An awful lot of people thought that one-job e-readers would be wiped out by do-everything tablets like the iPad, but that hasn't been the case. With Amazon's launch of its new Kindle Paperwhites, avid readers have more choices available to them. Though there are several smaller e-reader makers such as Kobo, it's basically a two-horse race between Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook, but you've still got eight e-readers to choose from between them. So, which one is best for you?
What's the landscape of e-readers?
Because Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer both e-readers and tablets under the same series names, Kindle and Nook, the difference between the two types of devices can be confusing. But keep this in mind: Once you see a color screen, it's a tablet. Further, tablets will allow you to watch video and browse the Internet — e-readers are for reading. See the list at bottom for all the currently available e-readers.
What about pricing and connectivity?
The biggest reason that e-readers have not been replaced by tablets is price. You can buy a Kindle for as little as $69. Only Amazon offers a discounted unit in exchange for ads that run on the home screen, but once you are inside of an e-book, you won't see ads. The new Kindle Paperwhites are also ad-supported. Barnes & Noble Nooks do not have ads.
Connectivity helps determine price. An Internet connection — Wi-Fi or 3G — is only used for downloading books and periodicals. You don't need to be online to read them, so a pricier 3G connection (like your cellphone uses) is usually unnecessary. Only Amazon offers 3G-capable e-readers.
Do you want to type or tap?
While the electronics industry is moving to touch screens — even on computers — there are still those who prefer a physical keyboard. Amazon offers its Kindle Keyboard 3G for $139 and its standard Kindle operates by simple buttons. Kindle Paperwhites are touchscreen-only, as are both Nook e-readers.
Which brand has a better display?
For years, Amazon claimed that the grayish background, the hallmark of e-ink technology used for e-readers, was easier on the eyes for long periods of reading. However, the new Kindle Paperwhites use e-ink with much whiter backgrounds against black text. It's about the same difference as reading a newspaper and a magazine. Resolution is also higher than previous models at 1024 by 768 pixels. Nook e-reader displays have a resolution of 800 by 600 pixels.
What if I want to read in bed?
The Nook with GlowLight was the first e-reader to offer a built-in light, so users could read in the dark without disturbing their partners. Amazon has matched Barnes & Noble, adding adjustable lighting to Kindle Paperwhites. However, Amazon's battery life using Paperwhite's light is about twice that of the Nook with GlowLight's — two months compared with one month. Both brands of e-readers can also be read in bright sunlight, something you simply can't do with a tablet.
Who offers the best book selection?
Barnes & Noble claims to have the "the world's largest bookstore" at 2.5 million titles. Amazon says only that it has a "massive selection," along with 180,000 exclusive-to-Kindle titles. Both companies offer NYT bestsellers, and prices are comparable. Frankly, we could find little difference between the two bookstores' offerings in a spot check.
That said, Barnes & Noble offers an intriguing way to browse books by "instant collections," which group titles by more specific categories than the traditional ones like thrillers and literary fiction. Spy novel devotees can see 92 choices in "International Intrigue" and Jane Austen fans get 118 titles to choose from that include the classics along with modern adaptations, such as Victoria Connelly's "Weekend with Mr. Darcy."
What about perks?
With Amazon Prime, a $79-a-year membership service that includes free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases, Kindle owners can choose one book a month from nearly 200,000 titles to read for free, including the Harry Potter series . Barnes & Noble's $25-a-year membership program offers little for Nook owners — discounts apply to physical books. However, Nook owners can read any e-book for free for an hour a day over the Wi-Fi at B&N bookstores. Customer service by in-store personnel is also available to Nook owners.
Amazon offers trade-ins on old Kindles. After sending in your Kindle, a gift card will be deposited into your Amazon account. For instance, you can receive up to $23 for the ad-free Kindle that retails for $89.
You can borrow e-books from public libraries through both devices. There's no difference in lending selected e-books to friends because publishers set the rules, not Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
What models are available? (All displays are 6-inches)
- Kindle (ads) $69
- Kindle (no ads) $89
- Nook Simple Touch (no ads) $99
- Kindle Paperwhite (ads) $119
- Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight (no ads) $139
- Kindle Keyboard 3G (ads) $139
- Kindle Keyboard 3G (no ads) $159
- Kindle Paperwhite 3G (ads) $179