eBook Reader Buying Guide

If you’re ready to buy an eBook reader but need help making sense of all your choices, read on. Electronic books ("eBooks") and devices are everywhere. There are currently hundreds of thousands of eBook titles available, not to mention periodicals, blogs and other online media. Likewise, there are a variety of eBook readers and other devices for reading all of this content. So how do you pick the best reader for you?

Why Choose An eBook Reader over a Tablet?

When it comes to eBooks, you have many choices. eBook readers, tablet PCs (iPad et al.), smartphones, iPods and laptops are eBook capable. However, If an enjoyable and comfortable reading experience is most important to you, you’ll definitely want to look first at a dedicated eBook reader. What’s the difference? You can read eBooks on all sorts of portable devices, but they lack some key features common to most eBook readers. The biggest differentiator is the display. Virtually all eBook readers use a special electronic paper display technology (EPD) that delivers the same high-contrast appearance of traditional printed books. EPDs trump LCD displays for reading text in a variety of lighting conditions and viewing angles, eye strain over long periods of reading and battery drain. This means eBook readers generally offer a better reading experience and superior battery life.

What to Consider?

Selection of Titles
Probably the most important consideration when choosing an eBook reader has less to do with the device itself, but the amount of content available for it. Most eBook device manufacturers and vendors mate their products to their own e-bookstores. With hundreds of thousands of titles available, both Amazon and Barnes and Noble currently offer the largest selection of books. Since several of the leading eBook readers use proprietary eBook formats (see important consideration #2 below), you’ll want to know how many titles are available/compatible for a particular reader. Some manufacturers also have their own eBook stores available for their readers.

Proprietary vs. Open Formats
Industry leader Amazon sells its eBooks in a proprietary format that’s only readable on its Kindle devices or on a smartphone or tablet PC using Amazon’s free app. Titles cannot be transferred to other formats for use on other readers. Further, the Kindle currently does not support the open-source ePUB format that virtually all other readers do. This is an important consideration since a growing number of publishers and content providers use the open ePUB format. Most important to consider is that, just like in the digital music world, if you build a library of content in a proprietary format you could be "locked" into a particular retailer’s content.

The Display
As noted above, eBook readers all use a special electronic ink technology that not only makes content easy to read, but dramatically increase battery life. While similar, there are a few differences among eBook reader displays that are worth considering. First is color. There are both monochrome (black text on gray background) and color displays available. Consider what types of content you’ll be viewing the most. Will you be reading mostly text or will you read publications with lots of graphics like textbooks or magazines? For the latter, a color display is probably the best choice since monochrome displays just can’t render images the way a high-resolution color screen can. You’ll also want to consider whether a single-page view will suffice, or if you prefer to view a page spread. Several eBook readers, when turned lengthwise, will switch to a landscape mode to present a two-page spread. Finally, there are subtle differences in the way each reader renders text, so a side-by-side image quality comparison is probably also a good idea.

There are two ways to manage the content on your eBook reader: via a PC or wirelessly over the Internet. Most eBook readers offer built-in WiFi and/or 3G wireless modems that use cell phone networks to connect to the Internet and ultimately to the device’s online bookstore. The wireless options let you browse books, purchase and immediately download books right to the reader—all without a PC. This is an incredibly useful feature, especially if you require instant gratification or don’t want to be tied to a PC. When it comes to 3G connectivity, some readers use Sprint’s EV-DO network (limited primarily to the continental U.S.) while others use GSM technology for worldwide compatibility. Consider where you’ll use your eBook reader and what networks are available in those locations. Also, determine whether the eBook reader requires a data plan with a wireless carrier to be able to purchase books or whether it’s included.

The final major consideration when choosing an eBook reader is how you interact with it. As your library of eBooks, magazines, newspapers and blogs grows, how easy is it to navigate your collection? There are two types of interfaces: touch screen and joystick/scroll wheel. Both have their advantages and it will really come down to what feels more intuitive to you. When shopping for a reader, try navigating through the library, selecting a title, moving around within a book or magazine, etc. What works best for you?

In addition to these five points, there are other considerations worth noting:

● Speed of turning pages
● Size and weight of the device
● Ability to view Web pages
● Text-to-speech capability
● Storage capacity
● Battery life and type

eBook readers offer an exciting new way to read books, magazines, newspapers and blogs. Consider the tips above to find the reader that’s right for you.

Happy reading!

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