You may have read that Consumers Reports rated the Barnes & Nook e-book reader slightly ahead the Amazon Kindle.
Oddly, not once in its online summary available to non-subscribers did the author note the Nook has a touch screen and the Kindle did not. This is akin to comparing a Volkswagen Jetta to a Toyota Prius and neglecting to note the latter is a hybrid.
All previous e-book reader makers were intent on loading up their devices with buttons and features, trying to emulate multi-function tablet PCs but that got in the way of doing what an e-book reader ought to do – make it easy to read books.
From personal experience watching my mother trying to master a Kindle with all its buttons and keyboard, and then working with a Nook, it's clear a touch screen on an e-reader lowers this technology wall between e-book control and content.
Another reason I mention the Consumer Reports Nook v. Kindle report is that its comparison doesn't include the subject of this report – the Kobo eReader Touch Edition.
If you don't know Kobo, they're the distant third-place e-book reader behind Kindle and Nook. It's a Canadian outfit which supplies e-books to Borders. Yes, Borders is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and has closed most of its retail stores, but my friends in the publishing business believe the book retailer will emerge, albeit in a slightly different more digital form. Therefore, rest assured if you opt for a Kobo, you'll be able to continue to buy books.
By far, of all the e-book readers, touch screen or no, the new Kobo clears away all the non-book reading dross and gets you to acquiring and reading faster and easier than even the Nook, and for $10 less.
In its zeal to make the new Kobo the simplest e-book reader, however, Kobo leaves off one vital extra – which I'll get to in a moment.
Nook v. Kobo
I am uninterested in comparing Kobo with Kindle – Kobo's touch screen makes it a completely different animal. As far as I'm concerned, until Amazon brings its own touch screen reader to market, and until it enables e-book library borrowing, and until it adopts EPUB, the digital e-book format everyone in the publishing industry has adopted but Amazon (Kindle uses its own proprietary e-book format), the Nook and the Kobo are the only e-book reader options you should consider.
And, if you're not an e-book user yet, these two inexpensive touch screen models make it time to consider making the switch from hardcover to digital.
So let's compare Nook v. Kobo.
- Screen: Nook and Kobo each have a 6-inch monochrome touch screen and use the same e-ink technology and the same touch screen technology – you touch or gently swipe to turn pages forward and back.
- Wi-Fi: Each offer Wi-Fi so you can wirelessly shop for books, although Nook automatically connects when you're in a Barnes & Noble store for in-store browsing and shopping.
- Memory: Each has 2 GB of memory, room for around 2,000 books – if you need more than that you don't need an e-book reader, you need a book mobile.
- Battery Life: Barnes & Noble claims two months of battery life to Kobo and Kindle's one, but this is a stupid comparison. Because of the nature of e-book reader technology, measuring battery life by time is like comparing soda volume by measuring the height of the bottle. Suffice it to say you'll be able to read about 20 books on one battery charge with almost any e-book reader.
- Dimensions: Each are around the same size and weight – Kobo is a half-inch less wide, which means it'll slide easier into the inside breast pocket of a typical business suit or even a rear jeans pocket.
- Rear: Kobo has sort of a quilted plastic rear that isn't as slippery as most e-book readers, but Nook has a contoured back that makes it a little easier to grip and manipulate with one hand.
Both offer a "home" button below the screen.
Nook offers a bunch of extras Kobo doesn't, such as a book lending feature – you can "lend" an e-book to another Nook user. Nook also offers a bunch of social networking services, such as the ability to create Nook book clubs with friends. How valuable these extras are depends, I guess, on how social you are.
But if all you want to just read books, Kobo is superior. You can even get started reading for free on Kobo – right in the store menu is a "Free eBooks" category with 220 titles to choose from (I'm reading "War & Peace" for the first time). I found it nearly impossible to find any free books on the Nook or Barnes & Noble's Nook Web site (or even the Kindle store on Amazon).
Both Nook and Kobo allow you to change the type face and the type size. While Nook offers multiple fonts and a wide range of type sizes, Kobo offers only two fonts and just "smaller" (default) and "bigger" font sizes, and the "bigger" isn't big enough for the visually challenged.
To turn pages on either Nook or Kobo, you tap or gently swipe the right side of the screen to move forward, tap or gently swipe the left side of the screen to move back.
But the touch technology isn't full proof, at least on the Kobo. I often had to touch and/or swipe three or four times to turn a page, which got to be annoying after a while. And there's a lag of about a second/second-and-a-half between your touch and when the page "turns," just long enough to not be sure if Kobo understood your tap or swipe. UPDATE: A late June software update has largely eliminated this non-reactive problem.
I had a similar experience during the brief time I spent with my mother's Nook. But Nook has nearly invisible slim ridges on either side of the screen bezel that are actually page turn buttons, which makes it easier to read with one hand and gives more confidence that the page will turn.
I need to spend more time with the Nook before making any final recommendation between the two. But even though turning pages on Kobo was often troublesome – and maybe a deal-breaker since turning pages is the single most important thing you do with a book – I found its simpler, no-fuss approach more book-like.