Today Amazon announced their latest-generation e-reader, the “All-New Kindle Paperwhite,” starting at $119.
I’m not really sure about the name. First of all, it’s not exactly “all new,” although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the Kindle has been refined over time and is a pretty great e-Ink-based e-reader. I guess Amazon didn’t want to name it the “Kindle Paperwhite 2” or the “Kindle 6,” as it’s the second Kindle generation to include the side lighting system, and the sixth Kindle generation overall.
In any event, what is new about the All-New Kindle Paperwhite is:
- 50% Improved Contrast with E-Ink Carta (whiter white background and darker blacks)
- 25% Faster Processor (for faster page turns)
- A “Next Generation” lighting system (lit from the side, not the back, so it’s easier on your eyes)
The specs, which are similar to the previous model, are:
- 6″ e-Ink Carta display, 212 ppi
- 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″ (169 mm x 117 mm x 9.1 mm)
- 7.3 ounces (206 grams) — “30% lighter than an iPad Mini”
- 2 GB internal storage (about 1,100 books)
- Wi-Fi wireless connectivity
- Battery lasts about 8 weeks (Wi-Fi off and reading for 30 minutes per day)
It is available with “Special Offers” for $119 (with free shipping), or without them for $139, and ships September 30.
Also coming soon is the version that also includes 3G wireless connectivity (in addition to Wi-Fi), coming November 5 for $189.
It looks to me like a solid, although not necessarily game-changing update to a very successful product. Better contrast (which was already excellent starting with the Kindle 3 and getting better from there) is always welcome, as is the faster processor. If any readers get their hands on one, please leave me your hands-on experiences in the comments below. Thanks!
UPDATE: The new e-Ink display technology used by the new Kindle is called “E-Ink Carta.” According to E-Ink:
“E Ink Carta delivers a dramatic 50% increase in contrast over earlier generations of ePaper, giving eReaders a contrast ratio close to that of a paperback book. The crisp text and detailed graphics are also highly readable in direct sunlight. Carta’s 16 levels of grey produce the sharpest rendering of images with smooth tones and rich detail.”
Today B&N announced a lower-cost version of its Nook Tablet, the “reader’s tablet” with a 7″ color LCD screen, which I’ve discussed before here. This new version matches Amazon’s Kindle Fire pretty much spec-for-spec and dollar-for-dollar by reducing the price to just $199. It also reduced the memory to match the Kindle Fire, now with 8 GB of internal storage (instead of 16 GB for the $249 Nook Tablet version) and 512 MB of RAM (instead of 1 GB for the $249 version).
A quick re-cap of the specs of both Nook Tablet versions (different specs in italics):
- 7″ VividView IPS LCD touchscreen display with 1024 x 600 resolution
- 1 GHz dual-core processor
- 1 GB of RAM
- 16 GB of internal storage (plus SD card slot)
- 14.1 oz
- battery life: 11.5 hours reading / 9 hours video
Nook Tablet “Lite”:
- 7″ VividView IPS LCD touchscreen display with 1024 x 600 resolution
- 1 GHz dual-core processor
- 512 MB of RAM
- 8 GB of internal storage (plus SD card slot)
- 14.1 oz
- battery life: 11.5 hours reading / 9 hours video
Probably a good move on B&N’s part to match the sub-$200 price of the Kindle Fire competition — I think many people would rather save $50 as a trade-off for the slightly reduced specs.
B&N also still offers the older-generation Nook Color (lowering the price by $30, to $169) and the e-Ink-based Nook Simple Touch (for $99).
The big news in the e-reader device world this year is the introduction of the Kindle Fire, a 7″ touchscreen LCD tablet that goes head-to-head with the new Nook Tablet, and undercuts the larger, more expensive Apple iPad 2. There is also a new generation of e-Ink-based e-reader devices, mostly focusing on adding touchscreens to the reading experience. And prices have come down fairly dramatically from last year, with sub-$100 e-readers fairly common.
Click on the device names in the bullet point lists for my more detailed posts about each model.
On the e-reader side, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Sony all have new e-Ink based offerings, each offering touchscreen models. Prices have come down to about $100.
Amazon has an array of new 4th-generation Kindles this holiday season, starting at just $79 for the simply-named “Kindle,” which is their basic e-reader, lacking a touchscreen and keyboard (the 3rd-generation models are now called “Kindle Keyboards”). They make up for lacking these features with a small size, low weight, and very low price, starting at just $79 ($109 without “special offers“).
Amazon also offers the Kindle Touch, which adds a touchscreen and starts at $99 ($139 without offers). Both models come with Wi-Fi connectivity. If you want to add 3G, the Kindle Touch 3G is $149 ($189 without offers).
- Kindle ($79 from Amazon): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller, 5.98 oz., 2 GB
- Kindle Touch ($99 from Amazon): Wi-Fi, touchscreen, 7.5 oz., 4 GB
- Kindle Touch 3G ($149 from Amazon): Wi-Fi + free 3G, touchscreen, 7.8 ounces, 4 GB
Black Friday Deals:
Find the Kindle Keyboard 3G (normally $139) for just $89 at Best Buy. Target is offering it for $85 in-store on Black Friday.
Staples offers the $79 Kindle (with offers) with a free $15 gift card. Radio Shack does the same with a $10 gift card.
Of course, $79 for the basic Kindle is hard to beat — and you can order from Amazon or buy it anywhere without waiting in Black Friday lines.
UPDATE: The 9.7″ Kindle DX is $120 off, just $259 from Amazon until Monday.
Barnes & Noble Nook
Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch has the same 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen as the Kindles, and (as the name implies) comes with a touchscreen. It is 7.5 ounces, has Wi-Fi, and adds an SD memory card reader. It retails for $139.
Black Friday Deals:
The Nook Simple Touch is just $79 for Black Friday, matching Amazon’s non-touchscreen Kindle, even without “special offers.” Alternately, Target offers a $30 gift card with the purchase of the Simple Touch for $99.
Kobo offers its $99 Kobo Wireless and $139 Kobo Touch, both of which have the same 6″ e-Ink screen as the B&N and Amazon models. Both models offer Wi-Fi connectivity, and the more expensive Touch (as the name implies) adds a touchscreen. They have only 1 GB of storage, but do include an expandable SD card slot, and come pre-loaded with 100 free public domain books.
- Kobo Wireless ($99 from Kobo): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller, 7.8 oz., 1 GB
- Kobo Touch ($139 from Kobo): Wi-Fi, touchscreen, 6.5 oz, 2 GB
Black Friday Deals:
Kobo is offering its Touch e-reader with “offers” for just $99.
The latest Sony e-reader, the PRS-T1 (also called the “Reader Wi-Fi”), continues Sony’s touchscreen tradition (while the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo are recent touchscreen converts, Sony e-readers have had touchscreens for years). Like the other 3 above, this model also comes with the 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen and Wi-Fi connectivity. The Sony touts itself as the lightest 6″ touchscreen e-reader (just 5.9 oz) and, like B&N, takes aim at Amazon’s ad-supported “special offers” models by calling itself “Awesomely Ad Free.” Sadly, at nearly double the cost of Amazon’s entry-level model, Sony maintains its tradition of overpricing.
Black Friday Deals:
I haven’t seen any yet, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled and update this post if I find any.
Amazon and B&N’s new 7-inch offerings highlight the new tablet/e-reader hybrids, and Apple’s iPad 2 continues to be the top-selling tablet by a wide margin.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire boasts a 7″ LCD touchscreen, a dual-core 1 GHz processor, and 8 GB of storage for movies and other content. More impressive than the hardware is Amazon’s custom software (including its cloud-computing-accelerated Silk Browser and unlimited cloud storage for Amazon content) and content ecosystem, which includes Amazon Video on Demand, the Amazon MP3 store, the Amazon Android App Store, and of course the Amazon Kindle Store with over 1 million e-book titles.
Probably the most impressive thing about the new Kindle Fire, however, is the price: at just $199, it undercuts B&N’s tablet substantially and is well under half the cost of the least expensive iPad 2.
Black Friday Deals:
I haven’t seen any yet, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled and update this post if I find any.
B&N Nook Tablet
B&N’s Nook Tablet is an update of last year’s Nook Color, and is of similar size to the Kindle Fire, with the same 7″ LCD touchscreen (although B&N boasts a laminated & bonded “VividView” display that is said to reduce glare and improve readability).
Its hardware specs are a little better than the Kindle Fire, with double the RAM and internal storage, although B&N only allows users to access a paltry 1 GB of that storage for their own stuff — the rest of the space is kept free to buy stuff from B&N. B&N lacks the large content ecosystem that Amazon has created, although it does have a healthy e-book store, interactive children’s books, magazines, and a small but growing app store.
Black Friday Deals:
If you’re OK with last year’s tablet model (the Nook Color), you can get it plus a $30 Target gift card for $199 at Target stores.
Apple iPad 2
Apple’s iPad 2 is still the 900-pound gorilla of the tablet world (no, that’s not a crack about its weight), outselling all other tablets by a considerable margin. The smaller, lighter, cheaper Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet might be its first serious competition. However, the iPad counters their low prices with a larger 9.7″ LCD touchscreen, an external video camera, GPS, Bluetooth connectivity, available 3G connectivity, and a much more robust App Store.
On the down side, the iPad 2’s price ranges from $499 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi model, all the way up to $829 (plus data fees) for the 64 GB Wi-Fi + 3G model.
- Apple iPad 2 ($499 from Apple): Wi-Fi (3G avail.), 9.7″ LCD touchscreen, 21.2 oz., 16-64 GB
Black Friday Deals:
Apple will be knocking $41 to $61 off the price of the iPad 2, so the 16 GB Wi-Fi model will sell for $458.
If you’re not sure which tablet you want, check out my Kindle Fire vs. Nook Tablet comparison post here. Whatever you decide, good luck with your holiday shopping, and please be sure to come back and comment if you find a better deal, or to let us know how you like your new e-reader or tablet!
Slotted as hybrid devices somewhere between full tablet computers like the iPad 2 and pure e-Ink based e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook Simple Touch, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have unveiled “e-reading friendly” tablets just in time for the 2011 holiday season. So let’s take a look at Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s $249 Nook Tablet.
Both devices use 7″ LCD touchscreens, not the easier-on-the-eyes e-Ink screens of the Kindle. As such, they are designed for full color and video, including watching movies, playing games, surfing the Internet, and reading magazines.
In fact, these mini-tablets seem ideally suited for consuming content: movies, web pages, magazines, music, games and apps, children’s books with audio, and plain text e-books. To that end, Amazon has made it easy to consume lots of content: e-books from the Kindle e-book store, movies from Amazon’s video on demand service, music from Amazon MP3, and apps from Amazon’s Android app store. In fact, Amazon users who purchase Amazon Prime get access to a selection of thousands of free streaming movies and TV shows, as well as a selection of free apps, and a library of free e-book titles as well — and this is in addition to the free 2-day shipping on purchases of Amazon’s physical goods that the $79 Prime subscription already buys users (30 days of Prime is free with the purchase of a Kindle Fire). Amazon also leverages its cloud computing power to offer the Silk Browser (which speeds up Internet surfing by rendering webpages on Amazon’s supercomputers before sending it to your tablet), unlimited cloud storage for Amazon digital media purchases, and WhisperSync, which allows you to resume reading (or watching) when you switch from your Kindle Fire to your Kindle Touch, iPhone, or computer. (For my standalone post on the Kindle Fire, click here.)
B&N is also moving away from the “reader’s tablet” marketing of the original Nook Color and seems to have designed the Nook Tablet (which is really the “Nook Color 2”) as less of an e-reader and more of a tablet computer (the new name is a dead giveaway). To that end, they’ve beefed up the specs with a more powerful processor, and added apps (like Hulu Plus) more prominently to the device. Similarly to the Kindle Fire, it is designed as a content-consuming mini-tablet, able to stream movies, check email, surf the Internet, and display specially-produced multimedia children’s books (where narrators read the stories aloud and kids can interact with items on the screen). At $249 ($50 more than the Kindle Fire), it offers twice the RAM and double the internal memory of the Kindle Fire, and still costs only half as much as Apple’s iPad 2. (For my standalone post on the Nook Tablet, click here.)
The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are really more similar than different. They both share a 7″ IPS LCD touchscreen of 1,024 x 600 pixels, and both connect wirelessly through Wi-Fi. They are both similar in size and weight, with the Nook Tablet being slightly larger (0.6 inches taller) but lighter (by 0.5 ounces). They both sport identical 1 GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP 4 processors. They are both based on customized versions of the Android operating system, and come with software that allows for email, web browsing, movie playback, listening to audio, running Android apps, playing games, and reading magazines and e-books. They are both significantly smaller and lighter than the iPad 2, and are less than half the price, although they give up a few of the iPad 2’s features (like webcams, GPS, and Bluetooth).
As for differences, a couple jump out as critical. First, the Kindle Fire sells for just $199, compared to $249 for the Nook Tablet (and $499 for the cheapest iPad 2). Second, your preferred content provider — Amazon or Barnes & Noble — will heavily influence your choice here. If you’re already a Kindle user with a library of Kindle e-books (or movies or MP3s from Amazon) or an Amazon Prime member, it will be hard to argue against the Kindle Fire. Similarly, if you have a vast library of B&N e-books and prefer the in-store support at B&N stores, the Nook Tablet is the more likely choice for you.
The Nook Tablet also sports twice the RAM (1 GB compared to 512 MB in the Kindle Fire), which should lead to slightly better (but not nearly twice as fast) performance. The Nook has double the memory (16 GB compared to 8 GB), but B&N only lets you use 1 GB of the 16 to store your own stuff; they force you to leave the rest free to buy content from them. Considering that Amazon lets you use all 8 GB how you want and stores all Amazon purchases in the cloud, this would be a loss for the Nook if not for the built-in MicroSD card slot, which can add up to 32 GB more memory (so factor an additional $15-40 for a MicroSD card into your pricing). The Nook also has a built-in microphone, which allows you to record your own voice on certain children’s audiobooks. The Nook’s screen also boasts a “VividView” lamination and bonding process that is supposed to reduce glare and improve readability.
The Kindle, on the other hand, offers the superior software, including the Silk Browser, cloud storage, and WhisperSync. It also has an advantage with a larger Amazon Android App Store, compared to B&N’s App Store, which has a more limited selection of games and apps. The Amazon Video on Demand library, free e-book library, and free content that comes with a Prime membership is another plus.
In the end, both tablets seem to offer a promising content consumption experience, with impressive hardware specs and easy-to-use software. The Nook gets the slight nod on the hardware side, while the Kindle Fire seems to have slightly better software and content. In the end, I think the similarities outweigh the differences, and your affiliation to either Amazon or B&N will likely determine your choice. Barring that, the $199 Kindle Fire likely wins by virtue of being $50 less expensive, which will allow you to start filling up your new tablet with movies and e-books.
Sony announced today that it is dropping the price of its new touch-based PRS-T1 e-reader by $20, from $149 to just $129.
This new Sony e-reader, which boasts wi-fi connectivity in addition to the touchscreen, weighs in at just 5.93 ounces.
While still above the Kindle 4’s starting price of just $79, the price drop brings the Sony reader down into the right price range. Sony had a history of badly overpricing its e-readers, which prevented it from gaining much market share, at least in the U.S. This holiday season is certainly shaping up to be the year of the sub-$100 e-reader, with Kindles, Nooks, and now Sonys all slashing prices in recent weeks.
For more info on the PRS-T1, please see my previous post here.
Today Amazon unveiled their newest Kindle versions (what would be considered the Kindle 4), and is calling them simply the “Kindle” and the “Kindle Touch” for the touchscreen version. Both keep the 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen of their predecessors, and both lose the physical keyboard (replacing them with on-screen keyboards). The big news is probably the price: the Kindle now starts at just $79. Considering that people have predicted for a while that e-reader sales would explode when they got below $100, $79 (for the Kindle) and $99 (for the Kindle Touch) is pretty big news.
Of note, the new “default” price is the price with “special offers,” which means you get ads as screensavers and at the bottom of your home screen (but not during reading). I discuss it further here, but the ad-supported versions have become Amazon’s most popular, and some of the ads are even legitimately great deals (like a $20 Amazon gift card for $10). The non-ad-supported versions are $30 or $40 more each.
- Kindle ($79, or $109 without ads): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller, 5.98 oz., 2 GB
- Kindle Touch ($99, or $139 without ads): Wi-Fi, touchscreen, 7.5 oz., 4 GB
- Kindle Touch 3G ($149, or $189 without ads): Wi-Fi + free 3G, touchscreen, 7.8 ounces, 4 GB
The older (Kindle 3) model has been renamed the “Kindle Keyboard,” and has been discounted: $99 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi ($139 without special offers), and $139 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G ($189 without special offers).
- Kindle Keyboard ($99, or $139 without ads): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller + physical keyboard, 8.5 oz., 4 GB
- Kindle Keyboard 3G ($139, or $189 without ads): Wi-Fi + free 3G, 5-way controller + physical keyboard, 8.7 oz., 4 GB
While I am not as convinced of the merits of a touchscreen as most people seem to be, what jumps out at me is the $79 Kindle: you get the same 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen, access to Amazon’s world-leading e-bookstore, all Kindles now have access to library e-book lending, and it weighs just under 6 ounces. That is a very impressive bang for the buck, and the light weight makes it pretty perfect for a lot of users. The lack of a physical keyboard mainly only comes into play for those who like to take lots of notes or surf the web a lot; for the few times you might need the keyboard during normal use (to create and name a new “collection,” for example), I’d imagine the 5-way controller and on-screen keyboard will be fine. At the bottom of the Kindle (Kindle 4? New Kindle? Kindle Sans Keyboard & Sans Touch?) is the 5-way controller from the previous Kindle, as well as home, back, keyboard, and menu buttons. It also retains the narrow page turn buttons on each side, which I like in my Kindle 3.
Of course, if you like touchscreens, for just $20 more, you can get the Kindle Touch for $99. Like Sony and B&N, the Kindle Touch uses a series of infrared beams to detect your fingers instead of an extra touchscreen layer (which would somewhat muddle the screen beneath). The Kindle Touch (and Kindle Touch 3G, which looks the same on the outside) has no physical buttons on the front or the sides — it seems everything is now accomplished through the touchscreen. Turning pages requires a swipe or tap on the side of the screen you want (left for back, right for forward).
Both models are small and light, with the non-touchscreen Kindle an ounce or two lighter and slightly smaller (6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″ vs. 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.4″ for the Kindle Touch). The $79 Kindle also has less battery life (listed at 1 month instead of 2) and storage space (2 GB instead of 4 GB); however, both should be more than enough for most users. The $79 Kindle doesn’t include speakers (so no text-to-speech). Both new models incorporate a trick used on the new Nook Touch: it only refreshes the e-Ink screen (which causes a brief black-on-white flash) every 6 page turns instead of each time. E-Ink flash never bothered me, but some people might prefer the new system.
My analysis? Well, I haven’t been able to physically try one yet, but considering they have the same screen as my current Kindle 3 (sorry, I mean “Kindle Keyboard”), I think I can make some good guesses. I think the $79 Kindle 4 is going to be very popular this holiday season, because I think it gives most people everything they really need in an e-book reader, and at under 6 ounces.
On the other hand, I’m not quite as impressed by the Kindle Touch versions. For people who like touchscreens, they will be great, but I’m just not on the touchscreen bandwagon. And, to compare apples to apples, the prices are really about the same as the versions they’re replacing when you compare ad-supported vs. ad-supported models; Amazon is (probably wisely) just focusing more on the ad-supported price instead of what used to be the “regular” non-ad-supported price. On the other hand, getting an e-reader from the industry leader, with library lending, Wi-Fi, and a touchscreen for under $100 is still a heck of a deal.
A couple of final notes for now (I’m sure I will have more soon about these new models): back in January, I advised readers that the next-generation Kindle would not arrive for “at least 6 months, probably closer to a year (maybe just before Xmas).” That was just over 8 months ago. The $79 Kindle is available now, while the Kindle Touch version should start shipping November 21, pretty much just before Xmas. I also predicted that color e-Ink or Mirasol was probably further away than that.
Speaking of color, today Amazon also announced the Kindle Fire, the long-anticipated “Kindle Tablet,” which sports a 7″ color LCD (not e-Ink) screen and is more of a direct competitor to the B&N Nook Color, and a smaller, cheaper alternative to Apple’s iPad. At just $199 and 14.6 ounces, it will read e-books, play movies (from Amazon’s video on demand service), play music (from Amazon’s MP3 service), and run apps and games (from Amazon’s Android App Store). I will have a separate post about the Kindle Fire shortly. (UPDATE: As promised, here it is.)
As an e-book and e-reader evangelist, and someone who really enjoys reading on my Kindle 3 and can’t imagine going back to printed books, I hear lots of arguments as to why people don’t want to give e-books a try. While some of these are valid concerns, some are (IMHO) unfounded. I’ll try to separate which is which.
“But I’ll miss the smell and feel of paper books.”
This is probably the #1 reason I hear from book-lovers who don’t want to try an e-reader. They talk about the “feel” of printed books or the “smell” of them. They often conflate fond memories of reading books in their childhood with fondling the physical pages. But what do we really enjoy about reading? Smelling paper and glue? Feeling pages? Would we have as much fun buying a ream of printer paper and just holding it in our hands? No, it’s the words that we enjoy; it’s the stories that make the book. That’s what makes the reading experience special and memorable. And all the words are still there on an e-reader — better than ever, because you can adjust the font size, look up meanings in a built-in dictionary, and take literally millions of those words with you wherever you go.
I’ve always loved books. I’ve read hundreds. I loved them so much, I wrote three of them. But I can state with 100% certainty that I do not miss the paper that books were printed on even one iota. I get just as engrossed in the words, and enjoy the story just as much on my e-reader. In fact, I find myself reading more on my Kindle, and I enjoy the reading experience more. I have it with me more often, and it’s just more comfortable to read one-handed. Believe it or not, when I switch back to paper, I find turning pages (instead of just pressing a button) slows me down!
While I hear “But I’ll miss the smell & feel of paper” quite often, I have literally never heard it from even one person who actually tried an e-reader.
“But I want to keep books on my shelf.”
I can understand this sentiment somewhat. After all, some of us enjoy keeping a particularly treasured book, or even displaying it for others to see. (On the other hand, some people like e-readers because they make it tougher to see what you’re reading — so you can catch up on that trashy romance novel during lunch without your co-workers snickering.) However, I’ve found that there are only a small handful of really great books I want to keep on my shelf (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Lamb come to mind) — and I still do. But for the vast majority of my reading — which I would have bought in paperback and not hardcover anyway — getting stuck with books once I’m through reading them is more annoyance than asset. Some avid readers run out of shelf space and rent storage space for their books! An e-reader solves that problem nicely.
“But I can’t re-sell or lend e-books.”
On a similar note, some people complain that they aren’t able to re-sell e-books like they can with printed books, which is true. However, I’ve found that it’s very rare that I’ve been able to sell used books, especially paperbacks. If you’re lucky, you might get 10 cents for them at a garage sale or a quarter from a used book store. Big deal — it’s not worth the hassle. Most e-books I buy are less expensive than print books anyway, and I’d much rather save a couple bucks up front than hope I can try to sell a used paperback for more than a pittance.
As for lending, both Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook) now allow one-time lending of some e-books (where the publisher allows it). While you can theoretically lend a print book as often as you want, e-book lending has some nice advantages as well: you don’t have to physically meet up or mail the e-book, and you get it back automatically, without having to bug your friend, and without any of the pages dog-earned or damaged. Also, Amazon allows you to share most e-books with up to 6 different people on your account — so you, your wife, your 2 kids, and your parents can all read the same e-book at the same time for one purchase price — try that with a printed book. With all these advantages, you can understand why there are some limitations on the feature — with unlimited e-book lending by email, who would buy books anymore? (Well, beyond the first copy that would then get lent millions of times!)
“But I don’t read.”
OK, this one is 100% legitimate. If you don’t like reading, you won’t magically like reading on an e-reader. (I stand behind the corollary, though: if you like reading, you will almost certainly like reading on an e-reader.)
“But an iPad (or some other multi-function LCD device) is better.”
Define “better.” Yes, an iPad, Nook Color, or other tablet computer can do many more things than an e-reader. It can play “Angry Birds” and other games, surf the Internet, watch movies, do email, etc. (While the Kindle can play some games and access the Internet, it doesn’t do those things nearly as well.)
But, which one is better for reading? The Kindle 3, hands-down. The e-Ink screen, which isn’t very good for games or Internet surfing or movies, is much easier on the eyes than an LCD screen, especially when reading for long periods or reading in sunlight. Compared to the iPad, the Kindle is also roughly 1/3rd the weight, 1/3rd the price, and the battery lasts a month instead of 10 hours.
As mentioned above, if you don’t like to read (or you only read very rarely), a multi-function tablet computer might be a better choice. But any serious reader will easily get $139 worth of value out of a Kindle 3.
“But I can’t actually own e-books, they won’t be around in 5 years, and DRM sucks.”
I’ve posted about DRM before, and it is a strike against some e-books — those e-books released by publishers who use DRM (many smaller publishers, independent authors, and public domain books don’t use DRM). And it is true that most e-book sales are actually licenses — and you should understand what that means. The two issues are related, and are admittedly more complicated than the rules surrounding printed books, which most people understand pretty well already (you can lend or re-sell, but not copy and distribute). Personally, since I stick with DRM-free e-books, and I back everything up on my computer, my e-books are much more likely to be around in 5, 15, or 50 years than a paperback I buy today and will probably donate next time I move.
“But the books I want aren’t available as e-books.”
There are some gaps in e-book availability. Some blockbusters, notably the Harry Potter series, aren’t available in electronic form due to the wishes of the author (although Rowling has recently said she might be open to e-book versions). (UPDATE: The Harry Potter e-books are available now.) Some series will maddeningly have some books available and other books in the same series not available yet (often because different publishers own the rights to different books in the series). And some e-books have geographic restrictions, where (again, for legal reasons) they’re available in certain countries and not others.
No, it’s not ideal. But there are already over 900,000 e-books available in the Amazon Kindle store, plus literally millions of public-domain e-books available from multiple sources. Over 1,000 more are added every day. E-books are still a relatively new technology, and the industry is still catching up. But I am confident that these growing pains are temporary, and become less of an issue every day. (Keep in mind, owning an e-reader doesn’t prevent you from buying that one book in print — you just won’t like it as much as your e-books. 😉 )
“But e-books are formatted poorly.”
This is sometimes true, but pretty rarely in my experience. Some publishers cut corners and scan printed books, then use OCR (optical character recognition) to convert them into e-books. You end up with missing periods, “tum” instead of “turn,” the numeral “1” instead of the letter “l,” and so on. E-book formatting ranges from pristine, to easily readable with a couple of quirks, to really annoying. This is another “growing pain,” and I think this is improving every day as well. If these sorts of issues bother you, my recommendation is to sample the e-book before you purchase and see if the formatting is up to par. If readers demand good formatting, no DRM, reasonable prices, etc., publishers will have no choice but to cooperate, or be replaced by someone who will.
“But e-books are too expensive.”
Another popular complaint. And, some of them are. (Of course, some print book prices are way too high as well.) But, on the whole, e-books are significantly less expensive than printed books. Even bestsellers usually sell for $9.99 – $12.99, which is cheaper than the average hardcover. Most older e-books range from $4.99 to $7.99, which is cheaper than most paperbacks. There are thousands of really inexpensive e-books as well (including my own for $2.99 each), and special deals for 99 cents or even free. And the millions of public domain works (including great classics) are free — that’s enough to pay for the cost of the e-reader right there, especially if you’re taking a Literature course. All in all, e-books really are pretty cheap. I mean, what else can you get for $2.99?
A couple of interesting e-reader deals I stumbled across today: the latest-generation Sony Pocket E-Reader (model PRS-350) is on sale at Wal-Mart for $128, with free shipping. The Sony PRS-350, which I cover in more detail here and here, comes with a 5″ e-Ink Pearl touchscreen, and weighs only 5.64 ounces. If you’re looking for something very small and light, and that is also compatible with Overdrive library e-books, the Sony at this price is a compelling choice (I’ve said before that the Sonys’ major problem is their high prices). On the down side, this model does not have wireless connectivity (so you have to download e-books to your computer and put them on the device with a USB cable).
While I mainly discuss the major e-reader brands (Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo, and iPad), just for a little variety I’ll throw in a mention of a sub-$100 e-reader deal. Those of you looking for a budget e-reader may want to consider the ViewSonic VEB620, on sale at B&H for $99.95. The ViewSonic does come with a 6″ e-Ink screen, reads ePub e-books and PDFs, and has a respectable 2GB of internal memory plus an SD memory card slot. It also plays MP3 music files, has an accelerometer (so you can turn the device to switch from portrait to landscape mode, and also “shake” it to turn pages), and weighs only 7.8 ounces. On the down side, the display does not appear to be the newer, much better e-Ink Pearl display that I find so compelling in the Kindle 3 (or new Sonys), it doesn’t have wireless connectivity, and doesn’t appear to have basic functions like a built-in dictionary or folders, let alone text-to-speech or Internet access. It also doesn’t appear to be linked up with an e-book store, making it more difficult to find content to read on it. Finally, it has poor reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, with reviewers complaining that it’s very slow to open e-books. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend the ViewSonic (I think an extra $28 or $39 for the Sony above or the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi will be well worth the extra cost), but I thought I would present it for your consideration.
As 2010 comes to a close, it’s a good time to take a moment to reflect on everything that’s happened this year with e-books, e-readers, the publishing industry, and writing. I’ve included plenty of links to posts with more detail on individual topics you may be particularly interested in.
In 2010, e-book sales roughly tripled, increasing from about 3% of total book sales to about 9% — a figure that finally seems to have the publishing world sitting up and taking notice. As we transition from paper books to a paper + digital world (and perhaps eventually to a primarily digital book world), we’ll see many changes in the centuries-old print publishing industry: bookstores will close, publishers will struggle, and new companies will step in and pick up the slack. In the digital world, in 2010 we’ve seen a proliferation of available e-book titles (the Amazon store roughly doubled its catalogue to over 750,000 e-books), e-books starting a global expansion (including the launch of the Amazon UK Kindle Store), and we’ve even seen e-book sales on Amazon overtake hardcovers and overtake all print books for best-selling titles.
We’ve also seen a battle over e-book features — with publishers generally fighting some of the very things that make e-books so useful and convenient for many of us. Publishers lined up to block text-to-speech functionality (which lets your Kindle read e-books aloud to you); add restrictive, annoying, and mostly ineffectual DRM copy protection; provide many e-books as poorly-formatted, non-proofread scans of print books; and we’re still stuck in an era where readers in many countries can’t buy the e-books they want to pay good money for, as geographic legal restrictions serve to partially negate the huge e-book advantage of instant, inexpensive, global distribution.
In 2011, I predict e-book sales to continue to increase (perhaps continuing the trend of doubling or tripling each year for another year or two), especially considering the technological advances in e-readers (and lower price points) and how many people probably just unwrapped new e-readers last week. I’d expect slow improvement in worldwide e-book availability and improved formatting of e-books, as publishers realize that they’re losing money and start to take e-books more seriously. But I’d expect large publishers to continue fighting certain e-book features, as they’re still in the mode of protecting print book sales, not fully embracing e-books yet. However, the pressure will continue to increase on them next year.
2010 brought us the introduction of Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s new Kindle 3, a new round of Sony E-Readers, and the Nook Color, among others. We’ve seen improvements in technology, including the new e-Ink Pearl screen with better contrast, and a battle between tablet computers with LCD screens (like the iPad) and dedicated e-readers with easy-on-the-eyes e-Ink screens (like the Kindle); at the same time, we’ve seen prices come down from $259 for the Kindle 2 to only $139 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi. This has combined to make e-readers much more affordable and a better value for more and more people. Estimates put e-reader sales from about 5 million in 2009, to 12 million in 2010, and predict 27 million in 2011.
Personally, I’ve tried the iPad, and found it better suited for Internet surfing, movie watching, and game-playing than for reading. I also recently upgraded from a Kindle 2 to a Kindle 3, and I am very, very pleased with the Kindle 3 — I think it’s the best device available for e-book reading, and I am finding it considerably better than the already-quite-good Kindle 2. I especially appreciate the increased contrast (much darker blacks and slightly lighter background) of the e-Ink Pearl screen, which is why I wouldn’t recommend either an LCD-based device (which has short battery life and is harder on the eyes), or an older-generation technology like the e-Ink screen in Barnes & Noble’s Nook. I’ve written a Holiday E-Reader Buying Guide here that compares and contrasts the options available, if you’re still trying to decide which one is right for you.
Next year, we can expect to see (a) more tablet computers being introduced, and many of them will masquerade as “e-readers,” although they are really Jacks-of-all-trades that are better suited for other tasks, (b) continued improvements and refinements in e-readers, and (c) perhaps even lower prices, as we’re approaching the $99 price point for e-readers — remarkable when the Kindle 1 debuted just 3 years ago for $399.
As I mentioned above, the continued rise of e-books will have a profound effect on the publishing industry. First, print book sales declined in 2010, being replaced by e-book sales. This shift has strained the margins of publishers and bookstores, who are finding it difficult to adapt to an online e-book-selling world. Publishers have long-entrenched ideas, facilities, processes, and business models that can’t turn on a dime, and they’re seeing increased competition from online retailers (like Amazon and B&N) and smaller publishers, who don’t need the huge economies of scale and financial capital that the print book business requires. Predictably, these businesses have responded by trying to fight e-book adoption, trying to protect their print book business for as long as they can, and squeeze out a few more profitable quarters. They, so far, don’t appear to be interested in making the tough changes and painful downsizing required to succeed an an e-book world, and they (rightfully) fear that their spot at the top will be jeopardized during the upheaval, as newer, leaner, more forward-thinking companies replace some of the “Big 6” publishers at the top of the heap.
To that end, publishers, fearful of Amazon’s e-book dominance, in April embraced the agency model, which stopped Amazon from selling best-selling e-books for $9.99 and allowed publishers to retain control of e-book pricing (most best-selling e-books then increased to about $12.99). This caused a temporary dip in e-book sales, which have since recovered. Publishers complained that low e-book prices “devalued e-books” and were unsustainable, while many independent authors (like myself) argued that selling more units at a lower price was a win-win scenario.
2010 will also be remembered as the year of the rise of self-published authors, with a couple I know of in particular (Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking) selling over 100,000 e-books and earning a very nice living — without traditional publishers. Several other indie authors joined Amazon’s “Encore” publishing program, competing directly with large publishers. In 2010, we saw e-book royalties for self-published authors (through Amazon, B&N, Apple, and most other outlets) increase from 35% to 70%, which compares quite favorably to the 8% authors used to get from publishers for paperback sales, or the 17.5% (net) they normally pay for e-book royalties.
As large publishers continue to decrease the amount of advances paid, hold the line on e-book royalties, overprice their e-books, block features, and reduce marketing services, my question to best-selling authors in 2011 is: why give 90%+ of the profits to a large publisher, when you can hire someone to do your covers and formatting for you, and keep 70% for yourself? I think we’ll see more and more big authors strike off on their own — and do very, very well. After all, when you buy a Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown book, you’re buying the book for the author, not the publisher (quick: who can even name the publishers for those 3 authors without looking it up?).
2010 was a milestone year for me personally, as I finished writing and editing my third novel, The Twiller, and released it for sale in June. Of course, being independent, I was also responsible for doing my own formatting and creating my own cover, along with doing my own marketing, which can take more time than actually writing the book! I was very pleased by the launch of The Twiller, which had the following results:
- Ranked #1 on Amazon’s “Movers & Shakers” List.
- Ranked in the Top 5 in both “Humor” and “Science Fiction” in the entire Kindle Store.
- Ranked #188 overall in the Amazon Kindle Store.
My other novels also exploded in sales in 2010 (I only made them available through Amazon for the Kindle in late 2009). I ended the year with several new sales records, selling several thousand copies and earning several thousands of dollars from my writing for the first time — not yet enough to make a living, but certainly a nice start. More importantly, I reached thousands of readers, received dozens of positive reviews, and interacted with many great and passionate readers by email, through my Facebook Fan Page, and more. I sincerely do appreciate all the readers who have read my book, taken the time to contact me, written a review (they really do help!), and generally been supportive in my writing endeavors this year.
For my first novel, Right Ascension, I had the following encouraging and exciting milestones:
- Sold over 5,000 copies this year.
- Ranked #1 on Amazon’s “Technothrillers” best-seller list.
- Ranked #414 overall in the Amazon Kindle Store.
The sequel, Declination, also showed encouraging signs:
- Sold over 3,000 copies this year — so more than 60% of the people who bought Right Ascension went on to purchase the sequel as well.
- Both Right Ascension and Declination were on the Top 25 best-seller list for “Science Fiction” at the same time.
- Ranked #827 overall in the Amazon Kindle Store.
As for this blog, its popularity has steadily increased since I launched it in April, with over 18,000 visitors. Average hits per day increased from about 40, to 60 in August, 90 in October, and over 100 a day in November and December. My most popular blog posts from 2010 were:
- E-Ink vs. LCD: What’s The Difference? (2,075 views)
- E-Book Market Share: Amazon At 75% (760 views)
- Kindle 3 Announced: 3G for $189, Wi-Fi for $139 (675 views)
- Kindle 3: Hands-On First Impressions (607 views)
- E-Book Sales Continue Rapid Growth (483 views)
Thank you again to everyone who visited my blog, left a comment, bought or read one of my books (available in the right nav bar or through Amazon here), became a Facebook fan, or shared some encouraging words this year. I’ve definitely excited to see what unfolds in 2011, and discuss it with all of you. Happy New Year!
UPDATE: For the 2011 version of this post, please CLICK HERE.
In anticipation of Black Friday and the upcoming holiday gift-giving season, I thought I’d put together a post for anyone thinking of picking up an e-book reader for themselves or as a gift this holiday season. I’ll discuss the different e-readers out there, give my experiences and recommendations, and tell you the best places to pick up a copy of each (in-store and online) — making sure to cover special Black Friday deals, which mostly consist of older models on sale for under $100.
If you’re not yet sure if an e-reader is the right gift, you may want to take a moment to consider my “Do I Need An E-Book Reader?” post, which details the types of people who would enjoy and get the most use out of e-readers.
I anticipate that e-readers will be a very popular holiday gift this year, as prices have come down and the technology has improved pretty dramatically from even a year or two ago. There are now more choices than ever, from black & white e-Ink-based devices specialized for reading, along with color LCD multi-purpose tablet computers that can read books along with checking email, going online, and watching videos.
The first decision to make is whether you want a device focused on reading, or more of a multi-function device. For avid readers, e-Ink screens are generally preferred, as they are easier on the eyes and the batteries last much longer (click here for more information on the difference between e-Ink and LCD screens). For those who only read occasionally (1 book a month or less), they may prefer a device that does lots of other things, like play games and run apps and watch videos. Here is a rundown of the leading e-readers available this year, with links to more detailed reviews, as well as links to purchasing information:
|Amazon’s Kindle 3 is the most popular e-reader, and for good reason. It comes in two versions: the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, and the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi. The $189 version comes in two colors: white and graphite, and the $139 version is graphite only. Each model has a 6″ e-Ink screen, a full keyboard, and a battery that lasts for a month. The difference between the two models is that the $189 Wi-Fi + 3G version can connect wirelessly through AT&T’s cellphone network (with no monthly fee, as lifetime 3G access is included) and where you have access to a Wi-Fi hotspot (like at your house or office or coffee shop), while the $139 Wi-Fi only model can only connect at a hotspot.|
I own a Kindle 2, and I strongly recommend the new Kindle 3 to anyone who enjoys reading fiction books: it is the most full-featured e-reader, with a built-in dictionary, adjustable font sizes, text-to-speech, notes & highlights, limited Internet browsing, some apps and games, and more. It also comes at a very reasonable price, has the newest and best e-Ink Pearl screen with increased contrast, is very small and light (only 8.5 ounces), the battery lasts for a month, and Amazon has the world’s largest e-book store, with over 750,000 titles. My recommendation: avoid sales tax and buy it from Amazon.com (with free shipping), their customer service and generous return policy is legendary.
Almost a separate animal, Amazon also offers the large-screen $379 Kindle DX 2, which offers a huge 9.7″ e-Ink Pearl screen. It’s great for reading PDFs, and much better at browsing websites than its smaller sibling. Of course, it’s far heavier (18.9 oz), less portable, and more expensive — I personally don’t think it’s worth double the price of the K3.
Black Friday Special: So far, there aren’t any Black Friday deals on the K3 and I don’t think we’ll see any, since the K3 only came out in August and has been selling very well; in fact, there are signs it may sell out before Christmas. But the Kindle 2 will be on sale for just $89 from Amazon.com on Black Friday, which is a great deal on what is still an excellent e-reader (one I use every day), and the best of the Black Friday e-reader deals, in my opinion. It goes on sale here, starting at 9 AM Pacific on Nov 26, and I’d expect it to sell out quickly.
|Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Nook Color is the second-most-popular e-reader brand, behind the Kindle. The Nook has recently split into two product lines: the new $249 Nook Color, an Android-based tablet computer with a 7″ color LCD screen that B&N is marketing as a tablet “focused on reading,” and the original $199 Nook 3G + Wi-Fi and $149 Nook Wi-Fi, which each have a 6″ e-Ink screen along with a small LCD touchscreen below it.|
The Nook Color is marketed as being a device focused on reading, and able to read color magazines and interactive children’s books, browse the Internet, and run certain (but not all) Android apps and games. However, I find that its LCD screen means it suffers from a number of drawbacks, including that it’s heavy (15.8 oz), expensive ($110 more than the K3), has a short battery life (8 hours), and lacks 3G connectivity. However, when considered as a tablet that can also read, it is half the price of an iPad. For pure reading, I’d definitely recommend one of the original Nooks (and their e-Ink screens) instead. They share many of the same features as the Kindle 3, although they add an LCD touchscreen, a memory card slot, and the ability to read free library e-books; however, they are heavier, slower, have shorter battery life, and lack the new e-Ink Pearl screen. As the Nook “Classic” line is now a generation behind the Kindles yet they cost slightly more, I can’t recommend them any more, unless library books are a must-have feature for you.
Black Friday Special: Best Buy will have the $149 Nook Wi-Fi model on sale for just $99 on Black Friday, which is a great deal if you are a Nook fan.
|The Sony E-Reader Line includes the $149 PRS-350 Pocket Edition with a 5″ e-Ink touchscreen, the $199 PRS-650 Touch Edition with a 6″ e-Ink touchscreen, and the $249 PRS-950 Daily Edition with a 7″ e-Ink touchscreen. Each uses the new e-Ink Pearl screens, with a touchscreen technology using infrared beams instead of an extra screen layer that would make the screen less crisp. The Sonys have the advantage of reading library e-books and some people may prefer the touchscreen, but their prices are a little high compared to the Kindles.|
Unfortunately, only the expensive Daily Edition comes with wireless (Wi-Fi + 3G) connectivity; the other two models have none, and need to use a memory card or be hooked up to a computer with a USB cable to transfer books. One good thing about the Sonys is that you get to choose the size of your screen: you can pick the 5″ screen of the Pocket Edition, which gives you ultra portability and light weight at only 5.64 ounces; you can stick with the “standard” 6″ screen size of the Touch Edition, which is still only 7.93 oz; or you can opt for the nice 7″ screen of the Daily Edition, which is only a tad heavier than the Kindle at 9 ounces. As I said, the downside is price, although Sony just reduced prices and made their lineup much more competitive. For $249, the Daily Edition is $60 more than the K3, which may be worth it for a larger screen. If you like library books and the touchscreen, or want a slightly larger or smaller screen, the Sonys are your best choice.
Black Friday Special: Dell offers the 5″ PRS-350 for $119, or if you’re OK with last year’s model, the 5″ PRS-300 Pocket Edition (no touchscreen) will be on sale for $99 at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.
|The Kobo Wireless E-Reader is a simple, no-frills e-reader that lacks some of the extra features of the Kindle (no keyboard, Internet access, notes, text-to-speech, etc.) or Nook (no LCD touchscreen or e-book lending feature). While the $139 Kobo Wireless (their second-generation e-reader) added Wi-Fi connectivity and a built-in dictionary to match the Kindle and Nook, and does read library e-books, it still falls short in the feature department, considering that it is roughly the same price.|
On the plus side, the Kobo is simple to use and focused on reading, with fewer distractions (some people might consider the lack of games or Internet access a good thing — parents, for example). But the bottom line is, unless you’re a die-hard Borders fan (the Kobo interfaces with both the Kobo and Borders e-book stores), I think the Kobo falls behind the competition.
|Apple’s iPad is an interesting device: far more than an e-reader, some love its ability to do many other things (run apps and games, surf the Internet, play movies, etc.), while some don’t consider it an e-reader at all, since its 9.7″ LCD screen makes it much harder on the eyes, heavier, more expensive, and it has much shorter battery life than the e-readers listed above. Starting at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, and ranging up to $829 for the 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G model (which also carries a $30 per month fee for 3G wireless access — so a whopping $1,549 for a 3G iPad with 2 years of service), it is in a completely different price range than the other e-readers described here.|
The iPad is really a tablet computer that can surf the Internet, play all the cool apps and games on Apple’s App Store, watch videos, perform light computing work, and — oh yeah — read e-books. Personally, I never read on my wife’s iPad — I far prefer the e-Ink screen (much easier on my eyes), light weight (much easier to hold with one hand), and superior battery life (measured in weeks instead of hours) of my K2 for reading. However, the iPad’s full-color LCD screen lets it do things the Kindle either does poorly or can’t do at all, and I find myself using the iPad for playing games, using apps, surfing the Internet, checking email, and watching movies. To me, the question becomes: are you (or the person you’re buying a gift for) an avid reader, or not? For someone who reads more than a book a month or so, I’d recommend a dedicated e-reader over the jack-of-all-trades iPad. For someone more interested in all that other stuff — and who might like to check out a few books a year, or maybe read some magazines — I’d recommend the iPad, or possibly the less expensive Nook Color, described above.
Black Friday Special: Apple’s Black Friday sale (online or at your local Apple store) knocks $41 off the iPad and $21 off the iPod Touch line. Of note, some T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores have the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad for just $399 — but stock appears to be limited, and quite random.
Final Thoughts: In addition to the e-readers detailed above, there are several other brands of e-readers out there, although I don’t recommend any of them for several reasons. The Kindle, Nook, Sony, and Kobo e-readers are the 4 most popular brands, and for good reason: they have e-Ink screens, the best prices, and the best e-book stores. There are a bunch of other e-readers out there (including the Aluratek Libre, Velocity Cruz, Augen Book, Pandigital Novel, Cybook Opus, Ectaco JetBook, Sharper Image Literati, and a bunch of Android-based tablet computers), but each suffers from serious problems: many use LCD screens that are harder on the eyes, yet don’t even have the redeeming features of the iPad or Nook Color; several are overpriced; most of them lack features; and many don’t interface easily with a decent e-book store.
In summary, my recommendation depends on two things: your budget, and whether the person you’re buying an e-reader for is an avid fiction reader or not. For those who read a book a month or more, I recommend the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, as I think it’s the best e-reader out there and a great value for the money (the $139 Kindle Wi-Fi is an excellent choice as well if you can live without the 3G). For those on a budget, I recommend Amazon’s Black Friday special, the $89 Kindle 2. And, for those who aren’t all that interested in reading and really want a mini-computer that does lots of different things (and can read e-books in a pinch), the iPad is the way to go.
UPDATE: For the 2011 version of this post, please CLICK HERE.