Choosing An eReader

As Catholics, we love to read and there a lot of great books that have been written on the faith as well.  eReaders and ebooks are getting a lot of attention, and if you’re finding it confusing . . . I can understand.  I read a lot of articles about ereaders in particular that are often full of incorrect information.  So I thought it would be helpful to shed some light on the topic and how to make the best choice for you.

First, ebooks themselves are actually not new.  They’ve been around for over 10 years now.  The selection was smaller, publishers typically priced them the same as hard covers, and getting the ebooks was done through downloads to your PC and then transferred to  an ereader because wifi and 3G weren’t available.  The ereaders typically had small amounts of memory and you could only store a few ebooks on them.  It just wasn’t time.  Amazon was a huge “game changer” when they introduced the Kindle a few years ago and ebooks could be shopped, purchased, and delivered right on the ereader.  This is called over-the-air delivery, or OTA for short.  While Sony produced great ereaders they were (and are in many of their versions today) still using the PC hookup method for getting the ebooks onto the ereader and have just recently began changing that.  Then Barnes and Noble introduced their Nook about 2 years ago and tablets arriving shortly after, the ebook and ereader world exploded.  Price has come down for ereaders and ebooks, publishers committed to the format, and it started becoming confusing as to what an ereader really is.


So what is an ereader?  These are devices designed specially around the best reading experience for ebooks.  Just like the iPod was designed to listen to MP3 music files, ereaders are designed to read ebooks.  The 2 best examples are the Nook (we’ll get into the Nook Color in a moment) and the Kindle.  Both have what is called an “eInk” display.  This display mimics paper and is great for viewing in bright light situations (i.e. reading outdoors).  Both allow for shopping and purchasing right on the device using OTA delivery of the ebooks.  Both also have sizable amounts of memory to store over 1,000 ebooks on the ereader, resizable text, built in dictionaries, and search functions.  Both also use their own backup system allowing you to access your ebooks easily on other devices (up to 6 on a single account) like your PC or mobile smartphone with their app.

The biggest differences between the two . . . the file format for ebooks they use.  Amazon’s Kindle uses a file format that Amazon created and they are the only ones using it.  The publishing industry (with help from Google) quickly adopted a standard file format (no format wars) called ePub.  Barnes and Noble’s Nook uses the ePub format.  This allows the Nook to grow their ebook (called Nookbooks with them and Kindle Books with Amazon) at a faster rate (over 2million with B&N and 900,000 with Amazon) and make the ereader usable outside of Barnes and Noble.  For example, many public libraries are beginning to lend ebooks, and some schools as well.  The Nook will work with these systems whereas the Kindle currently does not (Amazon just recently announced they are working to overcome this later on in the year).   Nook memory is expandable by adding a micro-SD card.  The Kindle’s memory is not expandable.

In the eInk-style arena there are other selections as well. Sony and Kobo being the most notable.  For some reason, Sony only offers OTA delivery of ebooks on it’s Daily eReader.  Kobo has OTA delivery and a great selection of ebooks.

Then there is the Nook Color by Barnes and Noble that came out this past November.  This one is a great new development that falls in between a tablet and ereader.  Like the original Nook, Barnes and Noble focused on the reading experience.  The Nook Color has a 7″ full-color touch screen.  This allows for some nice features such as a richer on-screen shopping experience, built-in social aspects like highlighting and sharing within a ebook, touching a word to lookup the definition, easier note-taking, great magazine display, etc.  This type of screen also opens the door to new types of “enhanced” ebooks where publishers are beginning to add in things like embedded video and interactivity within children’s picture books.  The recent software update adds in a new app store gaining users access to more functionality and tools (i.e. checking email, web browsing, etc.) for their Nook Color. “Pop Out! The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and the OceanHouse Media Dr. Suess apps are amongst my favorites as they truly bring the children’s books to life with embedded audio for “read to me” and animation within the book.


Tablets (i.e. iPad, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, etc.) are being mistakingly (in my opinion) “lumped in” with ereaders within the industry.  Tablets are multifunction mobile devices that give the user the ability to read ebooks on them through an app.  Basically, you could say a tablet is somewhere in between the laptop and a netbook.  For many leisure types of users, it can even replace the need for a laptop entirely.  You can have multiple ereading apps on one single tablet. So you can have B&N’s Nook app, Amazon’s Kindle App, Google’s eReader app, and Kobo’s eReader app all one one device.

But eReading is just one aspect of a tablet.  Tablets are designed to allow users to do a wide variety of things, and the capabilities are growing everyday.  They are great for personal organizing (contacts, calendars, email), reference and web surfing, communication (online chat, video conferencing, etc.), having a ton of tools with you at all times, and more.  They are more expensive than an eReader because of the range of use they are designed for.  Depending upon the level of computer user and needs you have will depend upon the type of tablet that is best suited for you.

Determining which is best for you.

So now you know the difference.  Which is best for you?  Here’s a breakdown:

  1. What are the types of things you like to read? For example, are you primarily a big fiction/inspiration/history/biography reader and like paper display?  eInk is the better way to go here.  Again, this is a paper-like display and great for reading in bright light places (i.e. beach, outdoors, trips in the car, etc.).  If you like a lot of magazines, news, and reading books; a tablet (or Nook Color) is the better way for you to go.
  2. Do you have kids? The world of ebooks and children’s picture books is one of the most exciting aspects of the digital publishing transition.  Picture books are truly coming to life through apps and some regular ebooks on tablets.  Likewise, many other children’s titles are available and eliminate the need to run around searching for a book the teacher/student just told you they need to read for school.  A tablet or Nook Color may be the better way to go here.
  3. What is your budget? eInk style ereaders and the Nook Color are both available for under $250 (eInk average $150 and Nook Color is $249).  Tablets such as the iPad and Android tablets are averaging $500 to start.  Be careful of just going for price.  Just as “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” (although we subconsciously do sometimes), price can be deceiving.  Simply going for the lowest price can put you in a position to be frustrated later with limited functionality and wanting more putting you into a position of spending more later.  For example, say you were considering some functionality of a  laptop and you want the ability to read ebooks.  If you go with the eInk reader solely on price and use the justification that there is a basic web browser built-in, you will find the web browsers on an eInk display are very limited and poor in web experience.  You’ll end up getting the laptop and ereader when you could have saved more by going the tablet route.  Likewise, do you have a router in your home?  If not and you really have no need for one (take it easy techie people who couldn’t imagine living without this today), the 3G version of the Nook eInk or Kindle (which does not have monthly fees on either) is worth the extra money compared to the lower priced WiFi only version.
  4. 3G or WiFi only? My recommendation today, WiFi-only versions are the better way to go.  First, they are less costly.  Second, 3G built into many devices (except for the Nook eInk version or Kindle) comes with monthly contracts and limited/no choice of carrier.  Many cellular carriers now offer 3G mobile Wifi hotspot boxes which make you a walking mobile WiFi hotspot.   This way, you get to choose your own carrier and plan and the WiFi-only device will connect to this.  Second, 3G versions are typically far more expensive initially than the WiFi only versions.  When it comes to speed, 3G is slower anyway compared to WiFi.

The world of ebooks and the devices to read them on is truly amazing today, but it can be a confusing one.  The Bible alone is great as an eBook because you can take note and easily search the text.  That doesn’t mean a print Bible is “obsolete”.  The Bible is a treasured Book.  I still have and read the first Bible given to me almost 30 years ago and it is my most treasured possession.   But a copy of the Bible as an eBook is great for things like study groups.  Just having access to millions of books on demand through the ebook format I find to be really exciting.   What are your questions?  Are you considering an eReader or table but having trouble deciding?

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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • Devin Rose

    I’m thinking of getting an eReader and this was quite helpful, especially about the 3G/WiFi feature. I had just assumed to get a Kindle but need to consider the Nook.

  • Craig

    Nice breakdown Brad.

    I’ve got Amazon Kindle loaded on my ipad/iphone/macbook. It’s great being able to purchase lower price ‘e-books’ and read them across all of my devices…even my bookmarks sync across all of them.

    While the ipad is a great reading device however, a Kindle or Nook with e-Ink is still a bit more enjoyable to read. For long periods of reading, it’s just easier on the eyes.

    If I do purchase an e-ink device, I’m leaning towards a wifi-kindle…but we’ll see.

  • Brad

    The features are amazing like what Craig pointed out . . . bookmarks, last page read, notes, etc. syncing across multiple devices. The benefits to that are enormous such as not worrying about backups and being able to easily pick up the book on another device if you have some time to kill. These things are available on both the Nook and Kindle.

    Now, I’d be interested to see who picks up and starts using Qualcomm’s Mirasol display which is paper-like but has color and can play video while providing battery life of an eInk display. Initial demos show the display to be “dull” so I think it’s still a few years out.

  • Susan Peterson

    I bought a Kindle a few months ago and have been loving it. I haven’t read a regular book since then!  But now I have started to find books in epub format that I would like to get, and I think I will buy a Nook as soon as it is convenient for me to go to Barnes and Noble.  

    Does the Nook have “text to speech” the way the Kindle does?   I use this while I drive to work.  I read the book in bed at night, when I eat breakfast, then I hook it to my car speakers and turn on text to speech while I drive to work.   I read on my lunch break,  then listen on my car speakers on the way home.    Before this I was always in the middle of two books,  the one I was reading,  and the one on CD’s I listened to in my car.    The text to speech is imperfect; it can’t tell “wihnd” from “wined”  or “wooond” from “wownd” -which I can see would be difficult to teach it,  and it doesn’t pause after quotation marks or even after “Chapter Two”  which I should think would not be difficult.   It reads mmmmm as “m” “m” “m” “m”.   But it is still useful for me. I will miss it if the Nook does not have it.   Still, I think it will be worth it to have both. 

    I don’t have any special attraction to the colored ones.  
    I have a Kindle cover with a built in light which works well, but which eliminates some of the “thin and light” benefit.   

    I have three Bibles and all of Shakespeare on my Kindle.   I also found most of the serious books I have been trying to read for Kindle (Rome and the Easter Churches, by Aidan Nichols OP, for instance.)  But most of my time on it so far has been reading Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series,  which I found through a set of CD’s bought for a buck at a yard sale.   

    One book I could not find for Kindle is “The Stripping of the Altars” by Eamon Duffy.  The only Duffy book for Kindle cost $116!   I wonder if they are in epub format.  That could justify the Nook purchase for me. 

    Susan Peterson