Kindle, Nook, Kobo or iPad: Which tablet or e-reader should you buy?

small picture of the Amazon Kindle FireAmazon’s announcement of the Kindle Fire today threw down the gauntlet for both tablets and e-book readers. At just $199, it’s not much more expensive than previous e-readers, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than competing tablets.

In fact, you might be asking yourself: Why would I want a drab, monochrome E Ink reader when for a little bit more money I could get an awesome 7-inch tablet?

Conversely, why would I spend $500 and up for an iPad or Galaxy Tab when I could get a slightly smaller tablet for a fraction of the price?

We’re glad you asked. We can help you answer both questions. Here are the features, pros and cons of a number of tablets and e-book readers, sorted by price from low to high.

Read the whole roundup: Kindle, Nook, Kobo or iPad: Which tablet or e-reader should you buy? | VentureBeat.

Kindle, Nook, Kobo or iPad: Which tablet or e-reader should you buy?

The Nook Nearly Nails It

Nook Simple Touch

I bought a Nook Simple Touch a couple weeks ago, just in time for a vacation reading binge.

I can’t improve much on John Abell’s review for Wired, The Nook Nails It, as I agree with everything he says there.

This is the best reading machine I’ve come across so far: It’s light, easy to read, compact, and elegant. There’s no ugly keyboard reminding you that you should probably be writing something instead of just kicking back with a book, or a magazine: It’s just a reading device, plain and simple.

With it, I’m reading far more than I was before, and I look forward to continuing that trend when vacation ends, by reading on the train and in the evenings at home. I even got a clip-on book light for reading in bed or in the tent: Works great.

The Nook’s touchscreen works very well. It’s easy to highlight passages, somewhat less easy to make annotations, and page-turning is a breeze with left or right hand buttons, or swipes or taps on the touchscreen. Like John, I wish there were some kind of “back” function, as it’s occasionally easy to get lost among the endnotes, but that’s a minor quibble.

In all, an excellent e-reader.

There are a couple of more serious drawbacks that keep the Nook Simple Touch from perfection:

Very limited wireless delivery. The Nook has Wi-Fi, which you can use to purchase books and magazines and newspapers. (And you can read the full text of any e-books in B&N stores, a nice touch.) Periodicals are delivered to you automatically. But to get anything else onto your Nook, like PDFs, you need to plug it into a computer via USB and sync. There’s no wireless sync, and there’s no way — as there is with the Kindle — to e-mail documents to your reader. That’s a big drawback for one of my main uses for the Nook, which is reading articles I’ve saved to Instapaper. I use Calibre to fetch those stories, which works very well (although I feel compelled to add that Calibre is the ugliest piece of software I’ve come across in a long time). But I have to remember to dock and sync the Nook whenever I want to get the latest Instapapered stories. Bummer.

Text rendering is a little buggy. For instance, superscripts (like footnotes) add a bit of extra leading to the line spacing above them, which is distracting and sloppy-looking. Occasionally hyphens just disappear, so instead of “twenty-four” it displays “twentyfour.” (This happens with both PDFs and with e-books purchased from Barnes & Noble, so I think it’s some kind of intermittent rendering bug.) Text resizing doesn’t work all that well on some PDFs, with a huge jump from “pretty small letters” to “gigantic headline type” and nothing in between.

Both of these should be straightforward to fix through a firmware update and, in the case of e-mailing to your Nook, the addition of some kind of back-end support. If not, I’m hoping that someone will soon hack the Simple Touch’s Android-based OS and figure out how to make it happen.

The Nook Nearly Nails It

Amazon Sells More E-Books Than Hardcovers

Photo of a Kindle by Charlie Sorrel

E-books have hit the mainstream, and for the first time are consistently outselling their pulp-and-ink brethren, according to

Amazon hit a symbolic milestone last holiday season, when for one day its sales of e-books exceeded the number of dead-tree books it had sold.

Now the company has hit a more significant milestone, selling 143 e-books for every 100 hardcover books sold over the course of the second quarter. The rate is accelerating: For the past month, Amazon sold 180 e-books for every 100 hardcovers, and it sold three times as many e-books in the first six months of this year as it did in the first half of 2009.

Amazon’s Kindle bookstore now offers more than 630,000 books, Amazon says, plus 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright titles.

Continue reading “Amazon Sells More E-Books Than Hardcovers”

Amazon Sells More E-Books Than Hardcovers

Reading and web standards

This week brought the pleasing news that people are reading more than ever, thanks to the internet.

In fact, the amount people read tripled from 1980 to 2008. That’s amazing considering it had previously been undergoing decades of steady decline. Suddenly people stopped watching so much television, and started reading again.

They’re just reading on the screen instead of on paper.

Two of the tools that I’ve found most helpful for reading are Instapaper and Readability. Both of them reformat web pages, stripping out everything except the core text, making them far easier to read.

Arc90’s Readability offers instant gratification — it transforms the page immediately, right in your browser — and you can choose from several different formatting options.

Marco Arment’s Instapaper saves the reformatted pages for later, so you can read them at your leisure, either on the Instapaper web site or (my preference) in the Instapaper iPhone app.

Both tools are free, though Arment offers a premium version of the Instapaper app for $5 that adds some nice features, like automatic updates and tilt-scrolling.

Both tools tell me a couple of things about the web:

One, modern web design is way too complicated and cluttered. Ads, banners, navigation bars, sidebars, and a million other things make most web pages an aesthetic and usability disaster. Readability and Instapaper fix this, giving the content back to the readers. Some forward-thinking web designers, like Laura Brunow Miner’s Pictory Magazine, have followed this trend, by creating stripped-down, content-centric web designs that let the reader focus on what really matters. I’ve tried to follow this trend by simplifying the design of this site as well as the haiku and micropoetry site I edit, and I know others who have done the same.

Two, web standards work. The reason Readability and Instapaper work is because most web pages are structured in fairly predictable ways, with a well-accepted markup language that is widely and (usually) consistently deployed. This gives readers the flexibility to enjoy published content in the way the reader chooses: On its original web page, in an RSS reader, on an iPhone, or through the filter of a reformatting tool. Readers can also easily reblog content on their own sites, which contributes to conversation and community formation, and makes it easier for other people to find the content.

When publishers consider nonstandard web publishing platforms, they should keep this in mind. Something that’s published as a PDF, Zinio mag, Adobe app, Flash file or iPhone app is by default outside the circle of web standards. Unless the designers of those platforms include tools for reformatting, reblogging and sharing content, they’ll risk taking themselves out of the broader collective conversation altogether.

That goes for the exciting new e-magazine apps under development by my employer and other publishers, too.

Reading and web standards