Review: E-readers under $200

Easy to read in bright sunlight

Bridget Carey / McClatchy-Tribune News Service /

Published Dec 12, 2010 at 04:00AM

E-readers are getting a lot of attention this holiday season. Prices have dropped, leaving some great choices out there for under $200. I've reviewed three top-of-the-line e-readers that use E Ink screen technology: Amazon Kindle, Barnes&Noble's Nook and Sony Reader Pocket Edition.

A number of other color-screen tablets also offer e-books, including the iPad, Galaxy Tab or the new Nook Color. But this review is for folks who simply want to read books on an easy-on-your-eyes E Ink screen.

The devices are lightweight and don't use much power because the screen isn't backlit, so the battery lasts for several days (in some cases, several weeks). Unlike a typical computer screen, these are easy to read in sunlight.

Amazon has been in the e-bookstore game longer than Sony or Barnes&Noble, so it's got a leg up in terms of the number of publications available. But the three stores are fairly comparable when it comes to number of new releases and free classics.

With the Kindle, Nook and Reader, there are no winners and losers; after testing, it's clear that each is a great buy.

It's about asking yourself which features you need and which model works best for you and your budget. Here are factors to consider:

Want wireless?

You don't have to connect the Kindle or Nook to a computer to add digital books and games. Both have easy-to-use wireless features that require a Wi-Fi connection to access the Amazon or Barnes&Noble digital store. Both also can sync the books you're reading — and the last page you were on — to other devices, such as your iPhone (Kindle and Nook apps are free).

Using your home Wi-Fi is the cheaper option. The Kindle starts at $140 for a Wi-Fi-enabled device; if you want wireless on a 3G network, the price is $190. The Kindle's unique online perks include the ability to share your favorite book excerpts on Facebook and Twitter or see what other users have marked as their favorite passages as you read.

The Nook is $10 more: $150 for the Wi-Fi version, $200 for Wi-Fi and 3G access. To browse the Web, you have to be connected to a Wi-Fi network. The Kindle lets you browse on either Wi-Fi or 3G.

Feeling touchy?

The pocket-sized Sony Reader is 5.7 inches tall with a 5-inch E Ink screen. It may be the shortest of the trio, but it has a somewhat high starting price of $180, likely because of its touchscreen. With a finger or stylus, you can navigate and flip pages — even hand-write notes on the pages or doodle on a blank note.

These pluses aside, the pocket edition has fewer bells and whistles than the Nook or Kindle. There's no way to download books wirelessly nor to play audio. (The Sony Reader Daily Edition model has both features, is larger and goes for about $300.)

The Reader isn't alone in the touch department. Below the Nook's main E Ink screen is a separate 3.5-inch color LCD touchscreen for navigating through features and typing. The navigation is fast, but the response can feel clunky when you're trying to scroll in the small space. The Kindle has no touchscreen features.

Gotta have sound?

Go with the Kindle or Nook for listening to music while reading or for downloading audio books. If you want to load several gigs of your music library and dozens of audio books, go with the Nook, which has can expand to 32 GB with an optional add-on memory card. It comes with 2 GB, compared with the Kindle's 3 GB, but the Kindle cannot expand its memory.

Color-happy?

Numerous covers ($20-$50) are available to add personality to your e-reader, but only the Sony Reader Pocket Edition actually comes in pink. (The Reader Touch is red.)

Love to share?

If you're stuck between the Kindle and Nook, know that they both operate well. But if you want to share books, you're better off with the Nook, which lets you lend files to Nook-using friends and can easily handle digital books from your local library. The Kindle can't read .epub files, the common e-book format outside of Amazon's store, but it can read Adobe .pdf files.

¿Cómo se dice?

All three e-readers let you look up a definition of a word while reading. But the Sony Reader goes bit further, with 10 built-in translation dictionaries for Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish.