With the current boom in tablet devices, you’d be forgiven for thinking that E-ink e-book readers are a waste of time.
But if you’re an avid book reader, e-ink readers have one great advantage over tablet devices – battery life. Whereas tablet battery life is measured in hours, it’s measured in page-turns on e-ink readers.
That’s because the only time these devices consume any battery power is when they change the page. And with several thousand page turns typical for battery life on these devices, you’ll get through a number of books before you even have to think about charging it up again.
Two of the big brands in e-book readers at the moment are Amazon and Sony.
While Amazon can only bought directly from the US via the Amazon.com website, Sony readers are now available in Australia however, if you’re trying to sum these two up for value, there are plenty of differences.
Amazon’s Kindle 2 comes in two versions – a Wi-Fi version and a Wi-Fi + 3G version. The difference is the 3G version allows you free 3G web access in some 100 countries around the world. Through this, you can purchase e-books direct from the Amazon.com website. It’s a clever idea because it means you don’t have to go to the computer or shop but you can buy, download and read e-books directly on the Kindle itself whether on the beach or anywhere you can get 3G access.
The Kindle 2 comes with a number of other featuures too – it has MP3 playback with stereo speakers built into the back of the unit plus a 3.5mm headphone socket in the bottom edge so if you’re sick of reading, you can also listen to your favourite music or books.
It also has a couple of useful “experimental” features – the first is text-to-speech, which we have to say isn’t as bad as you might expect. It also comes with a Webkit engine and a basic but semi-useful web browser. Yep, you can browse the web using the Kindle. However, being a monochrome display – and pretty slow, you can forget video and flash.
What’s missing here is expandable storage – you get 4GB of internal storage and that’s it. In these days where many E-ink readers now have a MicroSD or standard-sized SD card reader, it is a drawback.
The other drawback is that it is almost the only ebook reader that can’t handle EPUB ebooks. However, there’s a pretty simple way around this.
Where the Kindle 2 does well is pricing. Even though it’s only available online, its one of the cheapest e-ink readers going. The Wi-Fi-only version sells for $US139 while the Wi-Fi + 3G version goes for only $US179.
Sony’s Reader PRS350SC, however, is almost the reverse of the Kindle 2.
While it features a slightly smaller five-inch e-ink panel, it doesn’t feature Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity. If you’re happy to load in your ebooks via the USB port from your PC or notebook, then it won’t matter.
One thing Sony does well is the quality of the e-ink panel. Character formation is clean and crisp on this panel, which has 16-level greyscale for smoother fonts. As with the Kindle, the basic screen resolution is 800×600-pixels but the one major difference here is that Sony has incorporated a touchpanel display, hence the removal of the QWERTY keyboard.
But while the Kindle comes with 4GB of on-board storage, the Sony unit features only 2GB and there’s no expansion option either. Nor does it handle audio or text-to-speech.
What else it does do well is weight. Despite the slightly smaller screen, the Reader weighs in at just 155grams while the Kindle 2 is 246grams, making the Reader considerably lighter.
The other big plus is the fact that it supports EPUB ebooks straight off the bat – no need to convert anything.
As far as pricing, the Sony Reader doesn’t come cheap at around $229 Australian.
However, by the time you account for shipping, you’re looking at around $215 for so for the Kindle 2 3G version including shipping.
Bottom line: If you’re a buyer of books and don’t need a touchscreen, then the Kindle 2 is your best bet as you can buy books almost anywhere without the need of a computer or a fixed internet connection if you go the 3G version. If you’re hanging around where there’s Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi version will do just as well plus save you around $40.
However, if you prefer to pick one of the millions of free EPUB books available online, you’ll either have to convert them to a format supported by the Kindle (such as MOBI) or you go with the Sony Reader instead.
The compact size of the Sony (and its light weight – not much heavier than an HTC Desire smartphone) makes it a better option if you don’t want to carry something around that’s too heavy.
Certainly, the Kindle 2 does more overall and if you’re prepared to forego 3G, you can get the Wi-Fi only version for around $175 including shipping, about $50 cheaper than the Sony Reader.
Both units are quick and deliver very good character quality for e-ink readers and battery life again is good for several books compared to the budget LCD-panel based e-readers.
In the end, it depends on the features you prefer more – if it’s a cheap e-ink reader, go the Kindle 2 Wi-Fi; if it’s the touchscreen, go the Sony Reader; if you want to buy books anywhere you can get 3G coverage, go the Kindle 2 3G.