Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kindle, Nook, and the iPad: What Everyone Should Know about eReaders and eBooks

This program was presented by Paul Gallagher, Developer Librarian for the Wayne State University Library System. The video is available online at

The speaker discussed the history of eBooks and eReaders (which started with Project Gutenberg), various technologies like e-ink, digital rights management, and went through the pros and cons of a few specific eReader devices.

In a nutshell, here are the positives about eBooks and eReaders:
1. Storage is good on these devices. They hold a lot of books.
2. Hardware is improving: text resizing, accessibility options, faster/easier to use.
3. They are "green devices"
4. Content is less expensive than print.

The negatives:
1. Batteries are not great, and some can't be removed or replaced easily.
2. Annotations are more difficult to create compared to paper. You can write in the margin of a book more easily. However, books and annotations are searchable in some e-reader models.
3. "Format wars." There are lots of formats that ebooks can be put into. Some readers play only one format, or limited formats, or only a proprietary format that can be purchased from only one place (ie. Amazon Kindle).
4. Accessibility is improving with the addition of text to speech, but some content producers can disable text to speech for certain titles. It's hard to determine when you buy a book if the text to speech feature works.
5. E-ink displays don't have as good of contrast as compared to paper. Most only have single page displays. No color displays for major models (yet).
6. Ownership. You are not buying a book. You are buying access to that book. B&N, Amazon, etc. can remove your access at any time.

Notes about specific devices:

1. Apple iPad has good e-reader software (shows 2 pages), uses iTunes, and supports many formats. It has more functionality than the other eReaders. Negatives: no Flash support, expensive, no multitasking support, Apple DRM restrictions, not an e-ink display, 3G network has monthly fee (unlike Kindle), not a real computer, battery not removeable.

2. Amazon Kindle 2/DX: Easy to use, free 3G network, good batterly life, largest eBook library, lowest eBook prices. Negatives: books are tied to Amazon's proprietary format (no ePub support), no wireless or memory expansion slot. Kindle 3 now taking orders for pre-release: better contrast, both wifi and 3G models available, quieter buttons, streamlined design (lighter, smaller w/same reading area).

3. Borders Kobo is a lower-end device. It is less expensive and has a nice quilted back, which makes it nice to hold. More than one file format supported, including PDF and ePub. Negatives: main button is hard to push, it does not support all major file formats, pages turn slowly, it is somewhat small, and must sync with a PC (no 3G access.

4. Barnes & Noble Nook: Elegant design with a small touch screen at the bottom, good price, good library selection, uses android (Google's OS). Supports PDF and ePub, has a replaceable battery, an SD card, wifi and 3G, and a web browser was added recently. Negatives: wifi does not alert to hotspots, can't handle login pages, software is slow, touch screen sometimes seems detached from main screen.

5. Sony Reader: Three models available, including touch screen. Supports ePub, PDF, and audio formats. Supports external memory card. eBook library priced similar to Amazon. Has one of the more advanced hardware platforms. Negatives: screen glare and contrast is not great. Wireless access only available on most expensive edition. Has a sealed battery.

A few other recent articles and blog posts on this topic include:
1.Choosing a Reader for eBooks by Bobbi Newman (Librarian By Day)

2. The Magical $0.50: Why eBook Economics Don't Work in Libraries at the LibraryThing blog

3. Library eBooks can be Frustrating! by David Lee King

4. Top Tech Trends - Ebook Readers and the iPad by David Lee King


  1. In case it'd be helpful, I recently made a few videos showing the difference between the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader:

  2. Not strictly true about Amazon/Kindle lock-in. Books bought from Amazon in Kindle format may be Kindle only, but text in other formats can be downloaded to the Kindle 3 and works acceptably. There are lots of free conversion programs available to turn major text formats into MOBI format for use on Kindle. PDFs can also be read acceptable either natively or via a free Amazon conversion service.

  3. Thanks for the tip, Jerry! That's good news!