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Nov 30, 2010
09:55 AM

E-readers: Digital Books for Your Family

Considering diving into digital reading? Metro Parent explores three popular picks for tweens and parents: Kobo, Nook and Kindle

E-readers: Digital Books for Your Family

That unmistakable smell of the ink and paper of a new book, the sound and feel of pages – all add to the joy of reading. As 21st century technology has eased into the book market, though, e-readers have lured ardent readers and tech-savvy kids alike – or at least piqued their curiosity.

Is your family thinking of asking Santa for one of these devises this holiday gift-buying season? Today, there are more choices than ever – with new generations coming out all the time. As a bonus feature to our 2010 print Holiday "It" List, Metro Parent tested the wi-fi versions of three of them: Kobo, Nook and Kindle.

Most share similar features like e-ink (a form of electronic paper that imitates the quality of actual ink on paper), wi-fi, bookmarks, web browsing and access to millions of books and magazines. E-ink technology mimics the ink and paper of a traditional book. Unlike computers and laptops, which are backlit, there's no glare (even in sunlight). So, just like your favorite paperback, you'll need a book light to read in the dark. The three e-readers performed beautifully in this area. It does look like you're reading a regular book page – with the benefit of being able to change the font size!

After taking all three for a test drive, here's what we found (scroll all the way down for side-by-side comparisons).

Kobo

Hometown Ann Arbor-based Borders' e-reader is lightweight – around seven ounces – and trendy-looking with its choice of three colors, silver, lilac and onyx. The satin metal quilted back is nice to the touch. It holds 1,000 books and can be expanded to carry 10,000. Also on the plus side: Kobo comes preloaded with 100 classic books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – and it allows you to read books from the library.

The Kobo is a nice unit, but there are a few shortcomings. It has only one main navigation button and it is located on the lower-right corner – so the user can only use her right hand to move through books and make selections (where similar devices allow for right- and left-hand navigation). It also has four small side buttons dedicated to "home," "menu," "shop" and "back."

I found the page-turn slower than its competitors. It allows for searching and bookmarking, but the virtual keyboard must be worked using that one navigation button – which makes for slow going.

The wi-fi version of Kobo is available through Borders for $139.

Grade: B

Nook

A Barnes and Nobles exclusive, Nook weighs in at around 11 ounces –slightly heavier than its counterparts. It has a color touch screen to help with navigation. Nook allows you to lend your books to friends who have the Nook (or the app on another device) for up to 14 days (you won't have access while your book is on loan). It holds 1,500 books, which can be expanded with a memory card. If you get tired of reading, there are two preloaded, brain-exercising games: chess and Sudoku.

The Nook was fairly easy to use and responded quickly most of the time. I had trouble with the touch screen keyboard. I don't have huge fingers, but many times the device would misread the letter and chose to display the letter above or adjacent to the one I wanted.

I asked a friend who likes chess to try out the game. He has large hands and was a bit frustrated with how the device responded. However, I asked another friend who uses a smartphone to try it, and she had no problems. Also, at one point the device seemed confused: It displayed the wrong book cover and would not allow me to open the book I chose.

The wi-fi version of Nook is available through Barnes & Noble for $149.

Grade: A-

Kindle

Amazon.com's well-known Kindle has been on the market since 2007. It's just as easy – if not easier – to use with left/right navigation buttons and an external traditional QWERTY keyboard. Navigation is fast and seamless. The voice-to-speech is a plus, although the voice sounds flat and robotic. The Kindle is pencil-thin and light at 8.5 ounces.

The drawbacks are that it does not offer color or an expandable memory. In addition, the voice-to-speech tends to talk too fast. This feature will sometimes run sentences together, because it doesn't always stop for the punctuation.

The wi-fi version of Kindle is available through Amazon.com for $139.

Grade: A

These e-readers come with built-in user guides, but start-up is easy to figure out for all three. Each downloads books quickly (about one minute). Another benefit that I love is that these devices allow you to preview a few chapters before you purchase your book. I would recommend e-readers for all bookworms age 10 and up!

Kobo, Nook & Kindle at a Glance

Features* Kobo Nook  Kindle
Price $139 $149 $139
Battery life 10 days 10 days Up to one month
Capacity as sold 1,000 1,500 3,500
Wi-fi Yes Yes Yes
Free apps for other devices (i.e., PCs) Yes Yes Yes
3G availability No Yes ($50 more) Yes ($50 more)
Expandable memory Yes Yes No
Color screen No Yes (touch screen) No
Text-to-speech No No Yes
Multiple font sizes Yes Yes Yes
Free books Yes Yes Yes
Grade B A- A

* Information collected from manufacturers' websites.

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