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Terrier Tech: E-Readers

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


Welcome back to BU, students. Last spring, we launched “Terrier Tech,” an ongoing feature reviewing the latest mobile phones, tablets, and gadgets on the market. This year, we’ll be critiquing the hottest apps, gadgets, and technology with your needs in mind. 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 classic 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, you 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.”

Alan Wong

Alan Wong can be reached at alanwong@bu.edu.

12 Comments on Terrier Tech: E-Readers

  • Aaron L'Heureux on 09.08.2011 at 7:39 am

    I got the Nook mentioned here for my Dad recently for his birthday. In general, sensitivity aside, after testing both, the touch screen and the improved e-ink refresh rate on the Nook were the deciding factors. He’s told me he’s very happy with it though I bet he’d be thrilled with the latest Kindle as well.

    I do agree that for academia-related texts that something like the Nook Color (or iPad) is the ideal reader. The iPad gives you access to all the stores via apps in the event a single book is not available where you need it and handles PDFs and ePubs better than any other device I’ve tried, though it obviously has cost implications.

    As always, Terrier Tech is awesome!

  • Ally on 09.08.2011 at 10:04 am

    I love my kindle! I also noticed the (few) flaws you mentioned- it is definitely not good for textbooks yet. There is a way to jump to pages/locations but it is pretty difficult and not the same as flipping through pages quickly. You can highlight passages, but I haven’t found a way to organize them and navigate them easier (they are referred to as clippings in the kindle). It is great for enjoying books and blogs (and the pictures are actually pretty decent in the blogs, magazines, books, and PDFs), but I think they should consider using color ink (particularly for pictures) and fixing some of the minor flaws before I ever use it for textbooks.

    • Warren Towers on 09.08.2011 at 11:05 am

      re: the highlighted notes, it’s definitely something we hope amazon improves on in the future. For now, we found that the clippings are actually dumped into a .txt file you can grab off the kindle via usb to copypasta into a word file.

      It ain’t perfect, but hopefully that’ll help you organize the clippings a little better!

  • Terrell Gibbs on 09.08.2011 at 10:54 am

    Amazon also offers an ad-supported Kindle with free 3G for $139. Ads are fairly unobtrusive appearing only on the “screensaver” and in a small strip at the bottom of the Home page. The 3G is a substantial advantage if you switch back and forth between reading a book on the Kindle itself and on kindle apps on your computer, smartphone, or tablet, as it keeps your Kindle sync’d to the page where you left off even if you are away from a WiFi connection. The Kindle also includes a web browser that can be used with the free 3G, which can be handy on the go, but is rather awkward to use compared to touchphone browsers.

    • Warren Towers on 09.08.2011 at 11:01 am

      Totally agree with you Terrell! 3G was a big plus in our book, even if the web browser felt like something you’d see on your ol’ graphing calculator

  • Steve on 09.08.2011 at 11:01 am

    Good article, can you guys review the kindle tablet once it comes out?


  • Rena on 09.08.2011 at 11:20 am

    As for classics majors, until the devices have all the editions and translations, complete with Stephanus page numbers for ancient works and quick access to footnotes and supplemental text within the works, they won’t be much use to a classical studies student. Sadly, I doubt this is a problem either the Kindle or Nook will be addressing soon.

    Still though, I’ll probably be purchasing a kindle in the near future but I’ll likely stick to my paper copies of ancient texts for the time being.

  • Robin Wacha-Bessert on 09.08.2011 at 4:35 pm

    I love my Amazon kindle and only wish that there were more books offered in pdf format for it. As I enjoy reading while my husband drives on trips, reading during my lunch, or other places where the convenience of the Kindle being light and portable helps, I truly wish that textbooks will be available for the Kindle soon.
    In regards to classes, I have saved my lecture/module reading to a pdf format so that I can read during my lunch hour. Every minute helps when you work full-time and attend school part-time. Also having a Kindle helps so that I can spend some time with my husband and three sons. Education is valuable to help in regards to providing more for my family, and every minute that I can spend with them is precious.

  • Nick W. on 09.09.2011 at 7:16 am

    I love that BU makes these videos…

    • Warren Towers on 09.09.2011 at 9:17 am

      we share because we care!

      And because we enjoy playing with dem gadgets. But mostly caring!

  • David Keefe on 09.09.2011 at 9:35 am

    Another textbook e-reader option is Kno – a free app that started out for iPad, but now in beta as a web and Facebook app as well: http://www.kno.com/features

    The app is free, so if you’ve already got the iPad or laptop, it’s no extra cost. Then it’s backed by the Kno store, which has over 100,000 textbooks available to download (some discounted 30-50% according to their website). I think you’re forced to use their store with the app, so that’s a downer, but with over 100,000 books, it seems like you’re likely to find what you need.

    The app is supposed to be student/textbook centric, with added features for highlighting, notes, bookmarking, course schedules, etc. I’m not certain, but believe the app supports multiple file formats for the books.

    Anyway, I haven’t used Kno, but it seems like an option worthy of students exploring, AND Terrier Tech reviewing. If any students have used it, I would be very interested to hear about their experiences with it. And defo want to hear what Warren and Courtney think!

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