That is a question we frequently hear at the library!

And my answer to that question is that that it depends upon what you want to do with your e-reader!

And that may sound strange. You may think “But don’t you just read e-books on an e-reader?”  And the answer to that question is not necessarily! Certainly the most inexpensive e-ink e-readers offer you the ability to read e-books and not much more.

However, if you’re willing to pay a bit more; well, you do get more bang for your buck as the expression goes! So I’m going to discuss e-reading devices in five parts:

I. Types of E-Readers E-Ink Versus Backlight/ Color Screen E-Readers

II. General E-Reader Features: E-Ink E-Readers & Backlight/Color Screen E-Readers

III. E-Reader Features: Wi-Fi versus 3G

IV. What About Tablets?

V. About Prices, i.e. how much is it going to cost me!

I) Types of E-Readers E-Ink Versus Backlight/Color Screen E-Readers: When you’re looking to purchase an e-reading device you need to start out by being aware that there are two basic types of e-reading devices at the present time and one new type recently debuted by Barnes & Noble! There are e-ink e-readers, backlight/color screen e-readers and the new B&N Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight which is the only e-ink e-reader currently on the market that has a built in lighting system.

So the three basic types of e-readers are:

1)  E-Ink E-readers: These e-readers feature black text on a light gray screen. And they are the ones you can take outside and use to read e-books in bright sunlight at the beach or the lake. And when you’re indoors you need to sit next to a lamp when using one of these e-readers just like you would if you were reading a print book.

2) Backlight/Color Screen E-Readers: These e-readers feature black text on a white background (just like a computer background – for example, if you go to the bright white background of that page is a good illustration of the white of a backlight screen) and although these e-readers aren’t easy to use in sunlight, because the sun glares off the backlight screen, they are wonderful if you like to read indoors because you need never again worry about sitting next to the best reading lamp in the room– and you can even sit in the dark and easily read e-books on a backlight screen. These backlight screens also feature color so you can look at magazines or book illustrations or surf the internet in living color.

3) New Type of E-Reader: The new Barnes & Noble Simple Touch with Glowlight: This is a new type of e-reader. It features an e-ink screen (black text on a light gray background) and a built in glow light that the reader can turn on and which will illuminate the text from behind the displayed text. So this lone e-reader is one that you can both take to the beach and use to read in bed in the dark without disturbing your partner by turning on a light. (Cost: $139)

So those are the basic types of e-readers in terms of the hardware, or if you like the machinery, of the devices goes. The other big aspect of e-readers consists of their features and that gets us back to my initial answer to the question of which e-e-reader is the best one to buy; because once you decide whether or not you prefer an e-reader with an e-ink screen or a backlight screen that can display color then the ballgame is all about the features.

II) General Features: E-Ink versus Backlight: Here, at a glance, are the basic features of both types of standard e-reading devices:

  • You can read e-books and popular magazines on these e-readers.As previously mentioned, these e-readers feature an e-ink screen and you can use them to easily read books or magazines in bright sunlight at the beach, in the car or at the lake etc.
  • You can easily increase the size of text turning all e-books into large print books.
  • You can read library e-books for free
  • These e-readers are very light usually between 5 and 7 ounces
  • Most of these e-ink e-readers are very small, are easy to hold in one hand and can easily be put in a purse, large pocket, coat pocket or attaché case.*1
  • This category of e-reading device offers you a choice between having a keyboard, or physical rocker input to use when typing in search terms (i.e. the author or title of a book you are looking for) or a touch screen.

This category of e-readers also includes the Nook Glowlight an e-ink e-reader that as mentioned has all of the above features and an internal light for night reading.

Backlight/ Color Screen E-Readers:

  • You can read e-books and popular magazines on these e-readers.
  • These e-readers feature a color backlight screen so illustrations and photos in books and magazines are rendered in color instead of black and gray as is the case with e-ink e-readers.
  • You can easily increase the six of text turning all e-books into large print books.
  • You can read library e-books for free
  • These e-readers weight more than e-ink e-readers usually between 1 pound and 1.5 pounds so they feel more solid in your hands.
  • You can read text in portrait or landscape mode
  • You can easily read e-books on these in an in-door setting without concern for lighting because the screen has a light behind it and thus these e-reading devices can be easily read upon in low light or even in the dark.
  • These e-readers feature larger screens that the standard 5”or 6” screen usually found on e-ink e-reader. For example, the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Color Nook & Nook Tablet all feature 7” screens and of course tablets like the iPad have larger screens still and we’ll get to tablets in just a minute…
  • You can set up, read and send email on these e-readers.
  • You can surf the web with any of these e-readers
  • You can zoom in and out of webpages while surfing the Internet
  • There are apps for these e-readers so you can play games like “Words with Friends” or “Angry Birds” or download a great variety of apps (basically tech talk for software) in many different subjects including: home and garden, sports, entertainment, lifestyle, education and children’s apps*2

III. E-Ink Readers: E-Reader Features: 3 G versus Wi-Fi:

3 G: Some e-ink e-readers feature 3G connectivity. And what that means is that those e-ink e-readers connect to their e-book seller’s store via the cell phone network. There is no extra charge to use this feature on an e-reader; it is a free service that comes with the e-reader and it allows you to download e-books to your e-reader from almost anywhere across the globe.

Wi-Fi: And many e-ink and backlight screen e-readers have built in Wi-Fi. And what that means is that you have to be in-range of a wireless internet connection to download new e-books from your e-bookseller. Once e-books are downloaded to a Wi-Fi e-reader than you can go anywhere and read those e-books and you don’t have to be within range of a wireless internet connection. However, in order to download the e-books to your e-reader initially, you must have access to an internet connection. You can either set up a wireless internet connection at your home or have your internet service provider do it, or access the internet from a public internet connection. And there are many local places where you can go to get free internet – our library is one (and most public libraries too!), Wegmans, McDonalds, Bob Evans or even The Central – they all have free public Wi-Fi so you don’t actually have to pay for an internet connection to use these devices. And notably, all the backlight color screen e-readers are Wi-Fi only devices – it is only when you upgrade to the tablet level that you can get a device that offers both 3 G and Wi-Fi – and the 3G for tablets, unlike e-ink e-readers – does cost you – there is a monthly fee which varied depending upon your cellular service provider and which tablet you buy.

IV. What About Tablets? Tablets like Apple’s iPad (9.7” display; entry level price for Wi-Fi version $499), the Motorola Zoom (10.01” display; entry level price $499) and the Samsung Galaxy 2 (10.1” screen; entry level price $399) are wonderful devices upon which to read e-books. However, they are alos like backlight e-readers on steroids as the expression goes – because although you can read e-books upon them and from multiple sources (there are apps to obtain e-books from Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your public library (OverDrive) and other e-book sellers), they feature larger screens than e-ink e-readers, you can set them up so you can read and write e-mail on them, do word processing, create presentations, watch movies and TV shows, listen to audio books and music and download many apps —more apps by far than are available for the Kindle Fire or B&N Color or Nook Tablet. Tablet apps are available in general categories that include: games, social networking, news, weather, business and entertainment. And notably, there are more apps for Apple’s iPad than any other tablet so if you decide that you really like what you can do with apps you may want to consider buying a tablet to double as an e-reader instead of purchase a dedicated e-reader.

V. Cost AKA How much is it going to cost me? Dedicated e-ink e-book readers – those are the ones that feature black text on a light gray screen and allow you to read e-books and that is basically it – start at around $79 and go on up in price to top out at $379 for the Kindle DX with the 9.7”screen. Amazon’s entry level Kindle with Special Offers (the Special Offers are screen saver ads!) costs: $79 and allows users to enter information by utilizing a physical rocker. The entry level Barnes & Noble Simple Touch Nook costs $99 and features a touch screen. Both devices are Wi-Fi only. If you prefer a physical keyboard there is the Kindle Keyboard (again an e-ink e-reader) that costs $139 for either the 3 G or Wi-Fi model. And if you like backlight color screens Amazon offers the Kindle Fire for $199 and Barnes & Noble offers the Nook Color for $169 and the Nook Tablet for $199.  All three of those devices include a web browser, the option to set up, send and receive email and the ability to download apps. The main difference between the Kindle Fire, The Nook Color and the Nook Tablet is that the Kindle Fire is tied into Amazon’s ecosystem and this allows you to rent or buy movies or TV shows, music and audio books from Amazon and watch or listen to them on your Kindle Fire. Barnes & Noble on the other hand does not have a music, video or audio book store so you cannot purchase music, audio books, movies or TV shows from Barnes & Noble and watch them on your Nook Color or Tablet.

If you have questions about any of the information I’ve relayed in this posting feel free to post a comment, call the library and pitch your question over the phone or stop by and pitch your question in person!

And tomorrow I’m going to follow up this posting with one that discusses the different ways you download library e-books to your e-reader or tablet – which varies depending upon which e-reading device you own.

And Also of Note: We have e-reading devices at the library that include e-ink e-readers, e-readers with backlight/color screens and iPads – they are here at the library for patrons to come in and try out – so please let us know if you’d like to come in and take a look at our e-reading devices before you buy one!

Our telephone number here is: 936-3173.

Linda R.

*1 There is one huge exception to the small e-ink e-reader size rule – the Kindle DX which is the only large E-ink reader – it features a 9.7 inch screen (that is the same size as the iPad), has a keyboard and costs $379.

*2 To see apps that are available for the Nook Color and Nook Tablet click on the following link which will take you to the Nook App Store:

And to see apps that are available for the Kindle Fire click on the following link which will take you to the Kindle App Store:


  1. I agree about wireless Internet being a wonderful thing. I think that every day when I sit on my couch and use my iPad, Roku Player and/or my Apple TV. I do wonder what I ever did in the days before wireless Internet access!

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