How to choose an eReader

March 28, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


On a recent 10 day trip to California I read an 800 page book using the Kobo app on my PlayBook. I agree with journalist and technology expert Marc Saltzman that electronic books have many advantages. For example:

  1. I can store hundreds of books on small device.
  2. I can buy books 24/7 as long as there is wifi and they are generally cheaper than hard copy.
  3. I can download library books and there are no late fees because they automatically expire after a certain date.
  4. I can adjust the font style and size, and click on hyperlinks to get definitions of words and other background information.
  5. Music and audiobooks are also available on some models.

However, the battery on my tablet only lasted about six hours before it had to be recharged. As a result, I’m looking for a lighter digital reader with a longer battery life to take on future trips to Eastern Europe and the Far East.

So I asked Saltzman for some hints about what I should look for. Here’s what he told me:

Q. Who are the major players in the Canadian eReader market?

A. I would say Kindle, Kobo and Sony.  They each have a line of products ranging from an entry level bare bones eReader up to something more sophisticated with colour and apps that acts a little bit more like a tablet computer. Kindle has the largest library but you have to purchase Kindles from the U.S. and they are the only one of the three that won’t let you borrow books from the public library.

Q. What questions should consumers ask if they are considering an eReader purchase?

A. I first ask people whether they are looking for a straightforward device for reading books or if they want something with colour that will allow them to surf the web, play games or read email. That’s when you go for the higher end eReaders that are more like a tablet computer.

If all you want is to read books, then look for a black and white touch screen wifi eReader that costs between $60 and $120. Once you start adding things like cellular connectivity (only offered by Kindle) then you will pay $200 or more for better screens, larger screens, colour screens and app stores.

Q. How does battery life stack up?

A. The Kindle Paperwhite is the eReader with the longest battery life – about two months on a single charge. The Sony and Kobo last about a month depending on usage. More advanced tablets with backlit screens max out at about 10 hours. They are also heavier.

I prefer my iPad mini with the Kobo and Kindle apps because I have everything I need on it when I travel to meetings. I can leave my computer in the hotel.

Q. What about downloading library books?

A. Both Kobo and Sony let you do that. What is required is a personal computer, some free Adobe software, and your library card. You go to your local library’s website, and if they offer eBooks, you sign on with your library card number and then it will walk you through the software you need.

Then you reserve books in advance like you would at your local library, and when the book is available, you download it to your computer. The next step is to tether your eReader to your PC or Mac with the USB cable in the box, and it copies the book over to the mobile device. On the day it expires you will no longer be able to access  the digital book unless you can renew it in advance.

Q. Do any of the ebook readers allow you to share books with other people on their eReaders?

A. That’s one of the downsides of an eBook. You can’t share them. It’s intangible so  you can’t put it on a bookshelf or give an autographed copy to someone as a gift. In the U.S. Kindle has something called the Kindle Lending Library, but it is not available in Canada.

Q. What’s next, what’s on the horizon for eBooks?

A. I think more and more of them are going to have tablet features. The line is going to blur between an eReader and a tablet. Even entry level eReaders are going to have a lot more capabilities. We’ll see faster wireless connectivity, more storage and more people subscribing to electronic newspapers and magazines. And down the road they are going to be thinner, lighter and even roll-able.

So that’s the skinny on eReaders from one Canada’s top experts. You can see a comparison of prices and features for four different Kobo models here.

Have you purchased an eReader or tablet computer lately? Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com and tell us what you like and don’t like about your device. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

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