An American Editor

November 29, 2010

Factors to Consider When Deciding What eReader Device to Buy

I’ve been pretty lax recently about writing articles for this blog. I’ve been busy trying to wrap up end-of-the-year work and deal with the holidays. The next week or two will be devoted to getting my holiday thank-you gifts mailed to clients.

However, I have been reading messages and blog posts telling people interested in buying their first ereader device which device to buy. I find most of the advice both wrong and unhelpful, so I thought I would give it a try.

First, let’s separate dedicated from multipurpose devices. If you won’t be satisfied with a dedicated device, then don’t consider a Kindle, Sony, Kobo, or nook or any eInk device. Look at an LCD-screened device such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy or a laptop computer with an application. Essentially these are regular computers with ebook applications.

Among the dedicated devices — and there are a lot of them — for United States and Canada buyers, four stand out for consideration: nook, Sony, Kindle, and Kobo. Choosing among these four is a safe way to go; the companies are likely to be around for years to come. The real question is how to choose among the four. Each has its pluses and minuses, and contrary to what some bloggers, commentators, geeks, tech reviewers, and posters (hereinafter collectively referred to as bloggers) think, Kindle is not the outstanding or obvious choice. Rather, it all depends on how you will use the device and what is most important to you.

Consequently, the place to begin is by deciding what features are most important to you. Is it price? If price of the device is most important, then none of the Sonys are apt to meet your need because each of the Sonys is more expensive than the nook, Kobo, and Kindle.

Is it wireless connectivity? If yes, then my question is why? Yes, it is nice to be able to download to the device directly from the ebookstore rather than having to download first to your computer and then copy the book from your computer to the device via USB. But how often do you think you will really use this function? I generally buy books once or twice a month, so the wireless on my Sony 950 gets used at most twice a month, which isn’t very often. And even with the wireless, I prefer to first download to my PC because that way I have a copy of the book on my PC as a backup copy; if I download it directly, then the only copy is what exists in the cloud, which means I have to hope that it will always be available for downloading to my device. I haven’t forgotten when Amazon deleted all copies of one edition of 1984 because the copy violated copyright even though customers had paid for it.

Would you prefer touchscreen navigation or arrow navigation? Each of the devices has a dictionary. But how they access the dictionary is different. The Sonys use touchscreen technology, consequently I double-tap on a word and the dictionary definition pops up. On the Kindle, I have to use direction arrows to move to the word I want to lookup, select the word, and then select the dictionary function. For me, the tradeoff between wireless and touchscreen is worthwhile because I access the dictionary regularly, but buy books occasionally.

Some bloggers emphasize that Amazon, on average, has the lowest ebook prices. This is certainly true, but meaningless — just as it is meaningless that B&N’s ebookstore has more than 1 million books (many of which are the free public domain books available from Google) — unless the books you want to read are available at a price you are willing to pay. What does it matter to me if Amazon sells vampire romance novels for $50 less than any other store if I would never buy such a book? If ebook price is the key, then the best thing to do is to check out the pricing at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Sony of the last 10 books you read and the next 10 you would like to read. (An easy way to do this is to use Inkmesh, an ebook comparison tool.) In my case, buying the books at Sony would have cost me $3.50 more in total than had I bought them at Amazon, not a significant difference to me. Also, price is not the only factor to consider: regardless of the number of books available at each store, not all books are available at all stores, so you need to make sure that the books that are of interest to you are available.

Screen clarity is another issue. As of this writing, the Kindle and the Sonys have the best screen clarity. Both use the newest version of eInk screen, commonly referred to as the Pearl screen. Eventually nook and Kobo will also adopt this screen. Some bloggers wonder about fingerprints on the Sonys because they are touchscreen and they complain about the visibile fingerprints on the LCD touchscreen of the iPad. My personal experience is that this is not a problem. After a month of constant use (averaging 4 hours every day), I still didn’t observe smudges on my screen except in one corner where I was constantly double-tapping to add a bookmark.

Another issue is device build quality. If this is paramount, then I think there is no choice but to select a Sony. The Sonys are well-built solid devices that do not feel like cheap plastic. This is one of the things I dislike about the nook and the Kindle — both feel cheaply constructed. Note that I said “feel” — I opted to buy a Sony and so have no long-term experience with any of the other devices as regards build quality. The only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that my 3-year-old Sony PRS-505 is still going strong and appears to be brand new; my new Sony PRS-950 is built of the same metal components as the 505 was.

The last issue I’ll mention is local library access. The Sonys allow you to borrow ebooks from your local library (assuming your local library has them to lend). The other devices do not.

There are several other important considerations but not room enough to delve into all of them. Perhaps the most important one left is that of formats. Format is important because the more universal the format, the more bookstores that are available for you to shop at. The nook, Kobo, and Sonys all read ePub format. The nook adds an extra layer of DRM (digital rights management) “protection” to its books so that buying a book at B&N to read on the Kobo or Sony requires an extra step to strip the DRM. However, any book you buy at Sony or Kobo can be read on the Sony, Kobo, or nook device as is; any book bought at B&N can be read on the Sony or Kobo device if the DRM is removed, which is very easy to do, as well as on the nook. Amazon, on the other hand, does not use the ePub format and it is not easy to strip the DRM from an Amazon book. Consequently, for the most part, if you buy a Kindle, you are restricted to the Amazon bookstore and to ebookstores like Smashwords, Feedbooks, and ManyBooks, which provide DRM-free books in formats compatible with all of these devices. Those who are very tech savvy can find ways to strip some of the DRM from Amazon books and convert the books, but not from all of the books that Amazon sells. The widest ebookstore selection is available to devices that read ePub. However, if you only ever plan to buy ebooks from Amazon, then the Kindle is your best bet.

Ultimately, I suggest you look at the information available on MobileRead’s Wiki to learn about each of the devices available. Information about Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s nook, Kobo’s Kobo, and the three Sony devices (PRS-350, PRS-650, and PRS-950) is available by clicking the links. You would also do well to join MobileRead and read what owners of the various devices have to say for and against the devices. But under no circumstance should you simply buy a device without first analyzing your reading habits and getting a device that matches your habits most closely. It is likely that once you buy a dedicated device you will find you are reading more than ever before — this seems to be the one common thread that joins all of the various device owners: ereading devices are so pleasurable to use that the amount of time spent reading for pleasure increases.

Happy Holidays!


  1. […] by Rich Adin of An American Editor […]


    Pingback by Factors to Consider When Deciding What eReader Device to Buy — November 29, 2010 @ 7:55 am | Reply

  2. You say “The last issue I’ll mention is local library access. The Sonys allow you to borrow ebooks from your local library (assuming your local library has them to lend). The other devices do not.” This is wrong…both the Nook and the Kobo support the Adobe DRM’d ePub files that make up the majority of public library ebook options. Currently these are listed here, along with the Pandigital device as supported by Overdrive:


    Comment by Jason Griffey — November 29, 2010 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks, Rich. We’re taking the plunge this week, and buying his-and-hers e-readers for a joint Christmas/anniversary present. The hype for the different models is frustrating, as is the inability to actually try out a working Kindle or Sony models. Fully-active nooks are available in B&N stores; the other models are only available with limited auto-running demo programs, with no way to check out the real functions, Bah! Humbug! We followed your link to the MobileRead Wiki, and are pleased with the level of useful information there.


    Comment by Kat Nagel — November 29, 2010 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

  4. I, too, thank you for this article. Although I’m not planning to by an e-reader soon, I do need to understand them and ultimately zero in on the right one for me. The points discussed here cover elements I hadn’t thought of, as well as clarify some questions I’ve built up. Nice to have resources for comparative shopping as well as feedback from users.

    I share Kat’s frustration over not being able to try before buying. No store anywhere near here sells them; all my options are remote purchase (unless, of course, I make a field trip for this single purpose — not! At least, not yet!). Similarly, we don’t have a heavy book-reading population around here, so I’m not running into folks who’ve already bought e-readers and are happy to play show and tell. So my experience will have to be vicarious until e-readers saturate the market in a few years . . .


    Comment by Carolyn — November 29, 2010 @ 7:58 pm | Reply

    • Kat and Carolyn,

      Trying these devices is not so difficult as you seem to think. It depends on where you purchase the device. For example, I bought my new Sony 950 sight unseen (preorder) from the Sony Style online store. It came with a 30-day return policy. Similarly, if you buy directly from Amazon, Amazon has a 30-day return policy. I am niot certain about nook and Kobo. I think Kobo also has a 30-day return policy and B&N has a 14-day policy, but I may be wrong.

      My point is that you can order the device direct from the “manufacturer,” try it for several days (I suggest only using free books to do so; buying ebooks should be reserved for when you have settled on a device), and either keep it or return it. But note that if you buy from a third-party vendor, such as Best Buy, the return policy may be more or less generous — the third-party’s policy controls.


      Comment by americaneditor — November 30, 2010 @ 8:21 am | Reply

  5. This suggestion is so obvious it’s kinda embarrassing that I didn’t think of it. Comes from the lifelong habit of buying to own and only returning when something is grossly wrong.

    Thanks for the reminder!


    Comment by Carolyn — November 30, 2010 @ 8:25 am | Reply

  6. Rich,

    One thing I struggle with – Screen size. I know that Kindle DX is big, and now we have (or should have) the Pocketbook 902, and the Pixelar MReader 9, both large screen and open format.

    I have always loved Sony devices for the build quality. I do not understand why they the PRS-950 has this bizarre screen shape? I would hardly call this a large screen, just a bit longer. I have labored on this, and I think that maybe this shape chassis will make it easie for Sony, at some point, to snap in color android screens, many of which appear to be this shape. Just a though.




    Comment by Nick Rego — November 30, 2010 @ 9:11 am | Reply

    • The screen shape was chosen, I think, to make newspapers easier to read on the device. I certainly find the shape of the 950 easier for reading newspapers than the shape of the 505.


      Comment by americaneditor — November 30, 2010 @ 12:59 pm | Reply

  7. […] An American Editor with some things you should consider when deciding which ereader you should buy. […]


    Pingback by Stumbling Over Chaos :: Worn to a little nub from a crazy week, I still attempt linkity! — December 3, 2010 @ 3:03 am | Reply

  8. A happy development — I just learned that my local library is having a program next week about e-readers — how to choose them for yourself or a gift, including a features comparison of the Kindle, Nook, Sony, and iPad, with demo models available for hands-on exploration. If my smalltown library (which does not have e-books to lend) can come up with such a program, surely libraries in larger communities will offer something similar sooner or later. If not, perhaps interested people can suggest this topic to the library’s program director.


    Comment by Carolyn — December 7, 2010 @ 7:55 am | Reply

    • Carolyn, the only words of caution I would give are these: (1) be sure that they are showing you the newest versions of the devices. For example, there is a world of difference between the Kindle 1/2 and the new Kindle 3, just as there is a world of difference between the Sony 300/600/900 models and the newer 350/650/950 models. (2) Ask if they intend to participate in ebook lending (every day new libraries sign). If they are planning to do so, ask whether they know if the lending program will support the Kindle (most do not). If it is through Overdrive, you will be able to use any device that accepts ePub with Adobe Digital Editions DRM, which the Kindle currently does not. (3) Remember that the iPad is an ancillary ebook reader device; that is, it is OK for the causal reader, but serious readers (those who read more than a dozen or so books each year) I think will find it difficult to use for reading, largely because of its weight. Tablets like the iPad really are just another version of a laptop.

      One other thing to keep in mind. If your hesitation about buying an ereader device is the lack of library book access, many large libraries offer memberships for just this purpose. For example, I have been told that almost anyone can become a member of the Philadelphia Public Library system for $15 a year and borrow ebooks.


      Comment by americaneditor — December 7, 2010 @ 9:09 am | Reply

  9. Thanks for the guidelines. Also for the info about the Philly Library. $15! Wow, my “big” library charges $38! (the little local one, nothing, but their selection correlates with the price)


    Comment by Carolyn — December 7, 2010 @ 9:18 am | Reply

  10. […] oldies, – I am 68 – a view that I am convinced of.   However, recently, Rich Adin (of An American Editor, an interesting blog about all manner of things)  pointed out to me that there is an0ther possible […]


    Pingback by ereaders and the elderly – A danger that ereaders can lead to isolation? | eBookAnoid — January 31, 2011 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

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