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Battle of the Compact Touchscreen E-Readers

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Battle of the Compact Touchscreen E-Readers

The NOOK Simple Touch

Image © Barnes & Noble

I've had a few months now to play with and compare the latest round of new e-readers from Barnes & Noble and Kobo; low cost devices that trim the extras and throw in touchscreen capability to provide a dedicated e-reading experience. The question is, which e-reader represents the best choice for someone looking for a device in this class? To make things more interesting, I threw in a third option: Sony's Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-350). It's a little long in the tooth compared to the other two with something new from Sony expected any time now, but competes for the same target demographic.

Pocketability:

When it comes to mainstream e-readers, these three models are the leading edge of compact form factor. The NOOK Simple Touch tips the scales at 7.48 ounces and measures 6.5 inches x 5.0 inches by 0.47 inches thick. The Kobo eReader Touch is 6.5 inches by 4.5 inches by 0.4 inches thick and weighs a mere 6.5 ounces, while the Sony Reader Pocket Edition comes in at 5.71 inches by 4.11 inches by 0.33 inches thick and weighs 5.47 inches. Sony clearly wins on portability, but does so by shaving the display from 6-inches to only 5-inches.

Style:

This category is obviously subjective. The Kobo offers a variety of colors on its quilted back and cuts a more streamlined look than the NOOK (which looks somewhat like a digital photo frame due to its more square aspect). However, I give the Sony top marks here. The Reader Pocket Edition's anodized aluminum case has a sense of style the other two e-readers can't match.

Performance:

All three devices use an E Ink Pearl display with a variation of IR touchscreen functionality. All look great in direct sunlight, but the newer NOOK and Kobo e-readers use faster processors for accelerated page turning speed with reduced "black screen" effect during refreshing (although I found this wasn't as effective in Kobo's implementation which is prone to ghosting). The NOOK is the clear winner in this category.

Controls:

While all three e-readers have adopted touchscreen controls, there are distinct differences. Sony retains full page turn buttons as well (a definite plus) but requires a swipe gesture for touch page turns. The Kobo is purely touch driven in terms of navigation, but thankfully allows taps instead of requiring a swipe. The NOOK's approach is similar to the Kobo, but Barnes & Noble wisely retained physical page turn buttons, although they so require a bit of pressure to operate. NOOK comes out on top here.

Connectivity:

NOOK and Kobo both offer Wi-Fi connectivity, while the Sony requires a USB connection to a computer.

E-Book Access:

All three e-readers are backed by a manufacturer that also operates its own online e-bookstore, but with Barnes & Noble, the NOOK has the deepest catalog available. All three have other options besides their own e-book stores, though, thanks to EPUB compatibility and the ability to borrow from public libraries.

Storage:

All three devices offer 2GB of onboard storage (good for roughly 1,000 books after operating system use is taken into account) and the NOOK and Kobo both accept microSD cards with a capacity of up to 32GB. The Sony has no memory card expandability.

E-Book Compatibility:

While all three support the most popular (non Kindle) formats, including EPUB and PDF, as well as common graphic files for use as screensavers, the Kobo one-ups the competition with support for CBZ and CBR digital comic books. Not that the device would make the best digital comic book reading platform, but the capability is there.

Battery Life:

Sony claims two weeks, the NOOK can manage two months (with Wi-Fi turned off) and the Kobo is good for a month with no Wi-Fi. The NOOK takes this one.

Availability of Accessories:

Despite being available for only a few months, the NOOK is your best bet if you crave accessories such as covers and cases. The Sony has been available for much longer, but manufacturers go where the market is and the Barnes & Noble e-reader is expected to be a better seller than the Sony ever was and Kobo remains a relative niche player in comparison.

Price:

Sony's definitely out of the running on this one with a price of $179.99. The NOOK is available for $139.99, but the Kobo's $129.99 price tag makes it the value leader.

Verdict:

And the winner? When all is said and done, there's a pretty clear progression from first to third place. Although it may not be the prettiest of the bunch or the smallest, the NOOK Simple Touch comes out on top. It's still a very compact device, its display is top notch, it clearly dominates the others when it comes to battery life and, while its touchscreen functionality is great, it maintains page turn buttons for those who prefer not to be jabbing their screen. There are a wide range of accessories available for owners who wish to dress it up and the Barnes & Noble e-bookstore is the best of the bunch.

The Kobo eReader Touch isn't a bad device, it's just a little rough around the edges compared to the NOOK; the ghosting on its display was an issue and lack of page turn buttons may turn some people off. Despite being a very attractive piece of industrial design, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition is simply outclassed by the newer e-readers and its high price completely takes it out of contention.

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