Books have taken a backseat to e-readers in the digital era. But with a bewildering range of gadgets -- from the Apple iPad to the upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook -- how do you know which one offers the best story for consumers? Our head-to-head e-book bash-up will give you a great read on the situation.
If you're looking for something more than just an e-reader, then read no further. Wait, we have more to tell you! It fares brilliantly on its reading assignments … if you don't mind a little screen-glare. Any LED screen is going to fare badly compared to e-ink on that score.
But the iPad is capable of so much more than its e-reader rivals. First, it’s agnostic to any bookstore. It takes in apps from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and its own iBooks resource. Second, along with being able to surf the Web, it serves up games, comics and thousands of apps. Third, in terms of raw power and storage, it's got more on those scores than any competitor. The price is another weak point, but since it’s the most fully-featured e-reader, it's still tough to beat.
Verdict: Best all-around tablet that beats most e-readers.
Rating: FIVE BOOKMARKS
Absolutely the best e-reader on the bookshelf -- that is, if you're not looking for any bells and whistles.
The Kindle boasts an exceptional 6-inch e-ink screen, as well as a reduced size and weight that bring it close to a digital paperback in portability. According to Amazon, its storage capacity has also doubled to 3,500 books. Plus, the Kindle now comes in Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi and 3G flavors -- so you can instantly buy, download and read books just about anywhere.
There's also a new experimental Web browser, but the Kindle is really best for e-reading. Its page interface is easier and more pleasurable to read than any competitor’s, and the access to the Amazon store makes your reading list almost endless.
Verdict: Just looking to read? Look no further.
Rating: FIVE BOOKMARKS
The first mainstream color e-reader makes your mandatory reading list just in time for the holidays.
Barnes & Noble's NOOKcolor features Wi-Fi, an eight-hour reading battery and a 7-inch color screen that can display not just books, but also magazines, the Web and videos. It'll even display some Android apps. It’s more than a standard e-reader, but also a bit less than a fully-featured tablet computer.
Screen-wise, it suffers the same problems as the iPad: glare and a lack of smoothness in its text display. On top of that, it struggles to reconfigure larger magazines and newspaper pages (as well as many websites that haven’t formatted for mobile viewing) to its smaller, more pocket-friendly screen.
Ultimately, the NOOKcolor is good for reading books and some other things -- but until B&N sorts out a proper app store to support it, it's not as much of a multimedia marvel as some of its competitors.
Verdict: Halfway between e-reader and tablet, but not quite either.
Rating: FOUR BOOKMARKS
Due out this spring, the PlayBook will be BlackBerry's effort to produce fresher fruit than the iPad.
It's more powerful than the iPad on paper -- with a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB memory and full Web support for Flash and HTML5. But it's got a smaller, 7-inch screen and entirely new operating system software … so no existing BlackBerry apps will run on it.
Even more troubling, Blackberry doesn't have a great reputation for multimedia and user-friendly features, so it's a bit of a leap for them to move from hardcore email and smartphones to mainstream consumer tablets.
How good is it as an e-reader? We'll have wait and see.
Verdict: The dark horse in the e-reader race, the PlayBook will have to amaze in order to gain top tablet honors.
Rating: THREE BOOKMARKS
Simon Munk is an award-winning journalist that specializes in consumer technology, video games and outdoor-product coverage for men. He's written for Stuff and Blender magazines and was launch editor in chief of Stuff Gamer.
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