What's the Best E-Book Reader?
While there still are some holdouts who grumble that books can only be truly appreciated when they're printed on paper, many of the forty- and fifty-somethings I know seem to be increasingly enamored of e-books and portable devices for reading them.
According to this Mashable.com report, people over 45 now own more than half of all e-reader devices, and those age 55 and older are the largest single age demographic, owning 29 percent of them. For middle-aged readers, the devices have at least one significant plus: You readily can adjust the type size to one that your eyes are comfortable with, or even pick a different font. (Here's a great 2010 Minneapolis Star Tribune article in which older readers -- including a poet with limited vision in one eye -- talk about how the technology has made reading more pleasant for them.)
Now, the question that many are pondering: Which is the best device for reading e-books? Should you invest in an e-reader such as Amazon's Kindle line of devices or Barnes & Noble's Nook line, or should you get an iPad or one of the tablets that run Google's Android operating system?
Here are six factors to consider:
1. How much do you have to spend? If you're on a tight budget and mostly are interested in reading e-books, an e-reader definitely is your best option. You can get the basic version of the Kindle for just $79, and the just-released Kindle Fire, which has a color touchscreen display, goes for just $199. Barnes & Noble recently cut the price of the Nook Color to $199 as well. That's less than half of what the cheapest iPad ($499) would cost you.
2. How big of a screen are you comfortable with? If you grew up reading mass-market paperbacks on the beach, the Kindle Fire's 7-inch screen is roughly the same size and a lot easier to read, due to its brightness and adjustable type size and font choices. If you've always preferred hardcover editions, the 9.7-inch iPad screen or the 10-inch screens of competing Android tablets probably will be more comfortable.
3. How does the screen look to your eyes? The technical specs of the Kindle Fire and the iPad screens are pretty much comparable on paper, but the human eye is much more sensitive than such measurements. The only way to be sure is to try them out. It's possible to order a Kindle from Amazon and return it for a full refund if you decide that you'd prefer an iPad.
4. How much content do you want to download to your device? The Kindle Fire has 8 gigabytes of storage capacity, which Amazon claims is enough to download 6,000 books. (In reality, it probably won't fit quite that many, since some of the new deluxe e-books, which have fancy graphics and high-resolution pictures in them, can be more than a megabyte in size.) If you're thinking that you may use your device as a portable music player and download a few movies as well, that 8 gigs won't go very far at all. The iPad, in contrast, starts at 16 gigs, and you can get a model with 32 or even 64 gigs, (that is, if you're willing to shell out an additional several hundred dollars). Amazon is hoping that you'll choose to use its Amazon Cloud service instead, in which you can store books, music or videos that you buy from Amazon on its servers rather than on your device.
5. Where will you want to connect to the internet? If you're mostly planning to read in your living room or someplace where a Wi-Fi connection is available, you can do that with any of these devices. If you want an internet connection that will enable you to download books, music or video from just about anyplace, you probably want to get an iPad equipped with 3G. (Be forewarned: A 3G connection is probably pokier than the broadband connection you have at work or home.) There is a Kindle 3G as well, which offers to connect for free, without the monthly fee you normally have to pay to a wireless provider. But it lacks a touchscreen or color and only has 4 gigs of storage, and you can't do much with it besides download books.
6. What else do you want to do besides read books? Until recently, e-readers were fairly limited in what you could do with them, but that all changed with the introduction of the Kindle Fire, which has a lot of the capabilities that you once could only get with an iPad or another tablet. The Kindle Fire enables you to watch movies or TV shows from Hulu, get email, peruse websites, and run productivity apps such as Evernote and QuickOffice Pro, which allows you to open and work with Microsoft Office documents. (There's even an app that enables you to remotely access and control a Windows PC.) From PC World, here's a list of the best Kindle Fire apps. Nevertheless, the iPad still offers a vast array of apps that aren't yet available for the Kindle Fire, which runs a modified version of the Android OS. The iPad and other tablets also now have built-in cameras for taking pictures and videos and live video-chatting. So if you're interested in doing any of those things, you'll want to go with a tablet.
If you still can't make up your mind, there also is another option: reading books on your phone. I have both Amazon's Kindle app and the Apple eBook reader installed on my iPhone4, and I've found that the screen brightness and resolution make it perfectly comfortable for me to read Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs while I'm pedaling on my stationary bike or waiting in a long checkout line.
Join the discussion: Please share your e-book experiences in the comments section below.
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