eBook Reader Comparison

If you’re anything like me, you don’t make big purchase decisions (or any decisions, really) without considering all your options. If the decision before you is which ebook reader to invest in, there a lot of options to consider. In an earlier post, eBook Reader Features, I described the features you might be looking for in an ebook reading device, so you might want to read that first, if you haven’t already. In this post, I will compare four major brands of ereaders with regard to those features, laid out in table format below. Electronic ReaderAs you can see, every reader model appeals to a different market, based on the user’s needs. Contrary to popular forum discussions of “my reader’s better than yours”, it’s really about what the individual is looking for in a reading device. For example, the Kobo eReader is a basic model without bells and whistles, but Kobo is the only major ebookstore that sells to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as the U.S. and U.K. Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s original Nook both offer WiFi and free 3G options, along with snazzy features like built-in MP3 players and limited book sharing, but only the Kindle has text-to-speech capability. On the other hand, the NookColor has tts and can show children’s books, magazines, and illustrated manuals in 16 million vibrant colors, while only the Sony Reader allows stylus input for note-taking. See where I’m going with this? There is no “best ebook reader”. It’s all about you, the end user, and what’s important for your lifestyle. If choosing an ebook reader is a decision you are ready to make, go back and read my previous post first, then study the table below to see which model you should choose.
FeatureAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboSony
ModelsKindle WiFi, Kindle WiFi/3G, Kindle DXNook WiFi, Nook WiFi/3G, NookColorKobo Wireless eReaderReader Pocket Edition, Reader Touch Edition, Reader Daily Edition
Formats SupportedAZW (Amazon proprietary format) + PDF + Mobi + TXTePub + PDF + PDB + Adobe DRM + Microsoft Office Docs (NookColor only)ePub + PDF + Adobe DRMePub + PDF + TXT + RTF
Countries SupportedUS, UKUSUS, UK, Canada, Australia, New ZealandUS
Other compatible devicesWin & Mac PC's + iPhone & iPad + Blackberry + Android + SmartphonesWin & Mac PC's + iPhone & iPad + Blackberry + Android + Smartphones + HTCWin & Mac PC's + iPhone & iPad + Blackberry + Android + SmartphonesWin & Mac PC's
Screen TypeGrayscale eInkGrayscale eInk, Grayscale eInk, Backlit Full ColorGrayscale eInkGrayscale eInk
Screen Size (diagonal)6", 6", 9.7"6", 6", 7"6"5", 6", 7"
Dimensions7.5"x4.8"x0.3", 7.5"x4.8"x0.3", 10.4"x7.2"x0.4" 7.7"x4.9"x0.5", 7.7"x4.9"x0.5", 8.1"x5.0"x0.5"7.2"x4.7"x0.4"5.7"x4.1"x0.3", 6.6"x4.7"x0.4", 7.9"x5.0"x0.4"
Weight8.5 oz, 8.7 oz, 18.9 oz11.6 oz, 12.1 oz, 15.8 oz7.8 oz5.5 oz, 7.6 oz, 9.6 oz
Human InterfaceQWERTY keyboard + nav buttons3.5" Touch Nav Area (Nook), Full Screen Touch (NookColor)Nav buttons onlyTouchscreen + Stylus
ConnectivityUSB/WiFi, USB/WiFi/3G, USB/3GUSB/WiFi, USB/WiFi/3G, USB/WiFiUSB/WiFiUSB, USB, USB/WiFi
Battery Life (days, without wireless)30, 30, 14-2110, 10, 0.3 (8 hours)1014, 14, 11
Book SharingLimitedLimitedNoNo
Account SharingYesYes??Yes
Library BorrowingComing Q4 2011YesYesYes
MP3 PlayerYesYesNoNo
Text-to-SpeechYesNo, No, YesNoNo
Browser/AppsLimitedLimitedNoNo
Full SpecsAmazon KindleBarnes & Noble NookKobo eReaderSony Reader

eBook Reader Features

Free eBooksWhen most people think of a dedicated ebook reading device, they think about it as a glorified book. They don’t often consider the feautres beyond basic reading until they’ve had the device for a while. If you’re thinking about purchasing an ereader, you should make yourself aware of all the options out there before you buy, so you don’t end up with “reader envy”. Technology The first step in selecting an ereader is to ask the basic question: will I be able to get the books I want for my device? All ebooks are not available in all countries, in all formats, and in all stores, so you have to be aware of the book selection that will be available for your reader. eBook formats can be open, where the format is widely available and programs exist to convert between formats, or they can be proprietary, where the book will require special software to be read. While an open format, like ePub, will make your life easier and increase your book selection, you shouldn’t necessarily be scared off by a proprietary format. Most of the device manufacturers make their reading software freely available for other common devices like PCs, smartphones, and tablets. If you want to be able to switch between reading devices seamlessly, make sure your chosen product’s software has this flexibility. You’ll also want to know if the software provides for bookmarking (remembering your last read page) across devices. Physical Attributes The size, weight, style, and durability of the unit should be your next consideration. Some people want the slimmest, lightest unit they can find to maximize portability, while others prefer a larger screen for detailed graphic images or fewer page turns. Road Warriors might be more concerned with the strength and durability of the device, if they tend to be rough on their baggage. You must also choose between a backlit screen (like an ordinary laptop computer) and the newer eInk technology. eInk is a great innovation for reading outdoors, having paper-like readability even in bright sunlight. eInk also uses very little power, but is slower to draw the screen and is currently available only in black and white. If you plan on using your reader to peruse a lot of magazines or illustrated books, eInk is probably not for you. It’s also not the best choice if you frequently read in a dark room, as it requires an external light source, while backlit models provide their own light. Just as with PCs, screen size and brightness have a great impact on battery life, so be sure to check this metric before you buy. Regardless of screen size, however, most models offer adjustable font styles and sizes, so even folks with poor eyesight can tailor their reading experience to a comfortable viewing level. You should also think about whether or not you want a keyboard, touchscreen, or button-only model. Some units are operated with just a few buttons, allowing you to select items from menus and move back and forth through the book. Others have touchscreens which offer more flexibility, while still other models have full QWERTY keyboards that allow you to type notes, enter URLs, or send emails. One confusing and important feature of ebook readers is their connectivity ability. You will have the option to choose between models that only connect to book sources via a hard-wired connection (USB), others that offer WiFi connectivity, and some that have a 3G capability, just like a cell phone. There are currently devices on the market that offer both WiFi and 3G connectivity without connection charges or usage limits. Additional Capabilities In addition to their ability to present books in a digital format, Free eBookssome ebook readers offer advanced computing features like games, web browsing, email, and built-in MP3 players. Several models also offer text-to-speech, which will read any ebook to you (not just audiobooks). This is straight computerized reading, of course, not a dramatic interpretation of the book, and there can be contextual errors, but it’s still a great feature to have while driving or exercising, or for those who can’t read even the super-sized fonts comfortably. Sharing One critical feature for some avid readers is the ability to share books with their friends and family. Certain models allow sharing of purchased ebooks, where you can “lend” the book to another ereader owner with the same model. So far, this is quite limited, as in a one-time loan of 14 days only, so read the fine print on this feature. Some vendors allow users to share ebook accounts, however, which means everyone on the account can read books purchased by anyone on the count, similar to a “friends & family” phone plan. Another type of sharing is through library ebook lending programs. These work just like paper book lending programs with the advantage of automatically “returning” the book, so you never get stuck with late fees. There is a limited selection of such books, though, and waiting lists can be long, so don’t think this is like a giant free bookstore. As you can see, an ebook reader purchase decision can be a complicated one. If you’re ready to decide, check out this point-by-point ebook reader comparison chart.

eBook File Formats

Free eBookseBooks aren’t new technology, but they’re just now becoming common enough that pretty much everyone has heard of them, even if they’re a long way from actually buying one. As with all emerging technology, however, there is a plethora of providers, products, and formats, all jockeying for position and hoping to become the market leader. For those of you who just want to buy an ebook and read the darn thing, this conglomeration of formats and devices can be a nightmare. We’ll break down the terminology and review the currently available formats, so you can better understand the differences. Definitions An ebook is any work of fiction or non-fiction that can be downloaded or delivered to you in a permanent digital format. You should be able to save it somewhere and read it any time without having to re-connect to the internet. If the information is only available on a web page to read when you’re online, then it’s not an ebook; it’s web content. An ebook reader or ereader is a physical device whose primary purpose is reading ebooks. Examples include the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo eReader, but there are many others—big names and little knock-offs. It’s important to understand, however, that you don’t need a dedicated ereader to read an ebook. You can read ebooks on a desktop or laptop PC or Mac, a smartphone, a tablet PC, or other device. There are dozens of ebook file formats on the market right now, though three formats prevail—PDF, EPUB, and MOBI—making up almost three-quarters of all ebooks, according to a 2010 survey by Smashwords. These file formats are simply different schemes for storing a book’s contents in digital form, just as JPG, GIF, and TIFF are different ways of storing a digital image. eBook software is the program that tells a device how to display the ebook according to your specifications. Each of these programs has a unique set of features, among which are the ability to adjust font sizes and styles, reflow the text, bookmark locations, highlight passages, or read the book aloud to you. This is analogous to image-manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro, which each have their own individual feature set for editing images. The most common ebook reading software is Adobe Reader, which displays PDF files, but only PDF files. The software on the PocketBook Reader, by contrast, can display a dozen different file formats. The Software-Device Connection While dedicated ereaders usually come with their own proprietary software, it is important to realize that many ebooks can be displayed on multiple devices, if you have the right software. For example, many people think that books found in Amazon’s Kindle store can only be read on a Kindle device. Not true. Amazon makes their Kindle software in versions for the PC, iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, iPad, and Android devices, and the software is a free download for any of these devices. Even if you don’t have one of those, you still may be able to read the book on whatever device you do have by converting between formats with a free file conversion program such as Calibre. The same is true for all the popular ebook readers. In fact, the only books you can’t easily port over to other software or devices are those that have been created with DRM—digital rights management. Free eBooks DRM is copy protection for ebooks, and many of the big-name publishers refuse to produce ebooks without it. The (enormous) downside to DRM, of course, is what I just mentioned: if you have a legally purchased DRM-protected ebook, you cannot use the file in another format or on another type of device. That means if you buy several DRM’d ebooks for your Kindle or Nook, but later decide to switch to Kobo, you are out of luck. You won’t be able to read those books on your new device without breaking the copy protection. eBook file formats are just different ways of storing the digital content of a book, and ebook software is used to decode that content so it can be displayed according to your preferences on a reader. Digital rights management notwithstanding, with the help of a conversion program, you can read just about any ebook on just about any device.

Do I Want an eBook Reader

Free eBooksSurely you’ve seen the commercials by now: the happy couple sitting quietly on the beach, each reading on their Amazon Kindle, and you’ve probably given some thought to whether you’d like to have an ereading device, but you’re not sure. A lot of folks feel they wouldn’t be comfortable reading on an ereader, or have concerns about what it does and how it works. Let’s look at some of the most common objections people give for not diving into the ereader market. 1. “Ereaders are expensive.” This is probably the number one reason people give for not buying an ereader, and at their initial offering prices in the $300-$400 range, they were certainly out of reach for most casual readers. But the prices are coming down quickly, and by Christmas this year, you can expect to see readers under $100. Now that still may be prohibitive for some, but consider what you might save on books by investing in an ereader. Currently, many ebooks are still priced as high as their paper counterparts, but there are also worlds of free and very inexpensive books out there–enough to keep anyone reading for a lifetime. If you read one book a week, how much would you save? Instead of spending, say, $7 for a paperback, suppose you chose from the vast array of ebooks that are under $5, paying an average of $2.50 per book. That’s a savings of $4.50 per week, or $234 a year. You would more than cover the cost of the ereader in the first year. 2. “What if there are no ebooks I want to read?” Barnes & Noble boasts over two million titles for its Nook ereader, while Amazon claims more than 600,000. Smashwords offers more than 15,000 books, and Kobo, Fictionwise, and other retailers and independent publishers add to that, and they’re getting more every day. All of the latest bestsellers are out in digital format, and while it’s true that a lot of older books may never be available in ebook format, most of the classics are available to download for free, and a lot of authors are reviving their out-of-print backlist for the ebook market. Unlike paper books, an ebook doesn’t have to be a big hit to stay “in print”. Once a book has been written and edited and formatted for an ereader, there’s no ongoing cost to keeping it around. 3. “Computer screens bother my eyes.” Many of today’s ereaders use a technology called eInk, which is a non-backlit screen type, comfortably readable even in bright sunlight. Most people find it as sharp and clear as a printed page. More importantly, for those whose eyes aren’t as young as they used to be, ereaders offer adjustable font sizing. Instead of buying those expensive and potentially embarrassing large print volumes, or sliding on the dorky reading glasses, an ereader owner can just crank up the font size on his screen until he can easily see it. And, unlike the zoom feature on a computer screen, an ereader will automatically reflow the text, so the user doesn’t have to scroll left or right to see all the words. Free eBooks4. “I just like the way a book feels in my hands.” Well, okay, but how about folks who don’t, like people with arthritis in their hands, or people who like to eat or drink while they’re reading, or who want to read while exercising on a treadmill? Anyone who doesn’t want to have both hands on their book at all times will enjoy an ereader, which can be held with one hand or propped up without falling over or losing the page. 5. “I might lose or break my ereader, and then I’d lose all my books.” It certainly is possible to lose or destroy an ereading device, just as you can lose or destroy a paper book–just ask those unfortunate folks who’ve left one on an airplane, set it on the roof of their car, or dropped it in a swimming pool. Such an incident would require the purchase of a new unit, of course, but the larger retailers will transfer all your previous ebook purchases to any new device you buy, so you don’t lose the books, too. 6. “I can’t share my ebooks or sell them or give them away.” A lot of libraries are beginning to offer ebooks, and some ereader owners exclusivley read these borrowed books. Barnes & Noble has implemented a loan feature on the Nook that allows a user to share a book one time for a limited period with another Nook owner, and Amazon has promised to offer the same in the near future, but besides those options, in general, no, you can’t legally share, sell, or give away your ebooks the way you can a paper book. For those who depend on sharing and reselling as a way to finance their book habits, this is a valid issue. On the other hand, over time, ebooks should be inexpensive enough to make up for some or all of that effect. 7. “Ereaders require batteries.” Yes, they do, but they’re built-in and rechargeable, and used properly, they can last for weeks at a time. You can carry your ereader on safari in the African jungle and never run out of reading material.

Other ereader facts to consider

1. Ereaders are small and light. For the weight of one paperbook book and less than half the size, you can carry your entire library with you wherever you go. 2. Ereaders offer text-to-speech technology. An ereader can read a book to you while you’re driving or walking or lying in the tub. It won’t give you the emotion, accents, or sound effects you might get with a professionally recorded audiobook, but for a fraction of the audiobook price, it’s a nice alternative. 3. Ereaders are mini-PC’s. Though many ereader owners could care a less about these features, most of today’s ereaders offer a limited set of the features we normally get through our computers or phones, such as MP3 players, email and text messaging, and some web browsing. The internet features are available via the built-in wi-fi connections, or on some models, free 3G wireless.

Good enough for ya?

Free eBooksSo, for those who have been resisting the ereader impulse, perhaps you have a better understanding of what an ereader can offer you now. Yes, it is a significantly different experience from paper book reading, but I think you will find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. If you are interested in trying an ereader, the two most popular models are Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.