A Buyer’s Guide to E-Readers

The tablet and e-reader section at the store’s confusing, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve probably heard of the Amazon Kindle, but it comes in multiple varieties. And now there’s this thing called the Nook, and these e-readers from Pandigital, and … and …

Take a deep breath. We’re going to walk through the process of figuring out which e-reader is right for you, step by step. Just ask yourself the following questions:

Store-bought or non?

Are you picky about what books you read? Do you want to buy new books online, through a store like Amazon.com’s? In that case, you should look to the “big name” e-readers first. Roughly in order, the Kindle has the best selection, followed by the Nook and maybe the Kobo, followed by everything else.

If it’s free classics you’re looking for, anyone can download free public domain ebooks from the Gutenberg Project and put them on an e-reader with a little know-how. Kobo’s readers come with 100 free books, so that just might give you a head start. Meanwhile, if you have a lot of books in Adobe’s PDF format you should look for a reader that supports it well.

E-ink or color?

A black-and-white e-ink screen is the best at letting you read text for long periods of time. It produces a crisp, clear image, and uses so little battery life you can just charge your e-reader once at the start of a trip.

For web browsing and apps, though, you really want a color screen. That basically narrows your choices down to either the Nook Color (which straddles the line between e-reader and tablet) or the iPad (which crosses it). The Nook Color’s more convenient to hold in one hand, but the iPad has more apps and better access to movies and music.

One hidden disadvantage of color displays is that the e-readers that have them often rotate their screens if you tilt them. This makes reading in bed substantially more difficult, without changing the options (if possible). On the plus side, though, you won’t need a nightlight or book light.

Reading on the go

What about when you don’t have your e-reader with you? The Kindle, Kobo, and Nook e-readers all have apps that work on your smartphone, and let you continue reading the same books that you already bought. Other e-readers might work with other apps, so if this feature is important to you check the Android Market and App Store.

Wi-Fi only or 3G?

Some of the more low-power, black-and-white e-readers have a more expensive version that comes with free 3G Internet. The thing is, it’s not as useful as you might think. You can buy books on the go, sure, but browsing the Internet is a pain when you have to use an e-ink screen.

Color tablets like the iPad sometimes offer 3G options, but you have to pay a monthly fee. Plus, those are slightly out of e-reader territory, unless you’re just looking at them to read books and websites on.

Screen size

A large screen, like on the Kindle DX or the iPad, is more convenient for reading newspapers and magazines on. It also drives up the cost substantially, though, as well as making your e-reader harder to hold in one hand.

The way that your e-reader feels in your hand is one of the most important considerations, so spend some time with it at the store. See if it makes your wrist tired to hold it for long periods of time, and if it feels plasticy or cheap. Most importantly, have fun!

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