the great e-reader debate: tech-crunch

Yesterday I talked about the basic functionality of e-readers v. books. Today I want to talk about e-readers themselves.

Because holy crap there are a lot of them.

Amazon’s Kindle is probably the most well-known. In fact, recently Amazon announced that it’s the best-selling item in their store. Ever. Some of this is due to e-books finally starting to catch on in the general populace, but most of it’s because of the improvements and improved price-point of the third-generation Kindle. More on that later.

Barnes & Noble’s Nook might be the runner-up, popularity-wise. After that, maybe Sony’s e-readers. After that…who knows. Let’s just say that there are a bunch.

So, which one is best? Or, more importantly, which would be best for me?

Now that they’re selling the Kindle in stores1 I’ve had a chance to play with it a bit. Frankly, I like it a lot.2 It’s comfortable, I don’t have the screen-blindness problem I have with computer screens and/or my phone, and it looks really nice. The only problem I run into is that I keep thinking it’s a touch-screen device.3 But that’s not a deal-breaker. Should I opt for it, Amazon’s 3G doesn’t require a contract or subscription. Pay the extra money and I can download anywhere. That’s pretty cool, but really, when am I that far from some Wi-Fi? And if the thing holds 3500 books, when would I need 3G?

I’ve also played with the Nook. There are several versions of the Nook, including one in color.4 While I like the touch-screen interface5, I don’t find the screen as crisp as the Kindle, nor do I find the device as comfortable. And it doesn’t hold as many books. Plus, and maybe this is my own thing, but I’m incredibly irritated that I paid for a Barnes & Noble Membership Card but that the member discounts don’t apply to e-book purchases. Also, as I mentioned yesterday, I like the program in which you can read any e-book for an hour a day at any Barnes & Noble store, but that doesn’t quite push me over the edge.

Sony’s e-readers seem clunky to me, as does the Literati. The advantage to these though is that they’ll read any epub file format.

Obviously there are a lot of options, each with pros and each with cons. At the moment I’m leaning towards a Kindle…but I’m not there yet.

Because as much as this is about fundamentally changing the way I read, it’s also about technology. And technology these days moves fast. Super fast. By next Christmas, maybe the Kindle will be a touchscreen device. Maybe they’ll update the Nook to be sharper with better battery life.

You just never know what’s coming up next, even if you give Mashable a closer read than Pete Cashmore himself.

And that’s part of the problem. Books haven’t changed a great deal. And those changes took centuries. I can all but promise you that the Kindle two years from today will be quite different than today’s. Hell, there might even be some all-new device…What is this new type of devilry? Boromir would ask.

You can never know.

So do I commit to a Kindle, knowing that a new and better one will come out soon? I get that America is essentially a throw-away culture, but we’re talking $139 minimum. To me, that’s not throw-away cash. I bought an iPod, what…seven years ago? Eight? I still use it. I did buy an iPod touch last year, but only because someone offered me a good price on a used one and I was experimenting to see if I wanted an iPhone. So I’m not going to buy the newest e-reader that comes out. But when do I buy? Which version do I take home?

There’s one other consideration: tablets.

The iPad is only the beginning. Samsung’s Galaxy tablet is also sleek, and runs on Android. Last week’s CES saw lots and lots and lots of new tablets, including Blackberry tabs.

Tablets have some of the advantages of e-readers. The Galaxy, for example, is almost the same size as the Kindle, though it does weigh more. And available for most of these tablets are a Kindle app, a Nook app, and other e-reader apps. Android tablets will have Google’s e-bookstore. The iPad and iPod have Apple’s iBooks.

In other words, tablets give you options of purchase. They force competition. If I buy a Kindle, I’m locked into downloading from Amazon. If I buy a tablet, I can buy from whichever store sells it more cheaply. Plus, Google’s e-books have a major advantage over all others in my opinion: page numbers. Google’s e-books read just like other e-books, but there’s a menu option that shows you the page as it is in the book. That’s a big deal for a nerd of my variety, but also for someone who’s doing graduate research. It’s nothing short of awesome to be able to search a book, find what I need, and then be able to put it into MLA citation. I can’t do that with any other e-reader; only Google’s.

Google doesn’t have a dedicated e-reader. Yet. Remember: technology is fast.

But I don’t really like tablets. It’s not just the iPad, but all of them essentially duplicate the functions of other devices I have. They have high-gloss screens that strain the eyes. They’ll tell me every time I have an email, interrupting my reading. At the moment I can leave my phone in the other room and forget about email. I lose that if I get a tablet, unless I disable some of the other functions. Furthermore, the battery life of a tablet is nothing compared to the Kindle.

So do I care enough about competition, about getting the best price from a list of services, that these objections are rendered meaningless? I can’t quite decide.

There’s another consideration, though. One that almost sells me on the tablet idea. For that, tune in tomorrow.


  1. Staples, Best Buy
  2. I’m talking the Kindle 3, with the 6-inch screen. Wi-Fi version $139; Wi-Fi + 3G: $189.
  3. Though to be honest I’ve been doing this with a lot of things. I feel like a damn idiot every time I touch my computer monitor.
  4. Original Nook starts at $149; Nook Color is $249.
  5. The Nook Color is all-touchscreen; the Nook has a small touchscreen for navigation.

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