice advancement too, like on the Kobo Aura H2O, but in a lot of ways ereaders have gotten cheaper and more generic.

Sure, there’s been some improvements in quality over the past few years, but there’s also been a lot of stagnation and decline as well.

10 Responses to “Is the Quality of eBook Readers Declining?”

  1. It’s funny you should mention that, because I was thinking recently that I’ve been less and less pleased with the software, too. There may be things that are technically advancements, like faster page turns, but I never thought the page turns were slow or needed improving when I entered the e-reader game in 2010.
    I guess I am personally ok with this, as I have way too many e-readers to need any temptation to buy more, but it makes me worry about the long-term for the market, if new adopters are being introduced to an inferior product.

    • Good point. I mentioned the same kind of issue when I reviewed the $79 Kindle. It’s such an ugly cheap blocky piece of plastic that I think it’s doing more harm than good in regards to people’s perception of Kindles and ereaders in general. The old school Kindle Touch was much nicer and had much better build quality, and it only sold for $20 more with audio support. Also the lack of a frontlight really hinders the reading experience in a lot of ways. If I would have started out with the $79 Kindle I probably would have hated ereading and never given it a fair chance.

      • I think another factor is that the smartphone is only getting more and more ubiquitous, and the tablet is not far behind. I had a flip-phone when I started collecting e-readers, but if I’d only discovered digital reading now, I’m sure I’d dip my toe in with a device I already had and constantly used. To convince new adopters that a dedicated reader is necessary at all, I totally agree that the quality needs to keep going up (or the price coming down), not the other way around.

  2. What ereader would you recommend that has a front light, multilanguage dictionary and audio player?
    The reason the ereader industry is in a lull is because everyone is waiting for a fully functional e-ink tablet.

    • I’d recommend a Kindle or Kobo and an MP3 player. You’re not going to find an ereader with audio support anymore except a few Android ereaders, and they’re all too flaky to consider “the best”.

      Also, I don’t see E Ink Android ereaders getting anymore fully functional than they already are. E Ink as a technology has pretty much peaked. Refresh rates are never going to get anywhere close to LCD and neither is color.

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  4. Nathan — I agree. yes great advice if you need audio support — get a separate inexpensive mp3 player. Hard to find this feature anymore in e-readers.

  5. There are several e-readers that are water resistant, which I think is a great feature if you do a lot of reading outdoors, at the beach or by the pool.

    Great use case — why risk damaging an expensive tablet reading by the pool.

  6. Build quality on my Sony PRS-T1 is amazing. Have had it almost 3 years and it is still going strong.

    I agree e-reading technology seems to have peaked. Page turns are fast enough, and scree resolution is really good these days.

    The only thing I would like is a replaceable battery, although wouldn’t be good for e-reader business.

  7. Have to buy second hand from CEX shop etc.
    Last Sony with Audio was PRS-T1.
    Best for Rolls Royce Build Quality for me was Sony PRS-650 Metal Body with integrated leather case. Audio but no light.
    Sad the Amazon ripped the market to bits.