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The best e-readers for Christmas

Nexus 7, iPad Mini, Kindle Paperwhite - the top book-reading tech of 2012

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Feature Digital reading devices separate into two basic types. On the one hand, you have the traditional e-reader, based on e-ink technology, and designed specifically reading. But now we have the 7in tablet, an altogether more sophisticated gadget, but one now starting to challenge the old-fashioned e-reader on price, especially when you consider the extra functionality it incorporates.

During 2012, a raft of new e-readers and tablets made their appearance, all promising to be the acme of the portable library. Functionally, there’s not much to separate the members of each group. Which you select will depend on which brands you favour, whether you want books bought from one seller to be viewable on another vendor’s device, and what your attitude to legal but significant tax avoidance is.

nexus7

Nexus 7: a generic Android tablet that makes a cracking e-reader

I can’t tell you whether you should have an e-ink reader or a tablet - that will depend entirely on how you plan to use it, and where. Me, I have one of each: a Kindle 4 e-ink device and a Google Nexus 7 tablet.

Why two? For me, it’s all down to the screen. Traditional e-readers’ e-ink screens have a key advantage over the glossy LCD panels of the tablets: they can be read in bright light. That said, even harsh, direct sunlight is too much for even their partially reflective screens. But generally, if you’re outdoors, e-ink screens are more legible than LCDs.

Conversely, LCDs are better inside, thanks to their backlighting. They are brighter and crisper, they can do colour, they can show a genuinely white background not the grey of an e-ink screen, and it actually doesn’t take much of a drop in ambient light levels for an old-style e-ink panel to become hard to read.

B&N Nook SimpleTouch with Glowlight

Modern e-readers, such as the Barnes & Noble Nook SimpleTouch Glowight, have illuminated screens for nighttime reading

That was the case until just recently when booksellers Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and e-book reader makers Kobo and Bookeen, released e-readers with illuminated screens. What the Nook SimpleTouch Glowlight, the Kindle Paperwhite, the Kobo Glo and Odyssey HD Frontlight have in common are arrays of LED lights that are positioned to reflect light off the back of the display. The upshot: an e-reader you can view in low ambient lighting conditions as well as outside.

Another plus: they have higher resolution, 758 x 1024 panel rather than the 600 x 800 of the previous generation of E Ink-made screens, though to me the increase doesn’t make for a noticeable improvement in the smoothness of text.

There are downsides too: lit e-readers tend to be slightly thicker that their unilluminated siblings - though still less than a tablet - and the light consumes battery power at a greater rate. In practice, you have to have the light on all the time to see the difference - the Kindle Paperwhite is fixed that way - but you still get weeks of battery life out of it. One of the joys of older e-readers is their phenomenal month-or-more battery life, but even illuminated models outstrip tablets when it comes to battery charge longevity.

Barnes and Noble Nook HD

Barnes & Noble's Nook HD has the best display on a 7in tablet - but uses it to sell, as does Amazon's Kindle Fire HD

You might think that that negates the need for a tablet, at least as a device to be used primarily if not exclusively for reading. Not necessarily. For one thing, the new generation of 7in tablets, typified by the Asus-made Google Nexus 7, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD - the old Fire has too low a screen resolution and is too chunky for my taste - and the Barnes & Noble Nook HD, have high resolution screens which, while not quite up their with the latest Apple iPad, deliver a near-retina experience: the screens pixels are so small and sufficiently close together to make them all but indistinguishable to the naked eye.

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Next page: Tablet or e-reader?

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