A few weeks ago I decided to blow some of my tax refund on an e-reader. This led to a bit of research…
Which Display Type?
This was an easy decision: I wanted a dedicated e-reader, not a tablet—my Android phone does all the mobile stuff I need, and for everything else I use a laptop or desktop. This is just for reading, and I want to be able to read anywhere.
The tablets all use LCD displays, the same as laptops. These have serious glare and washout problems in bright light, making them virtually impossible to use outside, especially if the sun is shining. Plus the backlight uses a lot of power, greatly shortening battery life, and potentially requiring larger and heavier batteries.
All of the dedicated e-readers use essentially the same E Ink technology. These are ultra-low-power (up to a month on a charge!). Also, they are reflective like real paper, so they’re readable in any light (as long as there’s some light, but who reads in the dark?).
The biggest downsides are slow screen refresh (almost a second), and no colour. But those don’t matter for most reading I do. So it’s E Ink for me.
Which E-Book Format?
There are many different e-book formats, but as far as e-readers go, only two of them really matter:
There’s also PDF of course, but it’s supported by all major e-readers, with basically the same limitations (the main one being inability to re-flow the text, forcing you to strain your eyes at tiny text, scroll left and right a lot, or try to read a mangled version converted to one of the other formats).
So the e-book format choice is really driven by the e-reader choice. Non-DRM e-books can be flawlessly converted between Mobi and ePub by Calibre (and it does a passable job on simple PDFs). Amazon also provides one-way conversion to AZW with the free KindleGen program. But DRM protected e-books are stuck on the e-reader they were bought for (barring activities of questionable legality).
I was already leaning toward the Kindle. I usually go for open solutions, to avoid vendor lock-in (thus my use of Linux instead of Windows, and Android instead of an iPhone). Maybe I’m losing my youthful idealism and getting more pragmatic, but Kindle seemed like the best fit for me.
But I checked some reviews to be sure. Here’s a good summary of the major e-readers: NOOK vs Kindle eReader Comparison, which despite the title covers more than Nook and Kindle.
Sony was off my list from the start, as their product quality has been awful in recent years, and they keep doing stupid, guaranteed-to-fail lock-in attempts (like inventing their own audio file format and their own flash memory format). That leaves the Nook and Kobo.
The new B&N Nook with backlight was the clear winner hardware-wise over the Kindle, but the software and B&N store apparently have some serious usability issues. Also, if the Nook screen gets scratched, it creates a bright spot that makes it almost unusable. So I ruled out the Nook.
I was tempted by the Kobo. It seems to be the most popular e-reader here in Canada—when I mentioned an e-reader to my friends, they assumed I was talking about a Kobo. That may have something to do with it being made by a Canadian company. It’s also not tied to any particular bookstore, but that could be viewed as a disadvantage in terms of ease of use. And here in Canada (where the ad-subsidized Kindle is not available) it’s $40 cheaper ($99 versus $139 for the Kindle Touch WiFi). Actually $52 cheaper when you count shipping (no free international shipping from Amazon). If I wanted an ePub reader, this would be my first choice.
But part of the reason I’m buying an e-reader is that I plan to eventually self-publish, and Amazon is the 800lb gorilla in self-publishing. Besides, I haven’t seen them abusing their dominant position, and I can always buy a new eReader if I need to. So in the end I went with Kindle.
That left one final question…
There are currently five Kindle models available. I didn’t want to spend any more money than necessary, so I gave serious consideration to which features I really needed.
I would need to do some typing on it (e.g. making notes, searching), so that ruled out the most basic Kindle. But I didn’t plan to do enough to justify the hardware keyboard on the Kindle Keyboard 3G and Kindle DX. These models are also bulkier than I prefer. The smaller ones will fit in the pockets of the cargo pants/shorts I usually wear.
The issue of reading through a fingerprint-smudged touch screen, like on my phone, concerned me . But worst case, it’s not that hard to clean. I decided the touchscreen advantages outweighed the possible disadvantages.
That left me with the Kindle Touch, with or without 3G. I’m not likely to be buying books when out of WiFi range. But 3G could be convenient for accessing book descriptions, full dictionary definitions, and Wikipedia. On the other hand, it’s an extra $40. And when I get a newer Android phone, I’ll be able to use it’s 3G/4G connection via WiFi tethering. So I decided it wasn’t worth it for me.
So the winner was: Kindle Touch.
Of course, I needed a case too, to protect the screen (they are easily broken). In the end, I settled on the $40 leather case from Amazon, designed for the Kindle Touch. The total, with shipping, GST (Canadian VAT), and currency conversion was $210 Canadian.
I was planning to report on my experience with it so far, but I better leave that for another post—this one is already too long. Let me just say I’m happy with it so far.
- How Compatible Are Rival E-Readers? (pogue.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad: Which e-book reader should you buy? (epicagear.com)
- Your Stimulus Dollars at Work: Uncle Sam Buys Kindles for $6,660 a piece (reason.com)
- War and Peace ebook readers find a surprise in its Nooks (guardian.co.uk)
- How to Read ePUB Files (survivalguide4idiots.com)