E-readers are growing immensely in popularity as a way to read books, newspapers, manuals or other reading material in convenient electronic format. In fact, Amazon has recently reported that their sales of electronic books now exceeds that of printed books. Two of the leading e-readers are the Kindle from Amazon and the Nook from Barnes and Nobles. A head-to-head review of the two offerings is discussed here

Both the Kindle and the Nook are available in simple 6” black and white e-readers. Unlike a tablet like the iPad, these devices are focused solely on doing one thing extremely well: presenting printed text. Both of these basic models offer similar functionality, offering crisp black and white screens, WiFi access for downloading content, extremely long battery life (measured in weeks!), and lots of available books and other content. 

Both screens use the same electronic paper technology, the E Ink Pearl, to display clear and easy-to-read pages. Rather than emitting its own light, these e-readers reflect ambient light from natural or artificial sources, just like ordinary book paper. This allows the e-reader to be read in bright sunlight without having to worry about glare or reflections.

The fundamental difference between the 6” Nook and the 6” Kindle is that the former uses a touch screen interface, while the latter uses physical buttons and a full QWERTY keyboard. This difference may come down to user preference, since for a basic reader the primary user input is to turn pages. This task is easily accomplished with either interface. However, the touch screen of the Nook comes in handy in highlighting text, zooming into pages, and looking up definitions. On the other hand, the keyboard of the Kindle is useful for searching the text for keywords or phrases and adding notes as you read.

There are also some subtle differences between the two basic e-readers from Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. Amazon offers a model with additional 3G capability, which enables you to download content no matter where you are. The Kindle also has significantly more storage capacity with 4GB, compared to 2GB for the Nook. However, the Nook ereader offers a microSD slot, allowing for easy and inexpensive expansion of the storage capacity.

Physically, the incorporation of the keyboard in the Kindle means that it is about 1” taller (7.5” vs. 6.5”) and an ounce heavier (8.5 oz. vs. 7.5 oz.). Price of the two units is identical at $139 each.

Both companies also offer high end models of their e-readers, and here is where the departure between the Kindle and the Nook becomes stark. Barnes and Nobles offers the Nook Color, which really starts to offer full tablet functionality at $249. Meanwhile, Amazon offers the Kindle DX, which is essentially a larger version of the 6” Kindle.

The Kindle DX has a 9.7” E Ink Pearl screen with basically the same push-button, keyboard interface as the smaller Kindle. Strangely, it offers 3G access only and no WiFi. Amazon currently offers the DX for $379, substantially higher than other e-readers. Where the Kindle DX shines is in displaying full pages on its large format screen, which can come in handy for technical professionals viewing journal articles in PDF format.

The Nook Color offers a dramatically different experience than the other e-readers discussed. It uses a touchscreen, full-color IPS screen. It basically offers a tablet experience, since Barnes and Nobles recently released apps for email, web browsing, and playing videos. Because the display is fundamentally different, it is not as readable in broad daylight than the basic e-readers, and battery life is substantially less (several hours vs. days or weeks). As far as price, the Nook color weighs in at just under $250 for a WiFi only version.

The Amazon Kindle and the Nook both offer compelling features as highly effective e-readers. The fundamental decision for consumers is the choice between the physical keyboard of the Kindle and touch screen interface of the Nook. The Nook Color adds an additional wrinkle, in that it really starts to offers tablet functionality, including internet access and a limited number apps.



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