Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight

B&N today unveiled a new version of their Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight — an e-Ink based e-reader with a built-in reading light. Designed to appeal to readers who read in bed at night (without wanting to disturb a sleeping spouse), the new Nook uses an LED lighting system hidden around the bezel of the screen. As it’s built into the device and runs off the Nook’s internal rechargeable battery, it’s a superior solution to clip-on nightlights and reading lights.

Impressively, the new Nook manages to actually weigh a hair less than the previous Nook Simple Touch, and is still under 7 ounces, which is plenty light enough for easy 1-handed reading. It retains the touchscreen, e-Ink Pearl display, Wi-Fi, and other features of the regular (unlit) Nook Simple Touch, and the light can be turned on or off, for equally easy reading at night or outdoors in bright sunlight. It retails for $139, compared to $99 for the unlit version. It will be available on May 1.

While there have been rumors of Amazon coming out with a similar lighted Kindle version (and Sony had an e-reader with a similar, but not as advanced, built-in lighting system several years ago), kudos to Barnes & Noble for beating them to the punch. This seems to be a superior alternative to Amazon’s case with a built-in reading light (which also charges directly from the Kindle’s internal battery). Of note, the reading light will of course reduce the long battery life for which e-Ink e-readers are famous, but B&N says you can still read for a month for half an hour a day with the light on (compared to two months with the light off).

I haven’t seen one in person yet, but it seems like a great solution for people who like to read in bed while their spouses sleep. Now, if only B&N would cut back on the overblown hyperbole in their press releases and product descriptions. First of all, you don’t have the “World’s #1 Reader,” sorry, guys. And how they manage to pack “first & only,” “perfect,” “breakthrough,” “optimized,” “revolutionary,” “great,” “exclusive,” “Best-Text,” “fastest,” “most advanced,” “lightest,” “unbeatable,” “best of e-Ink,” and “amazing” all into a few lines of marketing copy is impressive. It’s like playing Superlative Bingo. And their press release is even more over the top. Really, B&N, you make a good product, but when you have to tell me 50x per press release how “most advanced” and “industry-leading” and “most stupendously amazing” and “world’s best in the whole world” your own device is, it just sounds like you’re trying too hard.

The revamped Nook lineup

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):

Nook Tablet:

  • $249
  • 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”:

  • $199
  • 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.

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!

B&N Nook Classic 2 Debuts for $139

Posted by Always Write at 4:18 PM Tagged with: , ,
May 242011

Nook Classic 2

As expected, B&N today announced their next-generation e-reader, available in Wi-Fi only for $139, and available June 10. I’m calling it the “Nook Classic 2,” to differentiate it from the LCD-based Nook Color. (Update: B&N calls it the “Nook Simple Touch.”)

It’s a strikingly simple design based around the standard-sized 6″ e-Ink Pearl touchscreen.

It’s also strikingly similar to the Kobo Touch introduced yesterday for $130.

The feature list:

  • 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen
  • Infra-red based touchscreen
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • 7.5 ounces
  • 2 GB internal memory, plus SD card reader

Yeah, pretty much the same as the Kobo Touch. I can’t help but think that Kobo did a pretty great job of stealing B&N’s thunder (and for a few bucks less, too).

On the plus side, the Nook Classic was badly in need of a refresh, and this release at least allows B&N to tread water, although it doesn’t seem at all groundbreaking to me. B&N also seems to have admitted that the small LCD touchscreen at the bottom of the original Nook Classic was a costly gimmick: it decreased performance and battery life, increased size and weight, and never seemed to be implemented all that well. Interestingly, it also abandoned the 3G model.

B&N is touting 2 month battery life, based on 1/2 hour of reading per day. I think this is about the same as the Kindle 3’s claimed one-month battery life, which probably assumes 1 hour of reading per day. Next maybe someone will claim 4 months based on 15 minutes a day? Come on. Maybe just give us the battery life in hours from now on?

B&N also claims that the Nook Classic 2 is the “simplest” e-reader out there, lambasting Kindle’s “37 extra keys” (the Kindles have full keyboards). However, I consider an actual, tactile keyboard to be a positive (especially for anyone taking notes); touchscreen keyboards are OK but far inferior to real keyboards, in my opinion. And I do prefer page-turn buttons to swiping at (and getting finger oils on) the screen.

B&N also claims impressive page-turn speeds, although the video I saw seemed about on par with the Kindle 3. Honestly, page turn speeds (which were slow enough to be an issue on the Nook Classic 1) are fast enough for my needs on most modern e-readers already. It’s about the time it takes to blink, and already quicker than turning a physical page. B&N also found a way to reduce the amount of “flash” where e-Ink screens black out the screen for a moment when changing pages; it now happens only on every 6th page change. E-Ink flash never bothered me before, and this might actually be more distracting, where it only happens sometimes.

The look of the Nook Color is decidedly simple, with the single button at the bottom (again, like the new Kobo Touch), but in a more squarish configuration with no extra space on the bottom. It’s supposed to be a rubberized, soft-touch material, which also sounds similar to the Kobo to me.

So, how does it stack up? Well, physically, it’s a solid effort, but a bit underwhelming, especially coming on the heels of the very-similar Kobo Touch. After all, it shares the screen, touchscreen technology, Wi-Fi wireless capability, SD card slot, ePub capability, and more with the Kobo Touch. It does boast longer battery life and double the internal memory, but is a tiny bit heavier and more expensive. Basically a wash. (Both trounce the Sony touchscreen e-readers on price.)

Compared to the Kindle, the same comments from my Kobo Touch article apply: the Nook Classic 2 is a little smaller and lighter than the Kindle 3, but lacks in features, including audio (used for audiobooks or listening to music), an Internet browser, text-to-speech, and games & apps. I’d only recommend it over the Kindle 3 if you’re a big fan of touch (I’m not). Of note, if you want 3G connectivity, the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G (with free-for-life 3G) is now the only game in town, with B&N ceding that market completely to Amazon.

As for the e-book store, I think B&N and Kobo both have very good e-book stores (ahead of Sony, Apple, and Google), but Amazon is still the undisputed leader, with the most titles available (ignore B&N’s marketing talk of having the “largest” e-book store: they count public domain titles that Amazon doesn’t, even though they are easily available for the Kindle as well). Amazon has nearly a million e-book titles in the Kindle store so far. However, if you’re already tied into one of those three ecosystems, the e-readers are probably close enough that it wouldn’t be worth it for you to switch.

Of note, B&N also announced that they own 25% of the e-book market, and that their Nook Color is the #1 Android tablet, #2 overall behind the iPad.

My overall impression is that the Nook Classic is at least back in the game (the Nook Classic 1 had fallen behind) and worth considering again. But there’s nothing groundbreaking here; B&N was aiming to hit a single, not a home run. At best, this offering (and the Kobo Touch) match Amazon’s Kindle 3, they don’t leap ahead of it. And considering that the Kindle 3 has been out for about 9 months now, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a Kindle 4 before Xmas that raises the bar still further.

A pretty good deal here on various models of Sony and Barnes & Noble E-Readers, where Best Buy throws in a free case with e-reader purchase. The e-readers available are:

  • Sony Pocket PRS-350 for $129 (normally $179)
  • Sony Daily PRS-950 for $299
  • B&N Nook Wi-Fi for $149
  • B&N Nook 3G for $199
  • B&N Nook Color for $249

The Sony Pocket is an especially good deal, since it’s also $50 off. And, considering that you can select from a number of cases, including cases with built-in lights that retail for $50, a lighted case and Sony PRS-350 for $129 is a pretty good deal — $100 off the combination.

I’ve previously discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the various Sony E-Readers and B&N Nooks.

'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.

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.

Aug 062010

Amazon's Kindle 2 and Barnes & Noble's Nook

I thought I would present this E-Reader Buying Guide for people who may not know much about the different e-book readers out there (like the Kindle and Nook). I’ll try to explain the benefits and drawbacks of e-readers in general, and help you figure out if you’d benefit from owning one or not. Then, I’ll also look at which one might be right for you.

To decide if an e-reader might be right for you, let’s first ask a few questions:

Do you enjoy reading?

The first thing to figure out is whether or not you even like reading. Do you enjoy curling up with a good novel? Do you fondly remember books you’ve read? Do you get sad when you come to the end of a good book, and re-read the last page a couple of times, because you don’t want it to end? (Yeah, I do that.)

If so, odds are that you will enjoy an e-reader — we’ll find out in more detail below. If, however, you just don’t enjoy reading books and never did, then an e-reader isn’t the device for you. It won’t magically make you like reading if you hated it before. You may prefer an iPad (where you can play games and surf the web and watch movies), but it doesn’t make sense to buy a device designed for reading if you don’t enjoy reading at all.

How often do you read?

Are you an avid reader, reading a book (or several books!) a week? Are you an average reader, reading a book or two a month? Or just an occasional reader — maybe you read a couple of hot books a year or read a bit when you’re on a flight or on vacation?

For avid readers, I almost can’t see NOT having an e-book reader. There are many benefits. First, you’ll probably save enough money on less expensive (and free) e-books to pay for the device several times over; e-books typically cost less than printed books, and millions of classic books (anything published before 1923) are free. Second, you’ll probably enjoy the reading experience more, as e-readers offer adjustable text sizes, the ability to search and bookmark and write notes, a built-in dictionary, text-to-speech, and ultimate portability. Third, truly avid readers often have issues with storage space, and run out of bookshelves (and closets, and storage units) to keep all their old books. Imagine carrying thousands of books with you anywhere you go (including on a trip), yet it takes up the space of a single paperback. And you can find any book (or even a favorite passage hidden somewhere in your library) with a quick text search. Nice.

For the average reader, e-book readers are compelling for many of the same reasons listed above. Depending on how many e-books you buy and what types of printed books you used to buy ($25 hardcovers, used books, or the library?), you may or may not save a lot of money by going electronic. On average, e-books cost less: new releases are $10–$13 (instead of $20+ for hardcovers), older titles are $5–$8 (instead of $7–$12 for paperbacks), there are lots of low-cost options (like $0.99 to $2.99 emerging authors), and millions of free classics like Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, etc. And it’s still convenient to throw your entire library into your purse on a trip, to adjust text sizes so every book is easy to read, to have any word definition at your fingertips, and to wirelessly download books in 30 seconds instead of making a trip to a book store or waiting for shipping. For these reasons, people who enjoy reading but don’t read as much as they’d like to, often find that they read more on an e-reader since it’s more convenient and less expensive to buy books, and it’s easier to bring their entire library with them and sneak in more reading time on the subway or at a doctor’s office.

For the occasional readers, it’s a tougher call. You probably won’t save enough money on e-books to pay for the cost of the device, unless you read mostly free classics or very low-cost e-books. You’ll still get the portability and readability benefits I mentioned above, and you can use your e-book reader to do some light Internet browsing, book shopping, or Wikipedia lookups. But if you prefer watching movies or surfing the Internet to reading books, you may prefer a device like the iPad, which is more multifunctional (but more expensive and worse at actually reading books), as that will give you the option to buy an e-book or two through the iBook Store or Kindle for iPad app if you ever get the urge.

Are you attached to paper?

I hear this a lot, even from the biggest reading fanatics, people who I KNOW would really enjoy an e-book reader if they got one. People talk about the “smell” and “feel” of books — which I quickly realized was nonsense when I got my Kindle 2. Look, I’ve always loved reading, but it’s the words on the page that move me, not the smell of paper and ink and glue. I don’t bury my nose in a book — I immerse my mind in the words. And the words are still there — better than ever, since they’re whatever size I want them — on an e-book reader. I literally have not heard of a single person who tried an e-book reader and didn’t like it because they missed the “smell” or “feel” of paper.

But if you’re still not sure, Amazon is very generous: order a Kindle and try it free for 30 days. If you don’t like it, send it back and get a full refund — including shipping — no questions asked. What do you have to lose?

What will happen to my e-books? Will they become obsolete?

Since e-books are digital, like MP3 music files, they can theoretically remain perfect forever — the pages will never turn yellow or fall out. You can back up your e-book files on a DVD or hard drive (just like you might back up other computer files) and retain them forever. And Amazon and B&N store your purchases online for you as well — even if you lose or break your e-reader, you just download them again. You can also read your e-books on PCs, Macs, and smartphones, and none of those are going away anytime soon.

Some e-books (like the free classics, and many inexpensive e-books by independent authors — like mine) do not have copy protection, or “DRM” attached to them. This means you can always convert them from one e-book format to another, and can easily read them on any device made now or in the future. E-books are digital, so they’re not like a VHS tape or LP record that gets replaced by a new physical format (DVDs or CDs). If a new e-book format emerges, there will also be software to convert your books into the new format for you.

On the other hand, most best-selling books by large publishers do have DRM attached, and you can only read them on the family of devices you bought them for: so e-books bought from Amazon will work on any Kindle (or Kindle 2, 3, or 10), and B&N e-books will work on the Nook. I recommend Amazon and B&N partially because I have confidence those two companies will be around and selling e-books and e-book readers for a very long time.

Can you afford an e-reader?

But how practical is it? I’ve talked above about how an e-book reader could pay for itself, or even save money in the long run for avid book readers. Even if that’s the case for you, there’s the initial outlay of $139–$199 to contend with. I don’t have access to your bank account, so I can’t answer the question for you. All I can say is that I am a pretty frugal guy (I don’t even have a TV, let alone cable), and I think the Kindle is a phenomenal value at $139.

Which e-reader is right for me?

This could be a whole separate article (or 3), so I’ll be brief. The bottom line is that my only recommendations for serious readers would be Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Both are more similar than different, and both make excellent e-readers. Both are roughly the same price and size, and have similar e-Ink screens (see this post for the difference between e-Ink and LCD screens). But Amazon just came out with the new Kindle 3 (which I review in more detail here), which has a better screen, and is smaller, lighter, and a little cheaper than the Nook. The Nook does have certain advantages: a small color LCD screen in addition to the main e-Ink screen, support for free library e-books through Overdrive, an SD memory card slot, and a user-replaceable battery. On the other hand, the Kindle 3 is faster, has text-to-speech, has generally better software, and the battery lasts longer. Another factor is whether you prefer shopping at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. UPDATE: I cover this topic more thoroughly in this Holiday E-Reader Buying Guide.

Both the Kindle and Nook come in two versions: Wi-Fi only, and Wi-Fi + 3G. The Wi-Fi only versions can connect to wireless networks the same way your laptop can: you may have Wi-Fi access at home (if you have a wireless router), at work, at Starbucks, McDonalds, or some hotels and airports. The Wi-Fi + 3G models can connect through Wi-Fi or through the AT&T 3G cell phone network — so they can connect pretty much anywhere a cell phone gets signal, and they include free lifetime 3G service. Keep in mind you don’t need any sort of connection — you can read books without it, and you can buy books on your computer and transfer them to your e-reader with the included USB cable. But wireless access allows you to shop, buy, and download books on-the-go, connect to the Internet, and sync your place in the book across your e-reader and Kindle for iPhone or B&N eReader apps. The Kindle 3 Wi-Fi costs $139 and the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G costs $189 (with free 2-day shipping). The Nook Wi-Fi costs $149 and the Nook Wi-Fi + 3G costs $199 with free shipping.

At the end of the day, my bottom-line recommendation is for most people who enjoy reading to purchase the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139. At that price, you’re getting the newest and best e-reader on the market, the device with the best screen, longest battery life, best software, lightest weight, and best e-book store. If you prefer the flexibility of free 3G coverage and can afford another $50, the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G for $189 is also an excellent value. Finally, if you prefer B&N, or if one of the Nook’s advantages (like library e-books) is a “must-have” feature for you, then I’d recommend one of the two Nook models. People who like to read won’t go wrong with any of those 4 choices.

Kindle 2 now just $189

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 102010

Get free e-books at B&N stores

In addition to Barnes & Noble’s recent promotion offering a free $50 gift card with the purchase of a Nook e-book reader, they’re now offering a pair of new promotions: a different free e-book every week, and a free “tall” (which is Starbucks lingo for “small”) hot or iced coffee — just for showing them that you’re reading an e-book on your Nook or Barnes & Noble app for the PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.

For the past few weeks, B&N has been offering a different free e-book each week. To qualify, just bring in your Nook or laptop / phone running the free B&N e-reader app. Show it to any B&N employee and they’ll give you a voucher to download a free e-book (which you can do right there in the store with their free Wi-Fi connection). This week’s book is Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg, and next week’s book (starting June 14) is The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.

Free coffee too from B&N Cafe!

While you’re there, head over to the B&N Cafe (that looks like a Starbucks, but is technically not) and show them that same Nook or device running the B&N app, and they’ll hook you up with a free tall coffee. The fine print says you get a non-customized hot or iced coffee, and can only redeem it once. They also point out that this only works at B&N Cafes, not at Starbucks, or at any Starbucks Cafe inside a B&N store. Confusing? Yeah, I didn’t even know most cafes inside B&N stores were “B&N Cafes,” I just thought they were all Starbucks. So you may want to call and check your local B&N before you head over.

Anyway, that’s three pretty incredible deals from Barnes & Noble. A free $50 gift card is nothing to sneeze at, and the other two deals are even better since you don’t have to buy anything to qualify. You can just download the free B&N app to your laptop or phone, bring it in, and get a completely free e-book and free coffee. It’s a bold move by B&N to (a) get people into e-books and (b) drive foot traffic to their stores where they hope you browse and buy other stuff. It’s interesting that B&N is trying to increase business at its existing retail locations (that sell mostly paper books but increasingly sell gifts, cards, and accessories as well), but is also firmly committed to the future with the Nook and focus on e-books. I hope these moves pay off for them, because they seem well thought out, forward-thinking, and very customer-friendly.

So, download the free B&N e-reader app for your favorite portable device, maybe pick up an inexpensive e-book or two (this one is just $2.99, and get another free e-book and some free coffee on your next visit to a Barnes & Noble store.

© 2010 David Derrico