Best eBook Readers for PDF Reading – 2018 Edition


Sony-DPT-RP1-vs-Onyx-Boox-Max-Carta

Now that 2018 is upon us, it’s long past time for an updated list of the best ebook readers for reading PDFs.

Way back in 2010 I posted an article outlining the best PDF ereaders, and it’s been updated a few times, but things have slowly changed over the years so it’s time for an updated list as we look into 2018.

Note that this list includes ereaders with E Ink screens only.

In many cases you can get an iPad or other tablet for less with a lot more features than a simple ebook reader, so it just depends on what you’re looking for and how much you want to spend.

Given the format, the best ereaders for PDFs are the ones with larger screens.

You can use a small 6-inch Kindle for PDFs, and it works pretty well in landscape mode, but if you want an ereader primarily for PDFs a larger screen is the better way to go.

The Best eReaders for PDFs

Onyx Boox – Onyx offers several large screen ebook readers, including the 10.3-inch Onyx Boox Note and the 13.3-inch Onyx Boox Max2, and there are some other options as well, including the Onyx Boox N96 with a frontlight. Onyx’s PDF software is the most advanced of any ereaders, and their Android OS open to install apps.

Sony DPT-RP1 – The 13.3-inch Sony DPT-RP1 Digital Paper device is a good option for reading PDFs, along with its smaller brother, the 10.3-inch Sony DPT-CP1. The hardware is exceptional and the software is quick and responsive, although it does lack some basic navigation features, like table of contents support and the ability to go back. The Sony DPT-RP1 supports PDF format only so it’s rather limited functionally, but it also doubles as a digital notepad with the included stylus pen.

Kindle Paperwhite – If you want a small and cheap ereader for PDFs, the most economical option is the Kindle Paperwhite 3. Amazon’s PDF software is the same on all Kindles, and all but the entry-level model have 300 ppi screens, so they’re mostly the same, but the Kindle Paperwhite is the best value for an inexpensive PDF reader, as it offers more PDF features than other brands like Kobo and Nook. The Kindle Oasis 2 has a slightly larger 7-inch screen but it’s not large enough to make a difference.

Other Options for PDF eReaders

Kobo Aura One with KOReader – The 7.8-inch Kobo Aura One is another possible option, but the stock software is too basic. You can install KOReader to add a bunch of additional features, but it’s kind of a hassle to deal with and the Aura One’s screen size really isn’t big enough—it’s not significantly better than a 6-inch ereader when it comes to displaying PDFs.

Remarkable – Some people ask about the Remarkable in regards to PDFs but I don’t consider it a viable option because the software is only half-finished. It’s more of a digital notepad than an ereader. If they ever update the software to add more ereading features it might be a decent option but considering the high price it’s hard to imagine it ever being a better choice than Sony or Onyx.

32 Responses to “Best eBook Readers for PDF Reading – 2018 Edition”

  1. I’m curious why PDF gets so much attention on ereader blogs and reviews. Your reviews in particular give it a lot of attention, as do some others.

    Do people use ereaders much for PDF? It seems unlikely to me although I tend to avoid PDF even on a PC for most purposes so I’m probably not the best judge of that.

    I have tried PDF on a Kindle with poor results. It was a book I bought from one of those conversion services a couple of years ago. It didn’t quite fit the page and it was way too much trouble to read it.

    Or are these discussions more hopeful than realistic?

    Barry

    • PDFs are a lot more popular than you’d think, not as ebooks but for school and some fields of work they are very common.

    • Nathan is spot on. Many people might not need PDFs but there are quite a few people that do. I can give a lot of examples where mobi and e-pub just don’t work very well — it’s basically with documents and books that have a lot of illustrations, graphics, tables, and charts… etc…

      For example a math book and other educational and reference books that use graphics, charts, illustrations, etc…

      One of my biggest uses for PDFs — is I play a lot of role playing games and the rule books and supplements for the games are normally available in PDF (DriveThruRPG.com, etc…)– For these types of books and manuals PDF works the best. The tables, illustrations, charts, etc… are so critical to these documents — that e-pub and mobi are essentially non-options for these types of documents.

      This is also where a large e-reader works best for PDFs — ideally you want to be able to see an entire PDF page on the screen, and for it to be large enough that you can read it easily. 🙂

      e-pub ad mobi are great formats for novels and documents that are primarily “text”, but they are not good formats for documents that have lots of graphics and tables.

      For some of us the ability to read PDFs is huge!

    • Abhishek Ghose Reply May 6, 2018 at 3:42 pm

      I can answer that for you. All of my reading falls in two categories: books (fiction/non-fiction) what have you, and papers, as in the kind that gets accepted by conferences. For the latter use-case, there are almost always only PDFs available. Their formatting might be non-standard and these may have tables, figures, mathematical equations — which makes it hard to obtain an automatic high-fidelity conversation into a ebook format proper. It’s for this reason PDF reviews are very helpful for me – and for others with similar interests.

    • Yes, it’s the main concern for many people that don’t just read for leisure, but also for work/study. For them, it’s not only about casual reading some best selling book you get from Amazon, but about being able to read all the papers (as in articles), scanned books, textbooks etc. And because people who need to read pdfs are people who read it for work/study, so they also read it A LOT (like at least 4-6 hr/day). Therefore, a eco-friendly eyes-friendly e-ink reader is an ideal option for these people–on paper, until they find out all the e-readers on the market right now do a very lousy job in reading pdfs. So in short, pdfs are arguably the one most important reason you don’t see all the students, professors, technicians already ditch their piles of paperwork and go for e-reader option.

    • As a scholar, I am constantly reading PDF, either journal articles or digital downloads from the library. I invested in an Onyxboox and love it because of its PDF compatibility. However, I am quite miffed at Onyxboox’s lack of support to its customer base – they are so busy putting out new versions they neglect to update the models already out there. When you pay $500+ for a reader, you’d expect the android OS to be updateable – so alas less than 2 yrs in many of the apps I use for journals (Browzine for ex) will no longer work due to this. They told me to just buy the new one being launched this year (only android 6.0!!) for another $650!! YEAAAAAH NOT LIKELY
      We need android compatible e-ink devices badly! Those of us who read for a living, our eyes depend on it!

      • Are you able to download PDFs directly from the journals? I do this for my textbooks, and while it is rather time consuming, they at least get read this way. I can’t read on a computer screen.

  2. Thank you. Good information.
    I buy a reader for to read PDF and others. Cause for study it’s better with less bright, screen only 6″, but no color, and some slow. I have a Kindle Paperwhite and a Boyue t62. Every one has pros and cons. And some PDF are harder to read than others, like medical journal, small font. If God likes, I will buy a reader with big screen. 8 or bigger. With android. Customizable for fb2 mobi epub djvu PDF from app store.

  3. Having said all that, how about an article on the best app for reading pdfs?

    • Yes — maybe not a topic for this thread, but would be an interesting article — although not sure it’s in the purview of this website? I would definitely be interested in an article on PDF reader applications for tablets.

      I sometimes use a tablet to read PDFs, however one advantage that e-readers have is weight — the comparison is night and day.

      That is why I dream about that Sony 13″ DPT-RP1 e-reader. It’s so big and so light — makes tablets seem like bricks in comparison. If they get down to $250 I will definitely buy one. I get it – right now they are really priced for business use — not consumers, waiting for consumer friendly pricing. 🙂

    • Here’s a list of the best PDF apps for Android, but it’s been awhile since I’ve updated it. I still think Foxit is the best.

      • Thanks Nathan for the list of recommended PDF apps. I use Foxit on the PC and never realized they had a PDF app on Android.

        Also, I’m going to buy ezPDF Reader based on your recommendation.

  4. I slightly beg to differ when it comes to the pdf reading experience of the kobo aura one with koreader. When it comes to one column pdf books this combination, in my opinion, clearly outperforms paperwhite. The pdf crop function of koreader together with the landscape view and larger screen of the koreader makes it a perfect size for reading pdf books, which I happen to do a lot.

    • I understand your point but for more than twice the price of the Paperwhite (on sale) I just don’t feel like the size difference is significant enough to warrant the extra expense, especially when KOReader doesn’t even have notes or anyway to export highlights, things commonly needed with PDFs. I also don’t like having to reboot every time I want to use KOReader, and then having access to it disappear every time Kobo updates the software was really annoying to me. For $100 more you can get a 9.7-inch Onyx so that kind of puts the Aura One in a tough spot to be one of the best PDF readers.

  5. I have tried a number of readers with pdf from Kobo Aura to Nook to Paperwhite, and none proved satisfactory with the pdf format.

    Finally, I got a good deal on a 13″ Yoga Tablet 2 Pro, and it works fine, with ezPDF Reader Pro.

    For technical manuals, the small screen on the readers is just too tiny.

  6. Thanks for the review. For now I will stick with the Kindle DX for PDFs. Good enough and inexpensive due to a special sale. IIRC, this blog advertised the sale. Thank you.

    I thought a Fire HD 8 would be better for PDFs than a device with a 6″ screen. Its margins are so large that the Fire HD 8 is no better than a 6″ device for a PDF.

    Sometimes a PDF’s font on the DX isn’t dark enough or bold enough for my taste. As long as I don’t have tables or graphs to worry about, I found a workaround. Convert the PDF to TXT and then use MS Word to find the proper font type and size. MS Word does a better job of converting to PDFs, I found.

    Barry wanted to know what PDFs were for. PDFs on my DX run to manuals,HOA docs, work docs, academic papers, and textbooks- in addition to run-of-the-mill books. I took my Kindle DX to my HOA’s annual meeting because a PDF downloaded from the County website made an important point.

    The Kindle DX may be out of date, but it is a dependable workhorse for PDFs. I dread the day the battery fails.

  7. For me, the bottom-line is that PDF is an awful format that I avoid like the plague. Were I left with no other choice, though, I’d choose a larger-scale back-lit tablet over e-ink and suffer the eye fatigue that long reading sessions might bring.

    E-ink solutions are either too outdated (like the Kindle DX) or are too ridiculously-priced for what they deliver.

    No thanks.

    • The problem with tablet solutions is the “weight”. Even the iPad is like a brick for long reading sessions compared to an e-ink based reader.

      I hear you though — large screen e-readers are still way too expensive.

  8. I read lots of ebooks and I have also tried around 15 ebook readers. From my point of you the best ebook reader for technical pdfs is Sony DPT-RP1. Otherwise I prefer Remarkable (although the software misses some features, the annotation, and the pen response is absolutely like nothing on the market and it also supports epubs). It is a startup company, but they got very far. And still promise to improve on there software. Might be the very best choice in the near future.
    I owned DPT-S1, Onyx boox (android is not suitable for me and it’s heavy). DPT-S1 had more functions then DPT-RP1. DPT-RP1 came with encryption and NFC functions. But you need the app, to load files. And the EULA policy and the collection of what you’re reading isn’t too pleasing. The pen isn’t as responsive as on remarkable and you need to recharge it.
    Remarkable offers usb interface in beta, that is clumsy and hard to use through web browser. You can use cloud, but I prefer not to.
    I also owned Kobo, but the dedicated pdf reader isn’t priority for the company. Doesn’t support reflow and for the device under 10″, it definitely should.
    The other option for text oriented (not technical) pdf’s is Pocketbook. The reflow is built in and works nicely. The Inkpad 3 probably with the 8″ screen is expected early 2018. And it also supports more then 10 formats, so probably reads almost everything mainstream. There is alse integration with Pocket and RSS.
    So it depends mostly on what types of ebooks you read.
    The DRM is a problem for most of the devices except Pocketbook, but I buy ebooks only with social DRM.
    So from the software point of view non of the readers is perfect. But both Sony and Remarkable should update there software.
    So If you want to read nontechnical pdf’s and many other formats in a small factor pocketbook HD 2 (with RGB lighting) is probably the best. If you want to annotate and read nontechnical pdf’s and epubs then remarkable is the best choice, although if you’re like me it’ll take some time to load the books and then you’re good to go.
    If you want to read technical pdf’s, then A4 format of 13,3″ in Sony DPT-RP1 is the best choice.

  9. How is Kindle even on these lists?

    AFAIK their PDF reading software is terrible and unusable. Barely made to check the box in the list, not actually be useful to anyone as it jeopardises Amazon’s biz…

    • When it comes to 6-inch ereaders 300ppi Kindles are easily one of the best options for PDFs. They’re not great by any means because of the size, but if you can’t afford something larger the software is a lot more advanced and usable than what you get on Kobos and Nooks, and if you use a program like K2pdfopt you can customize PDFs for the smaller screen size.

  10. Thanks for sharing such a nice informative blog related to PDF readers. i was in search of a better PDF reader.

  11. It may depend on the particular PDF but I have to read IBM technical manuals which come in PDF format. The Kindle Paperwhite is absolutely useless for these PDFs. Even in Landscape mode, the text is far too small to read and blurred. If I zoom in, then the text does not resize to fit the screen but just goes off screen. I would need to constantly scroll to read anything.

    What would be needed would be for the Kindle to reformat the text to fit the smaller screen size but it doesn’t do that. You cannot read something that is A4/Letter size on a 6 inch screen.

    I don’t know about the intricacies of Kindle vs PDF format but I would have expect a reflow option which doesn’t appear to be there.

    If you need to read PDFs then I would say that at present the only viable option is a tablet. I just use a cheap Android Tablet with a 10.5 inch screen and that is OK. The only issue being that a backlit screen is more tiring on the eyes that a dedicated e book reader, that is why I wish someone would develop an e-book reader that handles PDF. I suggest either Amazon or Adobe do something to meet a clear demand.

    • I have found the 9.7″ Kindle DX the best e-reader for PDFs. The 9.7″ Kindle DX is much better than the Fire HD 8 tablet, as the Fire HD 8 has too much blank space for PDFs. Granted, the DX and its software is old and a DX may be hard to find, but the DX does PDFs better than about any other device.

      • If your Kindle DX ever dies, the 9.7-inch Onyx Boox N96ML has a nicer Carta screen and a frontlight and much more advanced software than the Kindle DX. I’m surprised it’s not more popular, actually. Everyone likes the new 13.3-inch devices but to me 9.7-inches is fine for the PDFs I read, especially with Onyx’s margin crop settings.

    • You can get reflow on your Kindle by sending the PDF to your account via email with the word “convert” in the subject line or you can use the Send to Kindle app and check the box to convert.

  12. Does anyone know of a good e-reader for handling PDF documents that have embedded text? In particular, I have a lot of PDFs that have been OCR’d with Adobe Clearscan, which is my favorite OCR because it retains the original font in the text. Years ago, I had an iRiver Story HD, which could resize the Clearscan text beautifully. But that is not made anymore, and I have not been able to find another e-reader that can do this. Would appreciate any suggestions.

    • Most don’t have onbaord reflow, if that’s what you mean. Onyx does but that’s about it. Plus you can install KOReader on Kobos. Amazon will convert PDFs to Kindle format and that is essentially the same as reflow. You could do a test if you have a Kindle app by sending a PDF to the app’s email and putting convert in the subject line.

  13. Thanks Nathan. The conversion to mobi that you mention is not the same. I use Calibre to do this, and it often produces a very messy document, with paragraph breaks in between every line of the original text, loss of italics, and other problems. Also, as far as I know, the Adobe Clearscan font is not recognizable by these converters.

    I will check out Onyx and see if it works. Have you heard anything about inkBOOK? That is the other brand that I was looking into.

    The Duokan software that can be installed as an alternate OS on Kindle will recognize and resize Clearscan text, but not as well as the iRiver Story HD could, because the iRiver had Adobe software built in. Do you know of any other e-readers that have Adobe software?

  14. All scientific articles come in PDF. Each person involves in academics holds thousands of articles in that format. Still to the date is not possible to confortably read a single one of them while taking a shit.

    150% agreed with Paul Simon. I still do not understand how is not possible to find a decent PDF e-reader with an amiable screen.

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