A book for every worm, combined with a gadget for every nerd

Since the first Kindle was brought out, e-readers have flooded the market, turning what was the reserve of the highly tech-savvy nerds who were going around with clunky PDA’s into something for the mainstream user, an electronic method of reading that appealed to everyone using some basic principles; strong battery life, competitive pricing and most of all convenience; the availability of ebooks which was stifling to the original models along with their technological constraints.

As readers of this blog will know, I own a Sony PRS-505. It’s a fantastic device, lightweight, comfortable to hold, good screen and it feels good and solid in your hand. There are some drawbacks, the basic memory isn’t strong (thought this can be fixed with the various SD cards on the market) it’s buttons are slightly all over the place which can be annoying and it has a general lack of connectivity; it just doesn’t like to play nice with other devices.

So this has led me to take a look, in the run up to Christmas at some of the other e-readers which have made an appearance on an ever-crowding market in the last year and which one would probably be the best and safest buy in our cash-strapped times.

Many have also been knocked out of the race, and fell behind; The Plastic Logic failed to launch, Cool-er went under and does anyone know what happened to the Samsung tablet?

The top three to have made it are the Kindle, the Sony readers and to some extent Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Some might be thinking right now that the iPad surely outweighs all of these, but I wouldn’t consider the iPad to be a true e-reader (I love it to bits, but the weight, screen type and overall functionality preclude it from this list, and in my humble opinion, e-readers over all) and it only has about 7% of all Kindle downloads to its name which is large, but generally marginal in the grand scheme.

The Kindle is undoubtedly the most successful of all the e-readers, it’s got it’s latest model out, the Kindle 3, which can come in two ways; wi-fi or 3G and the price is around €150 for the wi-fi only.


The Kindle 3

Kindle 3, the third version of the popular Amazon device

The Kindle has a few features which help it come out head and shoulders in many respects above the rest. The size is about the thickness of a pencil, the weight is almost un-noticeable and the two key features are that it has full access to Amazon’s Kindle store, possibly the best e-book store out there and it can get there, anywhere you like using Whispernet, Amazon’s free 3G service, open to all Kindle’s equipped with 3G.

The Kindle is solid, it’s safe and it’s got a good screen not to mention that your purchases are backed up and remembered on the Amazon store for if you should want to download them again.

Amazon has however been dogged by security and privacy concerns, with the company able to remove books from users devices at will, and it’s devices also tend to be replaced often, no more so than Apple would with their lines, but each improvement is generally so good, you can’t help but want to update!

Over all the Kindle scores highly, at an 8 out of 10 in this very broad review.

The Sony e-reader is a difficult one, Sony have been successful in e-readers because of the company’s name as a trusted brand. It has also very cleverly aimed a different reader at different ends of the market; small and basic readers for people who may like to read, but not that regularly and are not that tech savvy, with a higher end model for those who are tech savvy and heavy readers.


Sony e-readers

the Sony readers, one for everyone in the audience!

The basic model has a 5 inch screen, which is generally pocket-sized, with physical buttons and decent storage of about 150 books. It’s light and comes in black, silver or pink should you want to be a little more out there while you’re reading a good novel. It’s also surprisingly comfortable, resting easy in the hand, not too many buttons so as to confuse, or press accidentally (they seem to have taken note from some of the issues with the PRS-505) and I expected the text to be a little more awkward, longer books as a result but over all it’s a pleasing experience and the screen size is not too small.

The larger model is where Sony has really come to shine, more than twice the amount of books can be stored as the smaller model, it’s slim, minimal and sexy (if books can be described as sexy) and it’s also touchscreen. Which is nice for those of us who are already walking around with iPad’s, iPhones and a plethora of buttonless devices. It’s also starting to be a little friendlier, now with WiFi models and ones which allow for native mac compatibility the Sony looks more attractive.

If one thing should be enough to put Sony in the top three it’s this; they’ve gotten clued in to what Amazon didn’t. While the Kindle is an impressive device, and it really is; people focus a lot on the features and what it packs under the hood, but Sony have gotten that what people want is a book, the Sony readers have a fantastic ability to disappear and be forgotten about while you’re reading. Allowing people to focus on the books, rather than the connectivity, the Wikipedia articles and the free 3G.

So for that alone, Sony actually scores on a par with Kindle at 8 out of 10. Although the devices themselves aren’t as impressive, they know what they need to do, they do it well and Sony have gone for every one in the market.

I could dock a point for post purchase, however. The online store is dire, books are poorly organised and it’s a nightmare trying to find what you’re looking for. I put this down to Waterstones, though I would like to see a dedicated store, instead of what Waterstones put up in their poor attempt. This isn’t Sony’s fault though they made a good device, and were let down by the retailer slightly.

The Barnes & Noble Nook is worth mentioning here, although not strictly available in Ireland or Europe, you can always lay your hands on one. And they’re good, genuinely quite good.


Nook ereader

The prettiest of all the readers, the Barnes and Noble Nook

Probably one of the more aesthetically pleasing models, it’s really rather nice to look at. Featuring two screens, one is the usual six-inch e-ink screen and the other is a standard LCD touchscreen, smaller and under the main screen which is where you chose your books from and both 3G and WiFi connectivity.

It’s a bit of a gimick and is really just a way to put the price up, but it’s pretty cool looking. The Nook also gets full access to the Barnes & Noble online e-book store, which is slightly better than Waterstones, worse than Amazon.

The Nook scores lowest however as it’s a little bulkier than the others, lacks the punch which has made the others so popular, almost a little too fancy for a book and has failed to make it as big in the market as the others, it’s much more of a low-key player, even in the States where it’s being beaten by Sony and Amazon.

Another reason I can’t really talk as much about it is that it’s not actually here, only available to our friends across the pond. So for lack of availability and regional bias, it only gets a 6 out of ten.

Scoring lower for a few factors, the Book store, the fact that it can’t connect outside of the states, even it’s iPad app is US only and also it’s just never made that punch into the market, which it really was perfectly positioned to. But it’s saving grace is that it’s got a cool screen.

So over all, I would suggest either the Sony e-reader or the Kindle as a good choice of book. In the end, it really depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. If you prefer to have connectivity over all, with the added back up of the worlds largest e-book store, then the Kindle is for you.

However, if you are a hard-nosed bookworm who prefers content over platform, and you’re willing to wait a little bit to find the perfect book, then I whole heartedly suggest the Sony touch edition as a good solid purchase.


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