Tips for Buying an eReader

Screen, Space, and eBook Costs

E-Ink vs. LCD
The biggest distinction among eReaders is the screen. Right now, most of these devices can be broken down into two camps: E-Ink and LCD.

E-Ink screens are the kind that you see on the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. These offer a matte finish catered to replicating the look of text on paper. They offer no glare and can be read in direct sunlight – some user reviews have even said that this helps increase the sharpness of the screen.

There are two potential drawbacks to an E-Ink screen. The first is that the technology only allows images to be displayed in grayscale. Users, depending on the model, will be able to surf the web and view images just fine, but if you’d like to do all this in color you should consider going with an LCD display. Its second drawback is that the screen is not backlit. Reading in sunlight poses no trouble whatsoever; reading in low-light settings, however, can be rather problematic. Certain models offer pull-out lights as a solution, but some consumers may want to just find an illuminated screen.

LCD features are the opposite of E-Ink: the displays are usually in color and are high-gloss because of the glass surface. This definitely makes using the non-reading features more vivid than an E-Ink screen can, but that doesn’t mean LCD does not have its own concerns. Despite its colorful design, it can be difficult to read in sunlight the way you can with an E-Ink screen since LCD the glass screen can create glare. That isn’t to say reading outside is impossible, but you may just find it more problematic than if you went with an E-Ink screen.

However, the good news is that LCD offers you the chance to read at night due to its backlit screen. If the light becomes too bright, some LCD eReaders offer a “White on Black” feature that inverts the colors so you are reading white words on a black screen. This will definitely cut down on the strain of reading a bright screen in the dark.

Battery life also plays a key role in why certain eReaders have opted for an E-Ink screen. Not only do these screens provide great contrast, but they also help to significantly increase how long certain models can go between charges. Amazon’s newest generation Kindle is currently setting the benchmark, boasting a month of battery life on its Wi-Fi model when wi-fi is disabled and it’s only used as a reader. These clearly aren’t settings for everyone, but even with Wi-Fi enabled, it claims to have a three week battery life. LCD screens typically offer a battery life much less than this, but with the extra power needed to light up their color screens, it’s easy to see why. Unlike their E-Ink counterparts, LCD readers have a battery life that typically runs between 4 – 6 hours.

Expansion Slots and Internal Memory
Depending on how you plan to use your reader, you may want to consider finding a model that offers an SD expansion slot to add more memory in the event that you fill up your allotted space. The readers we looked at offered storage space from 512MB to 32GB, though we should note that the largest internal memory available is the 4GB of space on any of the three Kindle models. According to Amazon, 4 gigs can hold up to 3,500 “books, periodicals, and documents,” which does not take into account adding MP3 files or pictures.

Most eReaders we encountered offer expandable SD car slots if you want to beef up your available memory. Two notable readers that don’t offer this feature are the Sony PRS-300 (Wal Mart’s $99 eReader Doorbuster ) and, surprisingly, the Amazon Kindle.

As previously mentioned, your ideal storage space depends on what you are planning on adding to your reader. If you plan on adding music, images, and videos, look into getting a reader with an expandable memory. If you are looking into this as just a replacement for reading paper documents, and any media extras are secondary, then internal memory alone should not be a problem.

Books, Periodicals, and . . . Free Books?
By switching to eBooks, you do see a drop in the price of book and periodical titles. Yet this drop may not be as significant as you had hoped. eBooks bypass printing costs, but their prices are not necessarily phenomenal. The standard price for eBook best sellers online at Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble seems to be $9.99 with certain titles veering above and beyond this price point. The cost is a bit cheaper than what you would pay for a new hardcover book, but your initial investment in an eReader also comes into play. You will inevitably come out ahead if you use your reader on a regular basis, but the mark downs for going digital may not be as significant as you might have hoped.

Periodicals appear to tell the same story. For a single electronic issue, you may end up paying the same price you would at the newsstand, but subscriptions look to be a bit less expensive. If you are locked into certain periodicals, you may want to consult who you would ultimately be buying them from, since not all titles are always carried by every eBook marketplace. The good news here is that periodical pricing seems to be the same at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

One of the best reasons to buy an eReader is access to millions of classic titles. These titles, released before copyright, are part of public domain and can be accessed, and read on your reader, for free! Barnes & Noble and Amazon both report to have one million and 1.8 million free titles available, respectively.

But there is still something to keep in mind here. While there may be countless titles to choose from, there are currently two eBook formats fighting for supremacy: AZW and ePub. This is basically a fight between Amazon and the rest of the market. Amazon’s Kindle supports the AZW format, while ePub has become pretty much the standard for everything else. If you have no problem deal strictly with Amazon – which you will have to do if you buy a Kindle - then this won’t mean much. But if you’d prefer the versatility of visiting several different eBook stores without having to worry about format issues, look elsewhere.


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November 22, 2010
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