Mobile

Kindle, Nook, Kobo or iPad: Which tablet or e-reader should you buy?

Amazon’s announcement of the Kindle Fire today threw down the gauntlet for both tablets and e-book readers. At just $199, it’s not much more expensive than previous e-readers, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than competing tablets.

In fact, you might be asking yourself: Why would I want a drab, monochrome E Ink reader when for a little bit more money I could get an awesome 7-inch tablet?

Conversely, why would I spend $500 and up for an iPad or Galaxy Tab when I could get a slightly smaller tablet for a fraction of the price?

We’re glad you asked. We can help you answer both questions. Here are the features, pros and cons of a number of tablets and e-book readers, sorted by price from low to high. What did we miss? Let us know in the comments and we’ll update this list.

$79 Kindle

Amazon's $79 entry-level KindleAmazon’s newest entry-level Kindle is based on the same E Ink technology as previous Kindles, but deep-sixes the keyboard. Its chief advantage: Crazy-low price.

  • Screen: 6-inch E Ink, 800 by 600 pixels
  • Weight: 6 ounces
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi and USB
  • Battery life: Two weeks to a month, depending on use*
  • Price: $79 from Amazon.com

Kobo Wireless

Kobo offers two e-book readers. The less expensive model is the Kobo Wireless Ereader, and it’s just about $100. Bonus: It comes in a variety of colors, including “lilac,” and has a soft, quilted back.

  • Screen: 6-inch E Ink
  • Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Connectivity: USB, Wi-Fi
  • Battery life: 10 days
  • Price: $99 from Kobo retailers, including Walmart and Best Buy

TouchPad

HP touchpadHP’s ill-fated, webOS-based tablet was a bust at $500. But at $100, lots of people thought it was a great idea. If you can get your hands on one of these devices (they’ve been discontinued, but HP has plans to bring them back), you might have a workable reading device. The app ecosystem is nearly nonexistent, however, and don’t count on support from HP.

  • Screen: 9.7-inch LCD, 1024 by 768 pixels
  • Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB
  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • Price: $100 (16GB model), $150 (32GB model) from HP

Kobo Touch

Kobo touch e-readerKobo’s higher-end touchscreen model has longer battery life than Kobo’s other model, and it’s a smidge lighter. It also comes in a variety of colors, making this one of the most fashionable-looking e-readers on the market.

  • Screen: 6-inch E Ink
  • Weight: 6.5 ounces
  • Connectivity: USB, Wi-Fi
  • Battery life: 1 month
  • Price: $130 from Kobo retailers, including Walmart and Best Buy

Nook Simple Touch

Barnes & Noble Nook Simple TouchBarnes & Noble’s E Ink reader has a touchscreen, elegant interface and the ability to read EPUB books. It lacks some of the Kindle’s wireless panache, but until Amazon’s $79 Kindle, the Simple Touch was the best deal going for simply reading books and PDF documents.

  • Screen: 6-inch E Ink, 800 by 600 pixels
  • Weight: 7.5 ounces
  • Connectivity: USB, Wi-Fi
  • Battery life: Up to 2 months
  • Price: $139 from Barnes & Noble

Kindle Touch

Image of Amazon Kindle TouchAdd a slick new infrared-based touchscreen to the Kindle and you get the Kindle Touch. It’ll be available November 21.

  • Screen: 6-inch E Ink, 800 by 600 pixels
  • Weight: 7.5 ounces
  • Connectivity: USB, Wi-Fi and (optionally) 3G
  • Battery life: Six weeks to two months
  • Price: $149 from Amazon.com (3G version), $99 (Wi-Fi only version)

Kindle Fire

Photo of the Kindle Fire from AmazonAmazon dropped a bomb on the tablet world with the Kindle Fire, which is both cheaper and more powerful (with a dual-core processor) than anyone expected. It won’t ship until November 15, so we won’t know until then whether its performance lives up to its promise, but you can place orders now.

  • Screen: 7-inch, 1024 by 600 pixel LCD screen
  • Weight: 14.6 ounces
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, USB
  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • Operating system: Android 2.2 (modified)
  • Price: $199 from Amazon

Nook Color

Barnes & Noble’s other entry into the e-reader market, the Nook one-upped earlier Kindle versions with a slew of glossy tablet features. Running Android, the Nook Color has a full-color display and email, web, and video capabilities.

  • Screen: 7-inch, 1024 by 600 pixels, 169 ppi
  • Weight: 15.8 ounces
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, USB
  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • Operating system: Android 2.1
  • Price: $249 from Barnes & Noble

BlackBerry PlayBook

BlackBerry PlayBookResearch in Motion’s PlayBook has its fans, and with about 5 percent of the tablet market, it’s doing okay. It’s probably better-suited to people who already have BlackBerry smartphones, though: Many of its features, like the e-mail and calendar clients, depend on being tethered to a BlackBerry. Note: Best Buy has reportedly cut PlayBook prices by $200, meaning you could pick one up for as little as $299.

Xoom

Announced at CES in January 2011, Motorola’s tablet is a slick-looking 10-inch Android tablet with optional 3G.

  • Screen: 10.1-inch, 1280 by 800 pixels; 150 ppi
  • Weight: 25 ounces
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, 3G (optional), LTE 4G
  • Battery life: 10 hours
  • Operating system: Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)
  • Price: $499 from Motorola (Wi-Fi only, Wi-Fi + Verizon 3G, with plan) $599 (Wi-Fi + Verizon 3G, no plan)

iPad 2

The product that started the tablet trend, Apple’s iPad is still the market leader. It’s set apart by great hardware design, Apple’s slick mobile operating system, and a well-stocked App Store. It’s also the priciest tablet currently available.

  • Screen: 9.7-inch, 1024 by 768 pixels, 132 ppi
  • Weight: 21.3 – 21.6 ounces
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G (3G version only)
  • Battery life: 10 hours
  • Operating system: iOS 4
  • Price: $499 – $699 from Apple (Wi-Fi only), $629 – $829 (Wi-Fi + 3G) from Apple

Galaxy Tab

The Galaxy Tab is Samsung’s Android tablet, announced in late 2010. Apple is currently battling with Samsung over patent infringement, which means that the Tab might not be available in your country.

  • Screen: 10.1-inch, 1280 by 800 pixels, 149 ppi
  • Weight: 13.8 ounces
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, 3G (ounces)
  • Battery life: 7 hours
  • Operating system: Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)
  • Price: $600 from Samsung

* Battery life claims come from the device manufacturers, and depend on usage. For instance, you’ll get less battery life if Wi-Fi is turned on and you’re watching a movie than you will reading a black-and-white text document with Wi-Fi and 3G off.

Additional reporting by Heather Kelly


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