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Beach Books: Which E-Reader to Bring?

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You can get covers like this for virtually any e-reader, or improvise with a Ziploc bag...

Ready for just about anything, this e-reader is protected by a water and sand resistant M-Edge cover.

Photo by Brad Moon

Outside of swimming, building sandcastles, playing volleyball and perhaps people watching, reading a trashy paperback novel is one of the great joys of lying on the beach. But what happens when you decide that it's time to go all twenty-first century, abandon the "dead tree" (i.e., paper) books and embrace e-books? The beach represents a bit of a wrinkle in your plans, does it not? The good news is, there are options. While it used to be rare, more and more e-readers are showing up at the beach these days, as well as beside swimming pools and other locations that are generally considered to be unfriendly to electronics. Choosing the right e-reader is key to enjoying your beach e-book experience.

Sunlight

 You go to the beach at least partially because it's hot and sunny. Hot doesn't bother most e-readers (at least so long as you're in sub-Saharan temperatures), but sunlight is the mortal enemy of devices with LCD displays. First of all, the brightness of the sunlight is all but impossible to overcome so that screen that seemed so vivid in the hotel room will be so washed out you'll barely be able to see it. Adding insult to injury, LCD displays are prone to glare as well. Sure, if you squint and shade the display with an umbrella, you may be able to struggle though a chapter or two before giving up, but that's work and work is the last thing you want to do while relaxing by the ocean. So leave tablets, smart phones and LCD display e-readers off the beach-friendly list. That means no iPad, PlayBook or NOOK Color, among others.

Power

Are you expecting occasional day trips to the surf, or could you be going to a resort for a week or more at a time? Power is another strike against anything with an LCD display, unless you want to be dragging a recharger around with you and plugging the device in each night. An E Ink based e-reader like a NOOK, Kindle, Kobo or Sony model will last anywhere from ten days to a month on a single charge, so you don't need to pack a recharger. Less chance of being left with a blank screen in the middle of a hot day, one less thing to pack and one less thing to worry about forgetting when it's time to go home. 

Spontaneity

After pointing out that sunlight and power requirements pretty much eliminate tablets and e-readers with LCD displays, we're left with E Ink based e-readers at this point. Now is the time to start splitting hairs and determining personal preferences, beginning with spontaneity. Are you the type of person who packs all the books they need and sticks to the titles in the beach bag? Or do you fall prey to the bestseller racks at the convenience store when you pop in for a soda? If you're content to read what you have on hand, then being able to buy or download titles wirelessly shouldn't be an issue, and any of the Sony models, Kobo, or Kindle Wi-Fi e-readers should be in the running. But if you want the ability to be relaxing on a lounger, decide that no e-books you have on your device appeal to you today and two minutes later have something from the New York Times Bestseller List downloaded and ready to read, then you need a 3G capable e-reader and that means a Kindle 3G or NOOK 3G.

Size

I already took the liberty of eliminating the really large e-readers like the Sony Reader Daily Edition and Kindle DX. When you're carting your stuff to the beach, every ounce counts and regardless of any other advantages they might have, these to king-sized e-readers are not ideal beach candidates. If you're looking to go as compact as possible, e-readers don't come much smaller than the Sony Reader Pocket Edition, with its 5-inch display.

Sand and Surf and Crowds (or Risk Adversity)

No matter how careful you are, there is always a chance that a rogue wave or carelessly thrown frisbee might reach your general vicinity. In the days of the paperback, this might have meant a water-soaked and warped (but still readable) book. An e-reader is much more delicate, however, and any accidental abuse might result in a dead device. Not to mention the fact that an e-reader is a little more valuable than your average trashy paperback and might be a tempting theft target, especially if you leave it unguarded while you go in for a dip. If you can afford a replacement in a worst case scenario, then you can skip this section. If having to replace your e-reader could leave you without one for months while you save up, then you might want to consider a low cost option. Right now, the Kindle With Special Offers and Kobo e-reader lead the value side of the equation, coming in at $114 and $100, respectively. Best to avoid more expensive options like the $229 Sony Reader Touch.

Recommendations

Leaving e-book format and compatibility out of the equation (you'll have to make up your own mind in terms of whether you're in the Amazon/Kindle camp or not) and sticking to the best-selling, widely available e-reader models, the best bets for beach goers shake down something like this:

  • If buying or downloading books on a whim is important, then it's between the NOOK 3G or Kindle 3G.
  • If you want the most compact e-reader possible, then go with the Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-350).
  • If you're worried about loss or damage and replacement costs, go for a Kindle With Special Offers or a Kobo, currently the least expensive options among the top-selling e-readers.

Protection

Whatever model e-reader you choose, you can minimize the potential for damage by investing in a water and sand resistant cover like the one shown in the image. They may cut down on the sleek look of your e-reader a little, but you can remove the cover once you're away from the hazard zone and it's inexpensive insurance. Or, go the Jeff Bezos route and use a Ziploc bag.

 

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