Saturday, January 29, 2011

Best eBook reader: Kindle, Kobo or Sony Reader?

By Ray Nicolini
via Parenting Curious Dad
This post is part of an ongoing series on the Amazon Kindle and other ereaders.
The price of eBook readers has been dropping quickly, which has made them an attractive purchase for many people who wouldn't have considered them before (when they were $400 and up). But which reader to purchase?

I've been looking at three readers available to Canadian customers: the Amazon Kindle, Kobo and Sony Reader. I haven't looked into the Barnes & Noble Nook because buying one from Canada appears to be a bit of a hassle.

You can find lots of reviews for all three devices online.

But I thought it might be helpful to break down what I see as the most important features one might want in an ereader and see how the three devices stack up against each other.

While there's only one type of Kobo, there are two Kindles (the new "Kindle 3" model and the larger Kindle DX) and three Sony Readers (the Pocket Edition, Touch Edition and Daily Edition). To keep things simple, I'll be looking at just the Kindle 3 and Sony Touch Edition in this post. That way, for all three readers, I'm comparing apples and apples by looking at the same screen size: six inches.

Screen resolution and speed: Advantage Kindle

All three ereaders use the same "E Ink" technology which, as most of you probably already know, looks a lot like print on paper and can be read in natural sunlight. But the displays on the three readers aren't identical -- either in sharpness or speed. Both the Kindle 3 and the new Sony Readers use the latest "Pearl" E Ink display which is apparently sharper and has a better contrast between text and background. The Kobo, in contrast, uses an older version of E Ink technology which reviewers say just isn't as crisp.

The other big issue with ereaders is speed -- there's a bit of a delay whenever you want to refresh the screen. Reviewers have reported that the new Kindle 3 turns pages significantly faster than its competitors.

Weight: Tie

One of the reasons I wouldn't consider buying an iPad only as an ereader is that -- at 1.5 pounds (or 680 grams) -- it's just too damn heavy to hold comfortably for hours on end. For long periods of reading, you want something that will feel comfortable in your hands and won't make your wrists hurt. So how do the ereaders compare on weight? It's pretty much a tie. The Kindle 3 is 8.5 ounces (240 grams). Both the Sony Reader Touch Edition and Kobo are 8 ounces (200g).

Wireless connectivity: Advantage Kindle

UPDATE: Kobo just announced its new eReaders have WiFi built in.

Of the three six-inch ereaders, only the Kindle 3 has wireless support -- WiFi or 3G. Both the Sony Reader Touch and the Kobo, in contrast, require you to plug your device into your computer to get books onto them. On the face of it, this shouldn't be that big of a deal. I presume transferring books onto a reader doesn't take that long and it's not like you're going to be reading a new book every couple of hours -- you should be able to sync your device once and have enough books to keep you busy for weeks.

But the WiFi/3G support in the Kindle is a big plus for me for two reasons.

First, it's just more convenient. Plugging your ereader into a computer may not be that difficult, but it's more of a pain -- booting up your laptop, finding your cable, loading the right software -- than just selecting the book you want on the device itself and buying it.
Secondly, one of the big attractions of ereaders is that they're supposedly great for travelling because you don't have to lug dozens of paper books in your luggage. But if you want to buy a book on your Sony Reader or Kobo while you're actually on vacation, you'll need to have your laptop with you. In contrast, with the Kindle you can use 3G to access the Amazon store almost anywhere -- or just find a WiFi hotspot at a local coffeeshop. That's a big added convenience for the Kindle, in my view.

Price: Advantage Kobo (barely)
Until recently, one of the big selling features of the Kobo was its bargain basement price. Sure, it didn't have all the wireless features of a Kindle and wasn't as pretty as a Sony Reader. But it was a lot cheaper (just $149 in Canada, $129 in the U.S.) But now that the Kindle Wi Fi has dropped to $139 in the U.S. -- from $259 just a few months ago -- the price difference is negligible. (The Kobo is now down to $128 at Chapters, according to my colleague Tracy Sherlock.)
Granted the Amazon Kindle 3 isn't as good a deal in Canada -- where the $139 U.S. version is more than $165. But when you factor in the taxes you'll pay on a Kobo, the price isn't all that different.
The Sony Reader Touch is quite a bit more expensive than both, at $229 in the U.S.

Library compatibility: Advantage Sony and Kobo
On most of the criteria so far, the Kindle is the clear winner.
But there's one area in which it is notably weaker: library books. A number of libraries -- including those in Vancouver -- are now offering eBooks for loan, just like paper books. The problem is that, for the most part, such loaned eBooks appear to be incompatible with the Kindle. I'm not clear on all the technical reasons for this -- I think it's because the Kobo and Sony Reader use the ePub standard and the Kindle does not -- but a lot of library eBook pages make a point of saying their services won't work with the Kindle.
This issue almost makes me not want to buy a Kindle -- after all, who doesn't want free books? But I think the library issue isn't as big of a deal as some people fear. I took a look at the Vancouver Public Library's available eBooks and the waiting list for most new releases was pretty insane. For example, when I checked there were 75 people on the waiting list for the library's nine electronic copies of Stieg Larrson's The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.
One of the big attractions to me about ereaders is how quickly you can get a book. No waiting for your Amazon shipment or having to see if your local bookstore has the title you're looking for. Just find the book in the online store, click and you've got it. So, for me, if the whole point of ereaders is their speed, I don't see why I'd want to wait months on end for my turn with a library eBook -- and then have to make sure I had it read in the two-week window I had before it was deleted from my machine.
Still, if you're the kind of person who has the patience to wait for a library eBook -- or is more likely to read older titles that are more easily available -- the Kindle's lack of support for library loans could be a dealbreaker.
Bottom line: Kindle is best for most people.

The lack of library support for the Kindle bothers me and I'm not confident its ebook selection in Canada is as good as it could be (more on that in a future post). But it seems to be the highest quality reader for the price at the moment, so it's the one I think I'd go for.
A quick note: The summary above is based on the available tech specs for each ereader and a number of reviews posted onlines for each. My only hands-on exposure to ereaders is a few seconds I've had with a colleague's Kindle 2 and a Kobo in a local Chapters. I'm hoping to get a more in-depth, hands-on test drive with both the Kobo and the Kindle 3 in the weeks to come. When I do, I'll post a first-hand assessment of each device. So stay tuned!
I'd also like to hear from you. Do you have any of these devices? If so, what do you think are its big pluses or minuses. And if you're thinking of buying one, which one are you leaning towards -- and why?
Post a Comment