Which E-Reader is a Perfect Match for You?

Once upon a time, reading was one of the most basic of hobbies. The process was easy: head to a store or library, choose a book, magazine, or newspaper, and read. But as with all things, time and technology has made the process both more simple and more complex.

E-readers make obtaining books faster than a walk to your personal bookshelf and can hold a library’s worth of reading material in a device that weighs less than a pound. But selecting the device that suits your needs (and your price point) can be daunting.

Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) offer the largest selection of readers, along with a wide array of book and entertainment selections. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) doesn’t have one of your run-of-the mill e-readers, but if CEO Tim Cook is to be believed, people prefer to use their iPads for reading anyway. While those three companies are the industry leaders, companies from Samsung to Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) to Motorola (NYSE:MMI) all have their own offerings.

If you don’t already have an e-reader, or are in the market for a new one, here’s some basic information to help you make the right choice:

iPad: Let’s get this technological juggernaut out of the way first. The primary purpose of the iPad is not to function as an e-reader, but with apps for all of the major book resources including Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Apple’s own iBooks, it certainly fits the bill. It’s almost unfair to compare it with basic e-readers — Apple certainly doesn’t compete on price, but for that reason, outshines all of its competitors in every other way.

With the introduction of the newest model, the iPad 2 will now start at $399, helping Apple compete a bit more on price, but not really. The latest version with 4G technology could run you as much as $829. An iPad weighs between 1.33 pounds and 1.44 pounds and has 9.7-inch LED screen. Both the old and new iPads have a battery life of about 10 hours, and the new iPad comes with iCloud technology, which allows users to sync their media libraries on several Apple devices.

Magazines and newspapers look better in color, giving the iPad’s high resolution screens — and the new iPad’s Retina display — a serious advantage over E-ink readers. The main complaint about the iPad as an e-reader is the glare issue, which makes it difficult to read in bright sunlight. E-ink was invented to avoid just that problem. Additionally, some have said that the ability to complete so many tasks on the device makes distraction more likely, and iPad readers don’t necessarily get a lot of reading done, unless reading e-mail counts.

The bottom line is that the iPad is more than an e-reader. It’s a tablet. It’s a device aimed at streamlining several segments of your life, and if you’re interest in a catch-all tablet and can afford a $400-plus price tag, you’ll likely be very happy with an iPad.

Best bargain e-reader:  If price is your main sticking point, you can own the original Kindle for the bargain price of $79. If you don’t mind foregoing touch-technology and other fancy upgrades, it’s a fair enough choice. It’s the e-reader in it’s most basic form, with access to Amazon’s selection of over 1 million books. But just remember, for $20 more you can get your hands on the slightly more advanced Nook Touch from Barnes & Noble or the Kindle Touch. Both still use E-ink and are extremely lightweight, but are a bit more user-friendly.

Kindle Touch vs. Nook Simple Touch: Priced at $99, with 7″ touchscreens, and weighing in at around 7.5 ounces, these two E-ink readers offer very similar experiences. Both have built-in WiFi and a battery life of 2 months. The Kindle holds over 3,000 books while the Nook holds about 1,000, but either capacity surely exceeds what any person could reasonably read on vacation. Kindle users who agree to receive “special offers” get a discount on the price of their e-readers. Those who want a Kindle Touch without the ads should expect to pay an additional $40.

Nook readers don’t have to deal with ads, and have free AT&T Wi-Fi access at Barnes & Noble and AT&T stores. Barnes & Noble stores also allow Nook owners to read books they haven’t purchased on their reader while in the store, in a nod to the traditional Barnes & Noble experience.

The real decision comes down to whether or not you prefer the Barnes & Noble library of books or Amazon’s offerings, as users can only use one or the other. Nook users will have to be content with what B&N has to offer, because many books are exclusive to Amazon. Of course, in those cases, one could always just purchase an actual book.

Amazon Prime customers would do well to go ahead and get the Kindle Touch. The Kindle Owners Lending Library allows Prime members (membership costs $79 a year and includes free two-day shipping on many items) to borrow up to one book per month from a selection of over 100,000 titles for free with no due date. The Kindle Touch also provides greater access to classic, out-of-copyright books and has a Read-To-Me feature that does exactly what you’d think (for English-language content).

Tablet Readers: For those who aren’t quite ready for the price commitment of the iPad but need a bit more than the basic E-ink reader, enter the color tablet. Samsung has its Galaxy tablets, Barnes & Noble has the Nook Tablet, and Amazon has the Kindle Fire, none of which comes close to Apple (in price or power) but all of which will allow you to browse the Internet, stream video, check e-mail, and whatever else you can think to do.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is comparable to the Nook and Kindle tablets in many ways. It’s biggest failing is the price, at $349 for the WiFi-only version. For $50 more, one could just buy an iPad 2. A more wallet-friendly 8GB version of the Galaxy Tab is on sale for $199, but only with a Verizon (NYSE:VZ) data plan.

Both the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire retail for $199. With 7-inch displays, color touchscreens, built in WiFi, and weights in the 14-ounce range, the two tablets are more than comparable, and perfect for the reader who wants more entertainment options but doesn’t want to shell out the money for an iPad. As far as battery life goes, the Nook clocks in at 11 hours and the Kindle at 8 hours. Each allows users to download a variety of TV shows, music, movies, and games from their respective libraries.

With both the Kindle and the Nook running on Android technology and offering similar capacities in terms of music and video features, the decision between the Kindle and Nook tablets largely comes down to small considerations. Many customers say that the Nook contains less glare and provides a slightly crisper view for books and magazines, while the Kindle occasionally jumbles up tight magazine text. If your primary objective is reading, the Nook Tablet may be your best bet in this category, but with the same price point and similar features, you really can’t go wrong with either.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gillian White at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com