Amid the back and forth over whether an e-reader is or is not this year's perfect gift, let me settle things once and for all: Just order a Nook and give the recipient another small present with the Nook holiday certificate attached.
Yes, the Nook e-reader is the perfect gift for your book-reading friends.
Barnes & Noble says Nooks ($259) ordered now will arrive January 11. Think of it not as a delay, but as a way to extend the joy of Christmas into 2010. Even two weeks late, you will be giving the hottest gift of 2009 that isn't a robotic toy hamster.
The certificates are B&N's way of saying "oops" for managing to miss on-time delivery. They look nice and Christmas Eve delivery is promised.
There is also the very slight chance of purchasing a Nook in one of the company's retail stores, sometime after December 7. I'd consider the changes of getting one about on a par with a nice lottery win. Order online and you can cancel if you manage to score a Nook locally.
(Not sure what a Nook is? Here is our virtual tour).
This is a far better deal than the alternative of ordering the Amazon Kindle, a prior-generation product closely tied to a proprietary book format. The Nook appears to be enough of an improvement on the Kindle to make the wait worthwhile.
I had, earlier in the season, thought about ordering a Nook for our family this Christmas. When the delay was announced, I went out and purchased an HP Windows 7 laptop (from Costco, my favorite tech vendor).
Now, I am again in Nook-lust and wondering if I can stretch the holiday budget just a bit more.
Some of the arguments in the e-reader pro-and-con pieces are pretty weak. For example, I don't think everyone who wants an e-reader already owns a Kindle. I have been quite definitely waiting for something better, which both the Nook and Sony's Daily Reader (also delayed) seem to be. The Nook has broader support than Sony, so it's my first choice.
I am not worried about the platform becoming obsolete overnight. A $259 product, the Nook seems to have a 3 or 4 year lifespan, which seems reasonable enough. I don't expect a tremendously more capable tablet computer to appear at the same or a lower price in the next 24 months.
It's certainly possible, but I don't think that today's Nook will become tomorrow's poor purchase decision. Apple, for example, will not come close to the Nook's price point with its supposed tablet. The CrunchPad is DBA (dead-before-arrival) and the other e-readers just aren't as sweet as the Nook.
There is the likelihood that Amazon will release a new Kindle in 2010 that will catch and could even surpass the Nook in terms of features, but that is always the chance a tech buyer takes. Kindle will need to do more to support open book formats before I'd make a purchase.
The only reservation I have about an e-reader purchase is my reading habits, which do not include New York Times best-selling fiction and other titles sure to make it into e-book land. I would, however, be happy to get newspapers and magazines for an e-reader and will be thrilled when my professional medical textbooks become available.