I’ve been thinking about getting an eReader. I know there are several options out there, but which one (if any) should I buy? If you’re a voracious reader, you’ve probably been wondering the same thing.
If you've ever traveled with a bag full of books, even paperbacks, they're heavy. These devices can carry a trunkload (or three) of books at a time, so if you skip around between books or just read a ton, eReaders are great. Yeah, I know you miss the smell of a good paperback if you're a boomer or senior, but you can always carry a regular paperback for the odor of good reading.
I tried a few of the market leading eReaders and tablets, and they all do have something going for them.
The Kindle is the first device to market, it’s the first eReader, and especially in it’s third generation has some great features.
First of all, it’s small and light. Even the 3G+WiFi version is only .2 ounces heavier than the WiFi-only version, at 8.7 ounces, making it by far the lightest of the devices. You won’t notice it in your bag, perfect carry-on item, fits almost anywhere. It’s the lightest and thinnest of all the devices we tested.
It uses an interesting technology to display the text on screen, called E Ink. It’s actual ink inside the LCD that makes for very contrasty, crisp text. It’s very easy to read in bright light or sunlight, so if you read on the beach or anywhere outside it’s ideal. The matte screen replicates the pages of a traditional paper book, so glare is minimized. If you read in bed at night, it isn’t backlit so you’ll need a light on in the room or a book light.
Text can be displayed at 6 different sizes and even margins can be changed based on how you like them. The text can be displayed quite large, great if you like large print, and the Kindle is the only device that can read the book to you. The caveat to this feature is that it’s a computerized voice and offers no real inflection, that takes some getting used to. But if you have poor eyesight, it’s a valuable feature.
There’s a built-in dictionary, all you have to do is place the cursor on a word and the dictionary comes up, offering definition and pronunciation. You can highlight text and make notes in any section.
You get books, magazines, newspapers via Amazon’s Kindle Store. The magazines and newspapers are offered as a subscription, prices vary. There are many classic books available on the Amazon Kindle Store for free, newer releases usually cost around $10. You can also subscribe to blogs and download a few games via the Kindle store, accessed through your Kindle or computer. There’s a Kindle app for most tablets, PC and Mac computers, and even many smartphones. The coolest part of having the app on multiple devices is that via Amazon’s Whispersync, it wirelessly remembers your place in all books, including any annotations or highlighted text and shares it between all devices. Forget your Kindle and have your laptop and a little while to read? No problem, fire up the app and start reading. Your library is stored with Amazon and syncs with whatever device you’re using.
This is the only device that uses buttons and a diminutive QWERTY keyboard for navigation, the others all use a touch screen. The keyboard is ok if your eyesight is good and fingers are nimble, and they are rounded and provide some tactile feedback. The five-way controller helps you navigate screens fairly quickly. The original Kindle had more of a joystick, this is more of a keypad and easy for those of us with big fingers to handle.
Pages turn quickly, especially in the 3rd generation Kindle, as it has to clear the e-Ink entirely and place it again. Page turning is easy and intuitive, along both sides of the device. One-handed reading is no problem.
There’s 4 GB of RAM on the Kindle, 3 of which are used to store books and other content. There’s no way to expand this, but it still holds up to 3500 books. Battery life is amazing, with the WiFi turned off, you can read up to one full month between charges. If you go on a cruise and forget your charger, you really have no worries here.
The WiFi only option is the least expensive, at $139, and you can get it in white or graphite/black. I prefer the darker one, seems to make the screen easier to see. Your eye is more drawn in to the screen. For $50 more, you get the 3G version. 3G service is provided by AT&T, and it’s free.
If you like sharing books among friends and family, you can loan a book to someone else for up to two weeks, during which time you won’t have access to that book just like if you loaned out a physical copy. But unlike cousin Ethyl who never returns what you loan her, Kindle books automatically leave her library and come back to yours after those two weeks. The Kindle handles pdfs and many other common formats, but not EPUB, the format libraries use to loan out their books. The Nook beat the Kindle to the loaning feature, but Amazon came around. It’s a good possibility that Amazon will offer this format for the Kindle in a future update, probably via software/firmware (so you won’t have to buy a new device just to have this feature).
The Kindle can also play music in MP3 and AAC formats, even while you read.
There is a larger Kindle DX, with a beautiful, large 9.7” screen for $329 if you want a significantly larger screen. Its charge will last a week with wireless(Wi-Fi + free 3G) on, or 2-3 weeks with wireless off.
Barnes & Noble Nook
The original Nook is a monochrome (black & white) reader, similar to the Kindle. The difference is that it uses a touch screen for navigation. There’s a 3.5” color screen below the main black & white screen that lets you see book covers, navigate between books and other content, and when in a book, a swipe across this screen turns the page. Of course, you can still change pages via the buttons on the side. Page turns happen fairly quickly.
The 6” screen on the Nook also uses E Ink, so it’s very crisp. The screen itself is less matte than that of the Kindle, making it a tiny bit more prone to glare in bright sunlight, but still absolutely readable. Text display options allow you to read the text from normal to huge on the screen. It only reads aloud from certain, preprogrammed children’s books.
One big advantage to the Nook is that you can try it at a Barnes & Noble store. Also, if you have a problem or question, you can take it in to a store. If it’s broken, they’ll replace it right then and there, no need to be without a device for a few days while you ship it in. Also, many of the stores have Nook training classes, to show you how to make the most of your Nook. One store I visited recently had the free class every Saturday morning at 11.
Barnes & Noble also lets you come into the store for up to an hour a day and read any book they offer (over 2 million) for free. It only works while you’re in the store, but it’s free. Books, magazines, newspapers, etc.
There’s a Nook app for tablets, smartphones and computers, all are free and you can sync books between devices, just like on the Kindle. Nook was the first device to market with the ability to loan books. Like the Kindle, you can loan a book to anyone with a Nook (or Nook app on their device) and it comes back to you automatically in two weeks.
Battery life is less, at around 10 days of reading between charges with WiFi turned off. Storage is only 2GB, but the Nook has a MicroSD card slot to expand storage by up to another 16GB. That’s a LOT of books. And it can take most formats of books, including PDF and EPUB, so you can borrow books from Libraries that offer that kind of service.
The Nook is ten bucks more than the Kindle, $149 for the WiFi-only version and $199 for the WiFi+3G version.
The Nook can play a couple of different games, and comes with a few games pre-installed. It can play music in several popular formats, even while you read.
Barnes & Noble also has a color version of the Nook. It is WiFi-only and costs $249. Basically $100 more for a slightly larger (7” vs 6”), backlit color LCD. Great for reading in bed, not as good for bright, sunny days is it doesn’t use E Ink. It’s a bit heavier, at 15.8 ounces, and the battery life is around 8-10 days between charges.
The big advantage to the Nook Color is illustrations. They’re in full, brilliant color. Magazine articles look great with full color photography, and textbooks. The larger screen makes reading a little easier for those who like larger text.
Otherwise, the Nook Color offers very similar features to the original Nook.
Now, throw a couple of tablets into the mix. They can be heavier and far more expensive, but they offer different features that may make them a better choice.
They don’t have E Ink, they’re all backlit LCD touch screens. They’re great for reading in bed since they are backlit, requiring no external light. The screens are glossy, so they are prone to glare and they aren’t as good if you read outside in sunlight.
What they do offer for being heavier and more expensive is apps and other functions. Almost all tablets have some version of the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook app available to them for free. This means you can link your Amazon or B&N account to your tablet and use it, it will sync your place, annotations and new purchases automatically. But you can use tablets for far more than a reader, able to surf the web, read email, watch videos and movies, play Angry Birds and much, much more.
The iPad was the first and arguably still the best tablet on the market. It’s due for a new version around April, expect even more features.
The Kindle and Nook apps work really well on the iPad, and are very simple to use. Browsing for more books is easy, you can go directly through the app or use Safari.
The low end of the iPad spectrum, with WiFi connectivity only and 16GB of storage is twice the cost of the Nook color. The high end with 64GB of storage and WiFi+3G (requires a contract) can set you back as much as $829. And that’s before you buy a fancy case for it to trick it out.
Samsung Galaxy Tab
The Galaxy Tab is the most sought-after of the Android-based tablets. It is a smaller tablet than the iPad, and lighter as well. Actually with the same size screen, the Tab is lighter than the Nook Color. And it can run both Nook and Kindle apps, as well as everything available in the Android Market, over 100,000 apps of all kinds. Music, movies, books, photos, browsing the internet, email, games and more.
It features a backlit LED touch screen, great for reading in bed. The advantage the Nook Color has is in battery life, up to 10 days instead of up to 13 hours.
There’s also an upcoming 10.1-inch version of the Tab with similar specs but a larger screen if you want that option.
eReader and Tablet Feature Matrix
That’s all great, but which one should I buy?
Well, if I had to choose one, I’d buy the Kindle. It’s the smallest, lightest and all the integration makes it very easy to use. You can take it ANYWHERE. Plus the idea of not having to worry about charging it for a month is fantastic. You can read it in very bright sunlight, and if you’re like me, you love reading on the beach. And with any of these readers, if you’re reading a controversial book, nobody knows because you don’t have a book cover giving you away.
Here are a couple of points to ponder. First, if you have trouble with small keys on a keyboard, you’ll hate the Kindle. The slightly larger keys on the Nook’s touch screen, though they provide no tactile feedback, they are easier to see and use. Here's where the Nook shines. Also, if you like having a physical store to buy from, go to if you have questions or problems, or in many cases where you can also take a lesson or two, Nook is a good option.
And finally, if you don’t mind spending the extra money on a tablet, consider the iPad. Yeah, I know the Tab is really cool and the Android system has some nice features. I have an Android phone and really like it. The iPad is just easier to use, the best apps are still on Apple’s iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch). If you want to do much more than read on your device, a tablet is the way to go. They offer a VERY rich experience, with apps galore for everything you can imagine. And within tablets, iPad is still king.