E-Readers and Book Readability

The Wall Street Journal has a good article this week, debating the relative virtues of Amazon’s Kindle and the recently debuted Barnes & Noble Nook Touch in terms of readability: “Judging E-Readers By Their Book Readability.” The edge seems to go to the new Nook, thanks to a touchscreen, easier ebook-lending, and twice as long a battery life as the current Kindle. At least this will make it interesting to see what the next Kindle might look like. As WSJ notes, it’s been about ten months since Amazon released the Kindle 3, a comparative eternity in the product cycle world of e-reading gizmos, and the safe money is betting on a new Kindle sometime later on in the year. To be continued.

For those that are interested, CNET’s guide is still the gold standard “Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad: Which e-book reader should you buy?” in terms of breakdown comparisons and a number of important factors that go in the Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad question: portability; types of reading; screen preference (color/black and white; LCD, E-Ink); library-lending; hardware and software; and price.

The fundamental question still comes down to whether one is looking for a dedicated e-reading device (Nook, Kindle, Kobo, Sony, etc.), or a tablet computer (iPad, Android tablet) that can also be an e-reader.

Having spent no small amount of time playing with pretty much all of them, I’d still have to say that screen display is what matters most in terms of readability and e-reading devices. Pearl E-Ink generally is considered a more pleasant reading experience than LCD, for long-term reading and also most closely replicates that printed page reading experience, as opposed to that feel of reading on a computer screen. E-Ink means black and white, but I don’t read many things with color anyways. It’s still a matter of personal preference in the end. CNET’s take:

“So, which screen is better for reading: e-ink or LCD? We can’t answer that question for you. (See “LCD vs. e-ink: The eyestrain debate”.) If you don’t have a problem staring at your laptop or LCD monitor screen for hours on end — or if you enjoy reading in low light without an external light source — you’ll probably like an LCD screen. Likewise, if you enjoy reading Web sites, magazines, and newspapers, and if you want support for interactive children’s books, you’ll want to go with color. However, if you prefer the look of newsprint or if you enjoy reading outside, an e-ink display is your friend.”

For the ebook nerds among us who are genuinely interested in the science of ebook readability, E-Ink is really an incredibly interesting topic unto itself. You can check out their website at eink.com

For whatever it’s worth, CNET goes with the new Nook as the best e-ink reader, and the iPad 2 as the best full-featured reading tablet.

Personally, I think library loaning will become a much bigger deal than it currently is with ebooks and e-reading devices in the nearer future (although there are still issues that are being debated and worked out on how ebook-lending is going to work).

For even more information, you can check out the full-size infographic on the right (I like infographics), courtesy of bestebookreaders.com


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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