Comparing the E Ink EBRs (E-Book Readers)
There have been a lot of changes recently in E Ink EBRs (E-Book Readers), and I thought doing an overview of the popular ones might be useful.
A few ground rules…
I’m only going to talk about E Ink devices. That’s a reflective screen technology…it has no lighting behind the screen. E Ink is a brand name, but that is what everybody uses.
A reflective screen tends to have a long battery life, because no energy needs to be expended to keep an image on the screen.
That cuts out backlit tablets, like the iPad or the NOOK Color. It appears that many people own both, and they aren’t really the same kind of device.
Second, I’m projecting this ahead a bit, going with the just announced NOOK Simple Touch (which has a June 10th release date), and not the NOOK Classic (wi-fi or 3G), which have now been announced as being discontinued (once they sell out)…or the Spring Design Alex, which is now discontinued.
Prices could change any time, of course, and it’s possible models will be discontinued or new ones added…even by tomorrow. Amazon has reacted to some moves by Barnes & Noble before.
Update: I started writing this on Tuesday…and the Kindle 3G with special offers has been added since then. I’ve updated the post.
I’m also only counting ones that are available to be ordered new…no refurbs and such, so even though the Kindle 2 can be found, I’m not counting it.
There are also many more than I’ve listed here, but I would consider these to be the high-profile models. If you champion something else, like the Cybook or the FLEPia, feel free to comment.
I’m going to start out with a few objective measures, then do a quick profile.
Kindle DX, Kindle wi-fi, Kindle with Special Offers, Kindle 3G, Kindle 3G wth Special Offers, NOOK Simple Touch, Sony Pocket, Sony Touch, Sony Daily, Kobo, Kobo Touch
|Kobo wireless||$ 99.99|
|Kindle with Special Offers||$ 114.00|
|Kobo Touch||$ 129.99|
|Kindle wi-fi||$ 139.00|
|NOOK Simple Touch||$ 139.00|
|Kindle with Special Offers 3G||$ 164.00|
|Sony Pocket||$ 179.99|
|Kindle 3G & wi-fi||$ 189.00|
|Sony Touch||$ 229.99|
|Sony Daily||$ 299.99|
|Kindle DX||$ 379.00|
|Kindle 3G & wi-fi||6|
|Kindle with Special Offers||6|
|Kindle with Special Offers 3G||6|
|NOOK Simple Touch||6|
|NOOK Simple Touch||6.50||5.00||0.47||7.48|
|Kindle with Special Offers||7.50||4.80||0.34||8.50|
|Kindle with Special Offers 3G||7.50||4.80||0.34||8.70|
|Kindle 3G & wi-fi||7.50||4.80||0.34||8.70|
|Kindle with Special Offers 3G||4GB||0||3500|
|Kindle with Special Offers||4GB||0||3500|
|Kindle 3G & wi-fi||4GB||0||3500|
|NOOK Simple Touch||2GB||32GB||1000|
Sony, Amazon, Barnes & Noble…and Kobo? That’s Kobo’s biggest challenge, in my opinion. They partnered with Borders, but that’s not a good PR (Public Relations) thing right now. They were a solid e-book company, but playing in the hardware world is a change. Their positioning? They are the cheap one. They have the only sub-$100 model, and for those who prefer a touchscreen, you can’t beat theirs for price. I don’t know if they’ll decide to stay in the hardware game if they can’t get good distribution, though…at least in the US.
EBRs are a small part of what they do. No question, they are a giant home entertainment company, and they have innovated in the past (Sony Walkman, anyone?). However, it doesn’t feel to me like they are trying very hard…it’s “In for a dime, in for a dime.” Their prices are relatively high to me. It helped when EBRs were strange…going with a well-known name was reassuring. Now that they seem more normal, that’s less important. No reason for them to drop the line, but I’d be surprised if they lead development on this.
Barnes & Noble
They are making a serious effort. They’ve put a lot of money into rebranding (I like their new commercial), and they are unquestionably trying to lead the field. They have the reputation as a bookstore, and the relationships they’ve built over the decades with publisher, authors, and readers. They may be about to get a big infusion of cash (when they are bought). I think the bookstores are a liability going forward, unless they innovate in some big way. They talk about them as a plus, but I see them as a burden for now. In my opinion, they have to reinvent their Customer Service. I’ve had bad experiences with them (online, never in a store), and their policies are not friendly (you can’t return e-books, and if you send your nook to the regular return address, they just keep it…even though they should know it is yours, they don’t credit you for it). If they fixed that part (and their rebranders should push that), and got more in-copyright books, they’d be a force with which to be reckoned.
Service, Selection, and Price…those Amazon’s three core principles, and they live up to them. They take the long view, but they are always innovating. They are taking a gamble in my opinion by becoming a traditional publisher, but they may be willing to risk a loss to hurt the Big Six. Customers are loyal…and for me, think that’s with good reason. The Kindle is a small part of their business, as is the case with Sony, but it’s a big part of their public image, and they seem to really care about it. If they release a tablet (or two), as seems likely, that will help their EBR sales, by extending their reach as a hardware maker. Buttons may feel a bit old-fashioned (as opposed to a touchscreen), but they are…solid. Amazon can’t fall behind, and that’s a risk with B&N’s big push. I have no doubt they’ll surprise me with innovations, but they need to set up something that allows for device-specific archives…that will give them parental controls, for one thing. B&N has been figuring out how to go after the kid market…you can’t just cede the next generation to the competitor.
If you lined up these EBRs on a table, the Kindle DX would clearly be the odd one. It’s the only really larger model, and is eighty dollars more and about twice the weight of most of them. It’s from Amazon, which I consider a plus (partially due to superior Customer Service), but it has a challenge it didn’t have when it was introduced: tablets. Tablets tend to have a larger screen like this (the iPad has the same 9.7″ size, so there is a more direct comparison. E Ink has its advantages over backlighting, though, so if you want a large E Ink device, this is it. It doesn’t have the latest software (no page numbers, for example).
This is the other one that’s a different size…it’s a five inch screen, rather that the standard six inch. You would think that might make it one of the cheapest (smaller electronics may be more expensive in some cases, but smaller screens are often cheaper…and that’s the case with E Ink, generally), but it’s on the high end nowadays. Sony has never been known as the cheap brand. Here’s a key point, though: it’s the only one on this list that doesn’t have a wireless connection. Most people find that a big advantage, and it’s part of what helped the Kindle re-invent the e-book reader market.
This one is also an inch off the six inch standard at seven inches. Again, you pay for that.
Right now, this is the cheap one. It’s the only one under $100, although I think that will change before the end of the year (with the Kindle wi-fi with special offers hitting that price, at least for some groups). Personally, I’d pay the extra $15 if you can stand advertising and get the Kindle.
They brought this out the day before the NOOK Simple Touch, but they aren’t abandoning their original Kobo for now. It’s at the low end on prices, and if people really want a touchscreen, this is the lowest price. The one doesn’t need the “clown nose” navigation hardware of the Kobo Wireless, and it looks pretty good. It has a quilted back, and comes in different color cases (as do some of the others). It’s the latest E Ink screen, and again, infrared touch like the NOOK Simple Touch (but it’s cheaper). The issue is perceiving it as having the company power behind it as the others.
NOOK Simple Touch
This one was just announced, and will soon be the only E Ink device from Barnes & Noble. No question, it looks sleek. It has an E Ink touchscreen (so does the Sony Touch and the Kobo Touch). The memory is relatively small…especially the available memory. Even though it has two gigs, it only says it holds 1000 books (and they apparently make you reserve quite a bit of the available memory for Barnes & Noble books). The Kobos are cheaper, and so are two of the Kindles. So, why would you pay more for this? Honestly, it looks next gen is part of it…”Look, Ma, no buttons!” It actually has more than one button, but that’s probably all you notice. They claimed two months of battery charge…so Amazon claimed it as well. That’s based on reading half an hour a day and no wireless. Barnes & Noble is also a brand with a storied (pun intended) reputation.
This is Sony’s six inch model. You can freehand notes with a stylus, which is a nice “touch”. However, like the other Sonys it only gets two weeks on a battery charge…Amazon and B&N are now both saying they get two months. They are $100 more than the Kobo Touch, $90 more than the NOOK Simple Touch. I don’t see what makes it worth that much more money.
The Six Inch Kindles
While this represents four models on the list, there are really two variables: with 3G (in addition to wi-fi) or not; with ads or not. 3G costs you more initially, but I like having it. We’re finding, though, that my SO (Significant Other) is okay without it so far. I probably do more sophisticated things…my SO pretty much just reads on it and plays Scrabble. The question of ads is a matter of taste…if they give you a sour taste, you won’t get it. However, the wi-fi only ad-supported Kindle is the most popular Kindle of all right now. When you agree to see the ads, Amazon lowers the initial price. That gets the wi-f only model down to $114. What do you get for $15 over the lower priced Kobo? Text-to-speech, for one thing, but there is a lot more than that.
If it was a horse race…
We’re not coming around the turn yet, but Amazon opened a big lead. Barnes & Noble is pounding the turf in second, pushing the leader. Sony is a comfortable third, but doesn’t seem to have the fire. Kobo’s a long shot with an unknown jockey, but is showing spunk.
Hope that helps…it’s just an overview, and things will change.
What do you think? Did I leave out your favorite? Should I have included backlit tablets? Was I unfair to anybody? Feel free to let me know.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.