The Ultimate eReader Buying Guide | Laptop Magazine. (No longer available online. Original text included below.)
Though Apple has many entranced with tablets since the introduction of their iPad, eReaders were around long before. Like a limited use tablet, eReaders are primarily designed for reading books. The main reasons they are still popular, despite the iPad and it’s competitors, are price, screen, and battery. A basic eReader can be found for a little more than $100, a great price-point for gift giving; an entry level iPad will cost at least $500. The eReader’s e-Ink screens are generally easier to read in most lighting conditions than a tablets LCD screen. Finally, an eReader’s battery life is generally measured in weeks instead of hours on a tablets.
When purchasing an eReader for yourself or as a gift, there are a number of different considerations that will determine which model to choose. Here are the main points and some recommended models to consider.
The first things you’ll notice about an eReader are related to it’s design. Some things to notice are:
- Size: Is it large or small enough to fit in a purse, thick or thin enough to fit in a pocket, heavy or light enough to hold all day?
- Materials: How does it feel in your hand, is it sticky or so slippery that it will slide out of your hand, does it have a “cheap” feeling like it could break easily or is it stable as a piece of steel?
- Layout: Are the buttons where you’d expect them to be and are they shaped and sized so you can easily press them? This is especially important on non-touchscreen models where buttons are the only way to control the eReader. You’ll be turning pages often no matter which eReader selected, so make sure the page turning buttons are well placed and comfortable.
The screen is very important. All of the models included in this guide have e-Ink screens, which require very little energy, allowing your battery to last a long time. The grayscale resolution of these screens has improved over the years, making text and images much sharper and easier to read. Options to look for are:
- Color: A color display will allow display of color images, making content like magazines much more enjoyable.
- Touch: A touch screen allows you to interact with the eReader by using gestures or touching elements on the screen, which reduces or eliminates the need for a physical keyboard or control buttons.
How will you get content onto your eReader? The most common method is via WiFi, but some models also connect your reader to a computer via a cable or connect to the Internet with an optional cellular data service, which is great especially for those that travel often.
Look for an eReader that has plenty of content, either through it’s affiliated provider, or through it’s ability to read files of many types. If you or the person you’re purchasing the eReader for will be using it to view magazines and newspapers, check which eReaders are supported by that publication.
Many libraries offer eLending, the ability to checkout books for free on your eReader. If this is important to you, make sure your model includes this capability. If you’d like the ability to read your content on a device other than your eReader, note that some eReader manufacturers also have apps available for other devices, see the sidebar for details.
Some eReaders include a web browser or email program, while others can even run apps that allow playing audio books, music and even games.
eReaders to Consider
The Kindle tends to be the eReader that other models are compared against. It is a comfortable size that is easy to hold, it’s back has a soft-touch coating so it’s easy to hold on to, and it includes buttons in a comfortable position that will allow most to read and turn pages with one hand. It has a 6” e-Ink display where you can view text in 3 fonts and at 8 sizes.
The Kindle offers two connectivity options, with the entry level including WiFi, and a more expensive model adding “Whispernet”, a free 3G data service that accesses the AT&T network in many locations around the world.
Content for the Kindle is available from the large Amazon Bookstore, as well as through 11,000+ libraries that have books available in the Kindle format.
For extras, the Kindle allows you to highlight text, take notes, and share information to Facebook and Twitter, and also includes a web-browser. Amazon has added a new wrinkle to pricing with “Special Offers” versions of each model which lowers the cost if you’re willing to have ads displayed on your Kindle.
Verdict: Limited to Amazon and library content but allows 3G downloading and excels in most other areas, a solid choice for many.
WiFi: $114 with “Special Offers”, $139 without
3G: $139 with “Special Offers”, $189 without
The iRiver Story HD is most notable as the first eReader integrated with Google’s eBookstore which includes millions of free books, and hundreds of thousands of books for sale, as well as their partnering with local and independent booksellers. It supports a wide range of files, making it easier to download ebook and non-ebook titles from numerous bookstores.
The Story HD falls short due to some design decisions, including tiny keyboard keys, and a poorly placed page turning button that makes reading with one hand difficult. It also doesn’t allow highlighting or note taking, and doesn’t include web browsing or apps, so functionally it is a bare-bones eReader.
On the positive side, it includes a higher resolution display than it’s competitors (768×1024 vs 600×800) which provides crisper fonts, though you’re limited to 1 font choice in 8 sizes.
Verdict: Good for large content selection and high resolution screen but falls short in other areas.
The Kobo Touch is a sleek looking device, trading buttons for a touch based display, so all interactions are done through swipes and taps on the touchscreen. This is good in keeping it small and light, but in practice, our reviewers found that up to 20% of their taps didn’t register, so basic page turning can sometimes be frustrating. Text can be displayed in 2 fonts with an impressive 17 sizes available.
The Touch includes WiFi, but the signal is weak and managing connections is troublesome. Also, despite having WiFi, it requires setup with a Mac or PC, so those without a computer need not apply.
For content, the Touch can read files from most bookstores, including over 2.3 million books, 99% of the New York Times bestsellers, and eLending books from local libraries.
The Touch does include highlighting, but does not include the ability to take notes. There is a hidden web browser that expands it’s functionality as well.
Verdict: Supports a large selection of content but falls short in other areas.
Sony Reader WiFi
Sony recently released their new WiFi model, which boasts being the lightest touchscreen eReader available at under 6oz. Using a 6” e-Ink display, Sony has added a touchscreen that allows you to choose books, turn pages, and zoom in and out using multiple finger gestures. Text can be displayed with 6 fonts at 8 sizes. The Reader WiFi allows the ability to connect to the public library system in the US and Canada via WiFi to browse and download free books, as well as access to 2.5 million books in the Reader Store and access to other digital bookstores. Highlighting and note taking are supported, but no web browser is included.
Verdict: Lightweight and large selection of content.
The Nook Touch is Barnes and Noble’s black and white eReader that runs on the Android operating system, similar to many smartphones. It includes the standard 6” e-Ink display with touch capabilities which allows the unit to lose the physical keyboard. Despite having a touchscreen which allows you to turn pages with a swipe or tap on the screen, it also includes page turn buttons, a welcome options for many. Text can be displayed in 6 fonts and at 7 sizes.
Content is available through Barnes and Noble, as well as Google Sony and Kobo’s bookstores, but support for other formats is limited to PDF files only. You can download content through WiFi only, but this includes over 20,000 AT&T WiFi Hotspots.
The Touch supports note taking, and also allows you to lend books to friends, as well as share quotes to Facebook and Twitter, but does not include a web browser or apps.
Verdict: Good options for page turning, large amount of content, a solid choice for many.
A bit different than it’s competitors, the Nook Color is being called a “Reader Tablet” since it uses a 7” color LCD screen and runs the Android operating system, similar to a tablet. While the color 600×1024 screen allows display of full color content, it is harder on your eyes and more difficult to see in bright light, removing some of the benefits of buying a dedicated eReader.
The unit weighs twice as much as competitors due to a larger battery, which can only power the unit for 8 hours. The screen is touch capable, so turning pages is done through swipes or taps, though our reviewers found that smudges on the screen would sometimes prevent a tap from registering. Text can be displayed in 6 fonts at 6 sizes.
The same content that is available for the Nook Touch is also on the Nook Color, but over 100 full color newspapers and magazines will be more enjoyable on the Color.
Highlighting and Notes are supported, and the Color also includes a web browser and apps for playing music or games.
Verdict: Great as a cheap though limited tablet, good if you must have color, not so good for primarily displaying black and white books.
Want to read your eBooks on a device other than your eReader? There’s an app for that! Here are a few of the top eReader apps, and the devices they run on: