Phones vs eBook Readers – The Argument for Phones Doesn’t Hold up

Galaxy S7 vs Sony PRS-350

Phone at full brightness vs E Ink in direct sunlight

Last August I posted about how I think there should be more options for small portable ebook readers that easily fit into a pocket so you can take them everywhere.

There used to be a few smaller ereaders with 4 and 5-inch screens like the Pyrus Mini, Kobo Mini and PocketBook 360, but now all the newer models have 6-inch screens or larger, and there’s never been a Kindle with a screen smaller than 6-inches.

The lack of options had me resorting to buying a used Sony PRS-350 off of eBay a couple months ago.

I wanted something small and lightweight to take on hikes, and the PRS-350 has turned out to be great for that. It may be old and outdated, but it’s still one of the best, most portable ebook readers ever made.

I regretted getting rid of it a couple years back, but I had mistakenly thought there would be more small ebook readers to come.

But nowadays most companies have settled on 6-inch screens as the standard, but to me 6-inch ebook readers are still a bit too big and clunky to stick in a pocket to take everywhere.

The whole point of a smaller ebook reader is to be able to take it with you wherever you go.

There’s no question the 5-inch PRS-350 feels less obtrusive in my pocket than any 6-inch ebook reader. Even the trimmed down Kobo Clara HD starts to feel like lugging around a brick in your pocket after awhile. It’s not just the fact that the PRS-350 is light; it’s also because the physical dimensions are more pocket-sized.

People keep using the argument that there’s no need for smaller ebook readers because of cellphones.

That’s like saying there’s no need for dedicated ebook readers either because tablets exist.

A phone is simply not a good option for reading outdoors. Even in the shade with the brightness turned all the way up, a phone makes a better mirror than it does a book.

Phone vs eReader

Phone at full brightness vs E Ink in shade

32 Responses to “Phones vs eBook Readers – The Argument for Phones Doesn’t Hold up”

  1. At first I thought there something wrong with that phone. Then I realized, “Oh…you’re just outside.”

    • The Galaxy S7 has a really nice display too that looks great, except when you’re outdoors…

      • I think allot of people were expecting a kobo mini 2…instead of the Clara. I doubt Amazon will come out with a small kindle…although i would probably consider one to complement my Paperwhite.

    • It’s 2018 and you’re showing an old phone. C’mon my pick 2 Xl is easily visible outside. You’re righting the conversation.

  2. It depends on how you travel. Last year, I was stopped by TSA during screening before boarding an international flight. Reason is the Kindle Paperwhiite in a protective case. They probably could not see it in x Ray. They had to scan the four sides of the Kindle case.

    After all the trouble, I was allowed to move on. Still, this was the last time I would take a Kindle for international travel. I will use a cell phone for reading during the flight instead.

  3. It’s also amazing how much of a space hog the Kindle app is on my Android phone. Even deleting all the books, the app itself, once logged in, uses huge amounts of space, and it doesn’t let you store the books on the phone’s SD card.

    Thanks to this blog, I’ve learned about the Sony PRS-350 and I’m completely in love with it. If someone is ever bidding against you, it might be me…I’ll probably get a back-up if I can find one not too expensive.

    I would definitely be in the market for a new Kindle or any reader that was pocket sized. I’m even thinking of charging up my old Visors just to use as a portable reader!

  4. I always thought about getting one of those but never did. Has the stylus gone missing on this one?

    • Yeah, the stylus was lost but it was kind of a pointless accessory anyway unless you want to do a lot of handwritten notes since you can do everything with a finger as well.

  5. Yota Phone 2, 3. Hisense A2, A2 pro. And some e-ink cases for Smartphone. But not for all.

  6. Now you have me looking at these :'(

  7. I completely agree. A phone would be my last choice for reading. A few years ago I bought three kobo minis when they were on sale so I would always have one. The slip into a small slot in my handbag and can even fit into a coat pocket.

  8. A lot of this depends on how often you read outdoors in sunlight. Some people do, but I think most people who are out and about are doing something other than reading. Reading more typically happens in a sheltered area where a phone screen can do the job. Bottom line is that the phone takes up the small-screen slack, especially since most people already have one that is capable.

    • Phones do indeed make good multipurpose reading devices in certain situations, but like tablets they just can’t compete with E Ink when it comes to things like outdoor readability and long battery life. I just think companies like Amazon and Kobo are overlooking the need for super portable ebook readers. There’s no reason for people to buy and use multiple 6-inch Kindles, for instance. But I bet plenty of Kindle owners wouldn’t mind buying a second low-cost small Kindle that would easily fit in a pocket to take on the go, or one with a larger screen for that matter. Almost no one who owns a Paperwhite or Voyage has any interest in buying an entry-level Kindle because it doesn’t have anything the other models don’t have. If it was smaller that would at least make in unique. Kobo used to put the Mini on sale for $49 sometimes. I just don’t see how a $49 Kindle Mini wouldn’t be more popular than the current model.

      • The $49 price came up when they couldn’t sell them for the original price, $80, that is when they began selling the Minis.
        Now I would pay for a $100 Mini with light (I changed it for the Aura first generation, which is the second most compact ereader I have found, and has light), but the people wanting to pay that much wouldn’t be many, so if they decide selling something like that, they would have to plan for a exclusive device for some very few users willing to pay for it, for even more dollars.
        So yeah, people wanting pocketable ereaders are very vocal, but regreatably I don’t think there is a big demand.

        • They had them on sale for $49, even $39 one time, during its main run too, not just at the end with clearance sales. And you have to consider Amazon’s $49 is really $69 because of the ads. I don’t think that number is unrealistic for a smaller basic model. If Inkbook can sell the 6-inch Classic 2 for $79 (it’s currently $89 but it was $79 for like a year) with the additions of page buttons, a memory card slot, and a Carta screen, then certainly Amazon could release a $69 Kindle ($49 with ads) by cutting down the size of the device and sans the memory card slot.

          I agree there’s probably not a huge demand for smaller pocketable ereaders, but I think there’s even less demand for another basic 6-inch Kindle with a low-res screen, no frontlight, and no buttons. If they’re going to go that route yet again they might as well do something a little different to add some variety to the Kindle lineup.

          • Does anyone even offer that form-factor? Because if not, then they have to have the screens made (rather than just orderded) and justify an order size and make them and market them and sell them – all at a lower price point and margin just to satisfy a niche-type market. That calculus leaves you with plenty of decision points where I would imagine they would just say “no”.

          • Amazon can have E Ink make whatever screen size they want; E Ink wouldn’t have much of a business without Kindles keeping things going. Amazon is the only company still selling an ereader with a low resolution 6-inch Pearl screen, so at this point those screens are only being made for Amazon. Everyone else switched to using higher-contrast Carta screens years ago. It’s way past time to upgrade the entry-level Kindle’s screen either way, and a smaller screen and casing is going to be cheaper to produce.

  9. I have a Pyrus mini and my wife have a Yota 2…

  10. I agree that a small screen e-ink is a nice thing sometimes, I still have a Sony 350 myself, tho it only gets used for testing ebooks these days.

    However, y’all are fighting against not only the smartphone, but also THE PURSE. With a purse (or daily carry bag), even a larger reader like the Aura One goes EVERYWHERE.

    I can’t blame companies for not wanting to risk a small reader.

    • Nathan — I 100% agree with you on the light issue. Even the best OLED screens are no match for e-ink in bright sunlight.

      Penelope does bring up a good point. I don’t need a small 5″ e-reader, because if I ever go on a picnic, barbecue, or a hike — or some kind of day trip, I always have my backpack with my 6″ Sony PRS-T1 e-reader in it. The purse or backpack is what lowers the demand for a 5″ or smaller e-reader, over 6″ or larger readers.

      Plus, my Sony PRS-T1 fits easily in my my back pocket. It’s narrower and a little taller than the Kindles. I don’t like carrying it this way because I’m worried about damaging it — but the option is there.

      I think the 5″ e-book readers are kind of cool, but for various reasons I just think the demand was never there. If there was — someone would still be selling one.

  11. I have to say that my Kobo Glo HD with the flip cover fits OK in my pocket, although I won’t carry it unless I know I’m going to read on it.

    My killer feature would be wireless sync of Overdrive books, but without the Aura ONE footprint or price. I can’t believe Kobo won’t just add that to the Glo with a software update, or maybe even come up with a 6 inch Kobo Libby model. If they put one of them out with the Libby interface, as well as keeping Pocket and the $100+ price point, I’d probably upgrade.

    As it is, I’ll probably get a Kindle at some point, because you can use your phone to get a book from the library, have it load onto your device via WiFi, and sync your reading position between your eReader and your phone or tablet.

    Adobe Digital Editions needs to join Flash; it’s just not that reliable, and it’s very annoying to get an authentication error on a book, when the last book you loaded the same way worked fine.


  12. Yep, I bought a Kobo Glo HD right before they stopped making them and loved it until I lost it. I found another refurbed on ebay and bought it only to find the lost one, so now i have 2 and I couldn’t be happier to have them. To me it’s a nice size and one stays in my purse all the time for unexpected waiting. But having wireless Overdrive capability would make it perfect.

  13. I completely agree that there is a market for a 5-inch reader.

    While I love my Aura One, it’s a bit too big to go with me everywhere. When packing a purse or bag, I am very conscious of weight. If I had a pocket-sized reader, it would never be left behind.

    Ideally the next Kobo will have all of the features of the Aura One in a smaller package.

    I want Overdrive, Comfortlight, and a flush bezel in a five-inch reader.

    I considered getting the Clara as a secondary device, but honestly, I found that the raised bezel bothered me more than the lack of Overdrive. I might hold out hope that Overdrive could be integrated with a future update, but the fact that at launch the hardware already felt out-of-date swayed me from the purchase. And, of course, the size difference wasn’t enough to compel me.

    All things equal, had it been a five-inch device, I would have bought it anyway.

    On a backpacking trip last week, I brought my Aura One and my husband brought one book. His general preference is for print over e-ink. But after a couple days where the afternoon hours were spent curled up in the tent reading in the rain, he was itching for an e-reader. (Even the most practical men will eventually tire of “Navigating with Map & Compass.”) And while he was ready to buy when we returned to the city, he was disappointed to learn that the there is currently no waterproof pocket-sized reader on the market.

    I understand the importance of having an entry-level model, but I think that Kobo could pull in new customers as well as please their loyal base by offering one entry-level reader and then a top-line, feature-rich model in multiple sizes– 5″ and 7.8″, perhaps eventually 10.3 or 13″.

  14. While I have no interest in a five inch ereader, I know what it’s like to be a part of a niche that is no longer served. I know that many people were hoping that the Clara HD would be a new mini.

  15. “I know what it’s like to be a part of a niche that is no longer served”

    I’m beginning to feel that way as a fan of the 6 inch form factor. Reading this article makes me wonder whether my preferred size might soon go the way of the minis, and become an historical curiosity. Fwiw, my Kindle Paperwhite in its official case fits in at least one exterior pocket of all my jackets, and so I expect the smaller, thinner Clara HD I’m getting will be an even easier fit. Not “a brick” for me, that’s for sure.

    • You shouldn’t feel that way though. Every major brand but Sony makes a 6″ ereader. They’re so common,that they’re unimportant so the press focuses on the new and exciting. The 6″ readers aren’t going anywhere. They’re the ones that most people buy. My local Wal-Mart stores only carry the Clara for instance. Kindle’s best selling model is the Paperwhite.

  16. “The 6″ readers aren’t going anywhere.”

    Indeed, which is a shame. All the innovations (re)appearing on the larger forms, like more storage, waterproofing, page buttons etc, would be great to have (back) in 6 inch form, but both major players seem quite narrowly(ha!) focused on the larger, more premium devices

  17. I have looked at eReaders and never gone to one because of the size. I also don’t want to carry another device. A small battery backup and I am good. My GalaxyS7 is small, fits in my pocket, and is fine outside. It works great with Overdrive and Google play book. It was so easy to stop my weekly library trip and have access to multiple libraries 24/7/365. Everyone has their favorite, enjoy.