With Barnes and Noble’s Nook E-reader still a US-exclusive, the e-ink Kindle Touch and Kobo Touch now can go head-to-head directly in Canada, thanks to Amazon recently opening up the floodgates to international shipping of their touch model. But with the Kindle reader costing $150 (shipped), currently $30 more than its Toronto-based Kobo counterpart, is the extra cost worth it? Or should you wait for the new Nook, set to be released this Spring, to make a trip across the border?
Ever since I owned a 1st gen Kobo reader that was painfully slow, and Nook Color, which needed to be charged daily and too heavy for extended reading, I’ve always been interested when new models hit the market. Now that 4th-gen e-readers are upon us, the feature lists are impressive: High-contrast screens, quick page turns (with fewer page refreshes), and touch functionality that can be easily used to navigate, buy books, or find words in the dictionary.
In the Verge’s review of the Kindle Touch, they “would get the Kindle in a heartbeat” due to the strong Amazon e-book ecosystem; but despite contrast improvements, the display is starting to look and feel dated, at least compared to the high-res phone and tablet screens of late. By contrast, the Nook Simple Touch was more responsive and comfortable to hold, with more intuitive software (the Nook has Android 2.1 under the hood vs. the Kindle Touch’s proprietary Linux OS). Meanwhile, Engadget’s Kobo Touch review found that reader was slightly less polished vs Kindle or the Nook, with slower page turns and “stripped down to only the most necessary functionality”, excluding extras such as social functions.
Marco Arment, who conveniently compares all 3 big players (Kobo vs Kindle vs Nook) notes that “this generation of e-readers are surprisingly similar”. And from a technological standpoint, he is right on the mark. The same resolution E-ink screen is used on all devices, using the same IR touch-screen sensor; everything from the size and weight is similar (all range from 185 to 211 grams). The visible differences are small, such as responsiveness, font choice, and onscreen typing. So it really boils down to content selection and relatively small price differences.
In my opinion, it’s a shame that Barnes and Noble does not offer the Nook to Canadians. Dollar for dollar, their $100 ad-free e-reader is the best of the bunch. Having faster page turns (a key feature in my opinion) as well as more hardware buttons (it has 2 additional hard buttons to each side of the screen), makes the device stand out, if only slightly. It’s also the only e-ink model (of the big 3) that uses Android, which should give it more flexibility down the road. However when you get down to the brass tacks, Kindle and Kobo give nearly identical reading experiences, and Canadians are guaranteed to have full access to the content library and support for them – no small fact to overlook. So unless you want grandma asking where to bring her Nook in for troubleshooting or warranty, the Kindle and Kobo readers remain the best choice for non-technophiles north of the border.
Does the future look bright for e-ink readers?
What will the future of E-readers look like? Will the new Nook this Spring leave all its competitors playing catch-up again? Because the whole reading in sunlight bit is starting to get old. In fact, I would much rather have a front-lit device for reading indoors, without resorting to a clumsy clip-on light – Mirasol’s color e-paper technology at CES 2012 looks promising, although the $310 price doesn’t. FLEx Lighting LED light flim could very well be the next big thing for E-readers, and cause an upgrade frenzy in the process. In any case, companies should focus on widening the advantages over physical books while reducing disadvantages to tablet computers. Add a lit screen while retaining sunlight-readability, keep it light weight with extra long battery life, and keep improving response rate while keeping costs low. Because as long as LCD tablets are getting lighter, cheaper and with longer battery life, e-ink technology will need to keep evolving or face being pushed into a niche market, or worse, redundancy.
What do you think of the current crop of readers, and do you think that e-ink devices will remain the go-to device for book lovers, or will the iPad and iBooks 2 take over? What features would you most like to see on future E-readers?