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Christmas eBook Readers: What’s the Better Buy?

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 11/27/2008

Thinking about picking up an eBook reader as a Christmas gift, and want to make sure that you’re getting the latest version on the market? We’ll take a look at some of the more respected names in the eBook reader field and see what’s on the shelf.

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    The Competition

    Sure, there are other eBook readers, but the real competition in the market right now is between the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader. If you want all the details concerning the features of each of these devices, check out John Lister’s analysis Looking at Electronic Reading Devices, Part 1. In this article, the focus will be on which of these electronic readers makes a better gift this holiday season.

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    Amazon Kindle – Price: $359

    Amazon Kindle Despite rumors to the contrary, Amazon has confirmed through spokesperson Craig Berman that there will be no new Kindle version available this holiday season. I have mixed emotions on this matter. On one hand, I picked up the original Amazon Kindle last Christmas, and I’m still extremely happy with my purchase. So, there’s a big part of me that’s eager to see what new features would be present in a newer model. On the other hand, I really have no need for a new eReader, but I’m afraid that a newer, fancier version of the Kindle might tempt me to buy one anyway.

    Even though the current version of the Kindle is a year old (that has to be almost ancient in “computer years”), it still has a lot of features that set it apart from other eBook readers. For one thing, the free wireless capability of the device lets you browse, preview, and buy eBooks without having to connect the reader up to a computer. This same wireless access also allows you to connect to other sites on the Internet as well. Granted, the Kindle wasn’t developed specifically for web browsing, and it’s not the tool of choice you would want to use for this activity on a regular basis, but it does work.

    Last year, you had to have your order in pretty early to get the item by Christmas – I ordered mine on November 30 and didn’t receive it until early January. However, that delivery problem was mostly due to the fact that the Kindle had just been released, and Amazon underestimated how big the demand for the product would be. Things shouldn’t be as bad this year, but Amazon still estimates a 2-3 week delay on shipping so get your order in early.

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    Sony Reader PRS-700BC – Price: $399

    Sony PRS-700BC Although the Sony website claims the new PRS-700BC will be available on or around November 14, that date might be cutting things a little bit close to ensure timely delivery by Christmas. Sony has been taking preorders for awhile now so it’s tough to say what the stock situation will be like even when the item does become available. If you haven’t put your order in already, it’s very possible that your name may end up on a waiting list.

    If you like the Sony design, you might be considering one of the cheaper PRS-505 models that list for $299. Unless you’ve found a good deal on a used one or you don’t mind purchasing a reader that’s already way behind in the eReader field, I’d recommend leaving this model on the shelf.

    What’s the difference between the PRS-505 and Sony’s upcoming PRS-700BC release? The new model features a touch screen display, built-in LED reading light, and integrative search capabilities. It also incorporates the note-taking functions available in the Kindle in which items can be updated with a virtual keyboard or stylus. Because of these additional features, it’s easy to see why the PRS-700BC has the higher price tag and why it’s worth waiting for if you’re set on the Sony line.

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    Christmas Recommendation

    Even though I have a personal bias in favor of the Amazon Kindle, I do understand the appeal of the Sony Reader, especially for those who have no need for the Kindle’s wireless capabilities (which are nonexistent in Sony’s eReader, by the way). The Sony Reader does support a broader range of formats, making it easier to build a larger eBook library.

    However, for this holiday season, the Kindle seems to be the safer bet. The Kindle has been around for a year, and its pros and cons are well-noted. Even if you do manage to get one of the new Sony Readers shipped to you in time for Christmas, there’s no established user base for the latest model to verify how well the added features function.