As of late summer 2010, the ebook device “war” has more or less come down to four choices–Kindle, nook, Kobo and Sony Reader–and the company behind each has worked hard to differentiate its product.
Nook split into two versions so it could offer a cheaper Wi-Fi only model. Kindle quickly followed suit. As for Kobo, this week’s rumor is that it will release a $99 device by Christmas, but the rumor is literally just party gossip for now. And Sony just announced updated Readers with better touch-screen technology.
There are more expensive options if you want to go for a multi-purpose device (iPad, Dell Streak, perhaps upcoming Android tablets), but if you’re trying to spend as little as possible to acquire a high quality single-function ereader device that’s linked to a big ebook store, those four are the serious contenders.
So which one is the best?
Over at The Reading Edge, Len Edgerly decided to compare the same book across all four devices to see how they stacked up. If you’re planning on buying an ereader this fall, you’ll find the video immensely useful as a source of hands-on demonstrations, which is something that’s more or less impossible in real world shopping scenarios.
The video (embedded below) is nearly half an hour long, so I’ve also summarized the key points.
Here’s the summary.
Round 1: Sony Reader vs. Kobo
Kobo has better screen size, and feels better in the hand. Sony Reader feels more computerish but accesses books faster. Winner: Kobo.
Round 2: Kobo vs. nook vs. Kindle
“If all you want to do is read a book, the Kobo works great.” If you like to highlight, take notes, or look up words, the Kobo is not good. Winners: nook and Kindle.
Round 3: nook vs. Kindle
Screens are too similar to call. Nook’s touchscreen interface is fancier than Kindle’s plastic keyboard, but it can require multiple presses before registering a tap, and doesn’t always provide a smooth user experience. Kindle is lighter than either nook model, and the upcoming Kindle 3 is even lighter.
Edgerly then compared the two devices across 5 different tasks:
1. Looking up a word:
Nook requires navigating to a “look up word” menu; Kindle displays mini-definitions as soon as you move the cursor. Kindle’s 5-way controller moves the cursor more quickly than nook’s virtual d-pad. Kindle’s dictionary has ~20k more words.
2. Highlighting a passage:
Nook requires navigating to the virtual d-pad again. Kindle’s 5-way controller provides faster access to highlighting. Kindle also offers multi-page highlighting, but nook doesn’t. Kindle syncs your highlights and notes to kindle.amazon.com for online access.
3. Looking up a name in the book:
Nook lets you jump back and forth to the next instance of a match in the text, but it does not return a full list of all instances of a search term so that you can jump to a specific location. You also have to navigate through the touch screen to activate the search functionality.
Kindle search is arguably faster: highlight a word with the 5-way controller and then hit the space bar, which will pull up the search field.
4. Looking up a term on Wikipedia:
Nook displays browser results on the color LCD panel, then displays pages on the E-ink screen above. Browser crashed during video demo, hmm. Kindle uses the same search UI as above (highlight term, then hit space bar).
Edgerly says Kindle wins this task too, although I slightly disagree based on the fact that the Kindle’s 3G connectivity is spotty and sluggish at times (in my experience), and the current built-in browser is very primitive. However, I expect this to be much better with the Kindle 3 because of the newer browser and the Wi-Fi option.
5. Text to Speech:
Nook doesn’t have it, Kindle does. In my opinion, this is a weak feature at best, but if it’s crucial to your needs then the choice is pretty clear.
So there you have it–at least as far as Edgerly is concerned, the Kindle bests nook in several usability categories, and both the Kindle and nook are better choices than Kobo or the Sony Reader. Interestingly, a couple of months ago Consumer Reports also gave the edge to Kindle in their ereader comparison.
“TRE 30 The Wolf Hall Tournament of E-Readers” [The Reading Edge Podcast]