The 2012 Holiday eReader Tech Guide
With the announcement of the iPad mini I think we’ve seen the last of the major tech announcements before the holiday shopping season gets into full swing. Here’s what you electronically-inclined readers have to look forward to spending money on!
Having updated every one of their Kindle products this fall, save for the Kindle Keyboard (codename: "Old Faithful") and the Kindle DX which appears to be discontinued, Amazon has an attractive lineup for the holidays. The Kindle Fire refresh particularly looks to excite, though most reviewers seem to agree that without access to the Google Play Store the Fire is still less of a proper tablet and more of an extended Amazon storefront. Amazon continues to include advertisements with their devices, a practice I find reprehensible, but I seem to be in a minority on that point. Kindle Fires can support CRRL eBooks from OverDrive either through the Amazon store or the OverDrive Media Console app and eBooks from EBSCOhost either through the Bluefire app or the Aldiko app. The Kindle Fire does not natively support apps for other eBook stores like Nook or Google, but if you’re crafty it is possible to copy these apps from a proper Android device to the Fire - do a Google search for “Nook on Kindle Fire” and you’ll get a bevy of how-tos.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9” (4G)
Amazon packed a lot of tech into this package compared to last year’s Fire, including a 1920 x 1200 screen, booming audio, 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU, dual-band, dual-antenna wifi, and front-facing camera. It’s a definite bump up from last year’s Kindle Fire, but still falls a little short of the iPad, particularly in terms of app support. But at $299 for 16GB or $369 for 32GB Amazon still has the upper hand in terms of price, not to mention media offerings. There are also models featuring 4G connectivity starting at $499 with 32 GB, though Amazon’s 4G data packages are, for lack of a better word, weird, starting with an annual fee of $49.99 for 250MB of data per month - why they’d even bother with such a paltry data allowance, even at such a low price, is absolutely beyond me.
Kindle Fire HD 7”
This smaller screen version of the Fire HD also has a slightly slower CPU at 1.2 GHz and does not have a 4G offering. It comes in 16GB and 32GB flavors for $199 and $249 respectively. Were I to purchase a Kindle Fire this holiday season, this would be it.
This is last year’s Kindle Fire, right down to its effectively non-existent 8GB of storage. The only updates are to the software and the price $159. I recommend spending an extra $40 for the HD version, you’ll be very glad you did.
It annoys me that Amazon waited until Barnes and Noble introduced the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight to bring out a backlit Kindle. For five years users have been begging Amazon for a backlit screen, which they partially answered with the Kindle Fire, but really, users desired a backlit e-ink screen. Only when their hand was forced did Amazon bring out the Paperwhite, but my personal feelings aside, it looks to be quite a nice piece of hardware, with great contrast and a backlit, capacitive touchscreen. You can get a wifi only version for $119 or a 3G version for $179.
This is the bare-bones Kindle: no 3G, no touchscreen, no audio playback, no back-lighting - just a few buttons and a screen. At $69, if all you’re interested in doing is reading books and periodicals, this is quite a buy.
Kindle Keyboard 3G
For those who enjoy a physical keyboard, 2009’s third generation Kindle has, miraculously, stuck around for a third year! It trades a touch screen for an actual keyboard, but at $139, I really don’t expect to see it around next year, so grab it while you can if the keyboard’s the thing for you!
Apple's iOS devices are the standard-bearer for mobile computing. If you can afford them, they should be at the top of your shopping list. All of Cupertino's toys are able to check out eBooks from CRRL. Grab the Overdrive Media Console for eBooks from OverDrive or the Bluefire Reader for eBooks from EBSCOhost from Apple’s app store. Remember that eBooks purchased using Apple’s iBooks can only be read on iOS devices, but eBooks from other stores can be read on iOS devices using the correct app:
- Amazon Kindle App
- Barnes and Noble Nook App
- Sony (Use Bluefire Reader)
- Google Play Books
Here is the Apple lineup:
The iPad Mini
Apple’s answer to the recent rise of 7-inch Android tablets, the iPad mini is, for all intents and purposes, an iPad 2 with a 7.9-inch screen instead of 9.7-inch screen, weighing in at 0.68 pounds. It also comes with markedly better front and rear-facing cameras than the iPad 2. Starting at $329 for a 16GB wifi model, it’s also a much better deal than the iPad 2.
The iPad 2
This is the same model that we’ve been seeing since 2011 marked down to $399 for a 16GB WiFi model or $529 for a 16GB wifi+3G version. Although it features a screen 2 inches larger than the iPad mini, both screens operate at a disappointing 1024 x 768 resolution, which looks much fuzzier on a larger display. It is also roughly .75 pounds heavier. Unless you really, really, really want that extra 2 inches of screen size, save yourself $70 and go with the iPad Mini.
The iPad “4”
Boy, this has a lot of people ticked off. Only seven months after the release of the “New” iPad or iPad “3”, Apple has pushed out a fourth iteration of the hardware running an even faster processor. Starting at $499 for the 16GB + WiFi, it’s the premiere Apple tablet.
The iPod Touch 5th Gen
Using the same 4-inch screen as the iPhone 5, the same CPU as the iPad 2, and starting at $299 for a 32 GB model, this is the upgrade that iPod Touch owners have been waiting two years for. If you wanted the equivalent of an iPhone without the monthly contract, here you go!
Barnes & Noble
As I’ve made clear in previous blog entries, I’m not a fan of how Barnes & Noble requires its users to always have a credit card on file with them in order to re-download eBooks they’ve already purchased, to download free apps, or even to use a gift card to purchase eBooks. My past experiences with their customer service have left me with a foul taste in my mouth, and I don’t recommend them to anyone. That said, Fredericksburg’s Barnes & Noble will be opening November 7 in the same space that my dear, departed Borders once occupied, and naturally, their Nook boutique will be front and center with some pleasant new devices. Barnes & Noble’s eBook business practices may be questionable and their app and media offerings severely lacking, but they do churn out some nice hardware (which don’t, incidentally, include advertisements out of the box like the Kindles do). The Nook line will support CRRL eBooks from either OverDrive or EBSCOhost through the use of the Adobe Digital Editions program installed on a PC or Mac. OverDrive eBooks can also be downloaded to the Nook tablets (not the e-ink Nooks) with the free OverDrive Media Console app, providing, of course, you have a credit card on file with them. Nooks can also read eBooks from Google and Sony, again, with use of the Adobe Digital Editions program.
With a 9-inch, 1920 x 1280 screen, a 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU, and weighing in at just over 1 pound, the Nook HD+ is a great tablet priced at $269 and $299 for the 16GB and 32GB models, respectively. It also has what no other eReader tablet has: expandable storage for up to a 32GB microSD card.
This model is similar to the HD+ mentioned above, but includes a 7-inch, 1440 x 900 display and a slightly slower 1.3 GHz dual-core CPU. You can pick up an 8GB version for $199 or a 16GB for $229.
Nook Simple Touch (with GlowLight)
This is the basic e-ink Nook. It’s light, thin, pleasant to hold and now comes with optional backlighting. A basic version will set you back $99 and a GlowLight version comes in at $119. If you head to the new Central Park Barnes & Noble between November 14th and 23rd, you can pick up a basic Nook for $59 while they’ve got them in stock.
Google's Nexus tablets running the mobile Android operating system are manufactured by Asus and Samsung. Google also gives away Android for free so that anyone may come along and build their own device around it; the result is some very impressive hardware that will generally be cheaper than Apple's iOS devices. My one big gripe about Android on tablets is the omnipresent black navigation bar that runs across the bottom of the screen; it's a waste of space, particularly on smaller screens, and I'd prefer dedicated hardware buttons instead. Android tablets and phones can support CRRL eBooks, either with the OverDrive Media Console app for OverDrive eBooks or Bluefire Reader or Aldiko for EBSCOhost eBooks. There are also apps to support every other eBook retailer, minus Apple iBooks:
Here are a few good Android tablets to be on the lookout for:
(updated 10/31/2012) Google’s flagship tablet, the Nexus 7 (manufactured by Asus) packs some impressive hardware into a lean, inexpensive package, including a Tegra 3 Quad-Core CPU and a 7 inch 1280 x 720 screen. Its only true drawback is its lack of expandable storage and rear-facing camera. Google just updated the Nexus 7 line so that a 16GB version runs $199 and a 32GB version runs $249. Tablet newbies should give this one a long, hard look - the price and features are hard to beat and unlike a similar device from Amazon or B&N, pure Android tablets can easily read eBooks from every retailer without any complications.
(updated 10/31/2012) Samsung's new tablet is the first to challenge the "new" iPad's retina display. Running at a 2560 x 1600 resolution, it has an even denser pixel count at 300 pixels per inch as opposed to the iPad's 264. Running Android's latest release, 4.2, with a 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU, 2GB of RAM, and starting at $399 for a 16GB model or a 32GB model for $499, this is a serious iPad competitor. My only complaint is the move away from the Tegra 3 processor - lots of serious games are designed specifically for this processor and its exclusion is a personal disappointment, but the average tablet user won't care. It also features a rear-facing camera, unlike the Nexus 7 which only has a front-facing camera.
Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T
The Asus Transformer line is, in my opinion, the premier offering of Android Tablets. A 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 display, Tegra 3-powered, insanely thin tablet with an optional keyboard and great rear-facing camera makes the Transformer Pad Infinity the iPad of Android. Pricing varies slightly depending on where you purchase it, but the 32GB model starts at around $500. It may not have the same screen resolution as the Nexus 10, but its inclusion of a Tegra 3 CPU and expandable storage make it my personal favorite.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Based on the success of the Galaxy Note smartphone, Samsung has brought out a very nice 10.1 inch tablet that makes use of a stylus and a suite of apps to take advantage of its functionality. While the screen is a disappointing 1280 x 800 at 10.1 inches, its internals include a 1.5 Quad-Core CPU, 2 GB of RAM, expandable storage, and nice cameras. $500 will buy you a 16GB version and $550 a 32GB version. It’s maybe not so competitively priced, considering the lackluster display, but the stylus functionality might make up for that for a lot of consumers, especially those of an artistic bent.
Redmond is getting ready to release Windows 8 upon the world, a hybrid Tablet/PC operating system that looks to challenge Apple’s iOS mobile offerings while still maintaining a PC presence. The tablet interface utilizes tiles rather than icons that will take some getting used to for those who think they know Microsoft. Not much is known about how Windows 8 will support eBooks, but I think it’s safe to say that given Microsoft’s ubiquity we’ll see programs to support eBooks from CRRL as well as from stores. As always, Microsoft will license its operating system to third-party hardware manufacturers, but for the first time I can recall, they are also releasing their own hardware, the Microsoft Surface, an obvious iPad competitor. It has specs similar to other tablets, with a Tegra 3 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32 or 64GB of storage, and a 10.6-inch, 1366 x 768 screen.
The 32GB version runs $499; 32GB with a keyboard cover is $599; and the 64GB version with a keyboard cover is $699. It has been remarked by reviewers that this is a tablet that really does need a keyboard, particularly for its built-in Microsoft Office apps. It’ll be interesting to see how this play turns out for Microsoft, a company that, while still powerful, is not the behemoth it used to be and is decidedly late to the tablet scene that Apple and Google have popularized. The Surface is getting good reviews, but what will ultimately determine the fate of Windows 8 tablets will be Microsoft’s app offerings--they’re four years behind Apple’s wonderfully rich app store and will have to do a lot of catching up very quickly. If Microsoft can bring in and work well with third-party app developers, they stand a chance. Here’s one final tip for you: don’t upgrade a Windows 7 computer to Windows 8. If you want Windows 8, buy it with a new tablet or hybrid PC/Tablet, which it was designed for. If you’re running Windows 7, stick with it; I think you’ll be happy you did.
Edit 10/28/2012: OverDrive has released a version of their Media Console for Windows 8 which supports ePub eBooks and MP3 eAudioBooks.