Jun 242013

Kobo Mini - $40

From now until July 18, the Kobo Mini e-reader is on sale for just $39.99 here. That’s not much more than a hardcover book!

The Kobo Mini comes with a 5″ e-Ink touchscreen display, Wi-Fi, 2GB of memory, and 1 month of battery life. The 5″ screen is smaller than the 6″ e-Ink screens on the Kindles and Nooks, but that makes for a very small and light e-reader, weighing in at just 4.73 ounces (much lighter than a hardcover, or even most paperbacks).

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.

E-Readers

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's new Kindle Touch

Amazon Kindle

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).

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.

Nook Touch

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 Touch

Kobo Touch

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.

Black Friday Deals:

Kobo is offering its Touch e-reader with “offers” for just $99.

Sony PRS-T1

Sony PRS-T1

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.

Tablets

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

Kindle Fire

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.

Nook Tablet

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 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.

Conclusion

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!

May 232011

The new Kobo Touch e-reader is $129.99

Kobo today announced their third generation e-reader device: the Kobo Touch. The Kobo Touch will retail for $129.99, and sports some impressive features:

  • 6″ Pearl e-Ink screen
  • Infra-red touchscreen
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Faster processor
  • 7.03-ounce weight
  • 1 GB internal memory; SD card slot
  • 10-day battery life

This is an impressive upgrade over the original Kobo E-Reader and 2nd-generation Kobo Wireless. In addition to adding the Pearl e-Ink screen (with 50% better contrast than earlier versions), it also adds the IR touchscreen used in the newer Sony e-readers; this is important, as older touchscreen technology added a layer above the e-Ink screen and decreased readability. They’ve kept the weight low (it’s smaller and lighter than the already-light Kindle 3, which is 8.5 ounces), but used a faster processor, which allows for nice PDF panning and zooming and should negate some of the negatives I found in my Kobo Wireless review.

Speaking of the Kobo Wireless, Kobo today lowered the list price of that 2nd-generation device to $99.99, allowing them to provide the first e-Ink-based e-reader to officially retail for under $100 (actually, the Kobo Wireless has been going for that price or lower for a while, but it was listed at $129). You can also find e-reader deals at that magic sub-$100 price point, such as today’s one-day-only refurbished Kindle 2 with 3G for $90 at Woot, or some recent $99 deals on the Nook Classic.

But back to the Kobo Touch: Kobo managed to come in with a touch-based, Wi-Fi enabled, 6″ Pearl e-Ink screen for $130, slightly undercutting the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi. Impressive. So how does it stack up?

First of all, B&N better have a great announcement up its sleeve (which is rumored to come tomorrow) regarding the Nook Classic, which is now thoroughly outclassed by both the Kindle 3 and Kobo Touch.

Sony’s e-readers probably take the biggest hit here. Until today, they had held the distinction of being the only mainstream e-readers with a touchscreen, but they were hindered by high prices. The Kobo now pretty much eats their lunch. Comparing the Kobo Touch ($130) to the Sony Touch PRS-650 ($229) with the same 6″ e-Ink screen and IR touchscreen, the Sony gets slaughtered: not only is it about $100 more expensive, but it doesn’t even include Wi-Fi. The Kobo is smaller and lighter, too. The only thing the Sonys have going for them are that they are available in 5″ and 7″ sizes, but the 5″ PRS-350 still costs $20-50 more than the Kobo Touch and the 7″ PRS-950 does provide Wi-Fi but costs a whopping $299.

Even Amazon will have to take notice of the Kobo Touch. While the Kindle 3 probably keeps the title as the best all-around e-reader, the Kobo Touch does have some nice things going for it. First, it’s $9 cheaper. Second, it has a touchscreen, which I don’t personally prefer in an e-reader, but some people like. Third, it is smaller and lighter than the Kindle, and I do like the rubberized, quilted back they’ve kept from previous Kobo models. Kobo even managed to steal a bit of Amazon’s thunder from the $114 ad-supported Kindle 3 with Special Offers by offering the Kobo Wireless for $100.

I haven’t used the new Kobo Touch yet (it’s scheduled to ship in “early June”), but it appears the new speed will negate one of the Kobo Touch’s biggest weaknesses: its sluggish operation and delays in opening books. The touchscreen seems to be implemented well: you can now highlight, look up words in the dictionary, and even drag a slider to quickly move through books, which is an impressive feature I’ve requested for the Kindle before. It works with library e-books, which won’t be available on the Kindle until later this year. And it has the new e-Ink Pearl screen; now that I’ve seen it on my Kindle 3, I wouldn’t recommend a non-Pearl screen.

On the other hand, the Kindle still has the most features (audio, text-to-speech, Internet functionality, games & apps), better battery life, a better dictionary (the dictionary on the Kobo Wireless only works on Kobo-purchased e-books), and the best e-book store.

So what’s the verdict? Without actually having one to review, I’d say that the Kobo Touch is a very credible contender, and worthy of serious consideration if you’re shopping for an e-reader. If you prefer a touchscreen, it looks like the Kobo Touch is currently your best bet. If you’re neutral on touch (or dislike it — I prefer page turn buttons), the Kindle 3 does have some features you may miss on the Kobo, and I think it maintains a slight edge. If you’re looking for a sub-$100 e-reader, the Kobo Wireless is worth a look, but quite honestly there are better deals out there (like finding the Kobo Wireless for well under that price, the $114 Kindle with Special Offers, or the older model Kindle 2 or Nook Classic).

May 072011

Kobo announced today that Best Buy will carry their Kobo Wireless e-reader (which is their second-generation model), both in stores and online. From now until May 14, the price is discounted to $99.99 (retail price is $139).

My hands-on review of the Kobo Wireless is here. Quick summary: it’s a decent enough e-reader, but I prefer my Kindle 3. The sale price makes the Kobo somewhat competitive, and I do like the very light weight and ability to read library e-books on the Kobo.

Between this, some sales of refurbished Nooks for $99, clearance sales on Kobo e-readers at closing Borders stores, and the new ad-supported Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $114, it looks like 2011 is shaping up to be the year of the $99 e-reader.

Mar 302011

The Kobo Wireless next to the Kindle 3

I recently purchased a Kobo Wireless E-Reader, as a backup to my Kindle 3. The Kobo has more limited functionality than the Kindle, but its light weight and low price somewhat make up for the lack of features. In fact, the Kobo’s strict focus on reading — without Internet access or the ability to play games or apps, for example — might appeal to some people, as might its simple interface (a power button, 4 side buttons, and a 5-way joystick).

The Kobo Wireless is Kobo’s second-generation e-reader, which boasts Wi-Fi connectivity (to shop the Kobo store directly from the device), a better screen, more speed, and a built-in dictionary over its predecessor. It retails for $139, the same price as the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, but you can often find it discounted below that price.

First, a list of the Kobo Wireless’ features:

  • 6″ e-Ink Vizplex screen (16-shade grayscale)
  • 7.8-ounce weight
  • 1 GB internal memory, plus an SD memory card slot
  • 10-day (10,000 page turn) battery life
  • Reads ePub files (including ADE / Overdrive-compatible library e-books)
  • Also reads PDF files

The Kobo Wireless comes in 3 colors (white front/silver back, white/lilac, and black/black). The first thing you notice is the light weight: at 7.8 ounces, it’s even lighter than the already-light Kindle 3 (8.5 ounces) or Sony Touch (7.93 ounces). It also has a textured (“quilted”), rubberized back that feels good in your hand. On the other hand, the front and 5-way joystick button feel a bit cheap, and the joystick can be a bit loud.

While it has the same size 6″ e-Ink screen as the Kindle, it lacks the newer e-Ink Pearl screen (which provides darker blacks and 50% more contrast) of the Kindle 3 and newer Sony e-readers. However, it is still quite readable, and you can see the difference for yourself in the photo above. To be honest, the Kindle 3’s bolder font accounts for about half the difference. In fact, I found the Kobo to be a quite decent e-reader … but it repeatedly fell short when compared to my experiences with the superior Kindle 3. I think if I wasn’t already used to (spoiled by?) a Kindle 3, I would have a more favorable impression of the Kobo.

I found some things to really like about the Kobo: the light weight is really striking, and the back of the device feels good in your hand. I also liked how, when the Kobo went to sleep or turned off, the screen changed to show the cover of the e-book you’re reading, and told you what percentage of the book you had read. A simple, but very nice touch, and far preferable to the Kindle’s rotating dead author screensavers. I also liked the “I’m Reading” shelf, which lists only those books you’ve started to read (and shows the book cover of the current e-book); the rest of your books are found on the “Books” shelf. Once you’ve finished reading a book (by turning the last page), a book moves from “I’m Reading” back to “Books.” It’s a pretty good system, although I’d like to add an “Already Read” shelf to the “I’m Reading” and “Books” shelves. The latest software update (1.9) allows you to manually move books from “I’m Reading” back to “Books.”

Although I haven’t tried the process yet, I also like the option to access library e-books on the Kobo. Kobo (like Amazon and B&N) has software for PCs, Macs, iOS devices, Android, etc., which allows you to read your Kobo e-books on multiple devices. Another nice touch is that the Kobo comes pre-loaded with 100 classic, public domain (free) e-books. While you can find and download these yourself to read on any e-reader, the fact they come pre-loaded makes things simpler and lets people start reading right away.

A few things are different from the Kindle: the most obvious is that you can buy books from the Kobo e-book store instead of the Kindle store. While the Kindle store is #1, the Kobo store has good availability and comparable prices, so I don’t see it as a huge weakness. Of course, you can also “side-load” books (using the included USB cable) that you’ve downloaded to your computer from Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, or numerous other sites.

The Kobo lacks text-to-speech, Internet access, and the ability to run apps. While lacking these features is generally a negative, for some readers it won’t be an issue and might even be a selling point: the lack of distractions from reading could appeal to parents who want their kids to use an e-reader, but don’t want them playing games or surfing the Internet.

The Kobo also lacks a full keyboard and many of the buttons of the Kindle. This makes certain tasks (like entering a password to connect to a wireless network) cumbersome, as you have to navigate an on-screen keyboard with the 5-way joystick (think of entering your character’s name using an old video game controller). I also prefer the easy-press page turn buttons on either side of the Kindle to the louder, harder to press joystick used to turn pages on the Kobo; the low placement of the Kobo’s joystick makes it hard to read one-handed, even with the light weight. On the plus side, there is less clutter, and navigation is pretty straightforward with the more limited selection of buttons.

While the Kobo only comes with 1 GB of internal memory (compared to the 4 GB of the Kindle 3), it does have an SD card slot, which is a nice feature. You should have plenty of room to hold hundreds or even thousands of e-books on either device.

There were a few definite negatives about the Kobo (especially when compared to the Kindle): the Kobo is slower, and takes some time to turn on (about 29 seconds when I timed it). Not an outlandish amount of time, but it is annoying since the Kobo’s battery seems to drain relatively quickly when asleep (lasting about a week, even if not used), and performs much better when turned off completely. By comparison, Amazon recommends you leave the Kindle in sleep mode most of the time (the battery drain doesn’t seem to be as bad), and the Kindle wakes from sleep mode almost instantly.

The Kobo is also slower when opening books (you get a loading screen, which only takes a few seconds, but the Kindle is nearly instant), changing pages (again, not a HUGE delay, maybe about a second, but slower than the Kindle 3), and loading new books onto the device (the Kobo spends about 10–15 seconds per book “processing” them, which adds up if you load several books at once). Again, nothing deal-breaking, just noticeably slower when compared to the Kindle 3.

The Kobo also lacks the ability to play MP3 audio files (including audiobooks), does not have text-to-speech, and doesn’t let you bookmark, highlight, or take notes within e-books. Since I don’t use these features much, it’s not a deal-breaker for me, but they are limitations to be aware of. It’s also a little harder to get around e-books in the Kobo; while the 1.9 software update adds the ability to jump to a specific location, the lack of keyboard makes the process cumbersome.

One definite negative is that, while the Kobo Wireless adds a built-in dictionary (that the older Kobo Reader lacked), it only works with e-books purchased from Kobo, not books side-loaded from the computer. For me, the dictionary is a must-have e-reader feature, one that I end up using far more than I first expected because it’s so convenient. Since most of my books are side-loaded from various sources (I haven’t bought any directly from Kobo yet), it means there’s no dictionary a good chunk of the time. Even where it does exist (like on the pre-loaded books), the process is slower and more cumbersome than the Kindle: press menu, select “Dictionary,” press the joystick, choose the word, press the joystick, wait a few seconds, and a definition pops up (covering most of the screen). Like on the Barnes & Noble Nook, this multi-step dictionary implementation pales in comparison to the Kindle, where you simply select the word and a short definition pops up at the bottom of the screen (you can press “enter” to see a longer definition if you want).

Another odd quirk: on side-loaded e-books, you’ll see small page numbers in the right-hand margin, and these numbers can intrude into the text area (causing nearby text to dim). Not a huge deal, but a minor annoyance that nonetheless was noticeable and jarred me from becoming engrossed in a book a couple of times.

The battery life is listed as 10 days, very good compared to most electronic devices, but inferior to the Kindle 3’s claim of 1 month on a single charge.

Conclusion

All in all, the Kobo Wireless makes a decent enough e-reader. If you’re looking for light weight, limited features (if you don’t need Internet access or consider the lack of it and focus on just reading as a positive), and the ability to read library e-books, the Kobo makes a decent choice. It does have some nice features, like the light weight, pre-loaded books, and book covers as screen savers. It seems to generally work pretty well for just plain reading, which is the #1 priority. Unfortunately, it falls short when compared to the speed, features, and e-Ink Pearl screen of the Kindle 3, and Kindle owners may find it disappointing in comparison. The Kobo Wireless does compare pretty well to the Nook (the Kobo has similar speed and lighter weight) and Sony E-Readers (the Kobo has Wi-Fi and a much lower price), when looking at other e-readers capable of reading ePub library e-books.

My overall conclusion is that, for the same $139 price, the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi is a clearly superior e-reader for most people. However, the Kobo Wireless can make a compelling low-cost alternative (as when the original Kobo was first introduced and the Kindle 2 was still $259): since the Kobo Wireless can sometimes be found on sale (or on clearance at a closing Borders store), it can be a good buy as a second e-reader or low-cost alternative if you find a good deal (under $99).

Borders has a coupon up offering $40 off the latest-generation Kobo Wireless E-Reader (discussed in more detail here) for Borders Rewards members, knocking the price down to just $99. It expires Jan 17. It appears 2011 may just be the year of the $99 e-reader. While the Kobo doesn’t have all the features of the top e-readers, it is light and fairly simple to use, reads ePub files (including Overdrive library e-books), and $99 is a great price for a decent e-Ink-based e-reader. Note that Kobo claims the Wireless edition uses a “sharper e-Ink screen,” and I’ve seen conflicting reports whether or not it’s the same e-Ink Pearl screen that I like so much in the Kindle 3.

'Tis the season … for Kindles, Nooks, and iPads

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.

The Barnes & Noble Nook

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 New Sony E-Reader 350

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

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.

Black Friday Special: Wal-Mart lists the Kobo Wireless for $129, and the previous-generation Kobo E-Reader (without wireless or a built-in dictionary) is still $99 from Borders.com.

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.

Nov 232010

The Kobo Wireless E-Reader

The new Kobo Wireless E-Reader, Kobo’s second-generation e-reading device, is now available at Walmart and at Walmart.com, for just $129 with free shipping. That’s $10 less than Kobo charges directly from its own website. It is available from Wal-Mart in black, lilac (that’s a light purple, for the guys out there), and silver.

The Kobo Wireless E-Reader, which I discuss further here, connects with both the Kobo and Borders e-book stores. It features a 6″ e-Ink screen and Wi-Fi wireless access.

Oct 252010

Borders sale: $30 off e-readers, free e-books, more

Through October 31, Borders is aggressively discounting the e-book readers it sells, offering $30 off, 5 free e-books, discounts on accessories, and other perks.

Of note, the Kobo E-Reader is $30 off, and now costs only $99.99 from Borders.com. That’s quite a deal for an e-Ink based e-book reader. Of note, it’s the older model of Kobo E-Reader, not the new Kobo Wireless E-Reader, which adds Wi-Fi connectivity (the new model is “coming soon” and still $139.99).

The Kobo also comes with 5 free e-books:

A total value of $75, the free eBooks include “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith; “Soccernomics” by Stefan Szymanski; “Phantom of Pemberley” by Regina Jeffers; “Eye of the Raven: A Mystery of Colonial America” by Eliot Pattison; and “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America” by John Avlon.

Borders also offers a free cover with built-in light with the purchase of the Sony Touch or Sony Pocket e-readers. They’re also offering 20% off all e-reader accessories (including cases and covers) with the purchase of any device.

More and more brands of e-book readers are showing up in more and more retail stores (such as Wal-Mart and Target) nationwide. This gives people who may be unfamiliar with e-book readers or the benefits of e-ink a chance to see one hands-on and understand what e-readers are all about. I’ve posted before about various e-readers becoming available in retail stores, but with the recent news that the Nook and Kobo E-Readers will soon be available at Wal-Mart, I’ve decided to make a summary post detailing when and where each of the popular e-readers are available. I’ll try to update this post with new info as it becomes available. I hope it’s useful.

(Links go to posts giving more info on that brand of e-reader. E-readers should be currently available at listed stores unless noted otherwise — but calling your particular store to double-check might be a good idea.)

  • Kindle (latest versions are Kindle 3 for $189, Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139, and Kindle DX 2 for $379)
  1. Direct from Amazon.com
  2. Target
  3. Best Buy
  4. Staples
  5. UPDATE: Wal-Mart, as of May 5, 2011
  • Nook (latest versions are Nook for $199, Nook Wi-Fi for $149, and Nook Color for $249)
  1. B&N bookstores or direct from Barnes & Noble.com
  2. Wal-Mart
  3. Best Buy
  4. Books-A-Million
  • iPad (latest versions range from $499 for 16 GB Wi-Fi to $829 for 64 GB 3G)
  1. Apple stores or direct from Apple.com
  2. Wal-Mart
  3. Target
  4. Best Buy
  • Sony Reader (latest versions are Pocket for $179, Touch for $229, and Daily for $299)
  1. Sony Style Stores or direct from Sony.com
  2. Wal-Mart
  3. Target
  4. Best Buy
  5. Staples
  6. Office Depot
  1. Direct from Kobo.com
  2. Wal-Mart
  3. Borders bookstores

Of note, you can view and compare Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and Sony Readers at Best Buy, making it a good choice for a one-stop shop if you’re unsure which one you’d prefer. Most e-book readers are now available in most large retail stores: the notable exceptions being no Kindles at Wal-Mart and no Nooks at Target yet. [UPDATE: Kindles are now at Wal-Mart, which makes it an option for comparison shopping.] Please let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any large retail stores where these e-readers are available.

© 2010 David Derrico