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Nook vs. Kindle

I bought a Kindle back in September as a means of test-driving the e-book version of In the Shadow of Ares, mainly because I hadn’t thought much beyond Amazon when we decided to go the electronic route. I was aware that Barnes & Noble and Borders each had their own e-readers, but Kindle seemed to be the one with the broadest reach and biggest potential market.

We ended up publishing on Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon, but even so, I hadn’t even looked at a Kindle up-close until yesterday. Turns out the Nook Color is a much more impressive platform overall than the 3G Kindle:

  • The touchscreen is much easier to navigate with (especially when highlighting text or selecting a word to look up in the dictionary) than the Kindle’s “mouse box” buttons;
  • Nook, like Kindle, has built-in audio capability for playing MP3s while you read, but the player on Nook is actually a proper function of the device, and not a grafted-on “experimental” feature like it is with the Kindle — a feature which, in four months, I have never gotten to work;
  • Nook also has a built-in photo gallery function, which the Kindle (perhaps understandably in a grayscale device) lacks.

In short, the Nook is a little more like a tablet device than a no-frills e-reader.

On the other hand:

  • Despite only being a tiny bit larger, the Nook was noticeably heavier (perhaps 25-30% heavier) than the Kindle, with the Kindle already at the upper limit of a comfortably-holdable combination of mass and shape;
  • Being a backlit color display akin to those on laptops, the Nook was actually a little harder on the eyes than the Kindle with its “e-ink” display that reads more like the page of a printed book;
  • Though I’m not a big fan of Kindle’s keypad, it’s still far and away preferable to tapping virtual keys on a touch screen.

You might expect that differences like this would drive Amazon to bring a color version of the Kindle, with color e-ink, to market in the near future. Mmm…maybe not:

[Bezos] noted that developing color electronic ink remains a challenge, and while he’s seen things “in the laboratory,” the prototypes are simply “not ready for prime-time production.” He also stated that these lust-worthy, mythical displays were “a long way out,” but that the Kindle would remain focused as a dedicated e-reader moving forward.

And yet, as the links at the Engadget post illustrate, there are in fact color e-ink options out there which may be further along that Bezos suggests.

With the introduction of the iPad last year, though, there may be market pressure to rapidly evolve e-readers beyond simple, dedicated e-book devices by including features like the photo galleries and MP3 player functions the Nook already offers and better, full-featured web browsers to take additional advantage of the built-in wireless internet capabilities (wi-fi and 3G). At some point, then, there may be no real distinction between e-readers and tablet computers besides the owner’s primary habit of use.

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