“Which ereader device should I buy?”

by Chris Walters of Booksprung

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)

27 thoughts on ““Which ereader device should I buy?”

  1. How about another bullet point that reads:
    I want to be able to read my technical pdfs/journals stashed on my hard drive or downloaded off the net. Many like me have been waiting for the purfekt device to do just that. What say ye?

      1. Next year is going to be the year of the tablet so by then end of the year, you will be able to buy a decent performing tablet at a reasonable cost.

    1. I am able to side load any PDF document onto my Nook and read them. I have several school and work PDF’s on there now that I high light and make notes. Then when I get home I look up those notes and type them into MS Word. It works very well for me.

      1. I have also decided to get a nook simple touch (no glowlight). I am not able to make a decision because I am not able to get a good idea about it and since this is going to be my first e-reader, I want someone experienced like you to guide me in this. Please do tell me about the pros and cons of the nook. My location is in India, so if you have an opinion about the customer support in my country pls to share it too. thank you. Pls send the reply to my e-mail
        [email protected]

  2. I actually have bought quite a few books from the Kobo Bookstore. They offer deals almost every weekend. The coupon codes often work for books that they were not intended to be used for. Last weekend they had a $3 unlimited use coupon. I was able to apply it to about 6 different books that cost $3.89 so I bought them for .89 each. This is what epub is great for!

    Plus the new Kobo is not that bad compared to the first one. The Nook is the best value out there IMHO right now since I would not buy a Kindle.

  3. I want the best firmware, with regular updates: PocketBook or Onyx.

    When it comes to software features, these two are the best choices. And then I mean relevant features that really improve the reading experience, such as lots of font sizes and the possibility to install and use your own fonts. Many readers allow you to use only 5 or 6 font sizes, out of which only 2 are usable and the rest is either too big or too small. PocketBook and Onyx give you lots of sizes.
    Also, these two support lots of formats out of the box.
    Also, as opposed to e.g. Sony, these two regularly update and improve their software. E.g. yesterday new firmware for the Onyx Boox was released with a viewer of MS Office documents and lots of other improvements.

  4. I want something small and portable? I want something with extensive retail support? I don’t live in the USA, what are my choices then?

    To be honest, this article stills reads like the Kindle is the obvious choice (I’m aware of its source), throwing a bone occasionally to other readers. I’m disappointed that the merits of other readers were not objectively discussed, but instead compared rather glibly: ‘want an ereader under 150 bucks? Consider the Nook… but it’s $10 more than the K3!!!’ ‘The Sonys 350 and 650? Now, why would you even consider _those_?’

  5. It could have been a good article, Nate, if it were only more objective and less obviously slanted.

    You have determined that wireless connectivity is a must-have feature because you want it, not because it is a must-have feature. I, and many others, simply do not find it a problem to sideload books once or twice a month.

    You have determined that the Kindle’s screen is the best screen even though it is identical to the screen on the Sonys. One would think that identical screens would perform identically.

    As for ease of use, I find it much easier to, for example, double-tap a word and have the dictionary popup (Sonys) than to use arrow keys to move through the text to locate the word then to select the word and then get the dictionary to popup (Kindle). And it is very easy to access Wikipedia. Why isn’t Sony given kudos for that ease of use and the Kindle given demerits? I use the dictionary significantly more frequently than I use the wireless on my 950.

    And it is so much easier to change pages with the Sony than with the Kindle. With the Sony, you can hold it in one hand and at the same time change the page by a thumb swipe without ever involving the second hand. A bit more difficult to do on the Kindle.

    Of course, also notably missing from the bulleted list is the quality of the component build. The Sonys seem to me to be better contstructed than the Kindle and designed to last years. The Kindle has a very cheap plastic feel to it.

    Oh, don’t forget compactness. The Sony is easier to carry around because it is smaller — doesn’t have the physical keyboard.

    As for the cheapest books — well, it doesn’t do me any good if Amazon sells vampire romance books for $50 less than anyone else if I never read vampire romance books. I always find it troublesome when people declare a particular bookseller the best because of low prices. Instead, objectivity says you should look at the pricing of the last 10 books you bought and of the next 10 you want to buy to see how bookstores stack up on the books you want to read. Then you need to combine the price differential with the value to you of a device’s features to determine which is the better device and bookstore for you. Personally, because access to footnotes in nonfiction is important to me, I find the touch screen capabilities of the Sony much more important than wireless connectivity — I will tap the screen to read a footnote much more often than I will connect to an ebookstore to buy books wirelessly.

    Incomplete and slanted advice is not good advice.

  6. The Sony 950 is a great e reader. I bought the 350 but found the screen too small and hated the constant page flipping. I was going to with the 950 since it had the largest screen amongst the non tablet e readers. Through this site, I heard about the factory refurbished 3G Nooks and bought one if those from eBay. It’s been great so far!

  7. Wireless is great. The Amazon store is tops.

    But once you have the ebook reader in your hand, the Sony 350 is simply terrific – its ease of use & portability makes the Kindle seem like old technology.

    Same for the 650, just a little less portable than the 350.

  8. I’ve appreciated all the comments here so far, but I thought maybe I should explain the purpose of the post to The Digital Reader audience. It’s really meant for the average, non-techie U.S. citizen shopping for an ereader device this holiday season–that is, someone who has never followed the ereader market, and who will almost certainly just go with a Kindle or Nook because of marketing more than anything else. Instead of providing a detailed, feature-by-feature spec sheet (which is what I originally was working on before abandoning it), I decided the most helpful approach for those consumers would be to:
    a) simplify their choices to only 3 or 4 devices, and
    b) create very non-techie user cases that are easy to identify with.

    So while I don’t necessarily disagree with many of the suggestions in the comments, I think that as soon as you start getting more granular with device recommendations, you lose the simplicity, which was my real goal.

    (On a related note, my original idea was to create an HTML5 widget where you could adjust sliders for everything from screen size to font selection to wireless functionality, and see a ranking of devices adjust in real time to indicate which one is best for you. Maybe someone with better web dev skillz than I have can do it? Or help me out with it…)

    1. (And just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic or rude in my first sentence in the comment above. What I meant was that I wrote this post for my blog Booksprung, which is slanted much more toward the Kindle and a non-tech-oriented audience. In other words, I do a lot of hand-holding on Booksprung, which isn’t the case for the type of content that usually appears on The Digital Reader.)

  9. I’m going to chime in here and say that I agree with how Chris wrote this guide. We’re heading into the Christmas season, and I’ve already seen quite a few new visitors. A lot of them are buying an e-reader for the first time, and this guide is for them.

    It’s not as detailed as the experts might like, but it’s still useful. It might not be complete, but it’s still factually correct.

  10. It is not factually correct. The wifi Kobo is the same price as the the wifi Kindle if you buy from Borders. If you buy it from Kmart, it is ten dollars less. It has it’s own bookstore as well as being able to buy from the Borders or Sony bookstore.

    I disagree with your overall evaluation. The Nook would be the best overall value. For the ten dollar difference for the Nook, you have the ability to access the library and have your books for free. The ten dollar difference is trivial when you compare the price of an average e book which most people would probably say is 9.99.

  11. Chris,
    For your blog’s audience, that review made sense. That it’s reprinted here leads to some unwarranted cynicism from some ( we are all going to be biased by what we do prefer — and that includes Rich).

    Re going online and checking email, using Wikipedia, reading news, you mention that
    “for Internet connectivity no matter where you go, you need a device with 3G wireless.”

    Then you mention the Sony restricts web browsing to WiFi though it’s more costly which “leaves the Kindle 3G/WiFi and Nook 3G/WiFi as your best buys.

    However, the Nook’s 3G cannot be used for the Internet access you describe any more than the Sony can. It’s access is limited to the company store. To use the Nook’s web browser to go elsewhere you need to use its WiFi capability.

    Having said that, I think I may buy a supplemental or secondary e-reader for magazines, travel and photography books — in other words the NookColor, which is looking very good to me in that capacity.

    For longer session reading, I am transfixed by that K3 screen in most lighting. For the PDFs mentioned by someone else, the DXG is really good, but the iPad would be better except for long-session serial readability for my eyes, which has problems with a really good, dimmed netbook.

    Rich, the Sony Pearl has been reviewed as somewhat less clear than the Kindle’s in overall effect because of the effect of the touch screen even though it’s (something like) under the screen rather than over it.

    There’s no question in my mind the higher-cost Sony is much better for navigation via that touch screen though. I also like the translation dictionaries and the ability to write notes if you want. Me, I AM one of those who uses 3G constantly when out because I like to google for product reviews and nearby movies & restaurants. Have made a lot of good buys that way.

    Also, the ability to use it about 4 times so far when, as a passenger, lost as to which streets to use to get to a location, avoiding one-way street obstructions etc., I use the text step-to-step directions of Google maps, on the Kindle. Very fast actually. http://bit.ly/kdriving

    That you can read the full-text NYT for free when riding a bus or at the park is the kind of thing I like. No other dedicated e-reader allows that and certainly not for free web access. Yah, it can be slow but I concentrate on text sites.

  12. I would have recommended the Kindle, but seeing how Amazon caved so easily to political pressure over the WikiLeaks release rather than upholding freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I don’t think we should support them with our money.

  13. Ooops, you’re wrong about something. The 3G nook does not allow web browsing over 3G. Only over wi-fi, which the cheaper version also has. The 3G is only used if you want to download from the B&N store when you’re not in a wi-fi hotspot. I’m not sure if it’s the same with Kindle or not. I would expect that it is.

    The ePub support makes the nook the best choice for us. You can find many books available all over the internet in ePub format. Some are free in public domain, some are free on library loan, and some are new for purchase or free download direct from the publisher (like from baen books).

    As for the price vs. Kindle, it’s $10 different. Big whoop. When I’m looking in the $150 price range, a $10 price difference is insignificant.

    The eInk screen is fine and with the latest software update, the page turn isn’t slow at all.

    I loved my husband’s nook so much I kept stealing it. So, he got me my own for an early Christmas gift. I love my new nook. Now I just need to make the cover say “Don’t Panic.” and it will be perfect!

  14. Pingback: eReader Resources
  15. First of all, thanks for the great post! As a public librarian, I can vouch that most people who ask us about eReaders are not that tech-savvy and will appreciate a breakdown that is geared toward a general audience.

    Re: “I want to be able to read ebooks that I check out from my local library” — I have been confused about this for awhile, as I know that OverDrive does offer some Mobipocket (.mobi) books, which are supported by Kindle. However, most libraries, and even OverDrive itself, claim that you can’t read OverDrive books on a Kindle. Has anyone tested this with OverDrive Mobipocket books?

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