Back to School Guide 2010: Ebook readers

Back to School Guide 2010: Ebook readers

Summary: Dedicated ebook readers saw a major drop in price this year, along with the release of a few new devices. They are now very affordable and by the time the holiday season rolls around we may see them in the $99 price range.

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

A lot has happened in the world of ebook readers since we posted our 2009 Holiday Gift Guide. At the beginning of 2010, we saw ebook readers in all shapes and sizes at the Consumer Electronics Show. Then as the year went on, the iPad shipped, the Kindle and NOOK saw new models released, and now just about every smartphone has a NOOK or Kindle reader application available for free. It's been a wild ride, to say the least. We also saw a MAJOR drop in price for dedicated ebook readers that are now start at $139, including wireless connectivity support. The magical $99 price for ebook readers is not far off and there is a chance you might find some this holiday season on sale.

I've been using ebook readers since their inception, and even today I still alternate between a NOOK, Kindle, iPad and even iPhone, when reading electronically. As you can tell from the variety of options, there's a dedicated ebook reader to suit just about any preference and every situation.

Amazon Kindle

This year we saw the introduction of a Wi-Fi only Kindle, and an overall restyling of the Kindle, delivering an ebook reading experience in a lighter package. The new Kindle comes in three flavors: Wi-Fi, Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi, and Kindle DX. Each version offers something unique, and all versions include both an E Ink screen and integrated hardware keyboard.

Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi

The original Kindle with 3G has been revamped and now includes a choice of colors (graphite or white), 50 percent better contrast, courtesy of a new high-contrast 6" E Ink screen, new crisper and darker fonts, a 21 percent smaller body, and a weight reduction, putting it at just 8.7 ounces. It's also now boasting better battery life, rated up to one month with wireless off and 10 days with wireless on. To help differentiate itself, Amazon has also equipped it with the ability to play games, including Scrabble, and even an experimental WebKit-based browser, The new Kindle is still just as full-featured as its predecessor, offering up a one-time fee of $189 for a lifetime of global 3G access.

Price: $189.00 MSRP

[Check out the ZDNet Reviews page for the Amazon Kindle]

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Kindle Wi-Fi

If you're looking to save a bit of money, shave off .2 ounces, and don't have a need for global 3G, the new Kindle Wi-Fi model may be perfect for you. At $139, it offers up three weeks of battery life with wireless on (compared to just 10 days with the 3G version), and one month with wireless off. It's almost identical to the 3G + Wi-Fi model, and may be the perfect option for someone who doesn't need to be always connected. In the case of the Kindle W-Fi, graphite is the only color option.

Price: $139.00 MSRP

[Check out the ZDNet Reviews page for the Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi]

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Kindle DX

For the serious ebook reader, there's Amazon's Kindle DX. This Kindle offers up a 9.7" screen, but weighs in at 18.9 ounces. It, too, only ships in graphite, and because of its screen size, won't last as long on battery (7 days with wireless on), but otherwise it offers up the same options as the other Kindles. In this case, though, it's $379, and is geared more towards the business user and student.

Price: $379.00 MSRP

[Check out ZDNet Reviews page for the Amazon Kindle DX]

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

NOOK

Arriving at the tail end of 2009 is Barnes & Noble's NOOK. Like the Kindle, the NOOK comes in two flavors: 3G + Wi-Fi; Wi-Fi only. The NOOK's weigh more than the Kindle, and in some cases cost more, but offer up a different experience. For example, the NOOK takes full advantage of its retail channel, offering users the ability to read eBooks FREE in any Barnes & Noble Store. In addition, you can share eBooks with friends using the NOOK's LendMe technology. Also, where the Kindle prefers to deliver a hardware keyboard, the NOOK offers a 3.5" TFT color touch screen. You can also switch out the back cover and add additional memory via the NOOK's microSD slot.

Like the Kindle, the NOOK also offers the ability to play games, shipping with Chess and Sudoku, and a web browser, currently in beta.

NOOK 3G + Wi-Fi

The NOOK with 3G weighs 12.1 oz and offers up an identical feature-set to its Wi-Fi only brother, minus the 3G access. It includes an e Ink 6" Vizplex display, capable of delivering 16 levels of grayscale. Hardware-wise, the NOOK offers a 3.5" TFT color touch screen, which displays a keyboard when needed, but otherwise offers up a variety of ways for the user to navigate through the eBook Reader. As for power, with wireless off the NOOK can run for 10 days.

Price: $199.00 MSRP

[Check out Matt's review]

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

NOOK Wi-Fi

The NOOK Wi-Fi delivers an identical experience to the NOOK 3G, with the exception of only working on Wi-Fi, and weighing 11.6 oz, instead of 12.1 like the NOOK 3G. Otherwise, the hardware is the same, with the option of switching out the back cover for different colors.

Price: $149.00 MSRP

[Check out Matt's review]

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Kobo Wireless eReader from Borders

It's easy to forget about Kobo when you mainly hear about the NOOK and Kindle, but Kobo is one worth considering, especially since it's associated with Borders, and is cheaper than either of its competitors, at $139.99.

The Kobo eReader is a new entry into the market. It follows on the success of its predecessor, the Kobo eReader, but this time around includes integrated Wi-Fi, and other enhancements. Available in three colors, it's currently shipping pre-loaded with 100 FREE classic eBooks. One feature not found in the NOOK or Kindle, but available on the Kobo Wireless eRedaer is the ability to borrow books from your local library. Like the other eBook readers on the market, the Kobo Wireless eReader offers up a 6" E Ink display and 16 levels of greyscale. The biggest differentiator is that it's among the lightest of the eReaders, at 7.8 ounces.

Price: $139.99 MSRP

[Check out the ZDNet Reviews page for more info.]

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Apple iPad

I had to include the iPad in this list since it does offer an eReader experience, even though that's not its main function. There are two different types of iPads available currently. Both have the same offering, with one having just Wi-Fi, and the other offering both Wi-Fi + 3G. Each of these models is available in 16GB, 32GB and 64MB models, and delivers a touch-enabled reading experience on a 9.56 x 7.47 inch screen. Weighing in much heavier than other eBook Readers at 24 ounces, the iPad delivers an eBook Reading experience on either its built-in iBooks application, with associated bookstore, or via its apps for NOOK, Kindle, and even kobo.

The drawback to using the iPad as an eReader is that because it's not an E Ink display, it will drain the battery power faster and will also not work as well in direct sunlight. Also, the starting price of an iPad is currently $499, but for that you get a lot more than what a traditional eBook Reader brings to the table.

Price: $499 MSRP

[Check out my review and the ZDNet Reviews page for the iPad]

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Sony Reader Daily Edition, PRS-950

Sony recently updated their Daily Edition device with the newer eInk display that also now has integrated WiFi and 3G wireless access. It is available for pre-order with availability planned for mid-November.

The Reader Daily Edition has a 7 inch eInk display and newspapers look great on the new generation touch screen eInk display. Stylus input is also supported so you can take handwritten notes on the Daily Edition or use the on-screen keyboard to enter text notes. Portrait and landscape viewing is also supported.

In typical fashion, the Reader Daily Edition is built with that same great Sony quality and it feels great in your hand. It has a premium price over other ebook readers, but it is very well constructed and does support various EPUB sources for book content.

Price: $299.99 MSRP

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Sony Reader Touch Edition, PRS-650

This latest generation Sony Reader Touch Edition is the successor to the PRS-600 that was a very good device with a slight loss of clarity due to the touch screen display. This new generation of the Touch Edition has a much clearer and more viewable display. The Touch Edition has a touchscreen keyboard, integrated dictionary, and ability to create notes and annotations. Unfortunately, there is no wireless support in the Touch Edition.

The Touch Edition is available in black and red and also comes with two memory card expansion slots (SD and MemoryStick PRO Duo, as well as integrated storage so you will never have to worry about limits on content with this device. It has a large 6 inch EInk display and supports rotation into landscape mode. You are also not limited by content with support for Adobe Digital Editions, PDF, ePub, and more. Local library content, Google book content, and content purchase at various online stores, including the Sony eBookstore, can be loaded on the Sony Reader Touch Edition.

Price: $229.99 MSRP

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2009 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Sony Reader Pocket Edition, PRS-350

If you are looking for a high quality ebook reader to carry around in your purse or jacket pocket, then you can't really go wrong with the rock solid construction and quality of the new Sony Reader Pocket Edition, PRS-350. The Pocket Edition has a 5 inch eInk touch screen display and no wireless capabilities. Using touch screens on the Sony Readers is a new technology across all of the devices and loss of clarity is no longer an issue.

The Sony Reader Pocket Edition is available in pink and silver colors so you get a chance to have a bit of personalization added to your collection. Like all Sony Readers, Adobe Digital Editions and EPUB standard open formats are also supported so you can check out local library books and access a ton of content. Native PDF documents are also supported by the Reader Pocket Edition. Sony has a Mac client of their eBookstore software so you can purchase and transfer content to your Reader from a Windows PC or Mac computer.

There is 1.4GB of available internal memory so you should be able to load up to 1,200 books, which is plenty for even the longest trip.

Price: $179.99 MSRP

[Check out the ZDNet Reviews page for more info.]

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Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Hardware, Wi-Fi

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