There are too damn many ebook readers and it's tough to figure out what's worth buying and which reader will even survive the market. To make things easy, here's our guide to the readers that matter—for now. Updated.
Of course we're skipping some of the many ebook readers floating around, but quite frankly we can't really stomach all of them. We decided to focus on the ones that matter to us—whether because they stand a shot of surviving the over-saturated market, or simply because they are examples of what we think matters about these gadgets. Feel free to let us know if you disagree with any of our survival odds or if you think we missed a significant device.
Barnes & Noble Nook
When we reviewed the Barnes & Noble Nook, we decided that it was pretty damn good all around. At the time, we mainly focused on pitting it against the Amazon Kindle, but even without that limited comparison the Nook remains a rather good device:
It's got a second screen which actually serves a useful purpose
Expansion and evolution possibilities of this very device are great, especially with touchscreen and Android OS
Lending and in-store Barnes & Noble action will be huge
Native ePub support
A little thicker than Kindle, but as a tradeoff, it's a little smaller footprint
Wi-Fi doesn't seem to matter now—hopefully it will prove to be an advantage later
LCD and other features mean less battery life than Kindle, but still adequate, "measured in days"
Current software is buggy and sluggish in spots; hopefully fixes and optimization will come soon
Second-screen possibilities are great, but current implementation is cautious and conservative
Taking all those features and shortcomings into account, we think that the Nook's survival chance is 80%— if it can fix its firmware and get production up to speed.
A hands on of the Entourage Edge left us hesitant about whether there's actually a market for something that has the price tag of a good netbook and barely more features than most readers:
It does have two full screens on which actual work can be done
Can run Android applications and be used to browse the web
Wi-Fi built-in, so you're not stuck relying on 3G
Two built-in microphones for noise-cancelation, but unfortunately no synchronization with notes
Note taking can be done using a stylus
Switching between the screens allows for websites to be loaded on one screen and "pushed" to the other
Just as with most other readers, you can highlight, annotate, and bookmark
It's three whole freakin' pounds and ridiculously bulky
$500 price tag.
The Edge shows us what happens when you try to make a reader into what it's not—a pseudo netbook or tablet. We think the device's survival chance is 0% and consider it pretty much DOA.
Plastic Logic Que
We liked the feel of the Plastic Logic Que when we got our hands on it, but we didn't like the price tag. The device is mainly aimed at business folk who want to carry a notepad-sized device instead of a stack of documents, but it could make a rather nice reader if you crave for a large screen:
At 8.5 x 11 x .33 inches, its about the size and thickness of a standard notepad. It weighs about one pound. Like a heavy notepad.
The screen is huge—and I mean huge. Over ten inches.
Because of Plastic Logic's obsession with its namesake material, the Que is light as a feather
Formatting from magazines and other publications is maintained on the screen
The interface seems snappy and intuitive
Que Mail and Que Calendar services allow email and calendar updates to be pushed over WiFi and 3G networks
While odd to look at, the wide bezel actually makes the Que a lot more comfortable to hold than some other readers
The back of the device is a magnet for fingerprints. It's annoying, but not unusual for shiny toys like this.
$650 for the 4GB model with Wi-FI and $800 for the 8GB model with WiFi and 3G are quite the prices to swallow
We think the Que's features, design, and business as well as consumer appeal leave it with a survival chance of 70%—higher if businesses feel like spending so much on a device that will certainly help cut back on paper use. Or if Plastic Logic manages to cut back on that price.
Spring Design Alex Reader
Our hands on of the Spring Design Alex Reader left us thinking that the Nook might have some serious competition, but even on its own the Alex is a rather good device:
It's thin—we thought we'd break it just by holding it—but it turned out to be surprisingly sturdy
You can run any Android app including the browser, email client, and music player apps
The interaction between the two screens doesn't seem fully worked out
No news about whether there's a data provider secured for the device
$399 makes the Alex a wee bit pricier than the nook
Assuming that a data provider is secured for the Alex, we could see its survival chance being 80%—higher if there's a price drop to bring it closer to the Nook's.
When the Sony Daily Edition reader was announced, we got a bit excited about its electronic library program and wide screen, but alas, we're still waiting to actually get one of these devices into our hands to check out all the features:
Sony's got plenty of partners for this device to provide content
The on-screen content is rotated automatically to allow viewing in a nice, comfortable, and super wide landscape format
Native EPUB support
The electronic library program will let you borrow books from your local library's electronic collection
Free 3G service is included—but limited to accessing the Sony Store
$399 is a bit much for a device with so few tricks up its sleeve
Until we actually take a Daily for a test run, we're deeming its survival chance as 40%—mostly because the library program is appealing along with the push for EPUB formatting.
In our review of the Amazon Kindle 2, we discovered that it's not too different from the original model, but we still liked all the features:
The rounded design makes the device appealing to hold and look at
Zippy interface, decent refresh rate
Plenty of internal storage and long battery life
Text-to-speech book reading
Crisp, sharp display
It's hard to read longer, more complex books
While the Kindle 2 wasn't a huge leap from the first generation, we still think the device about a 80% chance of survival, especially if Amazon works on improving the interface and how the device treats flipping through book sections.
Notion Ink Adam Pixel Qi
When we got our hands on the Notion Ink Adam Pixel Qi, we discovered that it's more of a tablet than it is a reader and that it tries too hard to be both:
The device runs on Android 2.0
There's a snappy Nvidia Tegra 2 processor lurking inside
10.1-inch panel that can switch between backlit LCD mode and low-power electrophoretic reflective mode
3G service, which is becoming fairly standard among readers
LCD colors aren't as vivid as a plain LCD
Despite having "ink" in its name, the Adam falls too far into tablet territory for us to take it seriously as a reader so we give it a 40% chance of survival in that particular market. As a tablet device though, it might actually do rather well.
When we got a hands on with the Skiff, we were pretty impressed by its size but uncertain about most features since we didn't get to play with a final production model:
It's big and thin: 11.5 inches of touchscreen space on a device only a quarter of an inch thick
Light and—quite importantly—solid feeling
Layout mimicks a real newspaper better than most readers
Can handle 12fps animation, which is pretty primitive compared to an LCD device
Reasoably responsive to taps and swipes
You can highlight and annotate content
Magazines feel awkward to read as they're full page scans and any zooming feels slow due to the e-ink refresh rate
Once again: The Skiff unit we tried out was not a final version, so plenty can change by the time it hits shelves. But based on what we've seen so far, this could be a pretty great reader overall—despite its key focus being periodicals. Assuming that it's price turns out to be reasonable and the interface is fixed up a bit more, we give it a survival chance of 70%.
Those are the ebook readers we think deserve some discussion right now. There are plenty we left out—super cheap ones, poor imitations of readers mentioned already, and some that just plain make us gag. We didn't want to promote crappy products or those where "you get what you pay for" rings a bit too true. That disclaimer aside, we welcome discussion and mentions of other readers, simply because it's always possible that we omitted something worthwhile—like the Skiff which has now been added—by accident. So let's hear it in the comments.