The Kindle will likely be the big ereader champ this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for every reader. Here’s a quick guide to figuring out which device will best meet your needs.
I want the cheapest overall book prices: Kindle
Publishers have forced price increases across the board at all ebook retailers, so for many new releases you’ll see the same price everywhere. Amazon, however, also uses its marketplace power to prevent publishers from offering lower prices at other retailers, and it otherwise steeply discounts a wide variety of titles to keep sales going strong. On average, you’ll find the lowest prices there–which is good, because with a Kindle you can’t buy ebooks from any other retailer.
I want to be able to read ebooks that I check out from my local library: Nook or Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-950
Almost every library uses a service called OverDrive to lend out ebook titles, and the Kindle won’t work with OverDrive. It’s likely that the Kindle will never support library loans, at least not as long as Amazon refuses to support the EPUB format.
I want to be able to go online and check email, use Wikipedia, read news, etc. on my device: Kindle or Nook
For Internet connectivity no matter where you go, you need a device with 3G wireless. The three big brands–Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader–all offer a 3G version, but the Sony Reader Daily Edition restricts web browsing to Wi-Fi even though it costs $70 more. That leaves the Kindle 3G+Wi-Fi and the Nook 3G+Wi-Fi as your best buys.
I want to spend less than $150: Kindle Wi-Fi
There’s a Wi-Fi Nook under this price point as well, but it’s $10 more than the Kindle model, so unless you want access to local library ebooks the Kindle is the better value.
I want the latest technology: It depends
You can’t have it all at the moment, but you can maximize a particular feature. For the best E Ink (grayscale) screen, choose Kindle. If you want a color screen (to view children’s picture books or magazines, for example), go with Nook Color. If you want to be able to use your finger to “swipe” through pages and a stylus to make notes directly on the screen, choose the Sony Reader (it ties the Kindle for the best E Ink screen, but since it costs much more, you should stick with the Kindle unless you want the touchscreen feature).
I can spend more than $500: iPad
Think of it as a Swiss Army Knife of readers–it will give you access to Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and (coming soon) Sony ebooks, plus so much more.
If you go this route, however, don’t buy your ebooks from the Apple iBookstore–the copy protection Apple is using is difficult to work with. There are free Nook and Kindle apps for the iPad, and Sony has announced it will release its own ebook app for the device next month. For public domain ebooks, there’s a free app called Stanza, and for library books there’s a free app called Bluefire.
If after a few months you decide the iPad is too heavy to be a dedicated ebook reader, supplement it with a lightweight and much more portable Kindle or Nook (depending on where you’ve been buying your ebooks); after all, you’re Captain Moneybags, you can afford it.
I want the one that’s the most recommended and the best reviewed: Kindle
The Kindle remains the one to beat in most mainstream media reviews, and Consumer Reports has given the two most recent Kindle models top rankings.
I want the one that’s easiest to use: Kindle
Amazon has put all of its customer service and online retail experience into creating a seamless browsing, buying, and reading experience.
I want a color screen: Nook Color or iPod Touch
Nook Color is being praised by early reviewers for its screen, size and underlying software. Despite its small size, the iPod Touch also makes for a great full-color choice (make sure you check out the screen on a Touch before dismissing it–it might surprise you).
I want to read comics: iPad, iPod Touch or Nook Color
The iPad screen is perfect for comic books, but if you need to stay within an ereader budget you might want to consider an iPod Touch–the screen is naturally much smaller, but Apple’s touch technology makes it easy to flick between panels and pages. You may also want to check out the new Nook Color. However, I haven’t found any reliable information on whether Barnes & Noble plans to actively support comic books on the device, so it’s a risky bet this early in the game unless you’re technologically savvy enough to make it work on your own.
Not recommended, and why:
- Kobo (Borders) – It’s more expensive than the Kindle with fewer features. It’s the same price as the Nook but doesn’t have access to B&N’s larger ebook store or accessory line. There’s no 3G model.
- All Sony Reader models other than the $250 model listed above – They lack wireless connectivity and cost more than a Kindle or Nook.
- Anything else – When it comes to electronics that rely on software to function, you want a company big enough and dedicated enough to provide decent support. As Teleread notes, cheaper models look and function okay on the surface, “but you will find that their software is abysmal. Stick to a name brand.”
(Photo: Jane Rahman)