Kindle vs Nook vs Sony (December 2010)

The Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony Reader are the Big 3 eReaders. If you want a dedicated reading device with an eInk screen you’ll probably end up having to make a Kindle vs Nook vs Sony decision.

This Kindle vs Nook vs Sony post will cover the strengths and weaknesses of each and help you decide which eReader suits you best.

Kindle vs Nook vs Sony – What Sony brings to the table

There are two new Sony Readers – the ultra-compact Sony Reader Pocket Edition (Sony 350) and the Sony Reader Touch Edition (Sony 650). Sony killed sales by introducing them at $180 and $230. However, these are now sporadically available for $150 and $200, sometimes even lower, and this makes them a lot more competitive with Kindle and Nook.

Sony Reader Strengths

Sony 350 and Sony 650 pack in some solid features –

  1. They both have touch. It’s touch enabled by using IR rays and in no way impedes readability.
  2. They have the new eInk Pearl screen.
  3. They support library books. 
  4. They support DRM’ed ePub which means ebooks from any store that sells books in DRM’ed ePub format can be read on the Sony Readers (except B&N as it adds its own proprietary DRM on top of Adobe’s DRM). In addition, Sony Store sells ebooks which can be read on any eReader that supports DRM’ed ePub – so you can switch to another eReader later without losing your books.
  5. Decent battery life of 2 weeks.
  6. The smaller Sony Reader (Pocket Edition) is incredibly light at 5.47 ounces and very compact at 5.71″ by 4.11″ by 0.33″. The Pocket Edition is also quite light at 7.58 ounces.
  7. They come with 10 built-in language translation dictionaries in addition to the standard English dictionary.
  8. They come with the ability to do freehand drawing in addition to scribbling notes.
  9. They have slightly better PDF support than Kindle and Nook.
  10. They are available in a variety of colors and are the best looking eReaders by far. Sony Reader Pocket Edition is available in silver and pink and Sony Reader Touch Edition is available in black and red.
  11. The Pocket Edition has a SD Card slot and a Memory Stick slot.
  12. The Pocket Edition lets you play MP3 and AAC files (Apple iTunes format).

The new Sony Reader Touch Edition is, arguably, the best eReader if you consider just the eReader itself. It’s let down by a poor ebook store and by poor infrastructure.

Sony Reader Weaknesses

The Sony Readers share a few weaknesses –

  1. The eBook store is painfully bad.
  2. There is very little in terms of infrastructure. For example: Sony reading apps for iPhone and Android are slated to arrive in December 2010 – That’s a long, long time after Kindle for iPhone and Nook for iPhone arrived.
  3. They don’t have wireless support – neither WiFi nor 3G.
  4. The user interface for taking notes and making highlights is awkward and wastes the touch capability.
  5. There’s no text to speech feature like the one Kindle has.
  6. There’s no ebook lending like Nook.
  7. No in-built browser.
  8. There’s no App Store on the horizon and no games.

Sony has, rather strangely, decided to forsake wireless support for the 350 and 650.

The Pocket Edition has some additional limitations –

  1. The Sony Reader Pocket Edition has a slightly smaller screen (5″).
  2. It’s also pretty fragile – more so than the other eReaders, which are quite fragile themselves.
  3. There is no SD card slot on the Pocket Edition.
  4. It doesn’t have audio support.

It’s a bit sad to see Sony limit the Sony Reader Pocket Edition so much. There really was no need to remove audio support and to get rid of the SD Card Slot.

Kindle vs Nook vs Sony – What Nook brings to the table

Nook is the only second generation eReader in the Kindle vs Nook vs Sony discussion. That means it doesn’t have the benefit of the eInk Pearl screen and is missing some of the newer technologies (such as Sony Reader’s touch screen and Kindle’s Voice Guide feature). It still manages to put up quite a fight.

We’ll consider only the Nook for our comparison since Nook and Nook WiFi are almost identical. The only difference is that Nook WiFi doesn’t have the 3G support the Nook has.

Nook Strengths

B&N has done a good job of supporting Nook with software updates, a good ebook store, and good wireless features.

  1. Nook is supported by a very good eBook store.
  2. Nook is also supported by good infrastructure – free Nook store browsing and free ebook downloads via AT&T wireless, lots of Nook reading apps for other platforms, and features like syncing your place in a book, and your notes and highlights, across devices.
  3. Nook has a LendMe feature that lets you lend a book once, to one person, for up to 14 days. Kindle is supposed to add this feature in 2010 but hasn’t yet.
  4. Nook gets some bonuses when you go into B&N stores – you can read any book for up to an hour per day, there are sometimes offers, and there’s B&N support staff to answer questions in person. 
  5. Nook supports library books.
  6. Nook supports DRM’ed ePub. We’ve already discussed how this means ePub books from any store can be read on Nook. Note that Nook’s own books aren’t readable on other eReaders – more on that in the Nook weaknesses section below.
  7. Nook comes with a microSD card slot.
  8. Nook has a pretty decent audio player. Kindle only lets you skip to the next track and pause.
  9. The Nook comes with a small 3.5″ color touchscreen that is used for navigation and flipping through book covers.
  10. Nook looks quite good. Not very pretty like the Sony Readers but passable.
  11. You can password protect your purchases.
  12. Nook is built on Android and there are hacks available for it.

Overall, the Nook has a lot of strengths and, despite being a second generation eReader, it stays within striking distance of the Kindle and the new Sony Readers.

Nook Weaknesses

Nook has quite a few weaknesses –

  1. It doesn’t have the new eInk Pearl screen. If you were to place Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader side by side you would always pick one of the other two for reading. 
  2. It’s quite unwieldy as it weighs 12.1 ounces and measures 7.7″ by 4.9″ by 0.5″. 
  3. The color touchscreen for navigation doesn’t gel with the much slower eInk screen for reading. This problem is compounded by a user interface that is rather complicated.
  4. Nook has the slowest page turns out of the Big 3 eReaders (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader).
  5. There’s no text to speech feature. 
  6. The Nook App Store is only going to be for Nook Color in the beginning. Given that only a million or so Nooks have been sold, Apps for the eInk Nook might never really take off.
  7. It doesn’t have touch for the main reading screen.
  8. Battery life is relatively low when wireless is on. Total battery life is also a bit low at 10 days.
  9. It doesn’t support Audible audiobooks and only supports MP3s for music.
  10. It’s only available in one color.
  11. It doesn’t support text files.

Nook suffers, in comparison to Kindle and Sony, and my recommendation would be to pick one of those if you’re looking for a dedicated eReader. Buying a second generation eInk based eReader makes little sense when multiple third generation eInk based eReaders are available.

Kindle vs Nook vs Sony – What Kindle brings to the table

The Kindle is a third generation eReader and also has a good ebook store and good infrastructure to support it. Amazon’s desire to preserve its eBook revenue stream means the Kindle imposes some limitations which end up being its major disadvantages.

Kindle Strengths

The Kindle is solid across the board –

  1. It has the new eInk Pearl screen which is great for reading. It’s the exact same screen as the new Sony Readers. It’s also a much better eInk screen than the one the Nook has.
  2. Kindle has the best eBook Store, with the best range and the best ebook prices. Nook Store is close, while Sony Store is a distant third.
  3. Kindle is the simplest eReader to use. You don’t need a computer. You don’t have to figure out complicated menus. It just works.
  4. Kindle has amazing infrastructure to back it up. Not only does it have 3G for free store browsing and free downloads – It also offers free internet browsing to US Kindle owners.
  5. Kindle has the best international support – It’s available to be shipped to over 150 countries, WhisperNet is available in 100+ countries, and it’s begun to add books in non-English languages to the Kindle Store.
  6. Kindle is great for travel for US Kindle owners as they get free Internet Browsing and free store browsing in over 100 countries.
  7. Kindle has the best battery life – It’s up to a month with wireless off, 3 weeks when using WiFi for wireless, and 10 days when using 3G wireless.
  8. Kindle’s text to speech feature is great – It lets Kindle owners listen to books, and also makes the Kindle more “accessible” to blind and low vision readers.
  9. To enable full “accessibility” the Kindle has a Voice Guide feature that reads out menus and book listings.
  10. Kindle has a physical keyboard – While Amazon has tried its best to nullify this advantage by removing the number keys and making the keys tiny, it’s still good to have a physical keyboard.
  11. Kindle has an App Store that’s begun to churn out games. There haven’t really been any life-changing apps released but there’s a chance killer apps start appearing eventually.
  12. Excellent customer service from Amazon.

If you factor in the entire ‘eReader + eBook Store + Infrastructure’ ecosystem the Kindle comfortably edges Nook and Sony Reader.

The Kindle is clearly the best dedicated eReader available.

It does, however, have a few significant weaknesses because Amazon wants to make sure that it keeps the eBook revenue stream intact. This leads to strange decisions, such as not adding PDF support until a competitor adds it, and staying away from ePub.

Kindle Weaknesses

Here are some Kindle weaknesses –

  1. No support for library books.
  2. No support for ePub.
  3. No support for DRM’ed books other than ones from the Kindle Store. This means that the only stores from which you can get eBooks for the Kindle are the Kindle Store and stores that sell DRM-free ebooks.
  4. It doesn’t have a touch screen. 
  5. It doesn’t support Apple iTunes format music. Also, the music player is hilariously rudimentary – the only options are Next Track and Pause.
  6. It doesn’t allow custom screensavers – Nook does.
  7. Kindle isn’t the prettiest eReader around.
  8. There’s no SD card slot.
  9. The battery isn’t replaceable.
  10. There is no ebook lending yet – though it’s supposed to arrive by the end of 2010.
  11. It isn’t as compact and light as the Sony Reader Pocket Edition.

The significant disadvantages are the first 4, with the first 3 being a direct result of Amazon’s attempts to keep its ebook revenue stream intact.

The Kindle vs Nook vs Sony Decision

At the moment it’s a pretty clear-cut decision –

  1. Kindle wins Kindle vs Nook vs Sony unless you really need one or more of – library book support, ePub support, a touch screen, lending, a SD Card Slot. If you don’t need these then get the Kindle.
  2. If you need one or more of these features then the new Sony Reader Touch Edition is the best option. It’s a latest generation eReader with the new eInk Pearl screen, a touch screen, support for ePub, and library book support. It’s a better choice than Nook.
  3. Nook is the third choice. It’s still a decent option due to the Nook Store being quite good, and because B&N provides good infrastructure and frequent software updates.

Kindle is clearly the best eReader available, and Sony Reader Touch Edition is a very clear second. Nook loses out in the Kindle vs Nook vs Sony comparison. Depending on which features are most important to you, my recommendation would be to pick either Kindle or Sony.