Traditional paper books are slowly becoming things of the past. E-reader devices and e-books have done for literature what the iPod did for music: give readers the convenience of carrying thousands of books and magazines in a single, easy-to-carry device. Unlike the iPod, however, which technology is supreme has yet to be decided. The Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook/Nook Color, and the Apple iPad are all competing for the title, which leaves users confused about which one is the right device for them. Everyone, from PhDs to CEOs, had a different reason to buy an e-reader. How can you know which is right for you?
When comparing e-readers, setting is a critical factor. Traditional e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook use a technology known as “e-ink” to display the print. That means that there is no back lighting, like there is with a LCD display, and therefore no glare when used in bright light or outdoors. An e-ink display like the Kindle or Nook can be viewed clearly in sunlight, while iPad and Nook Color users have to deal with the glare and reflection of the sun. This gives Kindle and Nook users a more “authentic” reading experience that better simulates reading a book page, and is often more comfortable during longer reading sessions because it doesn’t require the eye-strain associated with screens. To use it in the dark, though, you have to use a clip-on light to be able to see the text, like you would with a regular book.
Another advantage to e-ink devices like the Kindle or Nook is power consumption. Because e-ink doesn’t require back lighting, the display only draws power from the battery when a new page is loaded. This means that a Kindle or Nook can last for days without requiring a recharge, while an iPad or Nook Color only offers several hours of reading time due to the fact the screen is constantly drawing power.
Each device has its own source for its library and collection of titles. The Kindle uses the Amazon library with over 900,000 titles available for purchase, while the Nook uses the Barnes & Noble Library with over 2 million titles available. The iPad is considerably more limited, with only 200,000 titles available through iTunes, but iPad users can also choose to install the Kindle app for access to the Amazon library, or the Nook app for access to the Barnes & Noble library. All devices can display user-created content like PDF files, either through the included software or with an add-on application. Users interested in reading color documents like diagram-heavy science books or magazines would prefer either the Nook Color or iPad, because they both have full color LCD displays, unlike the Kindle or original Nook.
In addition to reading books and magazines, e-reader users might also want to browse the web, play a game or watch a movie. The iPad has access to Apple’s full library of over 140,000 apps available for only the iPad, plus built-in support for iTunes. This allows for listening to music, watching movies and TV episodes, and being able to surf the web, and access to games like Angry Birds. New apps are added to the iTunes store everyday, giving the iPad a much wider range of functions when compared to other devices.
The Nook Color uses a modified version of Android’s operating system, and has a few thousand additional apps that can be installed. The Kindle features only a few basic games, including crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and chess. The Kindle and original Nook also lack a touch screen, which can hamper some users.
Users with different habits will find different things to like and dislike about each device. For users that simply want an alternative to traditional books, the Kindle and original Nook are the best imitators, though whether their e-ink technology is an improvement over plain text is up for debate. Users that need to read materials that are in color should go with the Nook Color or the iPad, and someone who wants a device that’s more like a computer would likely be happiest with an iPad. Think carefully about what you plan to use the device for before choosing one.