When Amazon and Sony first announced their e-book readers, I wanted to do a comparison of the products to determine which may be a better fit for your reading style. Thankfully, I waited long enough for more products to appear, and someone has put them into a handy table. CrunchGear has a great comparison of the various e-book readers currently available. Below is a trimmed down version of the table, specifically with those items I wanted to focus on.

Device

Kindle

Kindle DX

Sony Reader Daily Edition

IREX DR800SG

Screen Size

6 inches

9.7 inches

7 inches

8.1 inches

Touch Screen

No

No

Yes

Yes

Rotating Screen

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Storage

2GB

not expandable

4GB

not expandable

2GB

expandable via Memory Stick and SD

No on-board memory, comes with 2GB SD card

Bookstore

Amazon

Amazon

Sony eBookstore

Barnes & Noble

Natively Supported Formats

Kindle (AZW), TXT, Audible, MP3, MOBI, PRC

Kindle (AZW), PDF, TXT, Audible, MP3, MOBI, PRC

ePub, PDF, JPEG, BBeB, RTF, TXT

ePub, “multiple DRM solutions”

Formats Supported via Conversion

PDF, HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP

HTML, DOC, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP

DOC, HTML, “other text file formats”

Not sure yet, will update when more info is available

Web Browser

Yes

Yes

No

No

Other Features

(lists may be incomplete)

Bookmarks, annotations, dictionary, Wikipedia, search, audiobooks, iPhone sync

Bookmarks, annotations, dictionary, Wikipedia, search, audiobooks, iPhone sync

Highlighting, annotation, dictionary, handwritten notes with included stylus

Bookmarks, search, included stylus, “users will have the ability to download content to the device while traveling abroad next year”

As you can see, there are some differentiators between these products. First, the bookstore availability may concern some people as Sony does not really have their own bookstore. The expandable storage, or lack of it, is a big issue for a lot of people given what these devices are capable of.

However, it is those capabilities that I wanted to focus on. Some of the products offer a touch screen and a rotating screen. These are features that reading a book really do not require. The Kindles support MP3s which is really only required for an audio book, as far as “book reading” is concerned. They also offer conversion from other formats, like HTML, again a slightly odd feature for a “book reader”. Lastly, we have web browsing and the other features like bookmarks, annotations, a dictionary and some other goodies. Basically, are these devices really just book readers?

So, now we come to the real question. If these devices are really meant just for book related activities, why should we buy them now? Should we just wait for the Tablet computers to appear? In reality, if a tablet computer exists, an e-book reader would just be a feature of it, assuming the proper book licensing agreements could be put in place. Well, tablet computers do exist or at least are coming soon at hopefully reasonable prices.

There is talk of the fabled Apple Tablet, or giant iPod, that may or may not be released in November or near the holidays or sometime next year. However, if the Apple tablet could read e-books and has the traditional Mac or iPod feel, it would be an amazing device. There is also the CrunchPad which will probably be about half the price of the Apple tablet, but is geared more towards mobile computing and is supposed to boot directly into a browser. However, adding e-book reading would probably be a simple task. Last, but definitely not least, is the also drool-worthy Courier from Microsoft. This device is a tablet, but not a tablet as much as two tablets that are put into a book-like form. Disappointingly, I have not seen potential launch dates or prices for the Courier device.

So, given that such cool tablets will exist soon why buy something like a Kindle now? If the e-book readers cost $399, what if the Courier cost $500? Why would you buy a Kindle? Given that we don’t know the prices of the tablets, except for a $300 – $400 estimate on the CrunchPad, should you wait or buy a known product now?

Personally, I think waiting for the tablets will be the best move. Apple will likely get some deal for e-books and put them on iTunes. If Microsoft launches their Courier, I would bet that they would get a book licensing deal as well. Both of these devices are probably going to be more expensive than the e-book readers, but they will be a computing device instead of a truly niche device. The e-book readers will likely innovate as well by including more audio and video capabilities. The best part is that the consumer wins in the long term. We have companies innovating from the bottom, the e-book readers, and we have those at the top, like Apple and Microsoft. When innovation wins, typically the consumer wins as well.

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