What Is an Electronic Book Reader?
Electronic book readers are devices that display electronic books, also known as eBooks. At its most basic, an electronic book reader has an input device, like a keyboard, and a screen to display eBook text.
Files called “eBooks” have been around for decades, though they were little more than books stored as text files on disks. The first electronic book readers were released in 1998, the most popular and best-known of the early models was called SoftBook. Priced near $600 and featuring a leather cover and touchscreen display, the SoftBook and its main competitor Rocket eBook were a little ahead of their time and never caught on.
How Do Electronic Book Readers Work?
Modern “dedicated eBook readers” like Amazon’s Kindle are far more complicated than the rudimentary versions of eBook readers in the past–these basically just displayed text files on a small monitor. Using an electronic book reader is as easy as downloading a file from the Internet–buy a book, download it to your device (either wirelessly or by connecting your device to a computer), then select the file and start reading.
The display is a bit more complicated. Modern eBook readers use a technology called E-Ink. The biggest difference between E-Ink and other display methods is that E-Ink only uses energy once when displaying text–once text is displayed, the text stays on the monitor but doesn’t sap the battery power. E-Ink means you can read your eBook reader longer and save the planet at the same time. Unfortunately, E-Ink is fairly monotone, displaying 16 different shades of . . . gray.
The latest eBook reader technology attempts to incorporate color into the display. Other additions to eBook readers include Bluetooth capability, high-speed Internet access, touchscreens, and other features.
How Much Do Electronic Book Readers Cost?
Let’s take a look at the three most popular eBook readers in today’s market, Amazon’s Kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and Apple’s iPad. Comparing the three devices and taking a look at how much they cost should give you a good idea of the kind of money you can spend on an eBook reader.
The Kindle is at the low-end of this scale, retailing for $189. Different models of Kindle will cost a little bit more–for instance, if you are looking for a large screen for your eBook reader, the Kindle DX’s 9.7 inch screen will be perfect for you. The biggest downside of the DX is that it weighs 1.2 pounds and is not exactly easy to hold up and read like a book. The Dx also costs more than the standard Kindle, retailing for $379.
The Nook comes in just above the Kindle at $199. Barnes and Noble has just announced a new version of the Nook featuring a color display that will retail for about $300. Most people who buy the Nook do so for its excellent 3G coverage, though most users of eBook readers won’t need 3G coverage unless they take a train ride through the mountains or want to take their reader on a camping trip.
Apple’s iPad is the most expensive “eBook reader” on the list, though it is hardly just a device for reading electronic books. The iPad has an LCD color screen, and is really a high end “tablet computer” and not a traditional eBook reader. One downside of using the iPad as an eBook reader is its weight–by far the heaviest eBook reader on the market at one and a half pounds. Also, buying an iPad just to use it as an eBook reader doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. Costing between $500 and $900, the iPad is about four times as expensive as most eBook readers.
What Is the Kindle?
Much of the buzz about electronic book readers these days centers on Amazon’s Kindle. The Kindle is by far the most popular electronic book reader ever made.
The popularity of the Amazon Kindle (released in 2007) is due in part to marketing and in part to the ease with which customers can download books. The Internet has spread a wider net across the world since the late 90s, and it is just plain easier to get eBooks on the Kindle than any other electronic book reader.
Amazon’s Kindle can download books wirelessly. The screen uses new technology to make the text easy to read and extend the battery life of the device. The Kindle currently owns the eBook reader market, though as the number of iPads in use in America increases, that lead is likely to disappear.
Where Do I Find eBooks?
The number and variety of books you have access to depends on which eBook reader you use. Not every eBook store is created equal–it is difficult to say outright which eBook reader device has access to the most titles, since some services count newspapers and magazines, games, and public domain (or free) books with their total and some don’t. According to people much smarter than myself, Amazon’s Kindle store actually has the “best” selection of books, meaning the most varied and the largest.
Coming in at a close second is the Barnes & Noble selection for Nook devices (you can even buy books instantly while browsing in B&N bookstores) with upstart Kobo, bringing in the reader with Borders and Apple taking last place. Apple’s weak book selection is a surprise, considering that the iPad is quickly becoming the most popular eBook reader.
Finding eBooks is as easy as connecting with your device’s eBook store. One exception is downloading eBooks through Apple. To download a book from Apple’s iBook store, you’ll need to download the free iBooks app on any compatible Apple device, such as an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. This makes it the most complicated of eBook download systems, but it’s still pretty easy. On the plus side for the iPad is the fact that they can read iBooks, Nook books, Kindle books, and most other eBook types.
Electronic book readers are becoming popular at a time when paper books, magazines, and newspapers are losing ground. The convergence of these two events could end in two different ways–either eBooks will basically replace paper books, or paper books make a resurgence and the two formats exist in some kind of book harmony. Whatever the case, eBooks have found their way into millions of homes and become second nature to many book lovers. Don’t expect the popularity or prevalence of eBooks and their readers to go away any time soon.
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