9 Tips Before You Buy and E-Reader

Things to Think About Before Buying Reader for E-Books

Kindle Paperwhite 2015
Amazon freshens up its Kindle Paperwhite reader by improving its screen with a sharper display while keeping the same $119 price tag. Amazon

As someone with blackmail-worthy photos of older relatives sporting afros and bell bottoms, I’m quite aware of how quickly “fresh” stuff can get dated. Take it from a guy who used to wear acid-wash jeans.

So given all the recent developments in the e-book reader landscape, I figured now is a good time to update our handy-dandy E-reader Buying Guide. Here’s a list of things to consider when selecting a new e-reader.

Screen type

Remember when an e-reader display pretty much meant E Ink? Well, the arrival of the Apple iPad as a viable e-reading device changed all that. Even E Ink stalwart Amazon has launched tablet versions of its popular Kindle line called the Kindle Fire.

When picking an e-reader, ask yourself if you don’t mind reading books on an LCD screen or prefer the more paperlike look of something like E Ink. Each has advantages and disadvantages. E Ink tends to reduce eye strain and greatly improve battery life. An LCD screen can display color and typically comes with touchscreen capabilities as well. Then you have hybrid readers such as the newer E Ink Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook, which feature both an electronic paper display and LCD touchscreen at the same time.

For electronic paper displays, make sure you compare screens because some have better contrast and higher resolution than others.

Size and weight

Size matters. Especially on just how portable you want your e-reader to be.

Fortunately, there are all sorts of options out there when it comes to size. On the smaller end is Amazon's basic Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook Glowlight+, which are pretty light and easy to take with you on the go.

Then you’ve got larger ones such as the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, Apple iPad and the certifiably ginormous Apple iPad Pro. Unless you’re a kangaroo, you ain’t fitting those in your pocket anytime soon. But they’re pretty good if you value a screen with larger real estate.

Interface

Controls for e-reading devices are typically based on either buttons, touchscreens or a combination of both. Button-based controls require less power and are more accurate but can be more cumbersome to use. Touchscreens are more intuitive but can be laggy, smudge-prone, and typically suck more juice from your battery. The latter appears to be gaining popularity as the interface of choice, though, even for E Ink-based displays.

Button-based devices include older models such as the Amazon’s Kindle 1, 2, 3 and DX models, plus Sony’s Reader Pocket and the original Kobo eReader. The iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablets all use LCD touchscreens. 

Battery life

Depending on whether you plan to read primarily at home or on the road, battery life is an important consideration. Basic e-readers without fancy bells and whistles typically have longer battery life. Devices with Wi-Fi and Web browsing on the other hand, tend to have shorter operating times.

Features

Do you want an e-reader just for reading eBooks or do you want to your device to do much more?

Some devices — such as the older Reader Pocket and Kobo Reader — are designed purely for reading and skip on extra features, including music playback. The Nook, on the other hand, plays tunes, has Web browsing, and also throws in a touchscreen interface. At the higher end of the features spectrum are tablets such as the iPad, which function almost like a mini-computer.

Formats

On a related note, you’ll also want to check the formats that a device is capable of handling. Popular file formats include EPUB, PDF, TXT and HTML among other things.

The more formats a device can play the better.

Also check if an eReader is more open or uses a proprietary format. A more open format such as EPUB, for example, means you can move your eBooks easily from one device to another. In contrast, Amazon’s proprietary AZW format can only be played by Kindle devices.

Capacity

This determines just how much media you can fit into your device at one time. The higher the memory, the more eBooks and files you can fit in. High capacity is especially important for multimedia eReaders that can also play music, video and apps. Besides internal memory, some devices also come with a slot for an SD card, which allows you to typically bump up your capacity.

Store access

Depending on the device, an eReader can have direct access to certain eBook stores, which means extra convenience, a wider selection and also the ability to easily get the latest bestsellers.

The Kindle, for example, has direct access to Amazon’s online bookstore while the Nook and Kobo have access to Barnes & Noble and Borders respectively.

Devices that don’t have direct store access can still display compatible e-books but you’ll have to download them from a PC first. Free sources such as Project Gutenberg are an option as well.

Price

Ultimately, this can be the biggest factor when deciding to buy an eBook reader. After all, your wallet pretty much dictates what you can or can not afford.

Analysts and industry insiders have always said that $99 is the magic price point for wide-range e-reader acceptance and you certainly have more options now that are closer to that cost range. In early 2010, for example, you had more eReaders sporting price tags past $400. These days that's enough to get you a tablet.