Last week we had a post on the pros and cons of buying an eReader, based on several factors revolving around a reader’s specific reading and buying habits. For those who decide to take the plunge the obvious follow up question is, which eReader should I buy?
There are really two questions to answer here. The first is, what brand of eReader should you buy? The second, after making the brand decision, is which specific model is best for you?
I won’t even pretend to know all the brands of eReader that are available. In my mind, for most people, the brand decision should come down to the Kindle (from Amazon), the Nook (from Barnes & Noble), and Kobo.
The reason why brand matters is because this will determine which book store is the most convenient to use for the purchase of some books and will be the only bookstore available for other books. The latter is the case for the books from most of the big publishers at this time. Because of DRM issues, you’ll be tied to that store in the future if you want to protect your book investment. <link> Although all leading eReaders except the Kindle use an industry standard eBook format called ePub, the DRM still locks you into a specific bookstore and hence a specific brand. Non-DRMed books can easily be converted to work with any of the major brands.
The reason why I dismiss other brands, Sony being the biggest, is that no other brand has been able to gain a significant market share in the US or elsewhere. You’re not only buying a piece of electronic hardware, but also making some level of commitment to a retail ecosystem. For that ecosystem to be viable, you need a reasonable level of comfort that this brand of reader will be around for the foreseeable future and the parent company will not see it as a failed project (with less and less support from the company).
I should also give a disclaimer that I am very biased in favor of the Kindle, especially in my particular situation. However, that might not make it the best choice for you. Here are the pros and cons of each brand. Keep in mind that this discussion pertains only to eInk screen based (black and white) eReaders. Whether one of the color tablet computers might be a viable alternative for you was discussed in the prior post in this series.
The biggest pro for Kobo is potentially cheaper prices from the Kobo eBook store for readers who live in some countries. Amazon charges a “delivery surcharge” (although they might no longer call it that) of around two US dollars per book above the price charged in the US to customers in some countries. This doesn’t apply to countries where Amazon has an official Kindle store. There are also some countries in which Amazon isn’t an option at all, as they won’t sell books to anyone in some specific countries. Those outside of the US, Canada, the countries of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Brazil, France, Italy, Australia, and India should probably lean towards the Kobo at this time. I may have missed a country here. The key is that if you don’t have access to an Amazon store that doesn’t charge the surcharge to your country, you should lean toward the Kobo.
The main pro for a Nook is the ability to go in a Barnes & Noble store for a test drive. Note that this advantage is only truly an advantage before you’ve made the purchase. There are some chains in the US that are carrying the Kindle in store. These include Target, Best Buy, and Staples. However, the sales people at Barnes & Noble are more likely to be able to answer questions about the Nook than those in these other stores will be to discuss the Kindle.
I believe there is also a program that allows you to read books on your Nook while inside a Barnes & Noble store, but this seems like a small pro, at best. Isn’t one of the biggest advantages of an eReader to get rid of the need for those frequent trips to the bookstore?
The biggest con for many people is that the Nook is only available at this time in the US. This may be changing in the near future. Barnes and Noble has recently made a deal with Waterstones in the UK, making this a viable future option there.
There is a belief among many that Barnes & Noble’s brick and mortar bookstore business is eventually going to go under. If the history of record stores over the last several years is any indication, and it probably is, these pundits will eventually be right. However, B&N has been making moves recently to sever the Nook business from their main business. The Nook and eBooks has been a bright spot in their corporate finances. The logical conclusion to draw is that they are positioning the Nook to survive, even if the paper book business doesn’t. This is a consideration, but I don’t think it is a big one. We’ll call it a small con.
The biggest con is the many ways in which Barnes & Noble is not Amazon, the main one being in customer service, which reportedly falls well short of the typical Amazon experience.
The pros to the Kindle are that they have more books available in their bookstore than anywhere else and they offer the best customer service in the business. There may be other companies with Amazon’s customer service commitment, but I’ve never seen one.
The cons to a Kindle are few, but they do exist. The first is the possibility of a lack of availability of some books from some publishers due to squabbles between Amazon and the publisher. This has happened in the past and could happen in the future. In most instances, these books not being available from Amazon, but still being available as eBooks from other sources not compatible with the Kindle (primarily Barnes & Noble) has been temporary. I would expect the same in the future.
There is also a possibility that Barnes & Noble or some other retailer might have individual titles available exclusively, potentially for a long period. This cuts both ways, with many indie titles being exclusive to the Amazon store.
Last is the concern that Amazon will become a monopoly. If enough buy elsewhere, that helps alleviate that possibility. (I would counter that the competitors need to actually compete. That is the best way to prevent this.)
But which model?
This really does come down to taste and preference. I’m only going to compare offerings from the Nook and Kindle lines here. The basic technology and reading experience is not going to be much different on any of these, either Nook or Kindle.
There is currently only one model of Nook that is eInk based. This is the Nook Simple Touch. Kindle models comparable to this include the basic Kindle (called the Kindle Mini by some), and the Kindle Touch in four variations. The main difference between the basic Kindle and the Kindle Touch models is the amount of space available for books and the battery life. Both Kindle models have more storage than the Nook, with battery life of the Nook being equivalent to the Kindle Touch. If you prefer a touch screen, one of these should be your choice.
The Kindle Touch also has variations based on whether it has 3G (cell phone signal) access with WiFi, or is WiFi only. The Nook is WiFi only. The question of WiFi or 3G access is mostly only pertinent when you want to buy or download new books. This is only a concern if you don’t have wireless WiFi at home or you travel a lot and want to be able to get books regardless of where you are without having to find WiFi access. The Kindle Touch also has variations based on whether it is with or without “special offers.” Special offers are ads that come up as screensavers and on the home screen. Although my current Kindle is without special offers, from what I’ve heard since getting it, I probably wouldn’t pay the extra to avoid the ads if I was making the decision today. Many find the special offers to be more positive than negative.
The Kindle family also has the Kindle Keyboard model. This model has WiFi only and WiFi with 3G variations, as well as with and without special offer variations, like the Kindle Touch. The main difference between this and the Kindle Touch is the presence of a small keyboard and the use of buttons on both sides of the eReader to change pages rather than using a swipe of the touch screen. If you don’t like touch screens or for easier one-handed reading, this model is preferable. If you take a lot of notes while reading, this model might also be preferable to using a Touch model, although note taking is possible on the Touch using an on-screen keyboard to enter your notes.
The Kindle line also includes the Kindle DX. This is a large screen version (9.7 inch compared to 6 inch screens on all the other models). Although this might have changed, the last I heard, this model was using older screen technology which didn’t have as much contrast as what is currently being used for the smaller models. If a large screen is a requirement, I would advise waiting or considering a larger tablet computer.
One late breaking addition is a new version of the Nook which is now available for pre-order and is scheduled to start shipping May 1st, 2012. This is a “glow screen” version of the Nook Touch. The “glow screen” appears to be small lights that light up the screen for reading in the dark without a separate book light (or cover with a built-in book light) which is now needed for any of the eInk based eReaders, regardless of brand. Amazon has announced their own variation on the glow screen model, but it won’t be available for several months.
As I said near the top, I’m biased towards the Kindle line. While I believe the Nook hardware is on par with the Kindle, Amazon’s superior customer service made the decision easy for me. But I know we have some Nook owners out there. I’m interested in seeing what reasons I’ve missed to choose a Nook over a Kindle.