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What's The Best E-Reader For School?


Kindle DX tops our 2011 list of student-friendly e-readers.

Amazon Kindle DX, our 2011 top pick as an e-reader for students.

Image from Amazon.com

If you thought that the Mac vs. PC wars were a load of fun, 'what's the best e-reader for…' is pretty much guaranteed to top that classic OS battle in terms of viewpoints. E-Reader technology is evolving rapidly, multiple (often incompatible) e-book file formats have been established, competition from multi-function tablets is heating up and there are even divided camps based on the best form factor and display type. It's almost like taking that decades long computer battle, throwing in the fight over smart phone supremacy and adding a smudge of tablet competitions — all in one device and in a matter of only a few years.

There are hundreds of e-readers and tablets out there, all competing for a slice of the education market. Frankly, that's where much of the problem lies. With so many different file formats, display capabilities and hardware specs to worry about, content publishers have fragmented, with some supporting one platform and some another. However, sitting on the fence can become a lifelong occupation if you opt to wait for everything to settle down and a clear winner to emerge. So when the question is asked: What is the best e-reader for school, we're ready to take some criticism and pick a current champion.

Key Features

E-readers are a natural for an educational setting, especially the fact that they can replace heavy knapsacks full of paper books with a single lightweight device. E-books usually cost less than their paper equivalents and with E Ink models, battery life is measured in weeks or months instead of hours. School use — whether it's college or high school — has a different set of requirements than personal use. If you're considering an e-reader for recreational reading, you probably place factors like style, price and pocket-ability high on your list of wanted features. If you are buying an e-reader to use for school, there are other features that should be taken into consideration, among them:

  • Availability of content. Having the coolest e-reader in the world does you no good if you still have to buy paper textbooks.
  • Display size. Sure, a Sony Reader Pocket Edition with a 5-inch display literally fits in a pocket, but scrolling around a textbook page that measures 10 inches by 7 inches on paper is likely to be an exercise in frustration.
  • Display Technology. For long battery life and excellent visibility in most lighting conditions (night light required) an E Ink display is superior, but if you want color or backlighting you'll have to live with the glare issues, higher expense and reduced battery life of backlit LCD.
  • Study Aids. The ability to highlight text, make notes and easily look up the definition of words is a must have for a school-bound e-reader.
  • Portability. Ultimately, size does come in to play. If it wasn't an issue, everyone would carry a 17-inch laptop instead of an e-reader; the trick is finding the balance between portability and tradeoffs made to shrink the device.
  • Cost. School is already expensive enough without having to buy yet another gadget.

The Contenders

Besides the many second tier e-readers and tablets offered through websites and electronics sellers, there are several manufacturers who clearly lead the market when it comes to these things:

  • Amazon's Kindle e-readers
  • Barnes & Noble's NOOK line
  • Sony's Reader e-readers
  • Kobo's Kobo e-readers
  • Apple's iPad tablets

Each of these companies has multiple models available and has offered their devices for at least the past year. With the exception of Apple's iPad and the Barnes & Noble NOOK Color, all of the hardware offered by these companies is based on E Ink displays. And, each of these companies offers not only e-readers, but ties them in to an associated e-bookstore for content.

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