Ahem. Anyway. The answer is always: "YES!" I love talking about eReaders. It's getting me to shut up about eReaders that's the hard thing. However, sometimes I think I should write all this down into a nice big blog post so that people can read all this at their leisure.
The problem with writing about eReaders, though, is that there is always a new line coming out. And even if I do have five or six, that's such a minuscule portion of the market that it's still very safe to say that (a) I don't know everything about what's out there and (b) even if I did, my knowledge would very quickly be out of date. So understanding that, let's talk about some general stuff.
1. Device Form Factor
So first let's talk about the form factor of the devices out there. The big differences out there are screen size, screen type, navigation type, weight, and integrated reading software. Don't worry, it's not nearly as confusing as it sounds and I want to say right now that your best friend for comparison shopping is going to be this Wikipedia link here on the comparisons between eReaders. So now what does this all mean?
1.1 Screen Size
Screen Size simply means how big is the reading area. Most eReader screens are 6", which is about the size of a mass market paperback book. There are a few dedicated 7" (notably the Sony PRS-950) and 5" (the Sony PRS-350 and the PocketBook 360), and these are good if you want a large screen area for PDF documents and things that don't reflow well, or a small device for carrying around at all times. However, 90% of users will be perfectly happy with a 6" screen.
1.2 Device Weight
Device Weight is equally pretty simple -- it basically comes down to how much the device weighs. This will vary widely, in part because screen size is not the same as device size; there's going to be space around the screen for holding it, and that space can add a lot of weight quickly. In general, lighter is better -- the plastics that eReaders are made from are pretty darn sturdy, and you're going to want to be able to hold your reader with one hand without getting wrist fatigue. Anything under 7 oz is probably fine for the average user, and even I can use the 10 oz Sony PRS-950 without trouble.
1.3 Screen Type: LCD or eInk?
Screen Type is something of a biggie. The first big question is: LCD or eInk? LCD is basically a computer screen: it glows in the dark, it shows color, it works poorly in full sunlight, and some people find it straining on the eyes. eInk is basically grayscale paper: it doesn't glow in the dark, it doesn't show color, it works perfectly in full sunlight, and some people find it relaxing to the eyes. If you go LCD, your options are a tablet (like the Nook Color) or a smart phone. (Or you can also read at the computer.) If you go eInk, your options branch a little further.
1.4 Screen Type: eInk Regular or eInk Pearl?
With eInk, there are a couple more choices, notably: eInk Regular or eInk Pearl. Most new devices -- the Sony PRS line, the Kindle 3, the Nook Simple Touch, and the Kobo Touch -- come with "pearl" screen. Many older devices and third-party lines, including the PocketBook line, have "regular" screens.
eInk Pearl creates a cleaner, sharper image than eInk Regular. Since Pearl screens are available on most newer devices, it's usually just as cheap and easy to get a Pearl screen than a Regular one. However, if the device you have your heart set on isn't a Pearl device, you may not end up noticing or caring -- for most people the difference is only noticeable for books with pictures. Here are some photographs I took to demonstrate the difference:
|eInk Regular (PocketBook 360)|
|eInk Pearl (Sony PRS-950)|
1.5 Navigation Type: Touch or Keys?
There are two types of screens: touch screens and non-touch screens. Touch screens mean that you can use your finger (and possibly a stylus, depending on device) to navigate your library; non-touch screens come with keys or keyboards for device navigation.
Of the non-touch eInk devices, the biggies would be the Kindle 3 and the PocketBook 360. The Kindle 3 has a built in physical keyboard that is used for device navigation; the PocketBook 360 has a direction pad and 3 dedicated buttons, all of which can pull double duty via short-press and long-press and which are customizable in terms of which key does what.
Of the touch eInk devices, the biggies would be the Nook Simple Touch and the Kobo Touch. The Nook Simple Touch has two page turn buttons (right and left side); the Kobo Touch has no buttons whatsoever. (Well, except a power button, I suppose. Those don't count.)
Of the hybrid eInk devices, the Sony PRS line has both touch screen navigation and dedicated buttons across the bottom, which can be customized if you load the PRS+ environment to the device. This is the device style that I personally prefer -- touch for easy library navigation and buttons for options menus and page turns.
NOTE: Since the Sony PRS touch screens are infrared, they can be used with a fine-tip stylus and they can be placed in a water-proof pouch (and then navigated via the button interface). I'm not sure if this is possible with the Nook Simple Touch or Kobo Touch models.
Of the LCD devices, you get touch, period. And it's probably going to be capacitive touch, which means the wide rounded-tip styluses.
2. Library Management
So now that you've had a moment to ogle the pretty readers, it's time to talk about how you plan to load books and navigate to them. There are a lot of different ways to approach library management, and this is one area where the devices are very different but not always clearly articulated.
Do you like to buy one book, read it, archive it forever, and then go on to the next one? If so, then just about any reader will work for you, and probably your biggest priority will be buying one that integrates easily with your store of choice and maybe even has WiFi or 3G support.
Do you own hundreds or thousands of books and the appeal of an eReader is being able to carry around your entire library with you at all times? Do you care intensely about tweaking the covers and shelf tags until they're perfect and being able to organize books by series or genre or any number of other criteria? If so, then my advice to you is to go straight to the Sony PRS models (not the PRS-350, though, because it doesn't have an expandable SD slot) or the PocketBook models.
Why do I say that? Well, the Nook readers and the Kobo readers and -- to the best of my knowledge -- the Kindle readers all basically dump your entire library into a big old bucket. Some of those readers, most notably the Nook, do support shelving books on the device itself, but the process is slow and tedious and can't be backed up and you will lose all your tagging during a firmware update. I. Have. Done. This.
The Sony PRS readers, in contrast, allow Calibre (which you should totally use to store your 1,000 book library) to send metadata to the device with the books, and this metadata is organized into "Sony Collections". Currently I send several types of metadata with each book to my Sony device: whether or not I own the audio book, whether or not I've reviewed the book yet, where I bought the book (or if it was sent for free in exchange for review), the genre of the book, and the series and series number of the book.
This means that I can go into my Collections view and see a list that looks like this:
Clicking on "fiction (adult literature)" will show me all the books in that category. (I have a whole bunch of these that I named myself because I'm OCD about library management and "fiction (adult literature)" needed to group closely with "fiction (children literature)" and NOT be split by "non-fiction (arts and crafts)".) Clicking on "audio (yes) (Audiobook)" will show me all the books in that category -- some of which are also included in the "fiction (adult literature)" category. This is a very powerful way to use and access a large library, and it's something that -- as far as I know -- is unique to the Sony readers.
Now, I also mentioned PocketBook above, and that's because PocketBook models support folder browsing (as does Sony if you've loaded the PRS+ environment). Folder browsing can get you the same thing that Sony Collections gets you if you don't have a lot of nested folders. Folder browsing worked for me when I only organized books by genre, but once I started adding extra layers like "reviewed?" and "audio book?" then it became cumbersome.
Obviously I'm in favor of Sony readers because of the Collections capability. Will you need collections? Possibly not. My husband does fine without collections, partly because he has a very small library of eBooks so far, and partly because he only loads what he knows he wants to read soon to the device. I'm the sort of person who feels like she has to have her entire library with her at all times because god forbid I not be instantly gratified the second I want to read The Picture of Dorian Gray on a whim. But it's worth pointing out that the Sony line-up makes you pay more for this privilege.
3. Other Stuff To Think About
OK, so now we've talked about library management and device form factor, here are some miscellaneous things to keep in mind. None of these will (probably) be deal-breakers, but they're things you want to think about moving forward so as to not get taken by surprise.
You might want to check out what kind of fonts come with your proposed eReader. Most readers will come with a serif font and a sans serif font, but they may not be good versions of either. Some readers will let you load new fonts -- the PocketBook models do this, and the Sony PRS models do after you've loaded PRS+ to the environment. (Before that, you're stuck with a whopping ONE font and Sony expects you to like it. *eyeroll*)
3.2 Key Mapping
If your device has keys, you might want to check out the key mapping options available to you -- i.e., how customizable is the device? I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but the PocketBook 360 lets you do this, as does the Sony PRS models after you've loaded PRS+ to the environment. One nice thing that you can do with the Sony models is map "take a screenshot" to a key -- I use this a lot when I want to remember a page or quote from it later. (Sony supports good highlighting and note-taking and export of same, but I just kind of like screenshots for some weird reason.)
3.3 Book Formats
There are about a billion ebook formats, but unless you've been hoarding old Microsoft LIT files and the like, you will really only care about three: mobi, epub, and pdf. So let's talk about those for a second.
The mobi format is the format that the Amazon books come in (for the most part). A rule of thumb is that no readers can read these books except the Amazon readers. (PocketBooks can, but only if they are DRM free. We'll get to that in the Storefront section below.) The mobi format is slightly less sophisticated than the epub format in terms of what can technically be done with them, but for 99% of books, this will not matter. The important thing for you is that mobi converts (via Calibre) cleanly to epub with pretty much no loss or clean-up needed.
The epub format is the format that everyone else's books come in (for the most part). A good rule of thumb is that all readers can read these books except Amazon readers. The epub format is slightly better than the mobi format for reasons that will be invisible to most readers who aren't tech heads. The important thing for you is that epub converts (via Calibre) cleanly to mobi with pretty much no loss or clean-up needed.
The pdf format is the format still used for books that have very specific layout needs (columns, images in relation to text, and so forth). As a general rule of thumb, you really want to avoid reading pdf on your eReader, but if you simply must, the Sony PRS-950 is your best bet (large screen and great zooming options). The Nook and Kobo try to reflow the pdf and the result is pretty dreadful, in my opinion. The important thing for you is that pdf converts terribly -- very messy and with lots of clean-up needed. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either flat-out wrong or thinking of a special type of pdf file that most pdfs aren't.
3.4 Battery Life
The rule of thumb here is that you can get maybe 8 dedicated hours out of an LCD device. The eInk readers last a lot longer, but not as long as you'd think. The Nook Classic, for instance, will tell you it has a week of battery life, but it really has about 16 hours, which is about two days on a long car trip. The trick here is that a "week" of reading is measured in only about 2 hours a day. So while you may hear "week" and think that's more than enough for me! just understand that doesn't take into account what your actual use may be on, say, a long plane trip or something. Overall, though, battery is pretty unimportant to most users -- buy a wall charger or a car charger and you'll never have to think about it.
4. Store Integration
Last thing, and this is a bit of a biggie: where are you going to buy your books from? It's potentially a major question or possibly not a big deal at all to you -- but whichever way you swing will depend on a few factors: namely, delivery and DRM. But let's cover a couple of general rules.
- You do not have to buy eBooks from the store associated with your reader.
- You can -- theoretically -- match any reader with any store. But some stores have more management overhead than others.
Delivery is something that a lot of stores offer to sweeten your link with them through the device. Amazon Kindle books can be bought directly from the Amazon Kindle reader and delivered to your device over the WiFi or 3G; this is true for the four major stores and their readers -- Nook, Kobo, and Sony PRS-950.
Sounds convenient, right? Well, it can be if you're just wanting to buy, read, and archive. Lots of people do that and it works great. But if you want to buy, tweak the cover to be just right, tweak the metadata and tagging, read, and retain on your device forever, the direct delivery is going to be useless to you because you will have to download the book to your computer, tweak it in Calibre, and side-load it to your device by plugging to your computer. So whether delivery is a useful feature will depend on you.
4.2 Digital Rights Management
DRM essentially means that the book is locked down and you have to have a key to open and read the book. Most books come from a bookstore with DRM in place, but not all. Not all eReaders can read the same DRM formats -- i.e., not all eReaders carry the same key types. Here's a quick chart:
- Amazon: Books have Amazon DRM applied. Kindle can read Amazon DRM only.
- B&N: Books have B&N DRM applied. Nook can read B&N DRM and Adobe DRM.
- Kobo: Books have Adobe DRM applied. Kobo can read Adobe DRM only.
- Sony: Books have Adobe DRM applied. Sony can read Adobe DRM only.
Then, also, there are a lot of independent stores -- like Baen and Smashwords -- that provide DRM-free books that you can buy and support.
But let's say you won't want to remove DRM but you still want a specific DRM-wrapped book. So where should you buy from in that case? Well, if you don't want to remove DRM, you have two choices: You can go with the Amazon store if you want an Amazon reader or you could go with the Kobo store for the B&N/Sony/Kobo readers.
Why the Kobo store? The Adobe DRM they carry can be read on the B&N, Kobo, and Sony readers. The B&N store, in contrast, can only be reader on B&N readers. The Sony store also carried the Adobe DRM, but the Sony store is (currently) quite awful and all right-thinking people hate it. OK, that's an exaggeration, but I don't like it myself, plus I don't like that you need the Sony Reader software to download the books you buy.
So now let's break down the stores:
Most eBooks are priced the same regardless of store because of Agency Pricing, but Amazon seems to be able to coax a sale out once and awhile. I definitely recommend using Amazon to store your Wishlist and using eReaderIQ to send you alerts when the price comes down: generally, when the price goes down at Amazon, it goes down at all the stores. An odd quirk of the Amazon store is that it doesn't download your books to all your registered Kindle devices (computer, eReader, phone, etc.) but rather only to the one you select. Note that Amazon has page syncing and note syncing across devices.
B&N probably has the best online library management -- you can sort your purchased books by author or title, and you can also archive things as needed. B&N also lets you download books to your computer with the press of a button, which is nice for backing up data. Once a book has been purchased from B&N, it's available for download on any registered Nook device (computer, eReader, phone, etc.). Note that B&N claims to have page syncing (but it doesn't work) and no note syncing across devices.
Kobo's online library management leaves a lot to be desired in terms of sorting functions, but it's basically a poor man's B&N and it's worth noting that the Kobo team seems to be very open to internet forums and consumer suggestion, which bodes well for future growth. They also offer coupons from time to time, although it's worth remembering that coupons don't work with Agency Priced books. Kobo lets you download books as ascm files which are opened in the Adobe Digital Editions program where the "real" download takes place. Once a book has been purchased from Kobo, it's available for download on any registered Kobo device (computer, eReader, phone, etc.). I'm fairly certain that Kobo does not support note syncing.
Sony's store can only be accessed through their Sony Reader software. For that reason, I've not really used the store much at all. Sorry about that.
5. Information Overload!!
Please don't be scared by any of the above -- buying an eReader should not be a scary experience for you at all. It should be fun! There's something to remember here: First, pretty much all the eReaders on the market are very nice eReaders and while your first purchase may not be "perfect" for your needs, it will probably do very nicely. Second, you pretty much can't screw up too badly -- if you buy the "wrong" eReader, you can resell it for a fair chunk of your investment online.
So what you really want to know is: what eReader should I buy?
If you want an LCD device for color and backlit reading, I recommend the Nook Color. It's ~$250, and you can slap an SD card in, run CM7 off of it, and then you have an Android tablet that works very nicely. From there, you can load any store -- Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Sony -- off the Google Market and you've basically got 4 readers in one. If you do get into using Calibre, you can also use the Library in the Cloud function and the Aldiko app supports Adobe DRM.
If you want an eInk device and don't intend to ever have more than ~50 books on it at a time, I recommend the Kobo Touch for ~$130 at Best Buy. It's not the most powerful reader on the market, but it's a good price for a "starter" reader, the books you buy at the Kobo store will be delivered to the device, and you'll be able to switch device manufacturers later to Sony or B&N (if you want) without having to worry about DRM issues.
If you want an eInk device and do intend to stock it up with hundreds or thousands of books, I recommend the Sony PRS-950 but it's worth noting that it's about $400 from Amazon (you can find it as low as $200 at some Best Buys) and the model has been discontinued. I *think* the Sony PRS-T1 will be the same functionality but with a 6" screen and a ~$150 price tag, but since those models won't be released for another month or so, nobody actually knows for sure one way or another.So you might wait and see on those.
But! This is all just my opinion. What you really want to do, before making any decision, is get a second one from the good folks at Mobile Reads. They even have a forum just for this question: Which Device Should I Buy?
And -- as always -- you are welcome to email me with any questions you might have! (Did I mention I like talking about eReaders?)