Photo by John Blyberg, feature photo by planning for fun

Forget what the specs say – how do three of the most popular ereaders really stack up?

I’ve wanted to do a piece that compared popular eReaders for awhile, but without owning a few myself I didn’t feel I could offer any useful information. I mean, anyone can just look at the specs for each device and compare them side-by-side – but there’s more to choosing an eReader than memory space and LCD displays.

The purpose of this comparison of Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s nook isn’t to choose a winner. It’s to help you figure out which of these pretty slick devices might be a good choice for you – after all, print ain’t dead, but technology doesn’t suck either. These six contributors helped me out with honest, critical thoughts on their devices:

1. Battery life, like gas mileage, is so often not what we read on the spec sheets. About how long does your device last when fully charged? How do you charge it?

iPad

Michelle: About 10 hours. I charge it via USB, either wall or by computer (adapter supplied by Apple can be used for either).

Arena: I would say it lasts about 8 hours with constant use. I charge it using a wall outlet.

Kindle

Turner: I haven’t been timing it of course, but the Kindle is pretty good for battery life; I would say I could read for a good day without needing to recharge.  The problem is when I put it away for storage; it won’t really hold a charge over time. I can only charge it through the wall outlet.

Nia : Kindle – I don’t use the wireless on this ever; a full charge lasts about 8-9 days. DX – Without wireless it lasts about 7 days. With wireless, it lasts about a day. If I leave the wireless on by accident before it goes to sleep mode, the next time I turn it on the battery is dead.

nook

Anil: On a full charge without use it can go several weeks (2-4). I’d say reading time is around 8-10 hours with the wi-fi turned off. I typically charge via my laptop’s USB port.

Phoebe: My charge lasts about 7-10 days on average, depending on how much I’m using it and I leave it on/in sleep mode at all times. I generally charge it from a wall outlet–the one next to my bed, specifically, so that I can read and charge at the same time.

2. Those first ten minutes after you took it out of the box – how was it? Easy to navigate right away, or did you go to the instruction manual? Now that you’re used to it, would you say the interface feels natural?

iPad

Michelle: The device is exceptionally intuitive. If you’re familiar with an iPhone or iTouch, you already know how to use the iPad. Note: the iPad must run through a 10 minute configuration out of the box, which requires iTunes. The iPad is easy to configure.

Arena: It was so easy to use. I turned it on and there were step-by-step instructions on the screen. Setting up the 3G was simple, too.

Kindle

Turner: Unlike the iPad, there’s really nothing more to the Kindle than the opening screen.  Open the menu, choose a book, read. That’s it. Not difficult at all.

Nia : Kindle: At first I was surprised by the crisp display on the screen—I thought it was a sticker that they put on to ship from the factory. It was awesome!

  • Navigation was easy, but I learned about the special “experimental” features only after reading the manual.
  • The product improved a lot when they released the 2.5 software update, which made the kindle a native PDF reader, among other things (previously it would convert pdf files to azw files, which messed up the formatting a lot).
  • The interface feels natural, and is versatile because you can change the screen rotation to fit where you’re sitting/lying/etc.

DX: When I first opened it I was familiar with the navigation because I already had a kindle. The interface feels natural now, but they don’t have page-turn buttons on both sides of the device (it’s only on the right side) so you have to lie or hold it a certain way. That is annoying.

nook

Photo by Yutaka Tsutano

Anil: It was very easy, the only thing that was a bit confusing was the “B&N Library”, which is like a Nook-specific news feed. One thing I wish the device had was an ‘advanced’ mode of some sort to make customizing it (i.e. wallpapers, organizing ebooks) more straightforward. Fortunately there’s the excellent freeware program Calibre to do most of that.

Phoebe: The “instruction manual” was only one page with about four points on it. I got as far as their instructions to charge it completely and got impatient. Once fully charged, I dove in and started using it without any problems at all.

Unfortunately, this caused me to miss a few features (like the gesture page turning) and the fact that it doesn’t need to be turned off when not in use. I discovered this a few days later, when I found the instructions on the floor besides the trash. Whoops!

Now that I’m used to using it, it’s generally very intuitive. There are a few quirks–to take the touchscreen out of sleep, you sometimes have to tap it twice, and sometimes this causes it to enter a sub-menu. But that’s really no biggie.

3. What’s available to read, for real? The Kindle is with Amazon, the nook with B&N, etc., but how free are you to purchase books from other sources? What store/website do you purchase from most frequently?

iPad

Michelle: I can read any ebook format. Besides the iBook, there’s an app for Kindle & Nook. There are no restrictions, and I’ve not come across any problems purchasing books from any of these sources. I purchase most content from Amazon (larger selection).

Arena: I use the Kindle App mostly because it has a much larger selection than iBooks. You can download a Nook app for the iPad, but I’ve never tried it. I like the ease of the Kindle app and the wide selection of available titles.

Photo by ToobyDoo

Kindle

Turner: I’ve never tried to buy anything outside of Amazon.com, as they usually have what I want. When I can’t find a title I’m looking for, I just buy the paperback.

Nia : I purchase for both devices on Amazon. I can remember only 1 or 2 instances where the book I wanted was not available (very obscure titles). The one annoying thing is books that have disabled text-to-speech—I can get a lot of reading done by listening in the car, and it’s annoying when I can’t for certain books.

There are also many websites that have the classics for free in the Kindle file format (Google it). I downloaded about 40 of these when I first got my Kindle and still haven’t gotten through most. I’ve found everything from recipe books, etiquette guides, language learning, foreign language stories, classics like Anna Karenina and Gulliver’s Travels and Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare, to the Bible. These same titles are available on Amazon as well but they’re not always free, although Amazon does have a lot of free titles, too.

Another great thing about getting books—all Amazon titles can send you a free sample (usually the first 40 pages or so) so it’s a really great way to try before you buy!

nook

Anil: Finding ebooks from other sources isn’t easy, unless they’re classics available for free. One thing I’ve noticed is that Amazon’s new release library is bigger and the books are out much faster than on B&N. Also Amazon has an ‘request this book be publish digitally’ feature which B&N doesn’t have. It would be nice to have a simple way to say I want to have something available for my Nook.

Phoebe: Loads of stuff! What sold me on the nook was that you can download books not only from B&N.com, but from anywhere that sells .epub files. I’ve downloaded several dozen free ebooks from free ebook sites online, a whole bunch of paid and free books from B&N.com (there are frequently promotions with free books; they also have a huge section of sub $5 ebooks), and a bunch of paid books from ebooks.com.

I’ve also loaded it with e-ARCs from NetGalley.com and loaded pdf files from some members of my crit group onto it. I’ve heard, but I’ve yet to take advantage, of the fact that many libraries are starting to lend out ebooks as epub files, and that you can share books with other nook users as well.

4. How do you get the books; by downloading them on your computer, then transferring, or do you download straight to the device? Is it quick and simple, or a little more complicated? Does buying require wi-fi or have any other specifications?

iPad

Michelle: The Kindle app allows me to download straight from the iPad or from a computer. The content is available immediately on the iPad. Very simple. With iBook, content is just as easy, but the only method of download available is through the iBook application on the iPad. Both are quick. I don’t need anything special to download except Internet connectivity.

Arena: You can get books either way. I tend to download and purchase them straight on the iPad from the Kindle store and then sync with my computer later. It’s very simple. You push a button in the app and go straight to the Amazon purchase page through Safari.

Kindle

Turner: This is the best feature; the Kindle works on the 3G network, so no wifi or computer connection is necessary. I can download books from almost any location.

Nia : Everything from the Amazon store is sent wirelessly. They transfer in about 15-30 seconds or less when wireless is on. It doesn’t require wi-fi and I don’t pay for the 3G service.

For the free books I download to my computer and transfer via USB. The files are small so downloading is quick, and the transfer is just like transferring to a jump drive.

nook

Anil: I don’t download straight to the device, it’s cumbersome to do so. The best browsing experience is through a computer; I then save the ebooks and transfer via USB. B&N has a laptop/iPhone version of their eReader as well so you can see your ebooks there as well.

Phoebe: Both! Since I have a 3g model, I can download books directly onto the device from B&N from anywhere, no wifi needed. For books from other sources (ebooks.com, netgalley, pdfs), I use Adobe Digital Editions to manage my files, plug in via USB, and drag and drop onto my nook. All of this is extremely easy and intuitive.

Photo by goXunuReview

5. Aside from reading, what do you use your device to do most? (Editing, Internet surfing, games, emails, etc).

iPad

Michelle: Calendar, emails, blogging & social media, to-do lists, RSS feeds, address book, videos, photos, podcasts, clock, alarm, games, recipes, calculator – you get the idea. There’s an app for just about everything.

Arena: I also use the iPad to surf the Internet, watch movies through NetFlix and check email.

Kindle

Turner: Nothing else – as far as I know, the Kindle only offer reading.

Nia : In addition to books I use the DX especially to read scripts (I work in TV) which are PDF files. I email them to my kindle device from my work email, and it has saved a lot of paper and bag space over the past year or so. It is ESPECIALLY useful when flying/traveling or while on vacations—I can take as many scripts as I want (a regular weekend would be 10 scripts, longer trips could be 2 or 3 times as much) without having to lug them around.

Once I was out shopping with a friend and we split up in different directions; then my phone died. After 10 min trying to get it to work it still wasn’t working. I went on gmail on my kindle (it’s a VERY crude browser, but functional with 3G connection) and emailed him, and we were able to find each other. Success!

Also sometimes when I’m bored or waiting in a line I’ll go on Twitter on it if I don’t have my blackberry with me. It is also an mp3 player, but I don’t use this feature.

nook

Anil: It’s rare that I’ll use the Nook for anything other than reading ebooks.

Phoebe: So far, just ereading. There is a browser in beta, but I haven’t made much use of it yet. My husband’s played a few chess games on it (there’s also sodoku!).