Friday, September 24, 2010

The internet, touch screens, and personal preference

A couple weeks ago, I got a phone call from a relative asking me about eReaders. The relative, knowing my interest in the matter, wanted to know if it was worth it getting a Kindle. Then, a few days ago, I found myself discussing the matter again, looking at the development of the market over the past year. Finally, later that evening I saw this article detailing the price drops in Sony Readers (I own a Sony PRS-600; now known, I suppose, as an "old Sony Touch Edition"). So now, a recap of the last year in eReaders.

Since I purchased my Sony Touch Edition a year ago, the eReader market has changed drastically. The day following my purchase saw price drops in Kindles, from the then-standard $300 to $260-$280. The Nook followed suit, and by March 2010, most eReader prices hovered around the $250 mark. April saw the launch of the iPad, which had for so long captivated the minds of tech enthusiasts, as well as eReader junkies. The iPad proved to be a very different product, though, far more multi-purpose than the single-track eInk eReaders many found to be so useful. And far more expensive, at around $500. Still, following the release of the iPad, eReaders went through another few sets of changes - a few more eReaders on the market, significant price cuts, and a couple months ago prices stood at around $150-$200 for standard eReaders (Sony's Daily Edition remained more expensive). Then the Kindle "3" came out, and now a new set of Sonys. So where do we stand?

Simple. It all depends on your needs, and while eReaders these days are significantly better (and better priced) than they were one year ago when I made my purchase, the products are still far from perfect and each of the major eReaders has its flaws.

Amazon Kindle 3 - The most popular eReader by far (thanks in part to Amazon's ubiquity as an online bookseller, as well as aggressive marketing), the Kindle 3 is a good product alone (internet access, note-taking ability, convenience), but falls short on several counts. First is Amazon's closed format and the refusal to move to the popular, open ePub format. This places a lot of books and digital libraries out of Kindle users' reach, though they for the most part don't know it. Problematic, too, is Amazon's "sticky finger" issue - the ability to wipe books from devices, to keep track of notes made in the margins, etc. The somewhat bulkier design (and difficulty in actually taking notes) adds to a device that is very good, but technologically frustrating.

Barnes & Noble Nook - The Nook gets a lot of press but doesn't actually seem to be that common or popular. As a device, it comes off as a bit awkward - two screens: one for reading, and a touch screen for maneuvering - and also as somewhat simple. It has internet access as well, but reviews indicate that it's clumsy and somewhat slow. I don't know as much about it, but it benefits from having friendlier eBook rules - the ability to lend books, ePub, etc. The Nook costs about as much as the Kindle.

Sony Readers - Sony is still sort of out of the loop. Coming as the only major (if you can even call it that...) eReaders to offer touch screens, it falls short on other counts. The two new updates of the Touch and Pocket Editions leave out internet access (silly, in my mind, if they already have the technology...) but updates screens and maintains the incredibly comfortable note-taking abilities that make the Touch Edition very useful and convenient (hopefully reduce the slight glare as well). Sony continues to embrace ePub and the Overdrive Digital Library, leading the way in digital lending (and thus leading the way in free eBooks!), even as their digital store is awkward and disorganized. Sonys still cost more, but their prices too have dropped significantly over the past year and will likely return to market levels within the next few months.

Apple iPad - Not a real eReader. Used as one, but it still doesn't really qualify. I recent read an article (I can't find it now...) that suggested that the year long price drops in eReaders were as a result of the iPad. While I'm certain the iPad helped, I find myself again needing to point out that the devices aim to do completely different things. People haven't stopped buying eInk eReaders because they can get tablets. I think all that's been said until now proves this.

The gist - As I told my relative (and now you, dear readers), it all depends on what you need and what you want. For readers like myself who refuse to buy eBooks due to ridiculously high costs, the Sonys are still good, even if they annoyingly don't offer internet and demand a higher price (overall it pays off, by the way). Sony's point seems to be that a touch screen is the replaceable equivalent of internet, but they're wrong. The ability to access 3G or wireless internet makes eReaders convenient on a very different level. But that's not important for everyone (especially people who don't want internet access guzzling their battery life...). The Nook is also a good choice, even if in this case the inability to take notes evens out with the lack of internet in the Sonys. Then again, someone might want something simple, organized, and cheap. The standard. In which case the Kindle isn't that terrible - it's just not for me. If you don't care about closed formats, the Kindle is clearly a successful and popular product. I don't believe most Kindle owners actively dislike their Kindles. Then again, I don't believe most eReader owners actively dislike any of their eReaders. I certainly like mine.

Touch screens, open format, internet, price... Buying an eReader today means taking into account many different variables, far more than a year ago. Today would I be so quick to buy an eReader? No. But it's an interesting, growing market. And that, I think, is worth something in itself.


  1. Yes. I have a Sony ereader and I'm satisfied with it. Can't say I love it, but I'm satisfied. I wish the screen were brighter- that's my only complaint. The Nook has tempted me but not enough. I don't like using the iPad in the stores and I don't shop with Amazon. that said, I enjoy my ereader when I travel but rarely use it other times.

  2. For me, if just on principle, the whole DRM is big. I would never consider a Kindle while Amazon is going the closer format route. Not to mention their episodes of Big Brother, taking books off your reader. But no worry. They promised not to do it again...not that they can't of course.
    Like you, I am all about the free...or at least very cheap e-books. Using my android phone and netboook at the moment but I really need to get something better for reading.

  3. I love my Kindle but it is frustrating that I can't borrow ebooks from my library. There are still plenty of free books available though. I've been thinking about getting a second ereader so my husband I don't have to share. I looked at the Nook and don't much like it. I'll have to take a new look at the sony.


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