The Fast Company Guide to E-Readers



Although it seems that all we ever talk about these days is the tablet–how gorgeous the iPad is, how the tablet will kill off the netbook, a little bit more about the iPad–the more dynamic market of the moment is e-readers. Not a day goes by without the launch of a new model–latest being Asus’s Lumibook, and with Marvell muscling in on the Chinese market–and, to be honest, it’s all a bit confusing.

Apple has so blurred the boundaries between e-reader and tablet because of its iBook Store, that one could almost argue that the traditional, monochrome version (think Kindle) is almost obsolete. Almost–but that’s down to the wondrousness of electrophorectic technology, the fancy (and un-trademarked) name for e-ink, that uses minimal power and is ace for reading in natural daylight. You can see the effects that the iPad has had on the market, however: Engadget uncovered a half-sized iPad simulacrum from Asus (it runs Android, so hints of the B&N Nook there) and, although Jeff Bezos recently claimed there’s a color version of the Kindle lurking somewhere in Amazon’s labs, it’s E.T.A. is “some ways out.”

So, when it comes to choosing the right e-reader for you, whatchoo gonna do, Willis? has separated the wheat from the chaff, and please find, for your delectation, a selection of what we consider to be the most interesting upcoming (and already available) e-readers around. And not an iPad in sight. Well, almost.

Best browser: Bookworms among you may not even be aware that some of the models have Web-browsing capabilities, including the Kindle and the Nook. However, I’m going to blow the black-and-white thang out of the water and say, how about the Pandigital Novel? It’s color, it’s got Barnes & Noble’s half-a-million-volume library, it browses, it’s not out yet, but oh ho ho, expect this one to do well. At $200, it’s less than the price of a–no, my lips are sealed.

Best book store: They’re all pretty damn good, really–although you’ve got to wonder just how Google will sew up the market if they ever dare to dip their toes back into the hardware market, following their contretemps with the Nexus One. Sony has just announced it is to launch a content-distribution service in Japan, China, Australia, Spain, and Italy. I’ll let both Nook and Kindle carry this one off jointly, as they’ve both got Gut–that’s Gutenberg’s 1.8 million free books on top of their 500,000 titles–and as I’m a nice girl.

Best for light travelers: As recommended by fellow FC-er, Dan Nosowitz (a more seasoned voyageur you will not meet) the $155 Sony Pocket Reader is, with a mere 5-inch screen and no bulky keyboard, significantly smaller than the competition (even pocket-sized, if you’re not wearing skinny jeans). Its memory is beefy enough to allow you around 350 books on it, and it supports books lent from public libraries (any major city library should have an ebook lending system). It’s a bit barebones–no search, no annotations, no wireless connection–but it’s beautifully designed, absolutely teeny, and it can sometimes be found for $110, nearly impulse-buy territory. If you’re not already in hock to the Kindle or Barnes & Noble stores, it’s a great option.


Best for someone with a bag-carrier: Oh, without a doubt Plastic Logic’s Que. They call it a ProReader, it looks just dreamy, and if ever you want to best someone with an iPad, then this is the e-reader to do it with. It’s the business–I’m in no doubt that this is the kind of thing that Tom Ford’s minions would be carrying for the great man himself. Price is a little sticky, however–$649 for the 4GB Wi-Fi version, rising to $799 for 8GB Wi-Fi and 3G. I asked, but it doesn’t come in a cut-price 1GB version that you pedal yourself. Sigh.

Best apps: If apps is really the only reason you want to buy an e-reader, then why don’t you just go to the Apple store and buy the–no, no, I won’t say it. If, however, $500 is not the kind of wonga you’re planning on shelling out, might I suggest the Nook? Although Android is not quite as hot on the app front as Apple, Barnes & Noble recently churned out a firmware update that lets you upload all kinds of fun and games on its second, color screen. Cost is, like the Kindle, $259.

Best value: If it’s all about the money, then plump for the Libre Pro, Borders’ riposte to Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Costing $120, it comes with 100 free books and a Borders’ desktop app. It reads the pretty universal e-book standard file, ePub, as well as .pdf files, has room (via an SD card slot) for 40,000 titles, syncs to your computer, and you can listen to pre-downloaded MP3s on it.

Best for bookworms: It’s got to be the Lumiread, Acer’s Kindle-esque e-reader, which should be out next month. Acer is staying schtumm about the price so far, but they’re known for not beating too much money out of the consumer. Plus, it’s got a dinky little scanner that you can use when you’re in your local bookstore on a book’s ISBN number and which links you to online sites where you can download the e-version of whatever tome it is caught your eye in the Macabre Horror section.

Best if you’re not that into books: All right, I’m going to say it–the iPad.

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.