Is the ebook reader dead?

Tablets might be taking over, but the savvy traveller should still be packing one of these 10 e-book readers

With tablets and illumination joining the E Ink crowd, putting 1,000 eBooks in your hand has never been so confusing, while the popularity of tablets has led some to predict the demise of the ebook reader. TravGear flicks through the options.

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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, 6”, £109-£169

Pros: The obvious advantage of the Paperwhite is its LED lights, a no-brainer of an idea for an eBook reader that banishes the need to use a bedside lamp or, worse, a clip-on light. Providing a smooth, even illumination to a super-sharp 212 pixels per inch display, the Paperwhite’s 6” E Ink screen is comfortable to read and easy to use. New feature Time To Read monitors your reading speed and works out when you’ll finish the current chapter. The 213g Paperwhite holds about 1,000 books on its 2GB innards and comes with either Wi-Fi (£109) or 3G (£169) connectivity.

Cons: Is this E Ink’s last hurrah? That lighting system, though simple, adds around £50 to the final price tag, which is pretty steep for a few LEDs. Being locked into Amazon’s online store is some people’s idea of hell (especially with no support for the otherwise global EPUB format), while the vanishing headphones slot will annoy fans of audio books.

Kobo Arc, 7”, £159.99-£229.99

Pros: This colour touchscreen tablet’s Android-based Tapestries OS supports almost all apps from Google Play. The Arc learns your online and offline reading habits (if you want it to) to fuel a Discoveries service – a kind of web concierge service that also lets pages and content be ‘pinned’ from disparate sources. Highly customisable fonts and spacing is welcome for pure reading comfort – as is a night mode – though it’s the transitions between pages while swiping through apps that is typical of Kobo’s attention to detail. eBooks can be purchased from anywhere, and even lent from UK public libraries.
The Kobo Arc is available in 8GB (£159.99), 16GB (£189.99) and 32GB (£229.99) versions – the latter of which is unusually generous for an eBook reader. Specs include a 1280×800 resolution, WiFi, a 10-hour battery life, speakers, a front-facing camera and a microphone.

Cons: At 364g it’s twice the weight of Kobo’s E Ink devices, and more than twice the price, though arguably it does a lot, lot more. Best compared to other 7” tablets.

Nook HD+, 9.5”, £199-£269

Pros: Is this the best value big tablet around? Capable of around nine hours of video or reading, this 9.5” tablet is Barnes & Noble’s flagship eBook reader-cum-tablet. Available in generous 16GB (£229) and 32GB (£269) versions, the Nook HD+ nevertheless retains a microSD card slot for ading a further 32GB – and all powered by a 1.5GHz dual core processor.
Perfect for browsing digital magazines as well as books, parental controls are extensive and multiple accounts possible; a good choice for a family to share, perhaps. There’s also some innovative scrapbooking options as well as general video/music/surfing options, too.

Cons: At 515g this is one chunky eBook reader compared to E Ink devices, while apps are only supplied from within the central user interface; there’s no unrestricted access to Google Play apps.

Sony Reader PRS-T2, 6”, £119

Pros: Available in red, black or white, the Reader PRS-T2 is all that remains of Sony’s once plentiful range of eBook readers. Equipped with WiFi and able to indulge in some simple surfing, the PRS-T2 can hook-up with Facebook – useful for the odd pretentious post of your favourite quote – while text can be read from the web, too. Shipping with a stylus and quick to respond to touch, the Reader PRS-T2 comes across as a solid academic device.
One of the best reasons to buy is its super-light weight of 164g, while its 2GB storage and two month battery is par for the course on a low-powered E Ink device such as this.

Cons: Is the Sony Reader a tad old-school? A basic E Ink screen with a resolution of just 800×600 and no illumination or unusual sizing – as well as a limited online bookstore – makes its price tag hard to fathom.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD, 7”, £159-£199

Pros: This 7-inch device – available in either 16GB (£159) or 32GB (£199) versions – isn’t just for reading. Able to surf the web, play films and music, and host apps, this is the alpha male of the new breed of eBook readers. Fitted with speakers and a 1280×800 resolution that’s enough to display 720p HD video, the Kindle Fire HD takes an Android OS and limits it to buying Kindle books, the Amazon Cloud Player (all book purchases are stored in the cloud, too) and LoveFilm, though there’s also support for Gmail, Facebook, Skype and Twitter. There’s also a front-facing camera, Bluetooth, a headphones slot and a HDMI output. The main advantages of this model over the non-HD version – AKA the Kindle Fire – are a 10-point multi-touch screen and a slightly bigger battery.

Cons: Expensive, and a relatively heavyweight device at 395g (almost twice that of a ‘normal’ Kindle), moving to the Kindle Fire HD also means sacrificing a lot of battery life; whereas the E Ink devices managed up to eight weeks, this tablet-style eBook reader boasts just 11 hours. The bezel is also rather wide.

Kobo Glo, 6”, £99.99

Pros: A top spec adorns this, Kobo’s flagship non-tablet eBook reader. Using a 6” E Ink touchscreen, a 1GHz processor, WiFi and 2GB storage, the headline act is nevertheless Kobo’s debut attempt at integrated illumination. Called a ComfortLight, this simple system sees the display funnel light from an invisible array of LED lights across the screen – and the effect is super-smooth. Customisable in terms of intensity, the 185g Glo’s interface is a breeze to use, while fonts, spacing, contrast and sharpness can all be tweaked to perfection. Kobo’s open platform, which supports the likes of EPUB, PDF, JPEG and TXT file formats, will appeal to man – and the Kobo smartphone app isn’t bad, either.

Cons: There is a basic web browser on board, though if you’ve a smartphone you’ll not use it more than once.

Nook SimpleTouch, 6”, £79

Pros: It was never going to be long before the best-selling eBook reader in the US made it to these shores, but this most basic of versions doesn’t pack many surprises. Barnes & Noble’s most simple device, this 6” E Ink-based eBook reader boasts an unfussy matte finish to the bezel around a touchscreen holding a 800×600 pixel resolution. Capable of around 30 hours on a single charge, the SimpleTouch uses WiFi to connect to the well stocked Barnes & Noble bookstore (2.5 million titles and counting, as well as magazines and newspapers), but can also display EPUB and PDF files side-loaded from a PC or Mac.

Cons: While the Nook SimpleTouch ought to rival the entry-level Kindle, we’re not sure buyers at this end of the market care too much about the odd tenner. The E Ink screen is a relatively low resolution, while the user interface is best described as functional, and demands a computer for non-brand eBooks.

Kobo Mini, 5”, £59.99

Pros: Its monochrome E Ink screen might measure a mere inch less than the bigger players, but the little thing make a huge difference; the Mini is substantially smaller than any other eBook reader around. Fitting snugly into a shirt pocket or, dare we say it, the back pocket of a pair of jeans, the Kobo Mini is designed to be held in one hand. Weighing just 134g, this easy to use touchscreen is designed for the commute, and is at its best used on crowded buses and trains. It’s reasonably tough, too.

Cons: Armed with only a 800MHz processor, the Mini is underpowered – and is it too small? Perhaps; there’s also an argument that says smartphone apps – such as those from Kobo itself, as well as Amazon – that sync to your main eBook reader are perfectly good for emergency reading. It’s cute and unique, but do we really need the Kobo Mini?

Nook SimpleTouch GlowLight, 6”, £109

Pros: Providing the latest in illumination was presumably how ‘new over here’ Barnes & Noble intended to light-up the UK market, but this 6” E Ink device remains a rather rudimentary affair. The GlowLight’s execution is a little different to competitors – LED lights shine from the top of the screen, but the intensity can be easily tweaked. WiFi allows both the downloading of books from the Barnes & Noble store and adds some social media functionality, while reading is comfortable, with various font changes possible. It’s armed with 2GB storage alongside a microSD card slot. Unpretentious and concentrating on core features only, the Nook SimpleTouch GlowLight’s illumination is nevertheless an upgrade to its non-illuminated sister device.

Cons: Paying an additional £30 or so for the built-in light seems steep, particularly as it’s such a simple execution. The SimpleTouch’s otherwise rather drab design won’t help it overcome its main problem of poor brand awareness in the UK.

Amazon Kindle Fire, 7”, £129

Pros: Selling as a 7-inch model and with WiFi connectivity only, this is the basic – and highly affordable – version of Amazon’s Kindle Fire concept. This 400g device makes an ideal introductory tablet and could find a niche in academia since the core features of the flagship devices are all here.

Cons: With a 1024×600 resolution this tablet can’t display high definition video, which puts it a rung below the Kindle Fire HD, while its 8GB storage will be limiting to users wanting to carry around video content. The touchscreen isn’t as reactive, there’s no camera, and the battery life is a few hours shorter. While some eBook readers allow library loans (notably the Kobo), Amazon’s Kindles permit something called Kindle Owners’ Lending Library; a relatively small list of titles are up for loan, but only to those with Amazon Prime membership. Some will find the Amazon GUI very limiting.

Amazon Kindle, 6”, £69

Pros: The original – and some say still the best – Kindle now has a bargain price. Measuring 6 inches and weighing just 170g, this WiFi-only device takes advantage of perhaps the best eBook feature in the business – the chance to email from a PC personal PDF or .doc files or unprotected MOBI eBook files downloaded from the web to a personalised @kindle.com email address; watch them magically appear on the device whenever WiFi is encountered. This feature still hasn’t been matched by other ebook reader manufacturers, and a good job too; making the Kindle a wire-free, as well as computer-free, experience, makes up for its technical limitations.

Cons: The 2GB capacity and low resolution E Ink screen will trouble some, though more irritating are the Kindle’s restrictive file formats for books, a missing headphones slot – and especially this model’s lack of a touchscreen.

Nook HD, 7.7”, £159-£199

Pros: Born in the USA to the world’s biggest book publisher, Barnes & Noble, the Nook HD provides direct competition to Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD – and has families firmly in its sights. A tad larger than its rival at 7.7”, what immediately stands out is the clarity of the Nook HD’s touchscreen, which measures an unbeatable 1440×900 pixels.
Yet another WiFi and Bluetooth-fueled, tablet-style eBook reader based on the Android platform, the Nook HD offers a nicely personal experience that can be easily shared around in a household, with individual sign-ins producing completely personal bookshelves. Primed for magazines and comics, the grey or white Nook HD also features a headphones slot, speakers and even a microSD slot for upgrading from its two off-the-shelf storage choices – 8GB (£159) and 16GB (£199).
Cons: At 315g it’s heavier than other small tablets, partly because of its raised, and generally quite chunky bezel. You won’t find any cameras or microphones on the Nook HD – and app support is limited.

Amazon Kindle Keyboard 3G, 6”, £149

Pros: The only widely available eBook reader left with a hard-button keyboard, this ageing device from Amazon is nevertheless capable of delivering what a lot of readers want; simple, basic eBooks from a reliable retailer. There’s nothing flash about the user interface or the exterior on this soft touch graphite-finished, highly portable 274g device, but it gets the job done, and 4GB is more than enough for book storage. Two advantages this iteration of the Kindle has over newer variants include its full keyboard and ‘experimental’ MP3 player. Another reason to invest in Kindle devices in general is Amazon’s excellent Kindle apps for smartphones; titles are synced across devices for emergency reading when you’ve left your Kindle at home.

Cons: No good with the lights switched-off, and without a touchscreen user interface, the Kindle Keyboard 3G is now a couple of years old – and it shows. The main problem is the 800×600 pixel resolution E Ink display, which is soft compared to more recent attempts.

This article is based on one that appeared on MSN Tech UK’s website. Copyright Jamie Carter 2014.