History will remember 2010 as the year ebooks finally arrived. It wasn’t just because of the iPad and the resulting ebook wars between Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more. In early November Forrester Research reported ebook sales were approaching the USD$1b mark, signifying ebooks as a legitimate player instead of a fringe hobby.
The question that remains now is whether dedicated ebook readers will survive in the era of multi-tasking tablets that do much more. The choices listed here barely scratch the surface of this explosive product category.
$629-1049 (16-64GB, Wi-Fi or 3G)
Arriving with all the flourish and media attention of invading aliens, the iPad changed the game. While the other readers were still trying to get ebooks right, it came with a million other uses from playing music to watching movies and everything in between. The iBookstore is Apple’s online ebook shop, but the other major players all have iPad apps – it’s a strange relationship for competitors, but the consumer wins through even more choice.
Rating (/5): ****
Amazon’s all-in-one ebook buying and reading device is wireless like most tablet and ereaders, but there’s no need to connect it to a PC to update. The in-built wireless connection is the same as that in your 3G mobile, only free. The cost of running and using the wireless connection to download ebooks is built into the purchase price of the device, so unlike an iPad there’s no ongoing mobile plan charges. The keyboard makes searching and rudimentary browsing easier and it uses e-ink technology, which emulates the paper reading experience better than the LCD or LED screen of a PC or tablet.
Pro: Buy ebooks from anywhere
Con: Black and white only
Rating (/5): ****
Barnes & Noble’s ereader (available from the US only at this stage) isn’t locked to a certain store or format like others such as the Kindle, so you can get ebook content from a few more sources. It also displays images and plays music, and you can subscribe to digital newspapers and magazines wirelessly. The screen is full colour, which affects the battery life, but it’s touch screen-operated like the iPad, so flicking between pages becomes a more tactile experience than just pushing a button.
Pro: Rich colour
Con: Battery life
Rating (/5): *** 1/2
Kogan Ebook Reader
Famous for going straight to the manufacturer and sending prices through the floor, Kogan have produced this own-brand ebook reader. The design of the case is a little rough and ready, but it contains the same glare-free e-ink technology as the Kindle and comes with 1,500 free ebooks pre-loaded. It’s also completely platform-independent, so the company claims it can download and display ebooks in any format from any source.
Pro: Local product
Con: Not as ‘classy’ as some
Rating (/5): ***
Looking most like the Kindle among its competitors, the Kobo Ereader offers wireless connectivity to the Kobo ebookstore, but there’s no SIM card, so you have to be in an internet wireless hotspot. You get 100 free classic books and the back of the device has a pleasant non-slip quilted finish that comes in a choice of three colours. Also based on e-ink technology, you can adjust font sizes and styles to suit your eyes to make it even easier to read.
Pro: Pleasant to hold and use
Con: No protective case available
Rating (/5): ***
With a thin-film transistor LCD screen, the full colour EB101 lets you transfer and play movies and music as well as view photos. It’s more successful as a cheap ebook reader as reviews have pointed out the washed-out colour and comparatively poor battery life, but transferring ebook files to it is easier than most (just connect it to your PC and it shows up on your desktop) and it supports a wide variety of ebook formets.
Pro: Freedom from format restrictions
Con: Not very attractive
Rating (/5): **1/2