The Search for the Perfect E-book Reader

A while ago, I started to think that buying books for reading wasn’t a good idea. Those poor trees probably didn’t like me that much and books take up a lot of space. So I thought, why not buy a e-book reader? Of course, you don’t buy something without first reading a bit about it. So I decided to do what I would call a “tech trial”: check online what people say, check out the different model features, and buy one to try to see if you like it.

While researching e-book readers I found three main “models”: The Kobo, the Kindle from Amazon and the Sony e-reader (doesn’t seems to have a fashionable name). I looked around a bit to see what each of them supported and what I needed out of a e-book reader. First, let’s talk a bit about what I needed. I mostly read when I’m on my stationary bike. The model I have leaves my hands free and 30 minutes of stationary bike is boring, so I read books. While my hands are free, I don’t have support under them either, so I can’t hold heavy objects. So anything I’m holding needs to be light and not too bulky. So let’s see what the 3 different readers feature:

Kindle

Kindle
The Kindle

The Kindle was my first choice. It is probably the most well-known and it packs a lot of features as well. Like a dictionary, text-to-speech, pdf format, a mini keyboard and Wi-Fi/3G wireless support. Ok, I don’t really need a dictionary. I don’t use text-to-speech and, well, Wi-Fi/3G is only good to buy books and download things. I can do the same thing with my computer and the little cable that come with the device. The keyboard takes up a lot of space and is only useful when doing searches. It also has a big limitation: it doesn’t support the epub format. This is the standard for ebooks and electronic documents. Especially the ones that can be “rented” from a library. Also, the Kindle memory isn’t expandable (not that I think I will ever have more than 3,500 books). The Kindle was removed from my buy list, because of the lack of epub support and also because I found out about the readers.

Sony

Sony reader
Sony Reader

The Sony supports the epub format. Yeah! It also has a dictionary, a touch screen and it’s made of aluminum. Apparently, it also supports mp3, but I can’t find any information on that on the official website and I already have something to listen to mp3s. This reader family also happen to be the most expensive. It also has the shortest battery life from all the comparison charts I have seen. I don’t know much about it either; it doesn’t seems to be as popular as the Kindle, despite supporting a lot more file formats and having a touch screen.

Kobo

Old Kobo reader
The old Kobo reader
New Kobo Reader
The new Kobo Reader

The Kobo doesn’t seem to have as many features as the other models. It doesn’t have a dictionary or a keyboard. The older model doesn’t have a touch screen, it uses a D-pad to navigate. The newer Kobo readers do have a touch screen though. Both old and new have Wi-Fi support. Now, though, the Kobo is the e-reader that supports the largest number of file formats: epub, txt, rtf, pdf, html, jpeg, etc. It’s also the least expensive among the three and it supports memory expansion through SD card. The new model add lots more features as well.

Others
Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to a reader. Kobo offers application to read e-books on smartphones as well as tablet PC and iPad devices. While I don’t own a cellphone, the iPad (or a device similar) might have been an interesting purchase. First, these devices support colors, while the e-book readers above are all using grayscale to display information. They also have a lot more features, being computers. They are also a lot more expensive. I did think about buying a tablet PC, but one of my co-workers bought one (to read comic books) and I got to play bit with it. While they do have lots of features, they are also a lot more heavy. Too heavy for the usage I want to make of my reader.

So after all the comparing, I bought a (old) Kobo as a “tech trial.” One month later, the new one was released, duh.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it and I wanted something that supported a lot of file formats, that was light and had a rather good battery life in case I go in vacation and can’t find an USB port to recharge the battery (I don’t always bring a laptop with me). After that came the, “Let’s buy a book.” Well Kobo has a nice selection on their website and with large support of files, I’m not limited. Also, the Kobo I bought had 100 public domain books (all the classics). I’m reading Dracula right now. In conclusion, the Kobo does the job and it’s actually lighter than holding a real book and it doesn’t take up a lot of space either. Navigation works well with the D-pad and it was easy to get used to.

Kobo has a nice “compare” table on their website, much more complete than the one found on the Sony website. Maybe other people will be able to find their perfect e-book reader and help me save trees.

16 thoughts on “The Search for the Perfect E-book Reader”

  1. I think you’d be surprised how useful the dictionary feature is. I’m a grad student in literature and about once per non-school book I find a word that I realize I don’t actually know. And I did REALLY well on the vocab section of the SAT and GRE–it’s not just a feature for people who don’t know words!

    (I’m being so defensive about this, but IT IS ACTUALLY USEFUL! NOT JUST FOR NON-READERS!)

    Anyway, I’m obsessed with my new Kindle. They’re really cheap with the advertising-supported model, and I share my library with my parents, sister, and grandma, so I have hundreds of books in my archive that I didn’t have to buy. We also got tons of the free classics and now we all read the same things and discuss them. It’s really fun.

    1. If you like the dictionary and use it a lot that isn’t a useless feature for you. That’s why different device fit different people’s habits.

      Personally, I’m too much used to Google as dictionary. I also spend over 12 hours a day in front of a computer too. ;)

  2. I got the kindle 3G recently, and I love it. As someone below said, I have gone through about a book a day with this thing.

    You totally didn’t mention the most important part about the kindle – the screen! It’s not the typical LCD screen of other readers. The screen looks exactly like a book page. I take the train a lot and the light is always shifting back and forth and I didn’t wanna deal with screen glare. Plus, when I’m at the computer my eyes get tired and that doesn’t happen with the kindle so I can read comfortably for hours without getting the eye-twitches.

    I almost passed on the kindle because of the library non-support, too. But then I heard they are getting it soon. Also, project Gutenberg and amazon.com have all the classics for free. But if for some reason you only have EPUB formats, there are several converter programs for free that convert to MOBI (kindle format). Calibre is one of those programs. The pdf reader on the kindle is absolutely terrible, by the way. But, I usually convert pdfs anyway.

    I also went with the 3g, which was spendy ($189). Yep, as you said you could totally do the same thing with a computer and the USB cable. However, if I’m in a car or on the train and want a book I can just download it. It’s nice not to have to prep my device or think ahead about it. Also, I can read online fanfics with the free 3g. The web browser on the kindle absolutely sucks. I won’t lie. The keyboard is slow and using it is irritating. But I deal because I don’t want a smudgy touch screen. The kindle screen just does not get dirty, which is awesome.

    Of course, the kindle makes it easy to buy books on amazon.com. I used to get most of my books from there anyway because they were cheapest, and now they’re cheaper b/c of kindle pricing. If you have 3g, or wireless, and use your kindle to buy a book from amazon.com it automatically downloads and appears ready to read in like 3 seconds. Amazon.com has a great selection of unpublished authors as well, and unpublished books are .99 – 2.99.

    The battery life rocks. It said in the manual that the thing never actually shuts off, it just displays a screen saver, but their “e-ink technology” doesn’t require as much power as an LCD screen. I use the thing everyday and I charge it once a month.

    The one major thing about the kindle that I do not like is well, two things actually. Because the screen is not back-lit, you can’t read it in the dark. So, still need that book light. Also, it is not a color screen. I imagine in the future they will find some way to make their special screen color, but right now it’s not. But again, I think the no-glare, easy-on-the-eyes, and the fact that it stays clean makes up for those things. Anyway, that’s my review of kindle.

    1. I will buy another ebook reader when they go color. Considering that E Ink already make color screen, I don’t see why no ereaders support the feature yet. Especially, when some of them allow you to view jpg and cbr (comic book digital format).

  3. Ooo, but Amazon is rolling out library-lending capability: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/21/technology/21amazon.html
    I haven’t read anywhere if that means they’re allowing epub or what, but however it will work, it’s a step in the right direction.
    (Also, that’s an older Kindle pictured there; the Kindle 3 is even smaller and sleeker.) I got one in January, and I looove it. The battery life is INSANE. I think I charge it maybe once a month, if that? And the print looks startlingly like ink on paper. I would totally recommend it to anyone thinking of buying one.

    1. I suspect that Amazon just got a lot of pressure from their users to add the ability. Beside epub is open-source, so no license to buy to integrate it and it’s actually a standardize html. Nothing complicated to read. The only reason not to have it is that your device lack memory.

  4. Thank you for this. I’ve been considering getting an e-reader for a while, but I cannot decide if I can give up the physical feel of an actual book. It is quite tempting to get one, though, because of the convenience. I got turned off the Kindle when I found out that you cannot get books from libraries on it. Now the battle is between the Kobo and Nook.

  5. I got a Nook a few weeks ago which I absolutely adore. It’s the Simple Touch Reader which doesn’t have any fancy abilities except what I need it for (ergo, reading books.) It charges super fast,has a battery capacity of up to two months when I’m not using the WiFi, and a week when I am and has a great, non-back lit screen. I haven’t found anything I don’t like about it yet except the fact that it makes me feel like a nerd because I’ve been averaging a novel a day with the thing.

  6. The Kindle I have supports mp3s and audiobooks, though I haven’t tried that out yet. The battery life is really awesome too.

    For charging, you can buy USB plugs – the USB cable for the e-reader/ipod/smartphone/anything that charges with USB plugs in to the top and you can charge it then without a computer. I got mine in the airport a few years ago for something like €15 and it’s been very useful – when travelling I bring the plug, one cable for my phone + Kindle, and one for my ipod, rather than three separate chargers.

  7. I have a Sony and I love it because it supports so many formats. PDF articles for school? No problem. Word docs? RTFs? ePub? All good. It’s compatible with everything I want to read. I’ve never used the mp3 function, but I like the idea I could put audiobooks on it if I wanted to. I borrow a lot of ebooks from the public library, so I use my ereader all the time. Light & portable, and on a rainy day I can borrow a book without leaving home. And the dictionary function is pretty neat. And mine lets you handwrite notes on the pages and then you can import the notes to your computer, which is a nice function if you like to create marginalia.

  8. I got my kindle as a birthday present from my boyfriend a few years ago. I used to travel a lot for business and it is much easier to carry around than a book. I actually love the dictionary feature, if I come across a word I don’t know, I just need to move my cursor next to it and the definition appears on the bottom of the screen!

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