Top 8 Things to Look for in the Best eBook Readers
#1 - Screen Size
In general eBook readers' screens come in two sizes - smaller, or "pocket sized", and larger 7, 8 and 9 inch sizes. What's the best eBook reader screen size? That depends on how you'll use it - buy the smaller size if you'll be only reading books and traveling with or carrying your eBook reader a lot. Buy the larger size if you want to read magazines, newspapers and blogs, or view larger pictures or PDF documents. For a good overview of the eBook readers on the market, check out our eReader reviews page.
#2 - eBook File Format
Currently there is somewhat of a war going on between eBook reader formats. Amazon and its Kindle, which is the most popular eReader on the market, use their own proprietary format, while others support various formats including the industry standard ePub format.
So what's this mean to you? Basically, if you buy a Kindle, you'll only be able to use your eBooks on a Kindle (and now on the iPhone). If you want to change to a different eReader in the future, it will have to be a Kindle since your eBooks wouldn't work with another brand of eReader.
For us the choice is clear - we recommend buying an eBook Reader that supports the ePub format. We think it's important to be able to transfer eBooks you paid for to any device you choose in the future - but that's just our opinion. For a good comparison of eReaders, including their supported formats, check out our eBook Reader Comparison Chart here.
#3 - eBooks Available
This could quite possibly be one of the most important things to look for in a portable eBook Reader. Which eBooks you can get and how you get them are important points to consider. Since Amazon's claim-to-fame is books, it's no wonder that their Kindle devices have over 350,000 eBooks available for download and are adding more every day. But remember, once you purchase these eBooks they are in a proprietary format and can't be transferred to other eReaders.
In contrast to Amazon, book retailing giant Barnes & Noble has its own eBook store with over 700,000 titles available. Barnes & Noble has partnered with two eBook Reader companies that will have access to their eBooks: Plastic Logic, which will release their eReader in 2010 and iRex Technologies. Note that as of this writing (October 2009), iRex has plans to sell a new eReader in the U.S. at Best Buy stores.
In addition to Amazon and Barnes & Nobles' eBook stores, you can find eBooks at a variety of sites throughout the Web. Sites such as www.fictionwise.com and www.ebooks.com sell thousands of eBooks in a variety of categories. Also, Google Books (books.google.com) offers over one million out-of-copyright books for free.
#4 - Display
Regarding an eReader's display, you'll want to look at two main things: 1) Size (discussed above) and 2) Touch Screen or not. Most of the eReaders today use a technology called eInk to produce a very crisp image of the book's text. The eInk displays are just like reading text from a regular book.
Where some eReaders differentiate their display is in the navigation capabilities and backlighting. In our opinion, the best eBook readers have touch screen navigation and backlighting which make browsing through your eReader more pleasurable and reading your eBooks in the dark much easier.
Other display features that can make an eReader stand out are an auto-rotate screen, the ability to take on-screen notes and screen zoom features. Color screens haven’t hit the market yet, but we estimate they will be here by 2011.
#5 - Memory
How many books can your eReader hold? This all depends on the device's memory. For example, the Sony PRS 700 has 512 MB of memory that will hold about 350 eBooks and the Kindle 2's 2 GBs will hold about 1500 eBooks. How much you need depends on how big of a reader you are. Note that newer eReaders, such as the Sony Daily Edition (to be released Dec. 2009) has expansion slots to add more memory if needed.
#6 - Battery Life
In general, eBook devices that use eInk display technologies have a long battery life. It's one of the benefits of using a dedicated eReader versus an iPhone or laptop. You can usually expect your battery to last about two weeks until it needs a charge.
Note, however, that as more and more functions are added to eReaders, these will drain the batteries quicker. Everything from touch screens to MP3 players to WiFi on an eReader will drain their battery life. And once color screens and video playback become realities, expect battery life to go down.
#7 - Wireless Capabilities
One great thing about the Kindle is its ability to download books wirelessly without the user having to pay any wireless access fees. This will also be an option on the upcoming Sony Daily Edition (to be released Dec. 2009) as well as a few other eReaders. This is done through a partnership with cellular networks. If you don't have wireless options on an eReader, you'll have to download your eBooks to your computer and then download them to your eReader.
Many of the next eBook readers will also have WiFi. In fact. BeBook announced it will sell an add-on WiFi card for its original BeBook eBook Reader. The new Sony Daily Edition will also have WiFi and there are rumors that the Kindle's UK version will have WiFi.
#8 - Price
Obviously price will be a factor in your purchase decision. Currently eReaders run between $200 - $600 USD depending on screen size, features, etc. Note that there has been speculation of cheaper eReaders hitting the market in the near future, and many feel that for eReaders to become mainstream, the market will need eReaders introduced at under $100.
Just like any new tech gadget, eReaders will go down in price. It's up to you if you want to wait for that price reduction, or join in on the fun right away.