Amazon’s Kindle eReader has been the leader, at least in the US, of the eReader market since the introduction of Kindle 1 in 2007. Sony has held 2nd place with 30 – 35% of the market.
But now there is a new kid on the block. In October ’09 Barnes & Noble announced its nook eReader that sold out on pre-order within a few weeks.
The nook is revolutionary primarily in its looks. It will be hard for your average gadget boy/girl to see one and not develop a serious craving. But does this mean that the nook is the best thing since the printing press for bookish boys and girls?
Let’s look at and compare some of the features of the nook and the Kindle eReaders.
For the most part reading on the nook’s e-ink screen is very similar to reading on the Kindle eReader’s e-ink screen. Both eRreaders use the same or a very similar reading screen.
What is dramatically different, and what in fact attracts many people to the nook eReader is the small LCD touchscreen under the e-ink screen. On the Kindle, navigation is accomplished by using the chicklet keyboard and the 5-way controller. The controls for the nook are mostly accessed through using the LCD touchscreen.
The nook’s touchscreen is also used for browsing books in your library or for selecting books to purchase from Barnes & Noble over the wireless connection. A virtual keyboard is available on the LCD screen for typing.
The nook’s color LCD screen looks really nice and would seem to be a very desirable feature, but there are problems with the software implementation, which we will get to in a bit.
The Kindle eReader has a 3G wireless connection through AT&T for the Kindle Global, and Sprint for the Kindle 2. Amazon calls its wireless service “Whispernet”. Using Whispernet, you can usually purchase and download a book within a minute or less. You also can use the somewhat clunky but functional browser to access the internet, check email, research your reading on Wikipedia, even access another online ebook store than Amazon to purchase and download books, etc. With Kindle Global you also have access to the Kindle store in many other countries besides the US, though you have to pay a surcharge for downloading a book on the Whispernet outside of the US.
The nook eReader has both a WiFi connection and a 3G AT&T wireless connection. The difference is that the nook’s connection can only be used for purchasing and downloading books from Barnes & Noble. No internet, no Wikipedia, you cannot use it to connect to another online ebook store and purchase books.
The nook’s WiFi connection will be useful if you carry your nook eReader into a B&N store as it will download coupons and special offers to your eReader. You can also use the WiFi to browse ebooks while in a B&N store, but you can only read each book for a maximum of one hour in a 24-hour period. These in-store features are not yet fully implemented so we don’t yet know how useful they will prove to be.
One of the nook eReader’s features that received a lot of press coverage is the ability to lend your ebooks to friends. Unfortunately, this feature is not as great as first thought. For one thing, publishers must opt in to let their books be loaned. Some have said they will not allow this. Also there are restrictions: you can only loan a particular book once ever, and only for 14 days. While a book is loaned out you cannot access it on your own nook.
The Kindle does not at this time allow this type of lending. However, you can share ebooks with up to 6 (it can vary by title) Kindles that are registered to the same account. This works well for multi-Kindle families. It is even possible to set up a reading club with your Kindle owning friends if you feel comfortable sharing a single credit card to register your Kindle eReaders to.
One nice feature that the nook eReader has is a user replaceable battery. The Kindle’s battery is hardwired in and therefore will need to be sent back to Amazon for replacement ($60). Amazon says that even after 500 charges (ten years or so) these batteries will still hold 80% charge, so this may not be an issue for most people.
The nook also accepts an SD card for additional storage. The Kindle only has its internal storage, but that is enough to hold around 1,500 books, so this may also not be an issue for you.
A nook feature that has not received any official Barnes & Noble acknowledgment is the ability to borrow ebooks from your local library if they use Overdrive’s digital distribution service. To do this you need to install Adobe Digital Editions on your computer and use that to sideload the ebook onto your nook. You can borrow an ebook from the library for 14 days, after which it will be automatically deleted. You cannot renew library ebook checkouts. To find out how useful this feature will be in your case you should check your local library website. Most libraries do not have a large catalogue of ebooks yet. Kindle does not support borrowing library ebooks at this time
The eBook Stores
No matter how attractive the hardware, an eReader’s primary purpose is to read books. Since today’s eReaders tend to be tied to proprietary DRM formats for current titles, you want to make sure that the hardware that you choose is backed up by the best ebook store(s).
The nook’s primary ebook supplier for DRM’ed ebooks will of course be Barnes & Noble. You can also purchase DRM’ed ebooks from other online sellers that support Adobe Digital Editions. The nook is also compatible with non DRM’ed EPUB and PDF format.
With Kindle you will purchase most if not all of your DRM’ed titles from Amazon’s Kindle store. Kindle also uses a few other formats for non-DRM’ed ebooks such as MOBI and PDF. Public domain ebooks are also available for the Kindle eReaders. I suspect that at some point Amazon will also have to allow EPUB compatibility for the Kindle, as there is increasing pressure for this.
Many people disparage the Kindle’s being locked into Amazon’s ebook store for DRM’ed ebooks. While this may be true to a large extent, the fact is that the Kindle store has more titles available than B&N and all of the online stores selling ADE format ebooks put together. In most cases Amazon’s prices are less as well, although Barnes & Noble has been trying to match their prices.
If you primarily read books on the current best sellers lists you will likely be able to find these available in most formats at similar prices. The more off the beaten path your reading is however, the more likely you are to find what you are looking for at the Kindle store.
So Which eReader is Best – Kindle or nook?
If the nook eReader had not been rushed to market to make the holiday 2009 season, and if Barnes & Noble had waited until they had the software ready and the bugs worked out, then I would say that the nook would have been a very close second choice and maybe even equal to the Kindle.
In fact, the nook at present is crippled by its faulty release version software and unless B&N gets it fixed in a timely fashion the nook will be leapfrogged by the next Kindle release. Barnes & Noble has said that they are working around the clock to update the software and fix the current nook problems; and to their credit they have released a couple of updates as of this writing. However there are still lots of bugs and the nook is slower than the Kindle, which will be distracting when you are trying to immerse yourself in that next great book. In its present state the LCD screen does not play well with the e-ink screen and can be very frustrating to use.
Also, I prefer the Kindle store. My reading tastes may be different than yours however, so I would suggest you make a list of books you want to read and make a price and availability comparison between the Kindle store and B&N’s offerings. Higher ebook prices can add up pretty quickly.
The Kindle’s ability to connect to the internet and Wikipedia, etc. is also not to be underestimated.
I think that the nook eReader has the potential to be a great eReader and possibly equal the Kindle, but it is something of a gamble buying one now and waiting to see if Barnes & Noble can get all of the glitches fixed in time and also match the Kindle store’s offerings.
For more ebook reader news and reviews, please visit me at http://www.findebookreaders.com