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