As I travel with my Kindle DX, I’m getting a lot of comments from folks planning to buy a Kindle for Christmas for their spouse or parent. Given that there are actually three competing products from major players in the market and two sizes of Kindle (along with a number of niche products that I’d stay away from as gifts because they are too specialized), I thought it would be good to use some of my experience to suggest a path so that you don’t get a product that sits on the shelf. I say this because the Kindle is my fifth e-book reader and the first four ended up on a shelf unused, with the Sony being my biggest disappointment. You may also want to consider some accessories that can enhance the Kindle experience, if you decide to go that route.
For the purpose of this piece we’ll focus on the Kindle line, the Sony Line, and the Barnes & Noble Nook.
Picking a Platform
The most important part of an e-book reader is the library. I learned this several times as the first e-book reader I got hooked on was the Microsoft Pocket PC platform (not technically an e-book, but it served a similar purpose). I stopped using the device as an e-book reader because there simply were not enough books to read on it. The Sony e-book reader never seemed to link with a book that I wanted, and it went straight from the box onto my shelf.
With the Kindle, I’m approaching 40 books. I’ve enjoyed all of them, but the platform isn’t perfect, because it’s still missing a number of books I’d like to read. My recommendation: Pick five to 10 books the person you want to give the e-book reader has enjoyed reading, then browse the various stores and pick the platform that has the most of them. Chances are, if they have most of what the person has liked in the past, they will have most of what they will like to read in the future.
If you’re buying an e-reader for yourself, pick a number of books you intend to read and apply the same methodology. You can go to Barnes & Noble and search under e-books, the Sony eBook Store, and Amazon’s Kindle Store. I should point out that none of them have Harry Potter books (and what the hell is up with that?) but all have the Twilight series. When I searched on Lightning Thief (a great Harry Potter-like series with a movie coming) only the Kindle store had a hit, and I read the series on the Kindle.
Ease of Use
Spend some time searching in the stores, and you’ll likely find, as I did, that the Amazon and Barnes & Noble stores have searches that guess at the name if you only have a few words, and both of their products are wireless by default. Sony offers a cheaper product that requires you tether the device to the PC, which likely is fine for most kids, but could be a problem for older adults. If ease of use is important, then you’d probably want to gravitate to the Kindle or the Nook.
Sony’s smallest readers, the initial Nook, and the regular Kindle are all vastly easier to carry around with you, but the larger size of the Kindle DX is really handy for people with failing eyesight because you can make the font much larger. I was surprised to find I actually preferred the Kindle DX to the regular Kindle and I have both. It is substantially more expensive, though. Be aware there is a larger Barnes & Noble reader coming after the end of the year.
So for someone younger, the regular-sized products are likely fine, for someone older, they may use the larger Kindle DX more and that is something to consider.
In looking at the three platforms, the color sub-screen on the Nook appears the most stunning to me. Were I to get to this point with the Kindle and Nook neck and neck, I’d likely gravitate towards the Nook for that cutting edge factor. In a group of people with Kindles, the Nook will stand out, and I expect, its library will eventually match Amazon’s.
Part of giving a gift is that “wow” first impression, and the Nook leads the other two products here by a substantial margin. On the other hand, it really isn’t out yet, and we don’t know how reliable it is, so some caution should be applied.
The several things I’ve found handiest for my Kindle are the M-Edge covers, matching lights (make sure you get the right size for both), and a car charger or a spare charger for those times when you’ve forgotten to turn off the radio or gone a week without charging the damn thing.
I think the same likely holds true for the other e-book readers, as well.
An e-book makes a wonderful gift for someone who reads a lot. I take mine virtually everyplace I go now, and actually carry my business cards in my M-Edge cover. I read my newspaper with it, and waiting doesn’t really bother me anymore, because I always have something to read.
Since the e-book market is rapidly evolving at this time, realize that this was written in November of 2009, and things may have changed by the time you get around to buying a device, so do check out the e-book stores for current content. Maybe Harry Potter has finally shown up in one of the e-book libraries, for instance. Good luck!