The E-Readers of Summer: An Overview

You don't have to do all of your reading on a physical book or on a PC. Here's a look at the latest e-reader models.

An Overview

E-readers make it simple to tote dozens, even hundreds, of books on the go. Of the eight e-readers we're highlighting here, all but two models employ a paper-like E Ink display for easy-on-the-eyes text that you can read in bright sunlight. Two LCD-based devices make the cut, too: the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, which does a great job of rendering text, and the nearly ubiquitious, multipurpose Apple iPad 2.

Barnes & Noble Nook Color

The Nook Color may be an LCD tablet disguised as an e-reader, but it holds appeal for its reading-optimized design. The touchscreen is highly responsive, the graphics for shopping and navigation are terrific, and reading periodicals is a treat. Annotating selections is easy-peasy, too. Plus, you get the benefit of a Web browser, email, and a small selection of apps available through Barnes & Noble for use on this Android 2.2 tablet.

Barnes & Noble Nook

This Wi-Fi only refresh of Barnes & Noble's $139 E Ink reader adds a touchscreen for friendly navigation. Just tap or swipe to change pages--no buttons required. Taking notes is as simple as highlighting a selection with your finger, and tapping an annotation on the on-screen display. It's very lightweight, and it offers speedy page turns. Shopping from the reader is convenient. An added benefit: Like the Nook Color, the new Nook can read Epub files and PDFs, too.

Amazon Kindle 3G

Yes, Wi-Fi may seem ubiquitous. But what if you want to download your next book while sitting by the duck pond? Or while you're on the bus? The $189 Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi + 3G provides a terrific E Ink Pearl display, high-quality text rendering, a light weight, and an easy-to-use keyboard. You can make notes and highlights using the five-way navigation controls, but the operation is a bit clunky. You can cut out the 3G and pay $139, or save $25 bucks over either version by picking up the Kindle with Special Offers (you sacrifice the at-rest wallpaper screen to advertisements hawking deals from Amazon and its partners). No Epub support here, though.

Amazon Kindle DX

Comparatively speaking, the Kindle DX remains expensive--$379 for a 9.7-inch E Ink e-reader, the same price as the least-expensive 10.1-inch Android tablet you can buy. But really, it remains a great choice if you plan to read a lot of material that's optimized for the large screen (say, textbooks as opposed to trade paperbacks). The DX is too heavy to hold in one hand, but it sure beats lugging around a 500-page tome.

Kobo eReader Touch Edition

The $129 Kobo Touch Edition is the most affordable of the current E Ink e-readers (at least, those that haven't given in to ads). The Touch Edition does fine for reading, if the books you seek are in the Kobo bookstore. The touchscreen works well, but text isn't quite as crisp as we'd like. The latest firmware update adds new fonts and fixes issues that we had with resizing text; plus, you can add your choice of fonts.

Apple iPad 2

Honestly, once you start discussing LCD tablets as e-readers, you have to throw the Apple iPad 2 into the mix. All of the major digital booksellers offer apps for the iPad, and many of those let you easily make annotations. Plus, for your $499 entry price for a 16GB Wi-Fi iPad, you get so much more functionality, including email, Web surfing, and apps for everything from word processing to Facebook, Twitter, and games. Just don't count on using your iPad while lounging on your deck chair: In bright sunlight, its LCD becomes a reflective surface that makes reading a chore.

iRiver Story HD

Google is everywhere. The company has made a strong push with its Google Books project, but until now it hasn't had a tie-in to a stand-alone e-reader. That changes with the $140 iRiver Story HD. The Story HD makes getting Google ebooks onto an E Ink-based reader reasonably easy. The device's design feels cheap, and its performance and interface are letdowns, but the Story HD does a great job of distinguishing itself in display quality. As its HD moniker implies, the 6-inch display sports a 768-by-1024-pixel resolution, the result of an improved electronics backplane. That higher-res backplane in turn helps the E Ink technology--which already uses dozens of microcapsules per pixel to form letters and images--look better.

Aluratek Libre Air

Lightweight (6 ounces) and compact, with a 5-inch screen, the Aluratek Libre Air stands out from other small e-readers for its unusual monochrome screen, which is based on nonbacklit LCD technology that rivals E Ink displays for high resolution and outdoor readability. Built-in Wi-Fi and integration with the Kobo online bookstore allow for wireless purchase and download of commercial ebooks, but you're free to buy from any source that supports Adobe Digital Editions and the Epub format for copy-protected books. You can also download non-copy-protected material in a slew of formats, and the Libre Air ships with 100 books preloaded--all for a modest $130.

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