Amazon’s Kindle e-readers are still the best choice for most consumers, despite improved performance from rival Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader and the arrival of Apple’s iPad tablet computer, which offers e-reader capability.
In Consumer Reports’ comprehensive tests, the Amazon Kindle, $260, and its super-sized sibling, the Kindle DX, $490, had crisper, more readable type than any other e-reader in CR’s ratings better than the Apple iPad. The Kindles were also fastest at refreshing pages. Page turns took about 1 second, compared with as long as 1.5 seconds on others, a noticeable difference. Considering its lighter weight and smaller size, the lower-priced Kindle would be better than the DX for most users, unless you need the extra real estate for, saying, reading e-textbooks.
Sluggish page turns were a big drawback on the Barnes & Noble Nook, $260, until a software update right before CR completed its tests. The Nook is now among the faster models at turning pages, though it’s still a tad slower than the Kindle.
Also, the Nook’s type wasn’t as crisp as the Kindle’s, and it weighs more, even though its screen is the same 6-inch size. And where the Kindle’s controls are simple and fairly easy to master, navigating to content on the Nook requires using a second LCD screen with nonintuitive touch controls.
The two Sony readers — the Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS900BC, $400, and the Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS600SC, $280 — are solid performers whose main appeal is their versatility, especially the pricier Sony Reader Daily Edition. They easily accept a variety of file types, and they can be used as digital notepads for text or even drawings.
But the touch screen on both somewhat compromises type crispness. Also, the Daily Edition is expensive and heavy. The Touch Edition is among the few rated models that don’t come with unlimited free access to a 3G wireless data network. So you might not be able to download a book to the device wherever and whenever you want.
The readers from two lesser-known brands, the BeBook Neo, $300, and the iRex DR 800SG, $400, were undistinguished at best.
The Apple iPad
CR didn’t include the Apple iPad in its e-reader Ratings because it’s a computer with e-book capabilities, not a dedicated e-book reader.
As an e-reader, it has pros and cons. Its iBooks app offers fast page turns, with a dazzling virtual image of one page curling back to reveal another, and the full-color screen is more eye-catching than the monochrome displays on the e-readers. Type on its LCD touch screen is fine, though it is slightly less crisp than that of the best e-book readers.
With a 10-inch screen, the iPad is also big and fairly heavy (at 24 ounces, it weighs even more than the Kindle DX), making it tiring to hold for chapter after chapter. And the iPad will probably need a recharge more often than the stand-alone readers, which use energy-frugal e-ink. Also, at $500 and up, the iPad costs more than any of the e-readers CR tested, even the Kindle DX.
Bottom line: Buy the iPad for e-books only if you’re willing to compromise to get a multifunction device.