E-Readers put a library in your pocket

At first I was skeptical about e-readers. I love books and I love the tactile, page turning part of them. I am now an e-reader convert but it took some time and a few false starts.

My first e-reader was my iPad, using the Kindle application. The iPad is a great e-reader: the screen is bright, the “page size” is good and the interface is completely intuitive, using the touchscreen to its full advantage. The Kindle app is seamless. You can buy a book on Amazon, have it downloaded and be reading it in a minute or less. I have wireless and 3G on my iPad which makes it easy to get a book anywhere. The only downsides are that the iPad is pretty heavy compared to devices that are just e-readers, weighing in at 1 1/2 pounds. A better choice would be to use the iPad Touch or the iPhone with the Kindle app because then you get the quality of the screen in a smaller, lighter package plus the wireless access.

My brother introduce me to the Kindle. He likes it because he can download the newspaper and pack a couple of books on it when he’s traveling. Compared to the iPad, the screen is more like “paper” and less like a computer screen. Personally, I prefer the iPad’s brightness but the electronic ink used by the Kindle is very readable. The unit is smaller and lighter than the iPad too. The Kindle makes buying books very easy. In fact, it was my first choice for my mother (not very technical) and she’s enjoyed it tremendously.

The problem with the Kindle is that it is not compatible with the digital books available from the library. I consume a lot of books and am on a first name basis with the staff of two local libraries. I didn’t want to buy every book that I read, even if they don’t take up much space when they are digital. The Kindle holds about 3,500 books and the wireless version weighs about 8 1/2 ounces.

So, when I decided to buy an e-reader, I bought the Barnes & Noble Nook.

The Nook is a lot like the Kindle (I bought mine before the color version came out). It has a slightly larger screen than the Kindle and instead of a keyboard has a pseudo touch screen interface. I say pseudo because you still need to use the scroll buttons on the side of the unit. It’s not a touch screen the way an iPad is one.

I haven’t used the Kindle enough to compare the readability of the screen to the Nook but I found the Nook to be a bit gray and the type not as sharp as compared to my iPad. Like the Kindle, you “flip the pages” using a button on the side of the screen. On the Nook there are two on each side allowing you to go both backwards and forwards. It’s not ideal, but you get used to it. The Nook has less memory than the Kindle (about 1,500 books) but probably enough for most people — and for those who need more you can use an SD card to add memory. It’s slightly heavier than the Kindle, weighing in at 11 1/2 ounces.

I read a half dozen books on my Nook but didn’t love it.

Then I saw the new Pocket Reader (PRS-350) from Sony. I thought it would be the ticket and for me, it’s the best solution. Like the iPad it has a true touch screen interface. That means that the unit can be very small (pocket book sized) because it’s all screen. It’s very light weight (4 1/2 ounces) and easy to slip into a purse or briefcase. Like the Nook it holds about 1,500 books.

You turn the pages by running your finger across the screen (just like the iPad). I find the quality of the electronic ink to be better than the Nook and although the screen is smaller so you have to turn the pages more frequently, the interface makes it easy.

Like the Nook, the Sony e-readers are compatible with library books. I’ve downloaded and read about a dozen books so far and the process is easy.

The Sony E-reader had a metal case which has a more polished appearance than either the Nook or the Kindle. Mine is pink but it also comes in silver and blue.

Is there a downside? Potentially there are two. First, the Sony PRS-350 has no wireless capability. The only way to put a book on it is to sync it with your computer. I don’t have a problem with this but it means you can’t download a book on the fly; you need to plan ahead. The second issue is that the Sony library is not as extensive as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

My conclusion? If you want to read library books the Sony PRs-350 is great. Because it’s so light, I take it with me everywhere; I just load my books ahead of time.

If you don’t care about having free books, the Kindle and the Nook are both very good choices. But personally, I’d go with an Apple product — iPad, iPod touch or iPhone depending on your need. Yes, the screens on the iPod and iPhone are smaller but the interface is so nice that it’s worth the trade off (in fact, I know a few people who have gone this route, and find their Kindles are getting left at home).

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