Ask Maggie: Kindle vs. Nook, waiting for the iPad 2

This week's Ask Maggie answers reader questions about which e-reader to buy and whether it's worth it to wait for the new version of the iPad that's expected early next year.

E-readers and tablets may be the hottest gifts of the 2010 holiday season. And if you're having a hard time deciding which one is right for you or your loved one, you aren't alone.

Ask Maggie

In this week's Ask Maggie, I offer my advice on whether to get the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nookcolor. I also advise another reader considering the iPad to wait just a little longer for the new version of the iPad that's expected early next year. And I help another figure out a good electronic reader for her father in-law who has limited sight.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you've got a question, please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

Kindle or Nookcolor?

Dear Maggie,

I want to get my husband an e-reader for Christmas. Which do you recommend: the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes&Noble Nookcolor? The iPad is just too expensive and all he really wants it for is to read books and maybe a few newspapers and magazines. I'm so torn.

Thanks,

Veronica

Dear Veronica,

If you had asked me six months ago, I would have told you that the Kindle 2 was the way to go. No questions asked. But then along came the Nookcolor. This latest version of the Nook, which debuted only two weeks ago, is a huge improvement over the original Nook, which went on sale a year ago.

Unlike any of the Kindles, the Nookcolor has a color screen and it offers a touch screen, which makes it more iPad-like. The touch screen also makes it much easier to navigate than the previous version of the Nook. Also the color screen is great for reading magazines. This is lost on the Kindle, which is only in black and white.

My colleague John Falcone from CNET Reviews recently put together a great buying guide for anyone interested in an e-reader or tablet. It's called Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad: Which e-book reader should you buy? So make sure you check that out before you purchase.

But this is an advice column, so I'm going to answer your question more personally. Even though I think the Nookcolor is a very cool device, I am still leaning toward the Kindle. And here's why:

First, the Kindle is so incredibly cheap right now, that it almost becomes a no-brainer. You can get the latest model for as little as $139. Amazon has also been offering special deals on its second-generation Kindle. On Black Friday it was only $89 . At these low prices, it means that even if you decide you really want the iPad in six months, you won't feel as guilty about the Kindle purchase (because we know you're going to get the iPad anyway).

The Nookcolor is a pricier endeavor . It costs $249. And even though this is reasonable and it's still cheaper than the iPad, which starts at $500, it's still not chump-change. And if you decide to get a tablet down the road, it might be a harder pill to swallow.

Plus, when it gets down to it, I'm cheap. And I'd rather save the $110 and get the Kindle 2 instead of the colorful Nookcolor.

Second, I find that reading on a backlit LCD screen hurts my eyes. I sit at a computer screen all day typing and reading and after a long day the last thing I want to do is look at another screen. So when I read for pleasure I want it to look more like a book, which is why I prefer the e-ink.

Of course, not everyone has the same preference. A lot of people complain that e-ink screens are slow to refresh. And the e-ink is only in black and white.

The third and final reason that I say go with the Kindle is that I truly believe that Amazon will win the e-book wars. And eventually, I believe Amazon will dominate all book publishing. (For more on this, read Ken Auletta's piece in The New Yorker from April 26, 2010.)

What does this have to do with whether you should get a Kindle or a Nook? If I'm looking at which platform I want to be tied to for the long term, I'd rather have my library consist of books on a format associated with the winner in the publishing war rather than a possible loser.

This isn't to say that I think Barnes & Noble is going out of business tomorrow. I'm just saying that I think Amazon is going to become increasingly more important and dominant in the book publishing world. And I'd rather build a library of e-books that I know will be around for years.

While Kindle and Nook books can be read on other devices, such as an iPad, iPod, or Android phone or tablet, they cannot be read on each other's e-reader or by each other's applications. This means that if you are buying books from Barnes & Noble for the Nook, you won't be able to easily switch those books over to a Kindle eReader if down the road B&N implodes.

Maybe this is a bit pessimistic of me, but as someone who lived through the record to 8-track to cassette tape to CD to MP3 era, I am tired of buying the same content multiple times. I know some people never reread books, but occasionally, I do. And it would really annoy me if I had to buy "A Prayer for Owen Meany" yet again. I've already bought R.E.M's album "Eponymous" three times.

iPad now or wait?

Dear Maggie,

I was all set to purchase an iPad for this holiday season. But I read some rumors saying that the new model will be out early 2011. I'm not really sure if I should buy one right now or just wait. As well, which one would be better, an iPad or MacBook Air?

Regards,

Steve

Dear Steve,

Unfortunately, Steve Jobs does not have me on speed-dial on his iPhone, so honestly, I can't tell you with any degree of certainty when the new iPad will come out. But I have read the same rumors that you have heard. And if you look historically at Apple's product introduction cycle, they tend to come out with new models of products about every year. So it's likely that it will introduce a new iPad in the first half of 2010.

Will it be in January or sometime in the first quarter of next year? I can't say for sure. But you can bet something new will be introduced relatively soon. So if you can wait a few months, you might want to suck it up.

The new version of the product will no doubt be better than the original. Some things that many people are hoping for include a thinner design, front-facing camera, better display, and a USB port.

As for the MacBook Air, my CNET Reviews colleague John Falcone said last week in the Ask Maggie column that he thinks the new 11-inch ($999-$1,199) MacBook Air is a better alternative to the iPad, even if you already have a full-size MacBook. And the reason is simple: It's very light, great battery life, but still a "real computer."

So there you have it. Good luck!

The best e-reader for someone with limited vision?

Dear Maggie,

My father in-law has limited vision. He loves to read the local paper which is online, but he is not computer literate. What can we do? I thought an iPad might work. The font is large enough and I don't think it is hard to use. He lives in West Virginia. Not a great place to get help locally.

Thanks,

Kathy

Dear Kathy,

Any of the e-readers on the market will allow him to make the font larger so that he can read the print. But if a backlit LCD screen might bother his eyes, you should consider an Amazon Kindle. It uses e-ink, which looks more like paper. And it's much easier on the eyes. It's not difficult to use and certainly doesn't require anyone to be a computer whiz. It's also a lot less expensive than the iPad. You can get a new Kindle for $139. And Amazon was offering the previous version for $89 on Black Friday, so you might be able to get a deal.

That said, if you are willing to pay a bit more, and you want to be able to add apps to the device, the iPad may also be a good choice for him. The iPad is easy to use and it will allow him to do things in addition to reading the paper. And if his eyesight worsens, he may even be able to download an application that will read the paper to him. I saw a demonstration recently at the AT&T labs of an application that reads aloud children's storybooks .

The application was downloaded onto an iPad and it used synthesized voice technology to read the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" aloud. The application highlighted each word as it was read with each character speaking in a different voice. While the voices in the story still sound somewhat mechanical, the goal is that over time, the voices will match the intonations and speech patterns of natural voices.

This technology could be adapted to read newspapers or magazines aloud as well.

Before you decide on buying a tablet or an e-reader, check out this e-book reader buying guide from CNET Reviews editor John Falcone . It is a good resource that compares each product on the market. And if your father in-law is near a Best Buy, you might want to take him there to play around with the different e-readers, and then you can see which one best meets his needs.

 

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