Comparing Ebook Readers

2009 March 11
by Karen

So I’ve been pondering ebook readers for a while for three reasons. First, the technology interests me. Second, I’ve got more books than I know what to do with and need a more space efficient way to collect and consume. Three, I have joyous book royalty $$ to spend. To that end I’ve done a bit of digging about ebook readers. Three devices that supply this function in particular: the Kindle, Sony ebook reader, and the iPhone/iPod Touch.

There are of course huge difference between ebook readers and the iPhone which can be used to read ebooks. What is interesting is some of the issues carry over regardless of whether or not you use a single purpose device or a multi-purpose device.

Let’s start by by side-by-side comparison on the Sony Reader and Kindle

Sony Reader


  • Can read a variety of formats including MOBI and PDF (both protected and unprotected)
  • My local library has books which can be read on the Sony Reader
  • Like the overall size, slimness and intuitive UI


  • Not as many books available that I want as in Kindle format
  • Can’t buy and read Kindle books on it



  • Lots of ebooks available for purchase
  • Wireless built in


  • I think the overall design of the original Kindle was not intuitive. I’m a geek and it took me 15 minutes to figure out how to “click” and select a book to read. I haven’t gotten my hands on a new one so I don’t know if the interface is better. Reading and scrutinizing the photos it looks like it might be.
  • Proprietary Kindle File format. What will happen to my ebooks if Kindle goes bye bye or changes format? Also I can’t share my books with other folks which is something I do frequently.
  • Have to hack Overdrive ebooks (Mobi format) from my library to read them on the Kindle

iPhone/iPod Touch

In some ways this is a completely different animal, but as you can see from my Pros/Cons I like the idea of small multipurpose device.


  • Multipurpose device
  • Size
  • Really like Stanza and how it lets you put books on the device from your computer using wireless
  • With iPhone wireless practically all the time
  • Lots of free public domain books available
  • Will read lots of different formats including now Kindle!


  • Size of screen and resolution
  • Won’t read DRM’d MOBI books or Adobe EContent (this is the ebooks my library has)

Overall, I feel like we are with ebooks at the place we were with digital music a few years ago. Too many proprietary formats that won’t play on different devices. Now that I can buy practically any music as an MP3, I’m much happier. I still can’t borrow some audio things from the library though because they don’t play on my iPod, but it seems like that is a problem which is diminishing. I wish the same could be said for e-books. Sigh. As a result, I may continue to take a hands-off approach with ebook readers. If I happen to get an iPhone or iPod Touch I may consider acquiring a Kindle Book or two to check out the reading experience. I actually have pretty good feelings about by reading experience with iPod Touch, Stanza and Project Gutenberg books. However, iPod plus LibriVox rocks my world. Is anyone who has a Kindle 2 coming to Computers in Libraries and would be willing to let me check it out in person?

16 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 March 12

    I think you’re right: ebooks are where digital music was a few years ago. The market is cracked open, and we have a few interesting years ahead.

    More devices, and better ones, are coming. Kindle2 is way more intuitive than the original Kindle but it has three fatal flaws: a proprietary format, DRM, and (for me) a distracting flash every time the page is turned. You may be interested in a usability review of the Kindle from Jakob Nielsen.

    iPhone is my current favorite ebook reading device. The screen is small (half the size of the Kindle) but I’ve happily read several books on the iPhone.

    Liza Daly is worth following for ebook news. As for devices coming this year–I’m looking forward to both the txtr, an ereader from Germany and the PAGESIZE Plastic Logic.

  2. 2009 March 12
    Edward Hau permalink

    Any one did a review on the EZ Reader, made in China and marketed in the US?

    US vendor site:

  3. 2009 March 15

    From my experience with a few different multipurpose devices, including the Palm Zire 72 and a small (8.9″ screen) PC, the most important usability factor is how easy it is to hold the device and press the next page button. You’re going to be pressing the next page button a lot, so you have to be able to hold the device in a position where you can press the button without thinking.

  4. 2009 March 20

    Hi Karen,
    Here at Penn State we’re doing a project in partnership with Sony which has evolved into a bigger picture investigation of reading and formats for into Kindles , iPhones/iPod Touches and smart phones. We’re playing with formats and trying to figure out how we can deliver content to our patrons so they can read on whatever device they choose. I’m lucky enough to play with one of each, and would be happy to bring them all to CIL this year :-)

    I’m excited about this project and would love to chat with you more about it!

  5. 2009 March 20

    That would be awesome! I saw at Borders yesterday that there is a new Sony reader that I hadn’t seen before. The Kindle 2 is really the only one I haven’t seen in the flesh yet. If you wouldn’t mind bringing stuff with I’d be overjoyed. I’d love to play with them and take pics. Maybe I can interview about Penn State’s experiences so that can be shared with other folks.

  6. 2009 April 5
    Doug Evans permalink

    I’ve been reading paperback books since I was in Jr High … at the rate of 1 or 2 a week. At lunch or out for dinner, I always have a book in my hands. As I have already digitized my music collection to MP3s and my movie collection to MP4s, I thought it was time to get rid of the shelves and shelves and boxes and boxes of books I have … of to eBay they go. And, like Karen, I’ve been shopping eBook readers for a couple weeks now. And, again like Karen, I’ve come to the same conclusion …. there really isn’t anything out there yet for “real” people who read on the go all the time. The iPod Touch [or iPhone] is too small, the Kindle is too big and too proprietary, the new Sony killed the eInk screen, covering it with a sidelite and touch screen.

    Someone needs to come out with a real, portable eBook reader: it ought to be the size of a paperback book … 7″x5″x, say 1/2″ thick. It ought to be two 1/4″ slabs, hinged like a notebook PC and nice leather cover on the outside. Opened up, there should be two high resolution eInk displays that are 6″x4″ with at least 180dpi resolution for crisp clear 9pt type and clean graphics …. color would even be nice. Total control via a touch screen [no buttons] like the Apple iPhone that didn’t fuzz up the eInk display would be nice.

    Is there anyone out there that could take this kind of design idea and run with it????

  7. 2009 April 14

    nice article

  8. 2009 July 25
    geohar permalink

    “two 1/4″ slabs, hinged like a notebook PC and nice leather cover on the outside. Opened up, there should be two high resolution eInk displays that are 6″x4″ with at least 180dpi resolution for crisp clear 9pt type and clean graphics …. color would even be nice.” ……… why would you want this? it would probably increase the cost of the reader by at least 1/3 %, and isnt needed, thats what the “turn page button” is for. I would rather spend my money on increased contrast and resolution for the display. And you can keep your touch screen, just give me strategically placed buttons so i can turn the page no matter if its in landscape or portrait mode. Im currently using a Sony PRS-505 and give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.

  9. 2009 August 23

    We are thinking of purchasing an E-Book reader for my wife’s sister in Germany and wondering which reader the Kindell or Sony reader is more compatible overseas?

  10. 2009 August 23

    I’m not sure which is more compatible overseas. A colleague of mine knows a bit more about them though. I’ll ask him and post his response. If anyone else as an opinion please feel free to post in the comments.

  11. 2009 October 13
    Sam permalink

    I was hoping to buy my wife an ebook for her birthda this week. But after reading ur comments, i’m not sure if i want to invest that type of money on something that is not fully established in design and format.
    Is there anyone who can confirm if there is a make and model available now, that has got it right ??????????

  12. 2009 November 29
    Joe Soto permalink

    Have you checked out the Barns & Noble ereader?

  13. 2009 November 29

    I haven’t seen a Nook in person yet. I’ve been reading a lot about them though. Don’t think any of the readers meet enough of my criteria yet to invest in one.

  14. 2009 December 8
    Martin permalink

    For Europe, you might consider the BeBook. Google the name and read about it before you plunk down your heard earned dollars on a Kindle 2 or a Sony. The BeBook is better than both of them.

  15. 2009 December 8
    Martin permalink

    I’m Sorry! I forgot to include the link for the BeBook. Here tis:

  16. 2010 March 6
    Vikram Pahwa permalink

    After much evaluations, this company has bought 17 Sony e-readers for its employees. You may wish to contact them for detailed evaluations.

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