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Terrier Tech: E-Readers

Barnes & Noble’s Nook vs. Amazon’s Kindle

| From BU Today | By Alan Wong and Joe Chan
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In the video above, “Terrier Tech” cohosts Warren Towers and Courtney Bogard review the Barnes & Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle e-readers with textbooks and PDFs in mind. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Last spring, we launched “Terrier Tech,” an ongoing feature reviewing the latest mobile phones, tablets, and gadgets on the market. In our first segment of the new semester, we look at the two major e-readers on the market: the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Amazon Kindle.

On paper, e-readers appear to be an elegant, eco-friendly, and space-saving solution for students. Imagine a backpack without the weight of textbooks—not to mention the number of trees saved.

Just as landlines and notepads have given way to mobile phones and laptops, will textbooks eventually go electronic? Answer: not completely—and only if your textbooks don’t rely heavily on graphics, charts, or figures, a big “if” indeed. Sadly, for the moment science and engineering majors may want to hold off on studying exclusively via e-books.

So then, what are we trying to say? E-readers are great for classics majors or students whose textbooks are, well, mostly text.

The Barnes & Noble Nook and the Amazon Kindle are similar in both price and appearance: six-inch display, lightweight design, e-ink technology, PDF support, and long battery life. Both offer a base-level Wi-Fi version for $139. But there are a number of other varieties from which to choose. An ad-supported Wi-Fi version of the Kindle costs only $114. But you might want to consider spending a little more for the upgraded Kindle with free 3G + Wi-Fi. At $189, it’s well worth the price: the free 3G service allows you to download books virtually anywhere. There’s also the Wi-Fi-only Nook Color, available for those seeking more tablet-like applications from their e-reader, at $249, and the $379 Kindle DX, which boasts a large and improved 9.7-inch display. Based on our research and testing, we recommend the six-inch e-ink versions of the Nook and Kindle because of their optimal size, cost, and readability.

Despite their overwhelming similarities and ease of use, the Nook and Kindle are markedly different when it comes to navigation, compatibility, and PDF and ePub support. The Nook’s touch screen and the Kindle’s keyboard have their pros and cons, and we enjoyed the intuitiveness of each device’s approach. Oddly enough, the Nook fully supports library loans via the ePub format, where the Kindle does not.

Most salient is the way the devices handle Adobe PDF files. There is no doubt that the Kindle trumps the Nook here, with its ease and ability to zoom, highlight, and track notes. The Kindle also beats the Nook when it comes to organizing and categorizing PDF files. By contrast, Nook users must reprocess scanned PDF files using OCR (optical character recognition) to take full advantage of the Nook’s fairly limited PDF functionalities. Because professors and instructors rarely distribute scanned documents complete with OCR processing, students could end up spending a lot of time reprocessing the files, making the Nook an impractical solution.

Also of note, pagination can vary from print to Kindle to Nook. So if you’re in class and the professor refers to page 45 of a textbook, you may find yourself grappling to find the same passage in your Nook or Kindle e-book. And buyer beware: books purchased for the Nook cannot be used on the Kindle, and vice versa. And while textbooks are generally cheaper in their electronic format than they are in print, there’s no buyback for e-books at the end of the semester.

But if you’re going to buy an e-reader and you’re a student, “the evidence speaks for itself,” says “Terrier Tech” host Warren Towers. “The Amazon Kindle has the edge.”

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