The Devices and Platforms

The Amazon Kindle was not the first eReader on the market, Sony had a device that used eInk a year before Amazon, but it was the Kindle that really caught the attention of the mainstream and started to make electronic books a viable market.  After the initial popularity of the Amazon Kindle, a large number of companies sought to enter into the market with many diverse features and designs.  In the end, only a  few devices actually made it to market, but even then there is a wide variety of devices to choose from.

eInk or LCD?

When you are considering eReaders, the first major choice you need to make is what sort of screen you want.  The Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, Barnes & Noble nook, and Kobo Reader all use a screen utilizing the eInk technology.  The newer Barnes & Noble nook Color uses a color LCD touch screen, as does the Apple iPad (which is more appropriately categorized as a tablet, but it often gets included in eReader comparisons). 

What are these screen types and what are the advantages and disadvantages between them?

eInk:

  • eInk has been called "electronic paper" because it closely simulates actual paper.  It uses microcapsules of particles that depending on the electrical charge are displayed as either black or white, or even in some of the newest screens as color.
  • One of eInk's biggest advantage as a screen technology is its minimal power consumption as electricity is only used when the screen needs to change the image.  This an important feature to note if you are intending to lend your eReaders for a extended period of time.  The longer battery life means that you will not have to lend chargers.
  • Since eInk has been developed to simulate a printed page as closely as possible, this means that under bright lights, including sunlight, the image on an eReader's screen remains glare-free or is not washed out by the brighter lights.  On the other hand, since there is no backlight (some eReaders have tried different lighting options with little success), using an eInk screen does require adequate amounts of reading light. So no reading in the dark here!
  • The lack of a backlight does have one reported advantage though.  According to many anecdotal reports, there is less eyestrain from reading for long periods of time on an eInk screen versus reading on an LCD screen.
  • It is not all good for the eInk screens though.  I have already mentioned the lack of a lighting source.  The eReaders available right now on the market are only black and white. When color screens do come along, they are going to be initially prohibitively expensive.  This means that any color images will be displayed in grayscale.
  • Finally, eInk has a notoriously slow refresh rate.  Which mean that the time it takes to change the screen image is longer than most people are used to after using standard computers.  This means that eInk screens are also unsuitable for purposes that require rapid changing or updates, like video or animation.

eReaders using eInk: Amazon Kindle & Kindle DX, Sony eReaders, Barnes & Noble nook, Kobo Reader.

LCD:

  • Liquid crystal displays (LCDs) have become the screen technology we see all around us.  We use them with our desktop and notebook computers, at the ATM machine, and at self-checkout stations in the supermarket. They are also the primary technology behind tablet computers and mobile phones.
  • The most notable advantage of LCD screens is that they provide inexpensive color.  This means that the vibrant photographs and beautiful covers will show up in all their glory.
  • LCDs are almost always backlit, which means they can be read in the dark! Unfortunately, along with their glossy screens, make them difficult to use in very bright lights.
  • LCD screens have a much quicker refresh rate than eInk, which allows them to display media like videos and animations.  This also allows for a quicker user interface while using the device.
  • LCD screens are notoriously power-hungry, especially if there is a lot of motion on the screen.  This means that their battery life is counted in hours versus the weeks that eReaders using eInk can last.  If you are looking to lend LCD screen eReaders, for extended periods, it is likely that you will also need to include the charger as well.

eReaders using LCD screens include the Barnes & Noble nook Color and the Apple iPad.

Another of the main features that define the current generation of eReaders is wireless connectivity.  This gives them the ability to connect to the internet through either Wi-Fi or 3G cellular connections.  More importantly, at least to the device manufacturers, this allows the users to connect to the online bookstores and easily purchase new content.  This connectivity is an important thing to note if you are purchasing these devices for lending because you will have to consider polices about whether you will allow your borrowers to access or purchase new content.