Sunday, November 21, 2010

Our screens for e-book readers--it comes down to Nook and Kobo

Searching for an e-reader is kind of like buying a car.

If you haven’t fallen in love with one from the first, making the decision is a long slog. You’ll be able to tell that from the tone of this article.

First, why an e-reader? I’m the kind of person who goes traveling with three to five paperbacks in the carry-on, because on a flight from the Islands to anywhere east of the Mississippi, I can easily go through two. This is a Hawai’i problem; Most folks elsewhere don’t have those kinds of flight times.

It’s both a volume and a weight issue. Years ago, when the excellent “The Hunt for Red October” first came out, I bought the hardcover for a trip, but sliced the hard covers off to save on size. Today, I won’t even consider a Clancy book; way too much bulk for the useful content, if you know what I mean.

In my search for a reader, I immediately discount the iPad. I have already bought the hype and purchased one. I used it. I spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to get books onto it. In precisely the right conditions, it’s wonderful as a reading device. But ultimately, I gave it away. I am over the glare, over the finger prints on the screen, and over the whole proprietary technology thing.

Which is my problem with Amazon and Kindle, arguably the most competent performer among the e-readers. If you want me wedded to your store and only your store, then give me the damn reader. If I want to read one of my personal documents on your machine, I need to send it to you, and pay money to have it converted to a Kindle format? Hello?

My e-reader needs are pretty simple, I think. Two basic things:

· I want to easily get diverse reading material into it. Books, personal documents, magazines, newspapers, and work documents (agendas, reports, environmental impact statements, legislation.)

· And I want the stuff to be easy to read on the device, wherever I am. That means anywhere from under a tree to on a plane, from in a meeting room under fluorescent lights to in the sack.

I guess I don’t need some of the features that are blurring the line between readers and computers. Like audio (my phone does that, thanks), web browsing (my laptop works fine, and I can also type on it), color (I’m not reading the pictures), touch screen (no way around the fingerprints, although the new oleophobic screen coatings are interesting.)

There are lots of resources for comparing e-book readers. Here’s a nice one. These folks really like the Kindle. Unfortunately, this and most other comparison charts only include the most popular electronic readers, and actually, the universe of e-readers is quite large.

Wikipedia has just about the most thorough comparison around.

Using that resource, and screening for non-touch screen, at least 1 gig of memory and ability to read library books (as a screen against proprietary systems), I got the Kobo eReader, Iriver Story and Bookeen Cybook Gen3. All of them can read both pdf and epub files, and though the Kobo eReader can’t read txt files, the others can. (And both Microsoft Word and Open Office Writer will convert to pdf, so that’s not a deal-breaker)

If we forget about the touchscreen ban, but require WiFi and at least 1 Gig of memory, then the list is Bookeen Cybook Orizon, Kobo Wireless eReader, Condor EGriver Touch, Spring Design Alex eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook and Entourage eDGe and Entourage Pocket eDGe.

Okay. One final screen: No touch screens, must have WiFi, at least a gigabyte of memory, must be able to read library books.

Kobo Wireless eReader is the only thing that comes up. However, the Barnes & Noble Nook has its touchscreen separate from its reading screen, so it’s also a finalist. There’s a simple comparison at this website, which includes the Kindle (for those not turned off by needing to be tethered to Amazon.)

So for this reader, it’s between the simpler Wireless Kobo and the significantly more fully-featured (and only slightly more expensive at $149 vs $139, at our last check) B&N Nook.

The Nook plays mp3 files, reads more files and also can browse the web. By contrast, the Kobo has a 25% longer battery life (2 weeks compared to 10 days), weighs about a quarter less (8 ounces compared to 11.2 ounces, or maybe 12.1—there’s been an issue about this.) Kobo is thinner by 20% (.4 inch compared to .5 inch.)

The Nook is Android-based and Kobo is Linux-based, if that matters to you. Some reviewers like to refer to the Kobo as Nook-lite.

The site eldergadget calls it a draw between these two, depending on which features you like.

That’s the research. Next, we’ll be going out to get a hands-on sense of which we like best. Which raises the additional question of what’s available on-island, one of the caveats about living in the Islands.

(Keep in mind that features, prices and models are changing all the time. If you do your own research, know that a lot of the online stuff is older, and the model you like may not be available in that same configuration by the time you’re ready to buy.)

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

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