How to Select an e-Reader

E-readers are a great way to carry multiple books in one device. However, e-readers are not created equally. Choosing the right e-reader for you depends on personal preference, based on factors that are most important to you. Some considerations are weight, access to books, and price.

The most popular e-readers are the Kindle by Amazon.com and the Nook by Barnes & Noble. The iPad is also popular as an e-reader. However, since the I-Pad does not function solely as an e-reader, and has so many additional features and applications, it will not be included for this article on e-readers.

Types of E-Readers

The Kindle was the first e-reader to take off and is still Amazon’s #1 selling item. Gaining in popularity, however, is Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Both the Kindle and the Nook come in versions with Wi-Fi only and 3G/Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi only versions allow users to access their e-readers’ stores anywhere Wi-Fi is available. Nook users can access Wi-Fi in Barnes & Noble stores and AT&T hotspots. Consumer Reports advised that the Wi-Fi only versions of the Kindle and Nook are generally a better value than the 3G/Wi-Fi versions. The Nook and Kindle Wi-Fi are currently selling for $149 and $139, respectively.

3G allows users to access their stores and libraries anywhere around the world, which is an advantage to individuals who travel often, especially outside the country. However, if you don’t often travel outside the country or have regular access to Wi-Fi, then 3G may not be necessary for you. The Nook and Kindle 3G/Wi-Fi are $199 and $189, respectively.

Barnes & Noble recently released the Nook Color, which is likely to be a popular request for Christmas. The Nook Color comes with Wi-Fi only and is priced at $249.

Not far behind the Kindle and Nook are Sony’s e-readers, which come in three forms- the Pocket, Touch and Daily Editions.  Sony’s e-readers cost $149, $229, and $299, respectively. Only the Daily Edition has Wi-Fi/3G. This means the Pocket and Touch Editions will need to be connected to your computer to download books onto your e-reader.

Getting Books for your E-Reader

Probably the biggest factor to consider when purchasing an e-reader is the availability of e-books. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony all have websites for purchasing e-books. However, the Kindle and Nook and Sony’s e-readers use different e-book formats. Similar to how I-Tunes plays MP4s instead of MP3s, Nook and Sony’s e-readers use epub format books, while the Kindle uses AZW format.  This is significant because most public libraries offer e-books in epub format, which means a user has access to more free books with a reader that uses epub format.

In addition to borrowing e-books from your local library, Nook users can downlaod free e-books from Barnes & Noble’s website, which has free e-books, as well as discount e-books. Another popular feature is the ability to loan your e-books to other Nook users through the “LendMe” feature. However, the ability to use LendMe depends on the publisher. Potential Nook users should also note that Barnes & Noble coupons do not work on e-books, only gift cards, which could affect the economics of purchasing an e-reader.

Amazon states users can obtain free e-books from their own website, as well as through Internet Archive, the Project Gutenberg, Open Library, and Manybooks.net. Amazon also recently announced it will also offer a book lending feature, though details have not been released.

Other Factors to Consider: Screen Size, Memory, Weight, and Battery Life

Screens vary in size from Sony’s Pocket Edition at 5” to Sony’s Daily and the Nook Color at 7”. Memory capacity start at 1,500 books (as with Sony’s Pocket and the Nook Wi-Fi,) to 3,500 books, (Kindle Wi-Fi), up to 8,000 books (Nook Color). However, some e-readers have the capacity for memory expansion, with slots for memory cards.  For the casual reader, 1,500 books are probably more than enough. However, some e-readers can download PDF documents and store music, which will decrease the number of actual e-books their reader is able to hold.

All three of Sony’s e-readers, as well as the Nook Color, have touch screens. The Nook Wi-Fi and 3G/Wi-Fi  both have small touch screens at the bottom of the Nook. The advantage of a touch screen is it increases the space for actual reading, and is just cool.  However, touch screens will also respond if your fingers accidentally slide across the screen, which could get annoying.

The Kindle is easily the lightest of all the e-readers and the Nook Color the heaviest, with other e-readers coming somewhere in between. The Kindle will also last the longest without being charged. Amazon.com states that, with the wireless feature turned off, the Kindle will go an entire month without being charged. The Nook probably has the least impressive battery life, between 7 and 10 days.

For some, the Kindle’s lightness and long battery life will win them over, while others may be more concerned with access to e-books or want a touch screen. It all depends on which factors are most important to you.

Miscellaneous Considerations

The Kindle will read to you, albeit in an automated voice, but this feature allows any e-book to be used as an audio book. Also, the Kindle is considered to be more user-friendly, which makes it a better fit for an individual who is not particularly technologically-savvy. The Nook, while not difficult to use, is not as intuitive. However, Nook owners can visit any Barnes & Noble store and get assistance in using their Nook.

For some, the ability to personalization their e-reader will factor into their decision. Sony e-readers come in a couple different colors (including pink!) and Barnes & Noble has a variety of cases for its Nooks, from simple colors to designer cases, by Kate Spade.  The Kindle comes in a standard gray.

When researching e-books, many consumer websites offer charts to compare the various e-readers. If you’ve narrowed down your choice to a specific few, then these charts can be useful to quickly compare e-readers.

That being said, the best way to decide which e-reader fits your needs is to check them out in a store. Best Buy sells the Sony e-readers and the Kindle. Barnes & Noble has a desk in their stores, devoted to helping customers with questions about the Nook.  Is the device comfortable to use? Do the pages turn quickly or is there a delay? Take a look at the screen in the sun- is there a glare? Do you care if the screen has any backlighting? Also, compare prices of e-books in stores, if economics is an issue.

Once you determine the features most important to you, you can find the e-reader that’s right for you! Good luck and happy reading!

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