A Comparison of E-Book Readers for the New Year
Before any big trip, I always make sure I have enough books to read. That used to mean weighing myself down with pounds and pounds of paper, but now I can carry a library in my pocket. The new question is not which books to take, but which e-book reader to choose.
Seattle-based Amazon.com’s Kindle e-reader once stood alone as the choice for electronic literacy. But after facing stiff holiday competition from the just-released Nook by Barnes & Noble, along with a new version of the Sony Reader—not to mention reading software for smartphones and other gadgets—the e-book battle has really just begun. (Of particular interest to readers in Xconomy’s cities: All of the above devices use electronic-paper display technology from Cambridge, MA-based E Ink, which recently merged with Taiwanese firm PVI. And Steve Haber, president of the Digital Reading Division at Sony, is based in San Diego.)
In a bit of a departure toward the consumer review end of things, here are my thoughts on a few of the more popular e-reader options heading into 2010:
Amazon Kindle: Certainly the most popular and recognizable e-book reader (at least until after holiday sales are calculated), the Kindle comes in two varieties. There’s the $259 Kindle, which has been dropping in price all year, and the $489 Kindle DX that comes with a larger screen, slightly more advanced features, and a larger memory. Personally, I like the Kindle for its very easy-to-use interface and fast connection and download speed (through AT&T’s 3G network). However, even a library of 360,000 books won’t necessarily have what I want, and the proprietary e-book format means there’s no way to get them. For those who want a good all-around e-book reader, though, the Kindle works very well. Just keep in mind that, judging from Amazon’s history, it probably won’t be long before a new, better version is released and the price of the current model drops again.
Sony Reader: Even more varied than the Kindle, Sony’s Reader comes in three editions, the $199 Pocket, the $299 Touch, and the $399 Daily. Each hike in price denotes a larger screen and larger carrying capacity, but whereas all Kindles function wirelessly, only the just-released (and difficult to find) Daily is capable of wireless functions (through the same 3G network as the Kindle). The advantage of the Reader is its flexibility of format. The Reader accepts multiple formats of e-books, including the public domain EPUB and the ever popular Adobe PDF. Users can transfer reading material from a PC or Mac in any of these formats, unrestricted to just one source for books.
Barnes & Noble Nook: The talk of the e-book world during the holidays, the Nook is sold out for the next month, so unless you were lucky enough to get your order in early, chances are your only experience with this e-reader is from the ones available to try at Barnes & Noble stores. Mine was buggy, although I was assured by an employee that the final versions sent out would be problem-free (I’m skeptical). Still, the Nook, at $259, has a lot to recommend it. It has cool features like using Wi-Fi as well as 3G, doubling as an MP3 controller, and LendMe, which lets people who have a book on their Nook lend it to a friend for two weeks to read on a computer or compatible smartphone. (Interesting realistic touch—while your book is lent to a friend, you can’t read it yourself, just like paper.) My personal favorite feature is how, while users can download books anywhere, they can read any book in the catalog cover to cover while using the Internet in a Barnes & Noble. It’s a clever way to encourage visits to actual stores, something Amazon and Sony don’t have to deal with.
Stanza (Lexcycle): Although acquired by Amazon last spring, Stanza, the free reading application for the iPhone and iPod Touch (and desktops), is still around and still getting upgraded. Stanza uses the EPUB format, and users can add books by downloading them from online catalogs or from a computer. The catalogs include public domain books from the Gutenberg Project and e-book stores like Fictionwise. If you don’t mind the smaller screen, Stanza or the smartphone readers from Amazon and Barnes & Noble work very well. For me, having one less gadget to buy and carry around makes the decision to just use Stanza easy.
Despite their burgeoning popularity, I don’t think e-books will outright replace their inky cousins, if only because paper books never run out of batteries. Still, as I settle in on a long trip, I love having options from Aristotle to Zelazny just the flick of a finger away.
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