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Holiday Buying Guide, Part 1: Device differentiation, which type is right...

The ebook device comparison chart has been updated. I haven’t included the various Android reading tablets like Pandigital or Literati although I can if you think that they would be helpful.

Generally speaking there are three types of devices on the market today for digital readers: a true multifunction device like  an iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, or other true tablet device, a dedicated reading device like the Kindle, nook, Kobo, or Sony readers, and hybrid devices such as the Literatti, Pandigital Reader, and Cruz Reader.

In determining which kind of device is right for you depends upon the use of the reader, where you want to shop, where you want to read, and what ebooks you already own.   Here is a series of questions that you can ask yourself in preparing to buy your first or your next ereader.

1.   Where do you want to shop? If you want to shop at different places then you should look at true multifunction device like an iPad or a real Android tablet. When I say real Android tablet, I mean an Android tablet that gives you access to the Android app market.   Tablet like devices that run on Android like the hybrids: Nookcolor, Literatti, Pandigital and Cruz Readers, all have their own little app markets and you won’t find Kobo, Borders or Kindle Apps there.

For the eink reader, most devices will allow you to use secure ePub.   Please note, however, that the nook encryption scheme works only with the nook devices and nook Apps.   This means if you buy an ebook at Barnes&Noble, you will NOT be able to use it on any device (like Kobo or Sony) but the nook, nookColor, or nook Apps.

In summary, if you want to shop around at different locations buy a multifunction device or nook compatible device.   These will give you the most options.   (It should be noted that Kindle reportedly has the cheapest prices by 11% and that most books will be priced the same due to “Agency” pricing).

2.   Do you have access to a digital library lending system? If yes and you plan to use it, you will want a device that accepts digital library loans.   Any iThing (iPad, iTouch, iPhone) can access the digital libraries using the great new app, Bluefire (free).   For eink and hybrid readers, you will need to look for devices that use Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) encryption.   Generally, you will be safe if you stick with nook, Kobo and Sony readers.   Kindles DO NOT work with the digital library lending system.

In sum, if you want to read digital library books, get an iThing or an ePub compatible device.

3.   Will you be reading on more than one device? If you plan to read on more than one device, make sure you go with nook, Kindle, or Kobo; an iPad or true Android table that can run one of those apps; or the hybrid nookColor.   Currently only the nook, Kindle, and Kobo platforms offer syncing between devices and applications.   Thus if you start reading on your device and leave it at home, you can pick up where you left off by firing up the computer program or opening the app on your smartphone.   This is Ned’s favorite feature of his Kindle and he won’t let me buy him books at other places because he reads on both his iPhone and his Kindle.

4.   Will you carry your device with you in your purse? I know we have some male readers, but the majority of the readership here at Dear Author is female and in emails I get, women reference what bags they use to carry their ereaders quite a bit.   One of the reasons I stopped using the iPad as a regular ereader is because of its size.   It’s not really purse friendly.   At 10″ by 8″, most shoulder bags will accommodate the iPad, but at a pound and a half, it can get heavy.

If you plan to carry your ereader with you everywhere, I suggest going with one of the light weight eink devices such as the Kobo and the Kindle, both of which weigh under a half a pound.

5.   Do you need backward compatibility? Many readers who have never bought a digital device still have purchased ebooks and now want to know what reader will accommodate those purchases.   Currently there is no dedicated reading device or multi function device that will read MS Lit books.   For those readers who purchased that format, my best suggestion is to get Convertlit and strip the DRM off those books.    Windows 7 mobile phones will be hitting the market soon and those may be MS Lit compatible.

For those readers who bought mobipocket books, you are also hamstrung.   Mobipocket books can work on the cybook readers (an eink device sold out of Europe) or Blackberry devices.

For those readers who purchased encrypted PDFs, your best bet is to go with an iThing, probably the iPad because the iPad really works well with PDF documents.

If you have unencrypted books, download yourself a copy of Calibre and convert those unencrypted books into whatever format you like (mobi for Kindle devices and epub for everything else).

6.   Do you read outdoors? If you read out of doors, an LCD based screen will make outdoor reading a sad and miserable experience.   If you spend time reading outside on any regular basis, you really need to go with an eink screen.

7.   Do you read at night? I read mostly at night and because of that, I’ve spent more time reading on a 4″ screen than any other device.   I started out reading on my Palm and then moved to the iPaq and then to the iPhone.   I still read on my iPhone at night sometimes even though I have the Kindle with book light built into the cover.   The Sony Touch Edition (the PRS 650) has a cover with a built in light as well.    A backlit device like the multifunction tablets or the hybrid devices make reading at night a lot easier.   Remember, though, that light drains the battery of your devices quickly.

8.   Are you left handed? If you are left handed, a touchscreen device might be the best for you.   While there are matching page turn buttons on the left and right hand side of the Kindle, I have heard complaints by lefties about the rocker placement.   Touchscreen devices such as the multifunction, hybrids or the Sony touchscreens allow for greater customized function for left v. right handed readers.

9.   Do you want to shop from your device? If you want to shop directly from your device, you will want to make sure you get a device that has at least wifi. Wifi means that your device will be able to connect to the online store matched with your device whenever you have a wireless signal such as in your home or at places like McDonalds, Starbucks, or Panera (or any other place that offers free wifi).   A device that has 3G capability means that you can shop for books whenever you can access a cellular signal.   Kindle and nook offer free 3G access but the tablets do not.   The nookcolor does not have 3G capabilities.

10.   How techie are you? If the answer is “not very”, then you want to go with a device that is easy to use.   The easiest device on the market for a reader is the Kindle. With the turn buttons on either side and the always available “buy now” from the device itself, Amazon has done a great job of making the Kindle reader friendly.    Further, Amazon has enabled readers to email themselves content which Amazon converts to make it Kindle compatible.   It is one of my favorite features of the Kindle.

The next easiest device on the market are the iThings: iPad, iTouch, iPhone.   The touchscreen and integrated App store to access the reading apps with a tap of your finger makes it easy for even the most non tech savvy people to use it.

The reason that these devices are so easy to use is because they don’t require any cords or computers.   They are fully functional and useable without any peripheral device.   While the nookColor may also be easy to use, the nook itself is not.   With the touchscreen lcd navigation, the device can be confusing for a reader and the software itself lacks intuitiveness.   This may change overtime.

Hope these 10 questions and answers give you a heads start on making a holiday decision regarding eReaders.   Next week will be on the differences between the three major categories of eReaders:   multifunction/dedicated/hybrid and the top devices in each category.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

46 Comments

  1. Estara
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 06:52:49

    ETA: All the Kindle recommendations only make sense if you live in a country where Amazon supports these books being sold and supports the wireless net access ^^.

    Although, admittedly I would expect most of the DA readership to fall in that category, heh.

  2. Danielle D
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 07:17:29

    Very informative blog, I’m saving it in my favorite place so when my friends ask me “What eReader should I get” I can send them the link.

  3. Emmiebee
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 08:25:31

    Thanks for the review! I’m trying to wrap my widdle brain around global restrictions, though. My Mom lives about 1/2 of the time in Spain and 1/2 here in the States. If I purchase her a 3G Kindle, and she registers it under her US address, with a US credit card or bank as her payment source- will it give her any trouble purchasing from Amazon.com over in Spain? Even if the majority of her purchases occur over there? Also, what if said Kindle is linked to her computer which is chugging along on its Spanish internet service? Thanks for any advice!

  4. Kelly L.
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 08:26:22

    Great post! And “iThing” made me grin. :)

  5. Statch
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 08:49:06

    As always, thanks so much for taking the time to gather all this information in one place. (I’m finding I still read mostly on my Touch even though I bought a Sony reader in the summer. I read mostly at night too, and usually in low light, so the backlit screen is important.)

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    Nov 14, 2010 @ 09:00:25

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  7. Christine M.
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 09:02:59

    @Estara:
    What Estara said. Also keep in mind that anything that appears as a freebie will cost you money if you live outside the US.

  8. cara
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 09:54:03

    Maybe I’m confused, but for #1, I don’t believe the nook is the only device with that issue. The Kindle books also can only be read on Kindles or Kindle apps. Additionally, according to your chart, the nook only reads eReader and ePub? They also read pdfs just fine, dear. PS – the nook is also balanced for righties or lefties. Sorry, not to white-knight my device, here, but it just seemed like some information was missing.

  9. Susan Roebuck
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 10:43:08

    I have a Kindle and love it. There’s only one thing that maybe you haven’t mentioned – I live in Europe and always shop at Amazon.co.uk. However, due to some weird UK laws they won’t ship “abroad” (hello? We’re all Europe now, you know, UK). So if you don’t have a UK address, you must buy your Kindle and all ebooks from Amazon.com.

  10. Phoebe
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 10:43:32

    The easiest device on the market for a reader is the Kindle. With the turn buttons on either side and the always available “buy now” from the device itself, Amazon has done a great job of making the Kindle reader friendly.

    Um, all of this is all also true for the nook.

    Ditto to what Cara says. I get kind of weary about people citing features shared between nook and kindle as reasons to buy a kindle.

  11. Ridley
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 10:53:44

    Windows 7 mobile phones will be hitting the market soon and those may be MS Lit compatible.

    That’s extremely unlikely. Microsoft stopped supporting the MS Reader DRM scheme a few years ago. Currently it’s unsupported on Windows 7 PCs. I can’t get MS Reader to activate on my computer and I’ve heard it’s the same story for everyone else as well.

  12. Maryann Miller
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 10:57:00

    Very informative article. We are doing a series on e-books at the Blood Red Pencil blog over the next couple of weeks and a piece about the various readers would be wonderful. Are you interested in doing a guest blog there?

  13. TerryS
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 13:27:16

    I have a library of DRMed ebooks purchased from ereader.com over the years all the way back to when it was still peanut press. Which if any readers would you suggest that would enable me to read those books?

  14. Jane
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 15:31:18

    @TerryS eReader app for the iThing can read ereader format. I’ve heard that nook can read the eReader format but only if they are non DRM’ed.

    Your best bet is to look for a DRM stripping plugin for Calibre. I think that there is one for pdb books.

  15. orannia
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 16:25:35

    Thank you Jane! At the moment I think I will stick to reading on my iPhone, although the Sony eReader has just gone on sale in NZ (FINALLY!) so we now have multiple choices – iPhone, iTouch, Kindle, Kobo and the Sony eReader! However, as I pointed out to the Sony consultant on the weekend, who assured me that I could read everything on the Sony eReader, I can’t buy ‘everything’ because of geographical restrictions :)

  16. Colleen
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 17:11:16

    I have to disagree that the nook is not easy to use. It’s very user friendly and also reads PDF files. Some of your information is lacking/just plain wrong. Stick to the facts next time!!

  17. Darlynne
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 20:46:19

    Jane, your buying guide was most helpful and timely. The Nook is definitely right for me and, thank goodness, because I just ordered the wifi version on Friday. Now to figure out what kind of cover …

  18. loonigrrl
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 03:30:11

    Some of your information is lacking/just plain wrong. Stick to the facts next time!!

    Wow, that’s a very unhelpful response to a well thought out and informative post. Sounds like someone is a little too defensive.

  19. geertm
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 05:59:52

    The Nook reads DRM’ed ereader books just fine. But the current firmware has a problem with non-DRM’ed ones. The simple workaround is to convert those to ePub using Calibre.

  20. Terry Odell
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 07:52:58

    After years of using my eBookwise, I wanted to upgrade to something a bit more versatile (but still wanted it to be an e-reader, not a major multi-tasker.) However, the one feature I would not give up is the read-in-bed, no need to turn on a light to disturb a partner or blow out your retinas at 2AM, so when I saw the Nook Color preview ads, I forgot about my price range and the ‘wait for others to try it’ policy. I pre-ordered one and am really looking forward to its arrival.

    http://terryodell.blogspot.com/2010/11/all-about-time.html

  21. TaMela
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 09:25:01

    This is a great post! Very informative – but one of the features not compared is the ability to lend books to others. I am/was considering a Kobo (I have a large ebook collection already) since it has almost everything I need – except the ability to lend books to my husband or friends.

  22. Laine
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 10:56:13

    @Ridley:

    I’m using Microsoft Reader on this Windows 7 laptop. I buy all my Harlequins in lit format. It is possible.

  23. gous
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 11:20:12

    The original Nook (Nook Classic? Nook Pure?) can read secure eReader format (pdb) just fine. Unfortunately it appears the new NookColor will not support that format. Might want to change that in your table. Another of those strange corporate decisions…
    The Jetbook Lite can also read secure eReader, as well as the B&N flavoured epub. Other than the Nook it is the only reader to support both.

  24. cara
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 13:12:40

    @loonigrrl:

    Except that, in regards to at least one major device in that list (which makes me wonder about the information on the others, but I only own one of them), it’s not well thought out or very informative. It’s missing large chunks of information, which makes at least one perfectly good device with lots of capabilities in that list look like a dud. $100+ is a lot of money for some people, and things like the ability to lend books, hardware/button/touchscreen layout, and format capabilities are critical features in deciding on a device. If I were shopping for my reader now, I’d find the comments more helpful than the chart itself, which says something.

  25. brooksse
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 13:48:30

    I’ve been a happy Sony Reader owner for a couple years and recently upgraded to the new PRS-650 Touch edition. This year I’ve also started reading on my iPod and my Android phone. I’ve used the Kindle, Nook, Borders and Kobo apps on my mobile devices, mainly for their free content. When the prices dropped this summer, it was the ease of use of the Kindle apps that prompted me to buy a Kindle 3.

  26. Bea
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 18:54:19

    This is wonderful! Thank you so much. I am torn between a Kindle and an iPad. $ wise, the Kindle is the better one; feature wise, it’s about a tie for my needs.

  27. Colleen
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 18:56:07

    Not defensive, just annoyed with people outright lying. That’s not OK with me.

  28. Deb
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 19:54:49

    Something most consumers don’t factor in when making this kind of purchase, is Customer Service. I’d recommend checking into the kind of support you can expect from the OEMs. I can say from experience that Amazon provides some of the very best customer service in the business. They fully support not only the device, but your book purchases as well. Having had to contact Apple, HP, Dell, Sony, attempts for Samsung, Amazon really leads in this respect. The ease of getting help from them is invaluable.

    I’d also recommend checking out the associated book stores for availability and price of books. The best device won’t be enjoyed if you can’t buy the books you want.

  29. Mags
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 14:39:49

    The regular Jetbook (not the Lite), with the latest firmware installed, can handle DRMed B&N epubs and secure eReader as well as the other flavor of ADE DRM. I picked up a bunch of freebies from B&N over the summer and they look great on the Jetbook.

    Pray note that the new Jetbook Mini, while wee and adorable, cannot handle anything but .txt and .fb2 files (and the latter not very well from all reports).

    Also pray note that the Jetbook devices do not have eInk screens; they use transreflective LCD screens, rather like older PDAs and digital watches, so they can be read outdoors, and like eInk you need good lighting to read them in dark conditions. The main advantage over eInk is instantaneous page turns with no flash. Battery life, as might be imagined, is rather less.

    I have the original Jetbook and I have to say it’s a nice little reader. Very purse- and pocket-friendly, and great for reading B&N ebooks (I didn’t buy it for that, so that was a bonus). All in all I prefer eInk.

  30. Mags
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 14:41:55

    Just realized that my post sounds like the Jetbook Lite cannot handle B&N books, but of course it can, as gous pointed out @22.

    Jetbook and Jetbook Lite = B&N epub, secure eReader

    Jetbook Mini = no
    Aluratek Libre = no

    I am reduced to incomplete sentences.

  31. LizJ
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 20:30:37

    FYI, many of the Android-based tablets can be altered to run more of a pure Android setup which allows for all the ebook reader apps. I started to do it with the Pandigital, then conidered that right now I’d just be as happy with what they have installed with the stock system, so re-flashed it to the latest software. slatedroid.com is a good resource site for info about reving the Android-based tablets. I wouldn’t suggest trying if you’re not into doing technical stuff with software, but it wasn’t really difficult to do, and it was easy to flash back.

    As far as customer service for some of the lesser-known brands, I wouldn’t expect much, although the Pandigital does have a 1 year warranty. I suspect a lot of these companies are smaller startups. But, hey, Apple was once a garage-based startup.

  32. TerryS
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 21:17:54

    Thank you to everyone who jumped in with information on devices that could handle Secure Ereader ebooks. One more question, please. Does the Jetbook or Jetbook Lite need a separate light if reading at night? Thanks, again!

  33. gous
    Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:00:14

    @TerryS
    Yes, though LCD they are the transreflective screen type so a separate light at night a must. Newegg.com is selling the white ones for $79.99 at present, free shipping included. You can also get refurbished WiFi Nooks at overstock for $99 I believe.

  34. LizJ
    Nov 17, 2010 @ 12:17:48

    Don’t forget the refurbished Nooks directly from B&N on Ebay too.

  35. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Bountiful linkity abounds
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 02:03:46

    [...] maybe it would be better to start with Dear Author’s buying guide, which helps you figure out which device is right for [...]

  36. DebD
    Nov 20, 2010 @ 08:26:25

    @Phoebe: I agree. I have a nook and LOVE it. I have NOT found it difficult to use and it does all the same things as my friend’s kindle. Except of course, my nook holds a memory card and MANY more books than her kindle.

  37. Colleen
    Nov 20, 2010 @ 10:50:49

    Not to mention you can also borrow ebooks from the library while she can’t with her kindle.

  38. mary
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 07:57:25

    my nook is my most prized possession. I picked it over the kindle for the ability to borrow from the library, the ability to upgrade the memory with an additional SD card, the ability to change the battery myself if I need to, and the just over all ease of use. I can hold it in both hands to turn pages plus I can use the swipe motion on the touch screen to change pages too.

    I don’t think there is anything about the kindle that the nook doesn’t match or exceed. I’m considering purchasing a nookcolor but only in addition to my original nook. You couldn’t pay me to give up my original e-ink nook.

    if you haven’t guessed yet, I am a big fangirl for the nook :)

  39. Anna
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 05:49:44

    Thanks for all the information! I admit I was not familiar with all the features of the “iThings”!

    Regarding the Nook vs. the Kindle. I have both. I got the Kindle 3 when it first came out a few months ago and got a refurbished Nook recently.

    I think they’re both good and am glad I have both, but I do agree with you that the Kindle is more user-friendly. The steps needed to get from Point A to Point B are quicker on the Kindle compared to the Nook. Organizing content is MUCH better on the Kindle. Plus there is the issue of storage space (“memory”) and battery life–twice as much storage on the Kindle, and I’d say battery life is at least double. The Nook’s color touch screen uses up a lot of battery power.

    Another thing is that if you get the 3G Kindle, you can web surf even if you are not connected to a WiFi hotspot. I have the 3G Nook and at first assumed that I could web browse with the 3G connection (as well as shop at the Nook store) but no. The Nook’s 3G connection is for shopping only. With the Kindle, they let you surf as well. I can see that being useful if you’re on the road somewhere and your cell phone is not that great for web surfing. (Mine isn’t.)

    Plus, and this is just a personal thing–I love the Kindle games more. AND — I enjoy the built-in (embedded) dictionary feature in the Kindle, (which allows you to look up words immediately–this feature is not nearly as convenient on the Nook). Plus the Kindle allows for different dictionaries to be “embedded,” including foreign language ones.

    On the other hand, I like that I can read my DRMed ePubs on the Nook. I enjoy being able to customize my Nook wallpaper and screensavers. I thought the refurbished price of the Nook was great. So I’m glad I have both. But if I had to choose, I’d go for the Kindle because overall, it’s easier to use and has a lot of advantages (as well as being a little cheaper). However, I see the value of the Nook for those who want to read a lot of library books or who have a lot of DRMed PDF or epub files.

  40. Jane
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 09:32:27

    @Anna Thanks for your detailed input. It is so helpful to have feedback from people who have used both devices.

  41. Jason M Waltz
    Jan 09, 2011 @ 19:54:16

    What actually does this mean from under #10:

    “Further, Amazon has enabled readers to email themselves content which Amazon converts to make it Kindle compatible. It is one of my favorite features of the Kindle.”

  42. Jane
    Jan 09, 2011 @ 20:04:37

    @Jason M Waltz: If you have a Kindle device (rather than an app), you are supplied a kindle email address such as [email protected].

    You can email your kindle.com address word docs, txt docs, pdf docs, and other formats and it will show up on your Kindle in Kindle appropriate format.

    If you are sending yourself a PDF, you want to enter “convert” in the subject line. More here.

    Kindle makes it easy to take your personal documents with you. Each Kindle has a unique and customizable e-mail address you can set on your Manage Your Kindle page. You can send unprotected Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML, TXT, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRC and MOBI files to your Kindle e-mail address.

    To access your personal documents on your Kindle, send attachments to your Kindle’s e-mail address (“name”@free.kindle.com). The files will be sent to your Kindle via the Wi-Fi connection and also to the e-mail address associated with your Amazon.com account at no charge.

    To have your PDF documents converted to Kindle format so you can take advantage of functionality such as variable font size, annotation, Text-to-Speech, etc., type “Convert” in the subject of the e-mail when you submit your personal document to “name”@free.kindle.com. Image-heavy PDF files are presented in landscape orientation and don’t work with devices that have auto-rotation, so those will be delivered in the Kindle format.
    You can also transfer personal documents to your Kindle at no charge using your USB connection.

  43. Jason M Waltz
    Jan 10, 2011 @ 18:19:39

    Very cool, thank you Jane! Thanks for the amount of information here. I just left B&N after playing with the NookColor and am finding much to like about it. If I was choosing between the Kindle and the regular Nook, I’d probably go with the Kindle, but between the Kindle and the NookColor, I’m leaning to B&N.

  44. Jane
    Jan 10, 2011 @ 19:09:59

    @Jason M Waltz I have a review of the nookColor here.

  45. S.
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 16:24:21

    I am very disappointed with this article for not including the nook in 2 categories it SHOULD be lumped in with.

    -Will you carry your device with you in your purse?
    The nook weighs .75 lbs which is slightly heavier then half a pound, but not to the degree of it being too heavy to carry around all the time.

    -Are you left handed?
    The nook is designed to be used with either the left or right hand which is something that can be seen from looking at a picture of it.

  46. Jane
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 17:32:49

    @S.: Hi S. I am not a fan of the classic nook and the nook color really isn’t designed for two handed use. The classic nook is expensive and more confusing to use than a simple eink device like the Kobo.

    I appreciate your input though.

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