Monday, August 30, 2010

March of the Color e-Readers: Kindle Kompetitors or Krazy Kolts?

This month we saw the release of Kindle 3, Amazon's latest e-Reader, and so far the reviews have been pretty positive. You can watch a video demonstration here to see the new features and improvements.

Yes it has a new look and is faster than ever, but I'd say the most noticeable, and in my opinion, significant improvement would have to be the sharper contrast of the E-Ink screen. To date, practically all popular e-Readers, whether it be a Sony Reader, Nook, or Kobo, have had displays that appear grey or in the case of the Sony's, more on the greenish side due to an additional screen layer for touch functionality. But honestly, as much as the promise of E-Ink was to mimic the appearance of the printed page, none of the devices using this technology looked like the real thing. In fact, by comparison, the early days of E-Ink didn't appear that much different from that of the old Rocket-Book, one of the first e-Readers introduced in the late '90s.

Without a doubt, the brighter, clearer screen of this newest Kindle succeeds in bringing us that much closer to matching the experience of reading a physical book, but with the added conveniences only such a digital device offers. And sure enough the Sony Readers, Nooks, and Kobos will get better too (and soon!). And as they do, it should be no surprise when people rapidly embrace the improved technology and begin downloading their favorite e-Books from retailers and local libraries around the world.

But for now I think it's safe to say that Kindle is currently king and the aforementioned competitors have some real catching up to do. So why then, with the obvious challenges facing these entrenched, well-known entities, would other companies believe there'd be any interest by consumers in yet another e-Reading device? Well, for that answer you'd have to ask the likes of The Sharper Image, Aguen, Velocity, and Pandigital, just to name a few, for each has recently announced (somewhat) dedicated e-Readers of their own...but with color screens.

Here's a look:

The Literati - This device from The Sharper Image will have a 7' color LCD screen and will also be sold at retail stores like Macy's, Bed, Bath & Beyond, JC Penny, Best Buy, and more. In other words, the places where people shop everyday for the kind of electronics everyone uses like TVs, stereos, and MP3 players. The Literati is powered by the Kobo e-Bookstore. There are four video demos to watch on the official website.

The Book - Not to be confused with Vook or Nook, this e-Reader from Aguen proclaims itself as "the book" and hey, why not. What's most interesting about this device is how you can purchase e-Books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders/Kobo, and other e-Bookstores. It can be bought at stores like K-Mart, but oddly enough, I learned about it from my cable company. Here's a video review.

Cruz Reader - More multi-purpose tablet than e-Reader, this device from Velocity looks pretty interesting and a lot like a small iPad! It has a 7" color screen and the e-Bookstore is powered by Borders/Kobo. Hmmmm, anyone seeing a pattern developing? Here's an official video demo.

Novel - From Pandigital, the company mostly known for its digital picture frames, comes this multi-function device that's also iPadish, but with a 7" color screen. However, this baby is powered by Barnes & Noble's e-Bookstore, which means besides having access to 1 Million e-Books, you can also read magazines and newspapers. Watch a video review.

I must confess, I'm not quite sure what to make of either one of these digital slabs, and I just can't imagine why anybody would purchase one except out of pure curiosity.

If you're thinking of finally taking the e-Reader plunge, then my recommendation is to get the Kindle 3 if you want to own the best overall e-Reading device, the Nook if you happen to shop frequently at your local Barnes & Noble and enjoy the benefits the in-store promotion offers, or the Kobo if you don't need any tech frills like Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity and like to show support for the underdog. Though you may want to wait until November because prices will most likely drop again in time for the holiday season.

In the meantime, would you consider buying one of the new color e-Readers mentioned above instead of a model with an E-Ink screen?


  1. I'm amused by how all these companies decide to go for the color LCD screen to compete with the Kindle. Like people are going to think "oh, this one is good, but this one has COLOR so it must be even better!" As if Amazon simply didn't have the technology for color screens. "Oh darn, I wish we'd have thought of that," they say.

    I hope consumers realize how great it is that eInk is not LCD.

    I remember a similar competition years ago: the Nintendo Gameboy versus the Sega Gamegear. The Gameboy was monochrome and had a smaller screen than the Gamegear. The Gamegear was back-lit and capable of displaying color. Nevertheless, the Gameboy won the handheld war. Why? The Gamegear went through batteries like toilet paper. You're 20 minutes into Sonic the Hedgehog, and bam, black screen. Your snot-nosed neighbor next door is still enjoying his Tetris, however, thanks to that tiny monochrome screen. Turns out there was a reason for that.

    People who purchase Literati and its ilk will probably feel unsatisfied when they need to go plug the damned thing in to recharge three or four times just to make it through their paperback sans paper.

    In the case of e-readers, there's also the fact that looking at a bright, back-lit LCD screen feels an awful lot like looking into a computer monitor. And that's essentially what it is--a tiny computer monitor. Read a book on your computer for four hours and tell me you wouldn't rather have been reading the same thing on paper with a lamp next to you. If your eyes don't burn a little bit, you have some kind of mutant superpower. Congratulations.

    eInk is clear, crisp, and a lot more pleasant to look at for long periods of time. Plus you can actually look at it for long periods of time before the battery runs out. So, to summarize: it's a feature, not a flaw. I predict the Kindle-like products will be purchased more by readers and the others will be purchased by gadget geeks. I'm interested to see how accurate this prediction winds up being.

  2. I am still holding off on an e-reader. I have a great affinity for the paper based book and anything short of a worldwide paper shortage probably won't get me to purchase one.