eReaders Buying Guide: So You Want to Buy an eReader...

Let’s be honest: Reading can be a cumbersome activity. Even if you prefer to borrow books instead of buying them, carrying around a paperback or two can weigh you down. That’s where eReaders come in. These mobile devices let you carry thousands of books at once, all for just around a pound. Then they complement your book-reading experience with E Ink® screens that mimic the look of paper, and functionality that allows you to turn the pages.

But that’s not all: Recently, eBook Readers have grown up. While these devices were initially created to be book surrogates, now some devices can handle much more than reading. It’s not uncommon for an eReader to play videos, for example.

Think you’re ready to buy one? Before you invest, check out our eReaders buying guide to learn how to find the right device to fit your needs.

What Is an eReader?

eReaders are portable, lightweight devices that are as simple and intuitive to use as a book is, but that give you the luxury of storing your entire library on something smaller and thinner than a paperback book. They’re like a bookstore or library you can take with you, because they allow you to add to your collection wherever you’re accessing Wi-Fi or have a cellular connection.

But eReaders are not just for books; they also allow you to download and read magazines, newspapers and other documents. Some eReaders even allow you to watch movies, check email and surf the Web — though the more functionality an eReader has, the more it might actually be considered a tablet.


eReaders vs. Tablets

These days, the lines separating electronic book readers and tablets are blurring. So before buying an eReader, you should consider how you plan to use your new device. There are great benefits to both eReaders and tablets. For example, eReaders are mostly used for reading, primarily in a linear, start-to-finish fashion. They’re also less expensive and lighter than tablets, and have a battery life that can last for months. (Basic eReaders typically measure their battery life in “page turns.”)

On the other hand, while tablets can do most of what eReaders can, they are generally used for more Web-based activities like email, video chat, games and extensive Web browsing. They also allow a more interactive reading experience. However, while tablets offer more functionality, they’re slightly heavier and their battery life is shorter than that of eBook Readers.


Get Yourself Connected

If you plan to add more to your eReader’s collection, you’re going to need a way to download it. Nearly every eReader comes with Wi-Fi connectivity built in, which is great if you plan to use your eReader at home or the office, or if you frequent Wi-Fi hotspots. All that’s needed is a one-time network connection to access the Internet.

If you want the flexibility to download books and other content anywhere you are, then consider an eReader with 4G connectivity. These devices are priced slightly higher and require a monthly payment or annual contract, but if you want to be able to download new items when you’re at the park or on the beach, or if you’re a frequent traveler, then the extra cost may be worth it.


Screen Resolution

Many eReaders employ a black & white technology called E Ink that mimics the experience of reading a book: It looks like real text on paper and prevents issues like glare, which is important if you’re reading in bright sunlight. In addition, while monochromatic E Ink isn’t ideal for a dynamic reading experience, it’s better on your eyes if you’re reading for an extended period of time. It also leads to longer battery life.

An increasing number of eReaders are being created with backlit LCD screens, which allow for full-color animation and video viewing. Although slightly heavier and with a shorter battery life than traditional E Ink, the LCD option is best if you want additional functionality, like a more dynamic or interactive reading experience. It’s also a great choice for reading magazines and children’s books where the color screen really enhances the experience.

Buying Books

As with some other types of tech products, eReaders each have their own eco-system, and books are often not compatible across devices. For example, Kindle books can’t be read on a Nook, and vice versa. In addition, book selection, size and pricing at the various eBook stores isn’t the same. When you choose an eReader, you're essentially making a decision up front as to which of the eco-systems you’ll support.

The good news is that these eco-systems make it easy to read your books across devices without losing your place. If you wanted to, you could start reading a book on your Kindle Paperwhite at home, then continue using the Kindle app on your cell phone or tablet when you’re out and about, then read a few pages on your computer (again, using the app), and then pick up again later on your Kindle when you’re home again.

The best way to figure out which eReader will give you the most options is to spend some time browsing each of the eBook stores before you commit to a device. Many of them, including Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s stores, can be accessed online. If you’re planning to borrow eBooks from your local library, check to see what format is in use and then make sure the eReader you want supports it.

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