pick.jpgWe certainly have a lot of choices. As holiday season  is here, I’m reprinting my purely personal thoughts on the current crop of ereaders.  (Since I wrote this there are a lot of comments to the article that are worth reading, also, if you are undecided.)

Established market

I look at an ereader as a long term proposition, so I would only choose one that has an established market presence and a well-known brand name. This limits the field to Sony, Amazon, B&N and Kobo. PocketBook is another possibility, as they are pretty big in Europe, but they don’t have their own ebookstore.

Stay away from the cheap, Chinese ereader clones that are flooding the market. Their hardware may actually be OK, but you will find that their software is abysmal. Stick to a name brand.

For kids

If you want an ereader for your kids, then there is only one real choice right now and that is the Nook Color. I’ve seen it and it really is lovely. It’s sharp, bright colors will entrance any of your younger children.

For adults

To cut to the chase, the Kindle 3, followed by the Sony Daily Edition.

The Kindle 3 is a beautifully thought out machine with a long history behind it. Amazon’s customer service is the standard to beat and their ebook selection is first rate. I would plump for the WiFi + 3G model at $189. Once you have 3G you will be surprised at how often you use it. WiFi is not as ubiquitous as you might think. I know that Amazon’s format is proprietary, but, to be honest, Amazon has gotten so big in this market that I don’t think it’s an issue any more. Everyone else is proprietary too, as they all rely on some form of DRM, mostly from Adobe, and I think that if anyone will go bust it will be Adobe, not Amazon.

Also consider the Kindle 2, if you can find one. The Kindle 2 is an excellent unit and you can’t go wrong with one of them – especially if you can get a deal. I loved mine.

The Sony Daily Edition is a wonderful machine if you want a bigger screen. It also has WiFi and 3G (3G for book downloading only) and the touch screen is very nice if that is something you need. Their browser also works much better than the Kindle implementation. A big point in its favor, or any Sony’s favor, is that they use the “standard” form of Adobe DRM and so books purchased from Sony can be read on other ereaders that support Epub. Build quality is top of the line, but it’s pricy at $249. Since I consider connectivity a “must have” I would not consider the other Sony models.

For non-techie adults

If you have a grandma, father, mother or someone else who is not a techie, the choice is clear to me: the Kindle. After you do the initial setup on Amazon (open an account and register the machine), which takes only a few minutes, the reader never, ever, has to look at a computer again. It’s so simple to operate that even a technophobe will be able to use it.

Why I didn’t choose the others

The Nook (e-ink): two reasons. B&N is still working the software out and this shouldn’t be the case for something that’s been out so long. Also, the Kindle, in both WiFi and 3G models is a little cheaper.

Kobo: if you want a WiFi only model the Kobo unit is fine – it uses the same screen as the Amazon and Sony units, but for the same price you can get an Amazon unit with Amazon’s customer service behind it. Kobo is on a roll, though, and given their investors I think they will be a formidable player in the future.

Other Sonys: as I mentioned, no connectivity.

iPad: the iPad is a pretty clunky ereader – heavy, limited battery life, and its hard to use it outside. Also the iBookstore is pretty limited compared to all the others. Finally, Apple’s DRM implementation means that you are locked into reading on Apple equipment only if you buy a book from the iBookstore.  So I wouldn’t buy an iPad primarily for ereading.  However, Amazon, B&N and Kobo have apps that will allow you to read their books on the iPad, so you are not limited to the iBookstore if you buy from those guys.  Also the iPad is the one to get if you are into comics.


  1. I am glad you put in “Although at the end of the article” that you wouldn’t use an iPad for primarily e-reading. The last update to the nook wifi/3G really has improved the unit overall. The ability to search the “My Documents” folder really step the unit up to the plate when reading side-loaded content.

  2. I’m not sure I understand why connectivity is a must-have feature. I own the Sony Daily Edition 950 which offers the wifi/3G connectivity and have used it exactly twice in the month I’ve had it. I wouldn’t so lightly dismiss the other two Sony devices because of the lack of connectivity.

    Sony does have a big advantage over the Kindle in that (assuming you don’t de-DRM your purchases) any ebook that can be read on the Sony can also be read on virtually all other available devices except the Kindle. It doesn’t mean a lot if you are buying the device today, but it might mean a lot in 6 or 12 months when you want to update/upgrade your device and it turns out the device you want is not a Sony or a Kindle.

  3. I think the nook with its 1.5 update is right up there in the running as a good choice. Most users have no trouble with it and the biggest plus it has over the Kindle is it is compatible with public library ePUB format and biggest plus over Sony Reader (which is also compatible with library borrwing) is price. The eInk, while first generation, is excellent–dark and crisp. Battery life appears to have improved with this new firmware update. I am looking at about 20 days worth on a single charge–that’s with reading only and not going wi-fi.

  4. The ipad is heavy, true, and LCD doesn’t work as well outside as e-ink. That said, I wouldn’t dismiss it on the basis of the iBookstore. I’ve bought a grand total of one book through that. The whole point is that you can run multiple apps on it! I read books from Kindle, the Sony Store, nook/Borders, etc. e tc. And even library books, thanks to Bluefire!

    The big advantage of the iPad for me is the magazines, too… Zinio has a lot of great ones.

  5. The Sony Daily Edition is not sold outside of the US. Barnes and Noble does not sell the Nook, the Nook Color or ebooks outside of the US.

    I agree Kindle 3 is the first choice. 3G is a nice to have but if you truly do most of your reading (and, importantly, downloading) at home or on holiday, you can save $50 for WiFi only. At $139 its a tremendous deal.

    Second choice is Kobo Wifi. It’s $129, it’s a very capable reader and, like the Kindle 3 WiFi, can manage the library of ebooks purchased from Kobobooks or Amazon respectively. If the buyer uses, or wants to use, library books, the Kobo is a very strong contender.

    Last choice is Sony PRS 350 (5″) or PRS 650 (6″). Touch screen is nice to have but without connectivity via WiFi or 3G it means a computer with the download software installed always has to be available. It does give you library access like the Kobo. But, it is considerably more expensive with the matching 6″ size is $229 (currently $199 on sale). That’s a huge premium for the Sony name.

  6. I agree with Richard Adin. I don’t understand the obsession with connectivity. But maybe that’s just me and my lifestyle. I’m almost always either at work or at home and they’re only half a mile apart;either place I’m usually on a computer. And if I am somewhere else, I’ve probably got my netbook with me.

    I go book shopping and get a bunch of books, and then work my way through them before going book shopping again. I NEVER buy books with DRM, and I don’t buy books from a store that’s associated with my device. I go online to my favorite independent ebookstore (or publisher), buy my books, fix the almost always messed up metadata in Calibre and then send to my reader. Along the way, I save the book on my computer, and every couple of book shopping trips I back up all my books on another drive.

    I just don’t get the connectivity obsession.

  7. In my view wifi is a must have but 3G is completely unnecessary. For anyone who does not already have a laptop I also believe an iPad would be an excellent choice. It brings terrific quality eReading to the recipient but also rolls in with a delightful and mobile additional functionality as an almost-laptop, especially to people who have never been into using computers and who can now enjoy the great benefits without having to learn how to use an OS.

  8. Alexander makes an excellent points about international availability.

    I also think people should be careful about giving single-function e-readers as gifts, unless the recipient has specifically asked for one or you know they currently use one. Lots of people love e-reading, but many will simply never give up dead-trees, and many others just don’t read in the first place.

    $100-$200 is expensive for a paper weight.

  9. As one of the connectivity-obsessed, I wouldn’t even consider an ereader without it. That feature was game-changing for me, and I never would have guessed it until I had the Kindle in my hands. The first time I finished a book and realized I could just download the next book in the series right then was incredible.

    I have a Kindle, an iPhone, and an iPod Touch; with the books I buy from Amazon, I can pick up any of those devices and just read them, picking up where I left off. If I buy an app on my iPhone, I have to connect to my computer to back it up, and connect my iPod to my computer to transfer to my iPod. Once upon a time, that was fine; now it feels incredibly clunky.

  10. One you neglect to mention is that with the Nook, Kobo, and Sony readers, most users can download eBooks for free from their local public library. Amazon has refused to follow the EPUB standard, so the only way to get books on the Kindle is through Amazon, which usually costs money.

  11. The connectivity is really important for those who are NOT techie oriented. No need for a computer at all is a very handy thing- including when you are away from home. (When I travel, I often cannot connect a USB cable to the hotel’s computer for guests.)

    Also, I really think library loans are over-rated. Tecjhniocally available, but try to get one of a book you want- looong wait.
    Quite simply, the Kindle is the ebst bet.

  12. Today, at a writer’s meeting, the speaker mentioned a series I thought I recognized but wasn’t sure. I pulled out my Kindle, opened the store, and entered the series name. Voila, there it was. Would I have remembered when I got home? Unlikely. A small example, maybe, but just one of the dozens of times when connectivity becomes something special. I never missed connectivity when I read on my eBookWise, but now that I’ve owned a Kindle, I wouldn’t buy a machine without it.

    Rob Preece

  13. For people who use libraries a lot as a book and media source whether it is p-books or e-books having an e-reader that can borrow library e-books is a very highly rated feature. Obviously, that feature is overrated if you are some one who doesn’t use libraries. Sure, sometimes I have to wait for an e-book, that happens with p-books and movie DVDs too because a library is a shared, public resource–it isn’t there just to serve me. But there are plenty of other e-books to get while I wait my turn. People are too used to having everything they want immediately. As a retired person on a fixed income I would hate to think if I had to purchase every book I wanted to read. If I really want a book, then I do purchase it, but not often. So it all depends on your lifestyle, your income and your reading-book habits as to what features in an ereader are highly rated.

  14. I’m with Rob and a few others on the 3G as I use it quite a bit when out and about.

    The best use, I’ve described at http://bit.ly/kdriving when lost and needing driving or even walking instructions, step by step. When you don’t have a GPS unit with you.

    Text access to many info sites is now quite good, often.

    But if you’ve a very curious mind and do not have paid web-data already on a smart phone, being able to look up info wherever you are (as Paul says, WiFi is really not everywhere as some like to say), at no added cost, is still a wonder for me. Even when slow, I can wait if it doesn’t cost anything and I could not get the info otherwise, so easily.

    You can look up any fact whether you’re on a bus or sitting on the beach. That’s pretty powerful, when there’s no added cost for it. It’s given short shrift by those who don’t use it but others do and it’s valued by them/us.

  15. Thanks for the great post! As a public librarian, I can vouch that these questions are being asked *all* the time by a general audience, and reviews like this really help us assist our patrons.

    Re: wanting to check out e-Books from the library — I have been confused about this for awhile, as I know that OverDrive does offer some Mobipocket (.mobi) books, which are supported by Kindle. However, most libraries, and even OverDrive itself, claim that you can’t read OverDrive books on a Kindle. Has anyone tested this with OverDrive Mobipocket books?

  16. Mobipocket Overdrive on the Kindle

    This from Kindle Forum a while back:

    Quote from: ellenoc on February 06, 2009, 04:54:23 PM
    “I get Overdrive ebooks from the Denver Public Library pretty regularly (at the end of the month when my book budget allowance has been reached). You have to get the MobiPocket format versions of the books, so your library has to offer the Mobi choice, and as stated by someone else, you have to run a Python script on the book, and you can find instructions and where to download what you need on the Mobile Read forums. All the script does is make the book work on a Kindle. The checkout still “expires” at the end of whatever period your library has chosen. It was a PITA the first time I worked through how to do it, but once you’ve figured it out, it’s easy to do after that. However, I did also request that the DPL start to make Kindle format books available. If enough people ask, maybe it will happen.”

  17. @Rachel “However, most libraries, and even OverDrive itself, claim that you can’t read OverDrive books on a Kindle. Has anyone tested this with OverDrive Mobipocket books?”

    The issue you are bumping into is probably Digital Rights Management. The Amazon Kindle uses the Mobipocket ebook format (which is essentially encapsulated HTML), but uses a modified form of Mobipocket’s DRM. (The intent, as far as I can tell, is to lock you into Amazon as your book vendor.)

    If you strip the DRM, any Mobipocket file should be viewable on the Kindle. Software to strip the DRM is available, but it’s written in the open source Python script language, so you need to install a version of Python (which is available for Windows, Mac OS/X, and Linux,) then get and install the Python program that does the work. As mentioned, instructions on how to do it (but not the software itself) is available on Mobile Read.

    If you want to go one step farther, there are apparently people getting Overdrive supplied volumes in ePub format and reading them on Kindles. That’s a more complex process: first you must strip the DRM from the ePub file, and then you must convert the ePub file to Mobipocket format. You can do that with Kovid Goyal’s Calibre, a Swiss Army Knife for dealing with ebook files. Calibre can build and maintain a database of ebooks, convert between formats, and allow you to view and edit the book’s metadata. You can find Calibre at http://calibre-ebook.com/download

  18. I wish people would stop saying that Kindle locks you into Amazon as your only source of books. I buy few books from Amazon, but get a lot of books from other publishers, such as Baen who offer DRM-free mobi books. It’s true you can’t get library books on the Kindle without a bit of technological wizardry, but you can get books from other publishers and from Gutenberg.C

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