They don't take photos, place calls or play 3-D movies, but e-readers are this year's hottest gadgets. It's easy to understand why: Thousands of free e-books are available online, and best-sellers start at $10. But choosing the right e-reader isn't easy.
Manufacturers have stepped up competition, launching a bevy of models and dropping prices. It would be impossible to compare every e-reader available, so we'll take a look at some of the best and what makes each unique.
Amazon's Kindle DX ($379) is the gold standard in e-readers. The large, 9.7-inch electronic-ink screen is easy to read, even in harsh sunlight. Thanks to 3G connectivity, you can download books anytime for free. Wireless delivery takes about 60 seconds per book.
Annotate books with the built-in keyboard. Look up words with the built-in dictionary. Or listen to some titles with the Read-to-Me feature. The screen automatically rotates as you turn the Kindle, perfect for viewing maps and charts. It holds about 3,500 books. With the Kindle app, you can read your e-books on your computer and mobile devices.
The new Kindle Wi-Fi ($139) and Kindle 3G+WiFi ($189) hold the same number of books but come with a 6-inch screen.
Borders' Kobo eReader proves less can be more. At $130, it is one of the least-expensive e-readers. It lacks Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, and the sleek design does away with a keyboard. The 6-inch e-ink display is easy on the eyes, even in bright light.
Thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, titles can be transferred from some phones. The Kobo also comes with a USB cable to connect to your computer. Unlike the Kindle, the Kobo supports the ePub format, which is used by many free e-book sites. It comes with 100 free e-books preinstalled and holds up to 1,000 titles in its 1 gigabyte of memory. You can add an SD memory card for additional storage. Books can also be read on a computer and mobile devices.
Sony Reader Touch Edition
Like other e-readers, Sony's Reader Touch Edition ($230) features an e-ink display, but this 6-inch screen has a trick up its sleeve — it responds to touch. Swipe with your finger to turn the page. Draw on the screen and use the virtual keyboard. There's even a stylus for note-taking.
The Reader Touch Edition lacks wireless connectivity, but many will be fine without it. The reader works with a variety of popular formats, including ePub. The internal memory holds 1,200 books and is expandable by adding a Memory Stick or SD card.
Barnes and Noble's Nook has a 6-inch e-ink display. But it has a something other e-readers don't have: a 3.5-inch color touchscreen. Use it to browse Barnes and Noble's e-bookstore. It comes in both Wi-Fi ($149) and 3G +Wi-Fi models ($199).
The smaller color touchscreen below the main screen also doubles as a virtual keyboard, making it easy to search for titles. It supports popular formats such as ePub and PDF. The internal storage holds about 1,500 titles. You can add a microSD card for more storage, although that requires opening the case. Books can also be read on mobile devices.