If you're in the market for an e-book reader, the past couple of weeks have considerably changed your options, and for the better. Barnes & Noble's and Amazon's new products and price drops have made their e-book reader hardware considerably more affordable, and you now have excellent options available in the $149 to $199 price range. Also, a flood of new reading-centric apps continues to solidify the Apple iPad's position as the premium media tablet of choice (Dell XPS M1210 Battery) .
With these new variables, now is a perfect time to re-evaluate the e-book reader landscape and figure out which product is best for you. If you're an experienced shopper, you can jump straight to our list of top e-book readers; however, everyone else can consult this quick guide, which boils the purchase decision down to five questions (Dell Latitude X200 Battery) :
1.How much are you willing to spend?
You ask this same straightforward question yourself with every purchase decision. At the bottom of the price scale, you'll find lesser-known readers such as the Aluratek Libre and Kobo eReader that now cost as little as $119 to $129 (the latter price is if you factor in a $20 gift card from Borders). However, we strongly steer bargain hunters toward the Barnes & Noble Nook. The company's new Wi-Fi-only version of its Nook reader has an ultra-affordable $149 price tag (Dell Latitude XT2 Tablet PC Battery) .
If you want to step up to an e-book reader with 3G wireless that lets you download books and magazines anywhere there's AT&T cellular coverage, we recommend that you consider the Amazon Kindle or 3G Nook, which cost $189 and $199, respectively (Dell Precision M70 Battery) .
Amazon's large-screen Kindle DX and the Apple iPad dominate the high-end e-book reader market. The Kindle DX costs $379, while the iPad ranges in price from $499 (16GB, Wi-Fi only) to $829 (64GB, Wi-Fi plus 3G). Yes, both of these devices are considerably more expensive than the aforementioned readers, but the iPad is more of a Netbook or laptop competitor than it is an e-book reader competitor (Dell XPS M1330 Battery) .
The iPad offers a variety of step-up features--such as a color touch screen, full-motion video, and thousands of apps--that aren't available on more affordable e-book models (Dell TT485 Battery) .
We know there are a variety of competing e-book readers available that we didn't mention, including the trio of Sony Reader models, Entourage Edge, and the Alex eReader. That's because we don't consider any of them truly competitive with the Nook, Kindle, or iPad at their current prices (Dell XT832 Battery) .
2.How large of a screen (and weight) do you want?
Even if you plan to never leave home with your e-book reader, you should consider its size before buying one. Since you hold the device in front of you whenever you want to read, the weight and size can be an issue. The smallest and lightest e-book reader we've seen is the Sony Reader Pocket Edition, which has a 5-inch screen and weighs just 7.7 ounces. The Kindle and Nook models each have 6-inch screens and weigh 10.2 and 11.2 ounces, respectively, without their cases (Dell Studio 1737 battery ) .
If you want a truly large (9.7-inch) screen, you'll want to buy the Kindle DX or Apple iPad. However, at 1.2 pounds and 1.5 pounds, respectively, some people find these devices to be too heavy to hold for long reading sessions (Dell RM791 battery) .
Remember, all e-book readers let you adjust the font size of the content you're reading, so even a small screen can display much larger type than you're used to seeing in a book, magazine, or newspaper. In other words, a smaller screen does not mean you need to sacrifice readability (Dell Latitude E6400 battery) .
3. What's your screen preference: e-ink or backlit LCD?
Dedicated e-book readers such as Nook and Kindle use an e-ink screen. However, e-ink screens have some drawbacks: They're black and white and the pages don't refresh as quickly as an LCD does. However, they do an excellent job of reproducing the look of the printed paper. With few exceptions, they're not backlit--so you can't read in the dark--but you can read them in direct sunlight, which is something you can't do on an LCD screen (Dell inspiron 1501 battery) .
In contrast, the iPad's LCD screen is a bright, colorful, beautiful display. It's also a full touch screen--the Nook has a small LCD touch screen that's used for navigation, but the larger e-ink display doesn't respond to finger swipes. But those advantages have trade-offs. The iPad's reflective screen makes it hard to read in bright light, and many people find the backlight tires their eyes over long reading sessions (Dell Vostro 1000 battery) .
So, which screen is better for reading: e-ink or LCD? We can't answer that question for you. 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--you'll probably like the iPad's screen. However, if you prefer the look of newsprint or if you enjoy reading outside, an e-ink display is your friend (Dell Vostro 1710 Battery) .
We'd strongly recommend that you try a few devices before you buy one: iPads are on display at all Apple Stores and most Best Buys. Nooks can be found at Barnes & Noble bookstores and Best Buy. Kindles are available at Target. (Note that the Kindle and Nook displays are effectively identical, so either one will do for screen comparison, even if you intend to buy the other device. (Dell Studio XPS 1340 Battery)