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Comparing eBook Readers

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eBook readers are hot items. But with so many choices available, which one should you buy? Some have black and white screens, some have color screens. Some have small screens, some have large screens. Some even have touchscreens. And some do more than just display eBooks; tablets like the iPhone are actually mini-computers with eBook reader functionality included. In this article by author Michael Miller, you’ll learn all about the most popular models — and discover which is right for you.
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eBook readers (also known as e-readers) are the latest rage among book lovers everywhere. An eBook reader is a portable device designed specifically for reading electronic books (eBooks). They operate on battery power, so you can take them anywhere you’d take a traditional printed book (p-book).

The big advantage that eBook readers have over p-books is that you can load multiple books on a single device, and thus carry a big library around with you wherever you go. It’s much more convenient to pack a small, lightweight eBook reader than it is to carry multiple heavy printed books.

Using an eBook reader is a snap; just load up the book you want and start flipping through the electronic pages. The bigger challenge is deciding which of the many available eBook readers is the right one for you.

eBook Readers: What to Look For

When it comes to choosing an eBook reader, you have lots of choices. Some have black and white screens, some have color screens. Some have small screens, some have large screens. Some even have touchscreens. And some do more than just display eBooks; tablets like the iPhone are actually mini-computers with eBook reader functionality included.

Let’s take a quick look at the most popular features and options.

First, there’s the screen. E-ink technology reproduces remarkably detailed book pages, looking very much like ink on the printed page; the newer E-ink Pearl is even crisper than the original technology. And E-ink is great for reading outdoors, as you don’t get any glare off the screen.

But E-ink screens are black & white only (black text on the white page background), which means you don’t get four-color books and publications in full color. And while E-ink screens are great for reading in bright sunlight, they’re not so good in darkened rooms; there’s no backlighting, which means you need the same light sources you do with printed books.

Color LCD screens are much better for reading in the dark, with their built-in backlighting. They also display the full range of colors in four-color books. But they’re not so great outdoors in the sun; LCD screens are prone to glare. It’s a trade-off.

Then there’s the screen size to consider. The smallest eBook readers come with 5” diagonal screens, which is a tad bit smaller than a standard paperback book. More common are 6” and 7” screens, which approximate paperback book size. If you want an even larger screen, you need to go with Apple’s iPad, which has a whopping 9.7” screen, ideal for reading larger-format books, magazines, and other publications.

While we’re on the topic of screens, some eReaders feature touchscreen technology, which lets you use your fingers to flip the page and highlight or bookmark text. Non-touchscreen models have dedicated buttons for page flipping; the Amazon Kindle has a separate (small) keyboard for search functions.

When it comes to reading eBooks, you have different formats to consider. Most eBook readers are compatible with the universal EPUB format, which does a good job of formatting text for the screen and allows for the display of larger type sizes (good for those of us with aging eyesight). The Kindle uses the MOBI format, which functions much like EPUB but is proprietary to Amazon. You can’t read MOBI books on the NOOK or Sony Readers, nor can you read EPUB books on the Kindle—although apps are available for the iPad and Galaxy Tab that provide both EPUB and MOBI compatibility.

Where do you get these electronic books? The Amazon Kindle Store is the market leader, with 750,000 titles available for purchase—plus more than 1.8 million public domain titles available for free. Both Barnes & Noble and Borders offer more than 2 million books for download in the EPUB format. And there are lots of other sites offering EPUB-format books for free or paid download.

All eBook readers let you download and read electronic books, magazines, and other publications. Most models also let you play back MP3-format music, which is nice when you want to listen to something while you’re reading. Many models have WiFi connectivity and built-in web browsers, although web browsing on a 5” or 6” screen leaves a lot to be desired. Top-of-the-line tablets, like the Apple iPad, do even more—they’re mini personal computers, with all sorts of application functionality available.

Of course, you want to consider the device’s size. Smaller, lighter models are easier to- hold in one hand while you’re reading, while larger, heavier models require both hands or a handy lap for extended use.

Finally, there’s the matter of price. Basic black & white eBook-only models can be had for under $150, while full-function color tablets can run from $500 to over $800. It all depends on what you want your eBook reader to do, and what kind of display you like.

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