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Overall dimensions: 7.5" x 4.8" x 0.335"
Screen size (for all units measured diagonally): 6"
Weight: 8.7 ounces
At $139, the latest generation Wi-Fi–only Kindle is a supersweet deal—provided that you typically hover in Wi-Fi range. If you don't, you probably want to spring for the 3G model, $189, which lets you search and download via a high-speed data network at no charge, even when there's no Wi-Fi around for miles. Either way, the newest Kindle is so sleek and light—scarcely more than half a pound—that you can toss it into even a smallish bag and have enough reading material to last a lifetime.
The unit is trimmer and lighter than previous generations, and one good charge on the battery will hold you for a while, up to a month. The screen is uncanny in its resemblance to genuine paper, thanks to a painstakingly calibrated contrast. Useful extras galore include the ability to post articles from periodicals to Facebook right from your device. In fact, it's hard to think of a reason not to get one of these—even if you cling like a mollusk to the experience of reading printed, bound books.
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Nook (Barnes & Noble)
Overall dimensions: 7.7" x 4.9" x .5"
Screen size: 6" display for reading; 3.5" LCD for navigation
Weight: 12 ounces
Barnes & Noble's answer to the Kindle is especially nifty if you like to hang out at your local B&N store. There are two wireless offerings—$149 for Wi-Fi only, $199 for 3G and Wi-Fi, both with a small touchscreen for navigating the high-contrast e-ink screen above it. This is also how you stock your virtual bookshelves—simply tap the Shop button and off you zip to the online store, where you can buy books, find free tomes, and subscribe to magazines and newspapers. (Though the selection is not quite as vast as Amazon's.)
If your friends also have a Nook, you can lend them books right from yours; the device will retrieve them when the loan period is up. In-store, your Nook will get free access to Wi-Fi and a constantly changing array of content that's available only while you are on-site. But be forewarned: If you enjoy playing Sudoku, having a Nook may mean you are constantly tempted to ignore work deadlines—or your kids.
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Reader Daily Edition (Sony)
Overall dimensions: not available at press time
Screen size: 7"
Weight: 8.99 ounces
When it comes to scratching the itch to curl up with a book, the Sony Reader gets the tactile sensation right—it has just about the same heft in the hand, and the screen-only design provides a book-like experience. The e-ink screen looks like paper, with slightly more glass-like glare than the Kindle or Nook. (A company rep says the newest version of the Daily Edition, not available for testing at press time, has a more paper-like look due to an e-ink tech update.)
Among the several Sony options, the Daily Edition, $299, is the only one that delivers periodicals wirelessly the way the Nook and Kindle do. Tap its touchscreen to navigate, shop, highlight passages, or jot notes with the cool included notebook app. A big plus is that you can check books out from the library over the Internet, though you have to connect the Reader to a computer to complete the transaction. However, you'd have to do that quite a few times to make up the difference in price between the Reader Daily Edition and the Kindle or Nook.
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Overall dimensions: 9.56" x 7.47" x .5"
Screen size: 9.7"
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Calling the iPad an e-reader is like saying denim is just for jeans—both are gross understatements. But if you're considering investing in an e-book, think about whether spending a lot more to get an iPad makes sense for you. (The price differential depends on the model you choose, but iPads start at $499 for 16 GB.) The iTunes App store boasts tons of newspapers and magazines, with more being added all the time. You can buy e-books at iTunes or from Amazon by installing the free Kindle app. There are also apps to manage your health records, to-do list, and hundreds of other things. The iPad allows you to stream video from Netflix and tote the Google Maps-based navigation system wherever you go.
In other words, this unit is almost a full-featured computer, though you'll have to poke at an on-screen keyboard or spend more cash on a full-size one. The crisp touchscreen is slick, though not high-contrast like the Kindle, Nook, or Reader—meaning you won't want to read on it in bright light. But all the other bells and whistles may render that a moot point.
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Alex (Spring Design)
Overall dimensions: 8 7/8" x 4 3/4" x 3/8"
Screen size: 6"; 3.5" touchscreen for navigation below
Weight: 11 ounces
The news about the next Alex, available December 1, is that the smaller touch-LCD below the e-ink screen runs on the popular-and-getting-more-so Android operating system—almost like a Droid smartphone without the calls or cellular fees. The browser means you can go anywhere you want on the Web: Facebook, Twitter, shopping for books at Kobo.com or BooksOnBoard.com. Like most Android mobile devices, it can wirelessly access the Android Market via the 3G network, where users just tap an icon to easily snap up apps that do just about everything but walk the dog or physically put dinner in the oven.
But let's not forget the books. Buying them isn't as simple as on the other devices here, but reading them on the 6" e-ink screen is surprisingly comfortable. In short, this may be the answer for people who are willing to pay a premium (the unit runs $399) for the privilege of being on the cutting edge because the Android operating system makes the Alex nicely expandable over time.
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Overall dimensions: 8" x 10" x .5"
Screen size: 7"
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Despite its cool name and on-screen bookstore, the Novel is more like a poor-man's iPad than the other e-readers here. The color touchscreen LCD isn't as wow-worthy as the iPad, but hey, at $179, it won't set you back nearly as much financially. Like the Nook, the Novel connects to Barnes & Noble via Wi-Fi (no 3G) for books, newspapers, and magazines, and has a Web browser, alarm clock and calendar. Check your e-mail, hit Facebook, reserve a hotel room, or go shopping. Bottom line: This unit is useful for much more than just reading, but while the color screen makes Web surfing pleasant, it also limits your reading options about as much as any other LCD: You'll have a hard time if you're lazing about someplace sunny. Of course, you could probably happily listen to books or music in that situation.
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings, and styles are subject to change.