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An e-reader or tablet for Christmas?

In this Ask Maggie, I help a reader decide between an e-reader and a tablet for a Christmas gift and note that the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are not available outside the U.S.

Tablets and e-readers are all the rage this holiday season. So which device is right for the loved ones on your Christmas list?

Tablet or e-reader?

Dear Maggie,
I am thinking about getting my wife an e-reader or a tablet for Christmas. And I wanted to hear your thoughts. Basically, I'm just looking for something she can read books and magazines on. An Internet browser would also be good if it's available, but it's not necessary. In our home, we already have two lap tops, two iPhones and a BlackBerry, so we're pretty connected as it is.

The big thing is that I am looking for a device that my wife can take outside and read on the beach or by the pool while we're on vacation. It would be great if she didn't have to fill up her carry-on bag with books! But I also want something she can use at night to read in bed. (She usually keeps me up at night when she has the light on while reading.) I know this is probably on opposite ends of the spectrum, but if there is one that's really good for both uses, that would be great!

Thanks for your help!

Dear Jonathan,
You just described a device that I think anyone interested in e-books and e-magazines would love. You want a device that is great for reading both outside in direct sunlight as well as in the darkness of your bedroom. The problem is such a device that works well in both scenarios doesn't exist. So you're going to have make a choice.

Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad
Sarah Tew/CNET

When it comes to reading in direct outdoor sunlight, e-readers with e-ink are the way to go. The e-ink mimics the page of a real book. And there's no glare when you're reading in the sun outside. In general, it's easier on the eyes and causes less eye strain for readers than tablets with LCD screens.

Meanwhile, tablets with LCD screens can't be read in direct sunlight when you're sitting outside. The screen looks like a black mirror from all the glare.

That said, a tablet is terrific for reading at night while in bed. The reason is that the backlit screen means that you don't need to turn a light on to see the page. While seem people still complain of eye strain and more fatigue while trying to read for long stretches, lots of people love the fact that they can read without an extra light source. Because the e-reader uses e-ink that looks like a regular printed page, the screen doesn't light up and you will need an additional light so you can see the printed page.

You can get cases for the Amazon e-ink e-readers with built-in lights. But they're expensive: Lighted Cover for Kindle ($60); Lighted Cover for Kindle Touch ($60).

So which is a better choice for your wife: a tablet or an e-reader? I'm going to recommend that you get an e-reader instead of a tablet. And here's why. The main reason you are getting this gadget for your wife is because she wants to read books and magazines. You said yourself that you already have devices in your house that you can use to surf the Web, so that's not the primary reason you want this device. (Also just so you know, the Amazon Kindle and the Nook Color each have browsers that you can use for online searches and checking e-mail.) If she is going to spend a lot of time reading, I just think the e-readers are better device for that function.

If you had said, that she wanted a device so she could watch movies, stream music, look at photos and read books and magazines, I would probably recommend a tablet, such as the iPad, Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet. These devices are designed for consuming multiple forms of media.

But if reading is the main reason for getting this gadget, you want to make sure that it's truly something that she can use anywhere. While e-readers aren't the best for night time reading in bed, it's not impossible to read in the dark with a bedside lamp on or even a mini-lamp attached to the device, much like a little lamp that attaches to a regular book. As a big time reader myself and someone who could spend hours reading on a beach or by the pool while on vacation, I think it's much more important to have a device that your wife can use outside. Just imagine how much lighter your carry-on luggage is going to be on your next vacation without all those books!

For advice on choosing between an e-reader and a tablet and for more information on specific devices that are available check out this post from my CNET Reviews colleague John Falcone.

I hope this advice was helpful and good luck!

Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire outside the U.S.?

Dear Maggie,
I've been debating whether to buy a Kindle Fire or a Nook Tablet. I had almost decided on the Fire, but then I read that Amazon Prime is only available to residents of the USA. I live in the Dominican Republic. I've read a lot of reviews on the tablets and the Amazon Prime membership is a strong selling point for me to want the Fire. But if I can't get that option, what is the best tablet for me? I will be using it a lot as an e-reader, but I would also like to be able to surf the Web, watch videos and play games.

Another question I have is since these devices support Wi-Fi, does that mean that I can only use it in a restaurant or public place with Wi-Fi? Would I be able to use it at home if I don't have Wi-Fi?


Dear Norma,

The Amazon Kindle Fire vs. the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet Amazon

First, you are correct that Amazon Prime is only for U.S. residents. This means that you will not be able to take advantage of the free book lending library from Amazon. I agree that this is a compelling reason to go with an Amazon tablet or e-reader over the competition. But Amazon Prime is only one factor that limits your choices.

Neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble has made its tablet available outside the U.S. right now.

Barnes & Noble doesn't allow people to download books or other content outside the U.S. on any of its products. So none of the Barnes & Noble products are likely a good fit for you.

Amazon's policy is somewhat confusing. Generally, Amazon does allow people to download books, apps, music and other content while outside the U.S. on its Kindle e-readers, but the device must be connected to an account that has a billing address in the U.S. Amazon also offers Kindle e-readers with country-specific content licenses in more than 170 countries. So if you get a Kindle e-reader in the Dominican Republic, you can download books that are specific to that market. The problem is that the Kindle Fire, which is a tablet and not solely an e-reader, is not being sold outside the U.S. for now.

The reason that Amazon and Barnes & Noble don't allow downloads on the Kindle Fire for people living outside the U.S. is because of the rights associated with the content that can be downloaded. Books, movies, and music require separate agreements depending in different countries. This is the same reason why you can't watch American TV shows from or listen to some U.S., based music on Pandora while you're traveling overseas. These services don't have rights to stream that content beyond the borders of the U.S.

With this in mind, I'm afraid that you probably will have to wait a little while until either Barnes & Noble or Amazon make their devices available in the Dominican Republic. The other option is that you can buy one of these devices and simply use it to access the Web. These devices have full browsers and Wi-Fi radios, so you'll still be able to use them to access browser-based content from the Internet.

As for your Wi-Fi question, when a device only supports Wi-Fi, like the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, this means that it can access the Internet anywhere there is a Wi-Fi network. So at home, in a coffee shop, on the street, or anywhere else there is a Wi-Fi network, that either doesn't require a network password or a network for which you have a password, your Kindle, Nook, smartphone, laptop or any other Wi-Fi enabled device will be able to get online. But because the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet are Wi-Fi only, and do not have cellular radios built-in, the only way to access the Net wireless from these devices is via Wi-Fi. So if you want Internet with these devices at home, you'll need Wi-Fi.

I hope this helps. And good luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.