e-readers

Kindle 2 now just $189

A huge day today as Barnes & Noble lowered the cost of its Nook e-reader to $199 (from $259) and also introduced a Wi-Fi only model for only $149. The $199 version gives you Wi-Fi + unlimited 3G wireless coverage, while the $149 Wi-Fi only model comes with coverage at Wi-Fi hotspots including B&N stores, and is a great deal for a full-featured e-reader.

The Nook comes with a 6″ e-Ink screen, as well as a 3.5″ color LCD screen across the bottom, which can be used to show color book covers and surf the Internet. It has an expandable memory card slot, reads ePub books, and is connected to B&N’s e-book store.

In response, Amazon reduced the price of the Kindle 2 to $189, which is a $70 price cut and a great deal for the leading e-reader and unlimited 3G wireless coverage. (Note: Amazon will provide a $70 refund if you purchased one in the past 30 days.) The Kindle 2 has a 6″ e-Ink screen, 2-week battery life, and text-to-speech, among other features. It reads books in MOBI format, and is connected to Amazon’s e-book store, which has the greatest selection.

Any of these three options (Nook Wi-Fi at $149, Kindle 2 at $189, or Nook WiFi+3G at $199) is a great deal and great value. I had previously mentioned a couple of low-cost e-readers around $100-$150, but the Kindle and Nook have more features and are connected to larger e-book stores. While I was very impressed with the Kobo E-Reader for $149, at these lower prices, I’d recommend sticking with a Kindle or Nook.

I don’t normally comment on rumors, but there has been speculation of a Kindle 3 coming out in August with a slightly improved screen (better contrast and faster page turns), or perhaps the introduction of a Wi-Fi only model at that $149 price point. But it looks like B&N’s price drop has forced Amazon to lower prices sooner than they had planned. Personally, 3G wireless coverage isn’t a big deal for me, as I buy all my e-books through my computer and transfer them with the USB cable — I usually leave the 3G switched off on my K2. But, if you like the idea of wirelessly buying and downloading books right from your K2/Nook while away from home, then another $40 or $50 for lifetime, unlimited 3G coverage is a phenomenal deal (compare it to the iPad 3G, which costs an extra $130 + $30 / month!).

This is an exciting step for e-readers — being able to get the two most popular e-readers for under $200 should expand their audience dramatically. If you’re still on the fence, I’d recommend heading into a Target to see a K2 or a Barnes & Noble store to play with a Nook. If you like to read more than a few books a year, I think you’ll be very happy with an e-book reader, and the price cut means you might even pay for your new K2 in a year through the lower cost of e-books compared to paper books (not to mention all the free classics out there!).

Refurb Sony Reader Pocket Just $110

Posted by Always Write at 1:27 AM Tagged with: ,
May 192010

For today only, Woot.com is offering a refurbished Sony PRS-300BC Digital Reader Pocket Edition for just $109.99 (compare to my mention last week of a new model for $140). Woot’s motto is “One Day, One Deal,” so this deal will be up today only (May 19), and will end at midnight central time (23 hours and 33 minutes from now). Woot lets you buy up to 3 units with $5 flat rate shipping.

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive, small, light e-reader and you don’t mind it being refurbished, this could be a tempting deal. (Check out the post I linked above for more info and specs.) It’s good to see the cost of e-readers continuing to fall.

UPDATE: Deal expired.

Sony Reader Pocket now $140

Posted by Always Write at 5:30 PM Tagged with: ,
May 032010

Sony Reader Pocket Edition

The Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300 is now selling from Amazon and Buy.com for just $139.95. The Sony readers are normally considered the third of the “Big 3” e-readers (behind Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook) … perhaps “Big 4” if enough people actually start reading on Apple’s iPad.

This follows an interesting trend as e-reader prices seem to be coming down. The original Kindle sold for $399, which was reduced to $359, then $299, and is currently $259. There are now several competitors in the $150 range as well. Will this bring more people into the e-reader and e-book fold? Or do people prefer to pay a little more for e-readers with more features? Personally, I like to see options available at different price points.

The Sony reader has an easy-on-the-eyes 5″ e-Ink screen (note that the K2 and Nook’s screens are 6″ diagonal). It comes with 512 MB of memory (enough for several hundred e-books), and boasts the 2-week battery life that e-Ink displays are known for. It reads ePub, PDF, and text files. It is quite small and light: at only 4.2 x 6.2 x 0.4 inches and 7.8 ounces, it is smaller and lighter than most paperback novels and should slip into a sport coat pocket.

It does without some of the features of its more expensive siblings, as it does not include a touch screen, keyboard, wireless downloads (you attach a USB cable to your computer), expandable memory card slot, a built-in dictionary, or the ability to play music or show pictures.

You also should consider that the main avenue to purchase e-books for the device will be Sony’s E-Reader Store, which has a lower selection and higher prices than Amazon or B&N. On the other hand, many bestsellers are being sold for the same price everywhere now, and it can read ePub files from other sources (including libraries).

I don’t think I would prefer it over my Kindle 2, even for the lower price, but for someone looking for a very small, light, and inexpensive e-reader, it’s certainly a serious contender.

Now that we’ve had the iPad for 10 days, I can give a more thorough review than my first one. Probably the best thing I can say about it is that it has kept us up even later than usual on more than one night … and that we’ve started calling it the “CrackPad.” Downloading apps, playing games, watching videos, and surfing the ‘Net becomes more addictive on the touchscreen, hand-held device. Aside from games, some of the apps are really useful, like the excellent WeatherBug app (that auto-detects your location and gives hour-by-hour forecasts, moving radar images, and pictures from nearby cameras), talking to someone on Skype is more fun than on a computer (too bad there’s no webcam), Shazam listens to songs playing on the radio and identifies them, and NetNewsWire lets me read my blogs and RSS feeds on-the-go. And my wife will no doubt be well entertained on her next flight.

On the down side, the iPad’s 24-ounce (1.5-pound) weight becomes quickly apparent when holding it–it really needs to be rested on a knee or lap, which can necessitate a hunching posture. It gets even heavier when you add a sturdy case, a necessity for something so expensive, slick, and fragile.

Of special interest to me is the question: How good is the iPad as an e-reader? And the answer is a pretty good one, but with some important caveats. First of all, I find it better for shorter reading (under an hour), as the backlit LCD screen is simply not as easy on the eyes as e-Ink displays or actual paper. And the weight is quite noticeable when reading, especially compared to my Kindle 2. However, color covers look gorgeous, and the iBook reading app is very well done. The iBook app mimics the look and feel of a book, especially when turned sideways to display 2 pages at once. It is simple to purchase books, arrange them on your bookshelf, open them, change font sizes, look words up in the dictionary, and turn pages. One note: while the cool-looking page turns (you swipe your finger and the slightly see-through page will follow the movement of your finger) are fun to play with at first, I very quickly desired the Kindle’s one-handed button press for page turns, which I’m glad to say you can do by tapping your thumb in the iBook app. It’s funny: people talk about e-readers mimicking books, but I already find turning pages too “cumbersome” now that I’m used to one-handed operation!

As for where to buy books: while the iBook Store is not as well-organized as Amazon’s, and doesn’t have as many titles (30,000 to almost 500,000), this ironically becomes an iPad advantage because you can use the iBook store and/or read Amazon books through Amazon’s Kindle for iPad app, which is also excellent.

As for the inevitable comparison to the Kindle 2, I’ll go point-by-point, roughly in order of importance to me (iPad advantages in bold, K2 advantages in italics):

  1. The iPad’s backlit LCD is like a computer monitor, not as easy on the eyes for long reading as the K2’s e-Ink or paper.
  2. Reading is very simple and intuitive–I’d rate this one as a tie with the K2, both are excellent.
  3. Weight (24 ounces) makes the Kindle (only 10 ounces) feel like a feather.
  4. The iPad’s $499 starting price is almost double the K2 ($259).
  5. The K2’s 2-week battery life is in another league than the iPad’s 10-12 hours.
  6. The iPad’s color screen makes covers and your “bookshelf” look great.
  7. Although I’ve become used to the Kindle’s “locations,” the iPad’s page count (and # of pages left in a chapter) is more intuitive.
  8. The current Wi-Fi iPads lack the K2’s free 3G wireless coverage. The forthcoming 3G iPad will cost at least $629 + $30 per month.
  9. The iPad starts with 16 GB of storage, while the K2 only has 2 GB. But both are plenty for thousands of books (the iPad will undoubtedly get filled with other stuff).
  10. You can attach the K2 to your computer via USB and drag-and-drop e-books into it. The iPad requires fussing with iTunes, which is a huge hassle when trying to connect to computers other than your own.
  11. Being able to purchase books from Amazon or the iBook Store may give you more options; however, most books should be the same price in either place.

In summary, it all comes down to what you’re looking for, and how serious a “reader” you are. It’s clear to me that the Kindle 2 is a superior e-reader. It’s much lighter, the e-Ink display is better for long reading sessions, it costs a fraction of the price, and the battery lasts forever. But the iPad makes a fine device to do a little light reading with from time to time. And, of course, the iPad plays games and movies and all sorts of legitimately cool stuff. But those cool things actually become a distraction as your “book” starts beeping and pinging at you when you get an email or Facebook update–the Kindle doesn’t do that. And, if you’re settled on the couch trying to escape into a good book, the lack of distraction can actually be a good thing.

UPDATE: No wonder we had been staying up later — according to researchers, using the iPad late at night disrupts your ability to fall asleep. (Luckily, e-Ink displays like the Kindle’s are safe.)

Kobo E-Reader For $149

Posted by Always Write at 6:41 PM Tagged with: , , ,
Apr 102010

Just a brief post, as I thought it was important to highlight the new Kobo eReader. For those of you looking to make the jump to e-books, this device looks like it will make an excellent starting point. There is a good review over on Electronista, but the summary is that the Kobo eReader does a fine job at reading books, has a nice e-Ink screen and great battery life, and is a good value at just $149. The fact that it uses a simple interface and doesn’t have wireless or other features can actually be a good thing — as it makes it easier to simply focus on one thing: reading books.

Another point to note: the eReader comes with 100 free e-books pre-loaded onto the device. While those titles are all public domain, and thus freely available elsewhere, I think it’s a great idea by Kobo: it makes the eReader seem like a better deal (that’s like paying $1.49 per book and getting the eReader for free), and also makes it blindingly simple for a buyer to start reading right away.

A few tech specs:

  • 6″ e-Ink screen (easy on the eyes, great in sunlight, 2-week battery life)
  • 1 GB internal storage (holds about 1,000 e-books)
  • USB connection (connect it to your computer and drag & drop files onto it)
  • Only currently reads ePub and PDF formats
  • Bluetooth built in

While you can get a cheaper $99 Delstar OpenBook or a more expensive $259 Kindle 2 (both of which I discuss here), the Delstar uses an LCD screen, not the easy-on-the-eyes e-Ink screen that most e-readers use. The Kindle is a better e-reader, has wireless access, a built-in dictionary, and uses Amazon, but it does cost over $100 more.

It’s good to see more and more devices emerging at lower and lower price points. The Kobo will be sold at Borders stores and can be filled with e-books from Borders’ upcoming e-book store (see Update 2, below).

One other quick point: there are rumors that the Kindle 2 will soon be available at Target and Best Buy retail stores and the Nook will be available through Best Buy (in addition to Barnes & Noble). I think it’s a great idea, since these devices have a “wow” factor and most people who try them out will be impressed. While Amazon allows a 30-day trial period (with no-questions-asked returns) on the K2, it’s still much easier to play with one at Target than order one from Amazon and maybe return it.

UPDATE: Kindle at Target confirmed, on Apr 25.

UPDATE 2: The Kobo eReader is available for pre-order from Borders, shipping June 17. It should also be arriving in Borders stores in August. Borders is planning an online e-book store for June as well.

UPDATE 3: Kobo reduced the price of its e-reader to just $129, but compared to the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, I don’t think the small price advantage justifies passing up the Kindle 3’s more impressive specs and features.

Apr 042010

You need something to read on your new toy, right?Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and we somewhat spontaneously decided on her birthday present the night before: an iPad. We hadn’t pre-ordered, so we stayed up all night and went to stand in line at the Apple Store at 6:30 AM. All went well, and we came home with a new iPad (Wi-Fi model) yesterday.

Many have touted the iPad as a “Kindle-killer” and the next big thing in e-book reading. Others say it’s just a big, overpriced Apple iPhone / iPod Touch. Others consider it aimed at a totally different market than the Kindle. So, my early thoughts (after only using it for a day):

So far, I like it more than I thought I would. It’s a good size for web browsing, pics, and stuff. And gaming on it is really fun (we did not have an iPhone or iPod Touch before). Now, we didn’t leave the house yesterday, so the size and weight and lack of 3G connectivity has not been an issue. And it’s still new and “cool” … will we still use it as much in a few months?

One big reason I like it is because the battery is impressive. Reviews said it gets 11-12 hours of movie watching, and with heavy use yesterday it lasted all day, probably 12 hours or so before we recharged it. That’s very good — although not Kindle territory.

As for reading books, I poked around on the Apple iBook Store (and was pleased to see Right Ascension and Declination show up on there, for just 99 cents each, on the day of launch!). I haven’t tried reading on it for any length of time (I’ve mostly been setting it up, downloading apps, and playing games). The bigger screen is nice, and a good battery is a plus, and the navigation seems simple (like the Kindle). Things like page turns, going to your library and picking a book, dictionary lookups, and changing font sizes are all easy and intuitive. On the minus side, it’s heavier than a Kindle and 12 hour battery life is a far cry from 2-week battery life. Also, there is no text-to-speech, as there is on the Kindle. And I still think it will be much easier to read on the Kindle’s e-Ink display.

Also, to compare apples to Apples (as it were, capitalization intentional), you’d have to compare the Kindle 2 (at $259) with an iPad 3G with wireless built in ($629 + $720 for 2 years of service = $1,349). So it’s really not in the same ballpark as a reader. Yes, you may be able to find other uses to justify the price differential, but I don’t really see them as direct competitors, even though the media is obsessed with the comparison.

Now, will people read on the iPad? That remains to be seen. I don’t really think so, although even a small percentage if there are tons of iPads out there could add up to something. I still think real readers will get a K2. I will say one downside for independent authors: Amazon is great at helping people find stuff with their “people who bought this also bought,” their genre best-seller lists, etc. But on the iPad, unless you’re one of their 5 or 10 “featured” big-name books, you gotta search for what you want. So, I wouldn’t expect nearly as many sales through the iPad as Amazon, since no one can “stumble upon” me … they need to be looking specifically.

Anyway, those are my early thoughts. I’m gonna take it down to my family’s place for Easter dinner tonight and see how it works on-the-go. I’ll use it for a while longer and try reading a whole book on it and give you my further thoughts in a week or so.

What do you think? Is the iPad a “Kindle-killer”? An overpriced, but fun, diversion? A laptop replacement? The future of all things? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts….

© 2010 David Derrico