The best gifts for readers in 2021: Fire tablets, Kindles, iPads and more


This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2020, CNET’s gift picks with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest tech gifts for you and your family.

After spending the whole day hunkered down in a home office, enduring endless emails and Zoom meetings, there’s nothing like escaping into a good book. This year in particular, we think the best gifts for readers are presents with book-centered technology. Not only can your gift recipient ditch the dead trees, they can have access to their entire library from the coziness of their preferred reading nook. That’s a better gift for a book lover than a tote bag, literary coffee mug, library card sock or leather bookmark. 

Sure, ebooks require a screen, but some of our favorites use paper-like E Ink screens that are easy on the eyes. They’re also backlit, eliminating the need for an external book light when a reader is looking to revisit their favorite book. 

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So, do you have a bibliophile in your life who deserves some literary gifts? Read on to see the best gifts for readers this holiday season. And, if you know a bookworm still addicted to old-fashioned paper books, this gift guide has got a perfect gift suggestion for them as well (see the bottom item on this list).

One important note: You should never pay full price for an Amazon device, as they get frequent deep discounts throughout the year.

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Yes, Amazon’s top-end Kindle is too expensive for what it is — but that’s what makes it a great gift idea for your favorite reader. This thoughtful gift is an extraordinary upgrade from reading on the standard Paperwhite. I upgraded last year during Prime Day, and was knocked out by how much better the Oasis is in terms of book readability and responsiveness. Plus, the physical page-turn buttons are so much better than swiping. Amazon runs a lot of deals on this, and watch out for trade-in bonuses on older Kindles to get it for a reasonable price.

Read our Amazon Kindle Oasis (2019) review.

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It hasn’t changed much in the last few years, but the latest Paperwhite is waterproof and has more onboard storage. I’d consider it the default Kindle to consider as a gift for a book lover. The backlight is excellent; the size and weight make it highly portable as well.

Read our Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018) review.

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I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This basic Kindle is nowhere as good as the Paperwhite or Oasis. But it’s also a great impulse-purchase-price gift for a casual reader or a book lover just getting into ebooks. The latest version adds a built-in light, which makes it much more usable.

Read our Amazon Kindle (2019) review.

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Amazon makes several different versions of its Fire tablet, and it’s basically the only budget-priced small tablet I’d recommend. The Fire tablets, including this slightly more upscale 8-inch version, are good for video streaming and some basic games, but they also double as excellent ebook readers, and the color touchscreen makes them especially suitable for digital graphic novels.

Note this tablet retails for $110, but it’s periodically discounted to between $80 and $90.

Read our Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus review.

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The best iPad for ebooks is the iPad Mini. The 8-inch screen and light weight are perfect (smaller than a book, even), and besides reading, you can do all the other fun things — from games to movies to apps — you can do with an iPad. Again, this isn’t an E Ink display, but it’s an excellent high-res LCD and now has Apple’s True Tone technology for automatically adjusting white balance.

Just note two important caveats for this product: It frequently sells for as low as $350, and the 2020 eighth-gen full-size iPad has nearly the identical specs for less money. You’re paying a premium here for the small size and slightly better screen.

Read more.

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I’ve tried many book lights over the years, and this is my hands-down favorite. It’s bright, rechargeable, has a very solid clip and a long neck. It can also stand up on its own, using the clip as a base. It’s popular around my house and my wife keeps stealing it, so I’m about to order a second one for myself. 

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Here’s another new desk lamp I liked that would make a great gift for an avid reader. Ottlite claims this lamp uses something called SpectraClean to disinfect as it illuminates. Apparently that’s a real thing, using something similar to, but not exactly, UV light. That doesn’t take the place of all the precautions we already follow in everyday life, but I liked that the Emerge had warm, cold and natural light settings, plus a powered USB port for charging your phone. 

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