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I know, I know – enough with the e-readers already!  But this technology is really about to explode – in the next six months no less than 7 new e-readers will be on the market. I just want to compare a few here.

AMAZON KINDLE: Amazon now has the best track record in the e-reader business, and they have a lot of very loyal customers. You probably can’t go too far wrong with a Kindle, especially the Kindle DX with its 9.7 inch display and fairly good .PDF support, plus automatic landscape view a la the iPhone. Amazon’s e-book selection is excellent and growing all the time, and their prices seem a bit more reasonable than Barnes and Noble. The only real problem is you are pretty-much married to Amazon as far as getting books, as the Kindles don’t support the .EPUB format that is becoming standard. The Kindles also do not natively support .DOC and .HTML formats – you must email these through Amazon’s conversion servers, and you will get nickel-and-dimed to death on this.  Both the Kindle 2 ($259.00) and the Kindle DX are available now, but only through Amazon’s web site. And the DX is expensive – almost $500.00, but if you want native .PDF support, it’s the only Kindle that has it. Unfortunately the Kindle DX can’t zoom in and out on .PDF documents, but switching to landscape mode does enlarge them somewhat. The Kindles come with 2 gb (Kindle 2) and 4 gb (DX), but are not expandable.

BARNES AND NOBLE NOOK: This is looking like the Volkswagen of e-readers: low price-vs.-features, slick design, numerous file formats, and that pretty color touch screen at the bottom. Also you can use third-party memory cards/sticks to upgrade to 16 gb of memory from the on-board 2 gb. The Nook has native .PDF support, but does not re-flow .PDF content, nor can you change the font size of .PDF files – so unless you have Adobe Pro you will find many .PDF files unreadable. Apparently the Nook doesn’t have right-justified text, either. B&N put the money into the wireless capabilities here, and so something had to be sacrificed to keep the price down. There is hope, though: the Nook runs on the Google Android smart-phone operating system, so if B&N releases a developers’ kit there should be third-party applications available to add some missing features. The Nook will be available at the end of November at the announced price of $259.00 – certainly some of the features will change between then and now. For the better one hopes.

SONY PRS 900: Sony calls this full-featured e-reader “The Daily Edition” because it will be the only one of their three readers to feature wireless access via 3G networks, allowing you to wake-up to the morning e-newspaper with your first cup of coffee. As with the Kindle and Nook, this 3G connection is expected to be no-cost to the consumer. The PRS 900 replaces Sony’s previous flagship e-reader the PRS 700, and it looks like it will be a major upgrade. Like its little brother the PRS 600, this e-reader features touch screen and stylus operation, a very sleek design, and the usual E-Ink Vizplex display (although the PRS 900 has a 7 inch display instead of the PRS 600’s 6 inch version). The PRS 900 also supports landscape view, but this is manual rather than automatic as on the Kindle DX. It supports numerous file formats natively, and appears to have good .PDF support. Many of the PRS 900 features can be experienced on the PRS 600, which is available now at $299.00. The PRS 900 will also be available at the end of November, and is expected to retail for about $400.00. Memory is expandable using third-party cards/sticks. Hardware-wise, the PRS 900 seems to have the edge over Kindle and Nook, but it might not have the content availability. Sony uses the MobiPocket service, which is not as extensive as either Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

There are numerous other e-readers about to hit the market, but probably not until after Christmas. The stand-outs here appear to be the iRex reader, which seems comparable to the Sony PRS 900 and which will use the Barnes and Noble e-book store, and the Plastic Logic QUE, which features a 10 inch E-Ink display and seems to be targeted at the business market. The QUE will also (apparently) hitch its content wagon to Barnes and Noble. Another recently announced e-reader is the Alex from Spring Design. This device seems similar to the Nook in that is uses the Android OS, and features a color touch screen for navigation – however the Alex touch screen is larger than the Nook’s and can deliver multimedia. No word on suggested prices on the units.

UPDATE 11/16/2009: Spring Design has filed a lawsuit against Barnes and Noble claiming the Nook “steals” the Alex design. Apparently B&N was at one time involved in talks with Spring Design to produce a reader for the bookseller. The Nook release has been pushed back to mid-December.

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