Tech Faceoff: How the Rival E-Readers Stack Up

James Martin/CNET

Earlier today, Barnes & Noble reduced the price on its Nook e-reader from $259 to $199 and introduced a $149 Wi-Fi version. The intent was clear: Pressure rival Amazon, which sells the Kindle and stage a preemptive move to increase market share before Apple's iPad - which has been hyped as a dedicated e-reader killer - gets too entrenched. A response wasn't long in coming: A few hours later, Amazon reciprocated cut trimming the price of its Kindle to $189 from $259.

James Martin/CNET

The price cuts likely will trigger retaliatory price reductions from Amazon and perhaps Sony, whose own e-reader sells for multiple price points ranging from $169.99 to $349.99. But while the vendors sort out their pricing policy, how do the competing products stack up, technology-wise? Here are some pointers offered up by our sister site CNET.

The Kindle

The good: Large library of tens of thousands of e-books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs via Amazon's familiar online store; built-in free wireless "Whispernet" data network that works in the U.S. and some countries abroad (no PC needed); built-in keyboard for notes; with 2GB of internal memory, it's capable of storing 1,500 electronic books; font size is adjustable; good battery life; displays image files, and plays MP3 and AAC audio; compatible with Windows and Mac machines; Text-to-Speech feature allows you to have text read to you aloud; text appears slightly darker on this model than on the earlier U.S.-only version.

The bad: No Wi-Fi; no expansion slot for adding more memory; no protective carrying case included; battery is sealed into the device and isn't removable; isn't compatible with loaner e-books from your local library that use the ePub format; if you're using the wireless service overseas, you're charged extra fees for downloading full books and periodicals.

The bottom line: While the new internationalized Kindle looks exactly like the earlier U.S.-only model, this e-reader, which uses AT&T's data network for wireless access, represents an incremental improvement to the Kindle line--just as serious competition is ramping up in the e-book market.

Read the full review.

The Nook

The good: Large library with tens of thousands of e-books, as well as newspapers and magazines; built-in free wireless data network (no PC needed), plus Wi-Fi connectivity; separate capacitive color touch-screen pad for navigation, and a virtual keyboard for notes and annotations; 2GB of internal memory (capable of storing 1,500 electronic books) as well as an expansion microSD slot for additional memory; font style and size are adjustable; displays image files and plays MP3 music files; compatible with Windows and Mac machines; battery is removable and user replaceable; allows free, in-store browsing of full-text books while within Barnes & Noble stores; users can lend certain e-books for up to 14 days free of charge; ePub format compatibility lets you read free Google Books and loaner e-books from your local library; built-in basic web browser works slightly better than Kindle's. 

The bad: Though performance has been significantly improved with firmware upgrades, the device could still be zippier; no protective carrying case included; color LCD appears to have a significant impact on battery life; in-store reading and loaning capabilities come with notable limits and caveats; no support for Word or text files; some bugs in software; no ability to download books when outside the U.S., even when on Wi-Fi.

The bottom line: The Nook's extra features make it a worthy and enticing alternative to the Kindle, especially now that Barnes & Noble has worked out many of the device's early kinks with a series of firmware upgrades.

Read the full review

Sony Reader

The good: The PRS-600 is sleeker than the Kindle; touch screen is more responsive than last year's Sony Reader; interface offers better ergonomics and is mostly easy to use; with the addition of an optional memory card (SD or Memory Stick Pro), it's capable of storing thousands of electronic books; five font sizes; decent battery life; displays Word and PDF files (with zoom), shows most image files, and plays MP3 and AAC audio; Sony's eBook Library software is now both Windows and Mac-compatible, with bestsellers costing $9.99 (just like Amazon); EPUB file compatibility lets you access thousands of free classic Google Books and loaner files from many local libraries; built-in dictionary now included.

The bad: Screen is still glare-prone; screen contrast (how dark the letters are) isn't as good as what you'll find on competing models; lack of wireless access means all files must be dragged and dropped from a PC; battery is sealed into unit; notation and markup functions can be cumbersome; USB charging only works from PCs.

The bottom line: While it's an improvement to the company's previous touch-screen model, Sony's Reader Touch Edition PRS-600 is saddled with a screen that's short on contrast and prone to glare--and it lacks the wireless convenience of Amazon's identically priced Kindle.

Read the full review
  • Charles Cooper On Twitter»

    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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