E-book readers: Better and Cheaper

Consumer Reports
Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi

You can read e-books on all kinds of devices. But if you're a serious book reader, you'll probably be happiest doing your e-reading on a dedicated e-book reading device like those we cover in this report.

The best e-book readers rival physical books for readability and usability, and their screens are more legible than print pages in bright sunlight. Their crisp type, long battery life, and midrange screen size (a 6-inch, black-and-white screen is usual) make them better for extended reading than a smart phone or laptop.

Yet the greater versatility of some other devices, notably the iPad, make them worthy of consideration if you want a multipurpose, portable device that's also a decent e-book reader with the added benefit of a color screen.

Here's the latest news about e-book readers and advice on how to choose one:

Prices are Lower than Ever

A price war has cut the cost of the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook, the best-selling e-book readers, from $260 to as low as $140 and $150, respectively.


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More Models have LCD Screens

The first e-book readers, and most current models, have black-and-white, e-ink screens. But more newer models, and tablet computers with e-book capability, such as the iPad, have color LCD screens—the screen technology that's found in most laptop computers.

In tests for this report, readers with e-ink screens continued to yield the most readable type and the longest battery life, but those attributes varied by brand. E-ink doesn't yet offer color capability, though it's promised for 2011, as are some other low-energy, color-screen technologies for e-book readers.

Budget, Wi-Fi-only Models Arrive

The most convenient readers for receiving new content are those with free unlimited access to a 3G wireless data network and a Wi-Fi connection. But you can now save $50 or so by choosing versions of some readers, including the Kindle and Nook, that have only the Wi-Fi connection. Wi-Fi should suffice for everyone except bookworms who want the unlimited access to new books that's provided by full 3G access. Think twice about readers, including most models from Sony, that lack any wireless connectivity. Such models require a USB connection or use of a memory card to load new content, which is a significant inconvenience. (A new line of Sony e-book readers, all with touch, e-ink screens, already have started to hit stores.)

New Brands Mostly Fizzle

The price war and the market dominance of the iPad and Kindle have seemingly scared off a bunch of brands that promised e-book readers in 2010. The models that have launched are mostly underwhelming, including the Augen, which is one of the lowest-scoring e-book readers we've tested.


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