Kindle or Nook: Does it matter which files they support?
June 6, 2010 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting an ebook reader, and I'm trying to decide between the Kindle and the Nook. If I get a Kindle, am I leashing myself to the Amazon store? If I get a Nook, could I buy books from other stores or borrow ebooks from my library?

For me, buying an ebook reader is a long-term investment, and I don't want to spend a lot of money on a reader and ebooks and then find myself in some proprietary prison in a few years.

Thanks for your help!
posted by jordanian2 to Technology (33 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Nook will leash you to B&N the same way that Kindle does to Amazon. Check out this for a good overview of different readers.
posted by earlygrrl at 8:45 AM on June 6, 2010

Wikipedia has a comparison chart. With a Kindle, you can read books you buy from Amazon, and also all text files (like, the books on, .pdf files, and any book in the Mobi file type (for example, books on and lots of other online ebook vendors).

With the Nook, you can't read text files, but you can read .pdf files, books from Barnes & Noble, and books from

According to the chart I linked to, the Nook supports fewer file types than any other electronic reader.
posted by Houstonian at 8:45 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Both are pretty proprietary, and I doubt either would work with ebooks available from the library, though the Kindle may, through its browser. I'm pretty sure the Nook is limited to B&N ebooks or PDFs, Kindle will want AZW or mobi files, but they also offer a PDF conversion service.

Next month Google Editions comes online. Those will be DRMed PDFs so it's unclear yet if they'll work on either the Nook or the Kindle.

If you want a more open platform, there are a bunch of readers out there that can handle ePub or PDF. The problem is other than public domain material, most of it over 90 years old, there isn't a hell of a lot of open content available. Google is likely to bring the largest collection to the table. And Google is likely to have the most open platform that could potentially work across the widest spectrum of devices.

I don't think the Kindle or the Nook is the right choice for you. Unless Google's files work on those devices, which you'll have to wait until next month to discover.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:46 AM on June 6, 2010

This is a complicated question. Kindle and Nook both have proprietary formats for their readers. You can also sometimes read Word .doc, PDFs and some ePub formats on each one. But you can't buy books for the Kindle at Barnes & Noble, and you can't buy books for your Nook at Amazon, as a general rule.

To get a better idea of which reader works with which formats (none of them are agnostic yet) I suggest checking out the Dear Jane column at Dear Author.

Dear Jane, What Format Should I Buy?

Dear Jane, What Reader Should I Buy?

Dear Jane, Can I read books bought at the Sony store on my Nook?

You might also find the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books E Reader Test Drive and their E-Reader Olympics helpful.
posted by headspace at 8:47 AM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's more expensive (by a lot!), but another option is an iPad. There are (free) Nook and Kindle apps for it, so you can read anything from either store. Apple also has its own bookstore app. There are also good comicbook and pdf readers. It's the closest thing I've found to a read-anything-that's-been-digitized app.

I own both an iPad and a Kindle. This super-expensive choice is the right choice for me, because I spend most of my life reading.

The iPad is heavier (it feels like you're holding a hardback book) and you can't read it outside, because it has a backlit screen that is susceptible to glare. On the other hand, the text in incredibly crisp and you can read in the dark (because it generates its own light).

The Kindle is lighter (it feels like you're holding a paperback book) and you can read it anywhere you could read a regular book, such as outside on the beach. You can't read it in the dark, because it doesn't generate its own light. And the text is duller than the crisp text on the iPad.

The iPad needs to be charged every couple of days; the Kindle (and probably the Nook, too) only needs to be charged every couple of weeks.
posted by grumblebee at 8:52 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make sure you try the Nook out at a B&N store before you buy it; it sounded attractive to me until I tried to use it at the store. Its interface is baffling; I'm good with technology, and my husband is a rocket scientist who can figure out any machine, and even he hated it. He summarized it pretty well: "It has five stupid buttons and none of them do what you want them to." I couldn't get it to simply open an eBook after using it for a couple minutes -- the menu was elusive, and the few times I found it I pressed the wrong button or something so it disappeared and I had hell finding it again -- so I said screw it and walked away. Since then we've noticed that B&N employees are sometimes quick to jump in and show people what buttons to press -- it's that unintuitive. Hopefully they improve on that in later models.

I don't know if the Kindle's interface is any better since I haven't gotten to use one in person, but from the little I've seen it at least looks better than the Nook's.

Anyway, you can convert between a lot of formats using Calibre; it's a free program. I don't think you can convert anything with DRM though.
posted by Nattie at 8:55 AM on June 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm still learning, but I already love my Sony e-Reader pocket edition that I received in the mail this week. I got a refurbished one from Woot for $100. They're new in stores for $150ish. Small like a paperback, easy-to-use buttons. ePub format, but also reads PDFs.

My Kindle-owning friend says there is a ton of after-market software that converts between all the formats, though I haven't yet tried it. So I doubt you'll be locked in regardless of which model you choose. In that case, go for the model that's the most pleasant for you to use, because you'll be holding it for sometimes hours at a time.

Just another option that I didn't see you mention.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:36 AM on June 6, 2010

I've been trying out all sorts of eReaders for work over the past year. Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, and now iPad (which I'm typing this reply from) and I'd suggest going with the Kindle.

The Nook might be worthwhile in a few iterations, but it's currently not that great. As mentioned it has access to fewer formats, plus its B&N library is smaller than Amazon's. Its color screen is neat, but ultimately a battery draining bell and whistle. The 'loan' feature on it is a joke.

The Sony products are basically the Tyco Blocks of the eReader world. They are the sort of thing well meaning grandmaster buy for kids who asked for Lego.

iPad is interesting, with the ability to read both Amazon and B&N products, but it's form factor is way worse than the Kindle. Weight matters and this thing is a pain to hold securely in one hand. The glare is pretty bad as well. If you do a lot of reading, eyestrain might be a problem. I'm finding i get a headache reading a kindle book on the iPad and I never got one on Kindle.

Amazon will likely have a new iteration if Kindle out soon. That may mean some nice price drops on the current Kindle2. Get that one. The ability to hold it in one hand and turn the page is not to be poo-pooed. Avoid the DX - it's just too unwieldy.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a Nook (I've owned it since February). I'm a big library borrower and actually haven't purchased any books for the reader - I did download a free book with a promotion, so I have used the store, which is reasonably easy to use.

My library system uses for its ebook catalog; I think that's a pretty popular option, but you might want to check what your library uses. I've checked out both PDF and ePub books, and both work just fine - the ones from my library are DRMed, so I download them and move them to the Nook via Adobe Digital Editions, which my library offers for download. It's not the most seamless process, and I initially had some trouble figuring it out, but it does work. After the lending period is up (for my library, it's 21 days), the DRM expires and the file won't open anymore.

Nattie is right about the Nook's interface being somewhat unintuitive, but I haven't had too much trouble with it. The recent software update helped; the Wi-Fi toggle is on the home menu instead of being buried somewhere. The battery life is not as good as B&N promises; I have to charge mine every week or so with moderate use, and every four days or so with heavy use. Also, I've had some problems with the device getting stuck on screensaver mode, and AFAIK there's not an easy way to reboot it, save taking the battery out (requires a small screwdriver) and starting it back up.

That said, I would buy it again, since I don't think my library's ebook system supports the Kindle at all, and that was the deciding factor for my choice.
posted by timetoevolve at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

My advice is to wait till around December to buy one of these (that's what I'm doing). There are lots of tablets and readers coming out, and prices are going down. I looked at a nook yesterday--I really like the form factor, but it's clearly a 1st generation device (slow performance/awkward interface, etc.). I bet the nook 2 will blow it away. (the sales rep was bragging that the nook will work with googlebooks, btw. Not sure if he knew what he was talking about).

So, there are lots of tablets and readers coming out soon (personally, I'm looking forward to HP's WebOS-based tablets, as well as to checking out other open tablet/reader designs such as this one). I'd suggest that you hang tight for a little while longer as the second generation of reading devices makes its way into the marketplace.
posted by washburn at 9:49 AM on June 6, 2010

What format are the library books in? How are they DRMed? Calibre is pretty good about converting between formats. Infact, it's pretty much the gold standard of software for this sort of thing. I personally love my Kindle2, and hardly ever read any Amazon content; there's just too much awesome stuff that's put out my independent publishers, or it otherwise free (legal or not... just sayin').

Note that Kindle2/DX users are also anxiously waiting for version 2.5 of the software to come down the pipe from Amazon -- we'll get folders! Yay! Welcome to the 90s, Amazon! It was supposed to be out late May, but has been delayed a couple weeks.
posted by cgg at 9:51 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

For me an iPad just isn't a viable, SERIOUS book reader. Eye-strain for the LCD just makes it painful after an hour or two. But I love my iPad for everything else. :)

I have a Kindle, and debated at one point whether to go Kindle or Nook. Regardless of book availability from either Amazon or B&N (usually Amazon has what I want... on the rare occasion they don't I'll read a 'real' book), the deciding factor was battery life. The Nook has that LCD screen which eats up battery life - but I can leave my Kindle lying around for days (actually weeks) and still not have to charge it up.

If I'm on the road, or even just doing my daily commute, I don't like being tied to a charger. Simple as that.
posted by matty at 9:57 AM on June 6, 2010

The format question will eventually be resolved when one kind of reader establishes enough market dominance. That's the way it almost always goes. Caveat: I don't expect see to the iPad be that format.
posted by justcorbly at 10:34 AM on June 6, 2010

If you Google you can find converters to move content between different formats. When I got my Kindle I converted about three dozen books from the eReader format to Kindle's MobiPocket format. It wasn't completely straight forward (yet) but only took about an hour. As more people purchase electronic texts I expect it will get easier.

The various book stores are roughly equivalent, and will probably always be. Get the device that you like the best. (I'm quite happy with my Kindle, but I feel that Sony has put the buttons in better places.)
posted by Ookseer at 10:56 AM on June 6, 2010

Definitely try as many forms as you can in person. SO thought he wanted a Nook, and it's truly horrible in person. I bought him a Kindle for our anniversary, after he looked at a friend's Kindle, and liked it. He loves it even more at home, and is actually reading from it right now :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:56 AM on June 6, 2010

They are the sort of thing well meaning grandmaster buy for kids who asked for Lego.

Grandmaster? Oh right, iPad.

Seriously, recommending an LCD screen for serious reading is mind boggling. Before you buy anything go see an e-ink display in person. The difference is night and day.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:58 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for your help, everybody!
posted by jordanian2 at 11:20 AM on June 6, 2010

Someone gave me a Kindle for a New Year's present, and while I do love the portability of it, and the display is great, I've found that I used the Kindle app on my laptop more often than the Kindle itself. That's probably because I carry my laptop with me everywhere, and I also have several other ebook applications downloaded on it so I can read whatever I want, whenever I want and am not limited to one format. If I'm going on a long trip or won't be near an outlet for a while though, I bring the Kindle - the battery life on that thing is great if you turn off the internet option.
posted by patheral at 11:32 AM on June 6, 2010

If maximum store choice is your criteria, go with the Sony. Without converting, you can buy/read from:

- Free sites like Project Gutenberg, Many Books and Feedbooks (epub)
- Free and pay books from Smashwords (epub)
- Books from Sony Store, Fictionwise, Books on Board and Kobo (epub)
posted by JoannaC at 11:51 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Buy a kindle and download Calibre (free) on to your computer. You can now comparison shop / find free books and convert the filetype.
posted by adamvasco at 12:19 PM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Probably due to other issues, I'm the opposite of most folks in this thread-- regular books and e-ink displays exhaust me, and the iPad's LCD is just about perfect. I've got PDFs in Dropbox that I'm reading with GoodReader, epub files in iBooks, and stuff from the Kindle store in the Kindle app, and it's all been pretty good.

One thing, though-- I find the formatting and fonts on epubs from iBooks to be much nicer than the corresponding Kindle Store version, but the Kindle versions are generally cheaper. My test case was The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac by Graham Farmelo-- $16.99 via iBooks with what appears to be the original font and typesetting, $12.98 at the Kindle Store with the generic Kindle font and huge spaces between paragraphs. Mildly annoying.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:24 PM on June 6, 2010

Wikipedia has a comparison chart. With a Kindle, you can read books you buy from Amazon, and also all text files (like, the books on, .pdf files, and any book in the Mobi file type (for example, books on and lots of other online ebook vendors).
It's true that you can read other files on the Kindle but you have to upload them to amazon who will then send the file to your kindle. You can't just load files up directly, as far as I know.

However, there are non-propritary readers out there you should consider, especially if you want to read your own PDFs. Wikipedia has this comparison chart of devices, which is handy (this is a different chart then the one Houstonian linked too)

Also, I try to avoid Sony products in general. Their e-reader uses memory sticks, instead of the standard SDHC/microSDHC cards found in most consumer devices.

If you don't mind weight and and backlit displays, you could even get a netvertible running windows/linux/android/etc. I believe you can read Kindle books on a PC now.
posted by delmoi at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2010

N'thing Calibre for conversion of different formats so you can read it on (in my case) Kindle.

One thing I really like about the Kindle is that I can read books purchased from Amazon on various platforms using the Kindle software and have it synced everywhere. So I can read on the Kindle at home and read the same book at work on my laptop while I'm eating lunch. Only applies to Amazon purchased books though.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2010

I think everyone's already covered most of the important points. Since there seems to be a bit of anti-nook sentiment in the thread, I wanted to say that I have a nook and I love it. I use Calibre for side-loading, just like many other people mentioned.

However, if you expect to buy alot of ebooks, B&N's ebook store just isn't as good as Amazon. You know how it is - everyone links to Amazon and we all know that interface very well. So if you want to buy that book you have to go to B&N and search for it, and I find the search functions on their page to be a little irritating at times. Plus, B&N membership does nothing for you, no discounts on anything.

Even with all of that I wouldn't trade for a Kindle. I don't need to use a keyboard very often so I feel like the physical keyboard on the Kindle is a waste of space.
posted by cabingirl at 12:50 PM on June 6, 2010

I wouldn't avoid and LCD-based e-reader. I've been reading ebooks since 1997 or so on a huge variety of screens and while it's true that e-ink is soft on the eye, if you get a good LCD with a high pixel density and then and, this is crucial, set the page background to black and the text to white with bold/heavy hinting then the experience becomes much more bearable... and battery friendly. I've had good luck on the newer HTC phones because they all seem to have around 800x480 up resolution on a screen about the same size as the (current generation) Iphone's 480x320 screen, and the higher pixel density makes a huge difference to the readability of text. Anyway, the key for emissive screens is not to forcing your eye to squint/scan over a field of emission with pockets of information transflectively embedded within it. A black background with white text also lets you switch off the backlight (in non-outdoor environments) and under these conditions, with radios off, I've had small handheld phones last 24+ hours of ereading between charges.

Another advantage of a phone/PDA as ereader is that as well as running a variety of programs that can read a hige range of formats, it's usually trivial to copy ebooks onto the devices using either bluetooth, USB, or simply popping in and out a memory card. A 16 GB memory card carries a *lot* of ebooks.

White text on dark blue also works well, and apparently people who look at this sort of thing long ago decided this was optimal for electronic reading on emissive screens. I read a lot in bed at night and minimising light output is mandatory so I go for the black background myself.
posted by meehawl at 2:42 PM on June 6, 2010

Unless you have a need right now, don't discount the advice to wait until closer to the holiday season. eInk driven eReader hardware prices are dropping like mad across the industry. I'm betting that we'll see a $99 eReader from one of the major companies by the holiday season.
posted by griffey at 4:06 PM on June 6, 2010

"Also, I try to avoid Sony products in general. Their e-reader uses memory sticks, instead of the standard SDHC/microSDHC cards found in most consumer devices."

Every Sony Reader except the Pocket Edition (PRS-300) supports SD cards.
posted by healthytext at 7:08 PM on June 6, 2010

If I were buying a reader today, it'd be the Sony PRS-600, currently available as cheaply as $179. But I'm waiting to see the Nook Lite (and what price drops it might inspire in others.)

No matter what choice you make, don't search the web for how to strip ebook files' DRM so you can archive DRM-free copies. Then you'd be able to convert them for use on other devices, and you're not supposed to be able to do that.
posted by Zed at 9:39 AM on June 7, 2010

Breaking news: iBooks for iPad will soon be able to read PDFs. Also, iBooks (with pdf) will be available for iPhone 4.
posted by grumblebee at 11:18 AM on June 7, 2010

It's true that you can read other files on the Kindle but you have to upload them to amazon who will then send the file to your kindle. You can't just load files up directly, as far as I know.

This is actually not true. You can upload them to Amazon and have them sent wirelessly (for a small fee) but you can also just transfer them over USB. In fact this is the way I get most of my content onto my kindle, after using either Calibre or Stanza on my mac to convert stuff, or Instapaper to grab stuff off the web.

For what it's worth, I have a kindle and I got to test out an iPad for a few weeks and for me there was no comparison—the kindle was a way better (and importantly) lighter e-reader. Which was fine, as I never really saw the iPad something to read long texts on, but obliviously others disagree. Anyway whatever horse you decide to bet on for this go around recognize that the whole market is very much in flux right now and the only sure thing is that the ereader ecosystem is going to look very different in a few years.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 11:52 AM on June 7, 2010

For anybody who is interested, and still reading this thread you can now get a refurbed Kindle 2 for $139. That's $50 below the newly lowered price, and the only difference is that it's US Wireless (and not the global wireless) version. Comes with warranty, and a 30 day return policy.
posted by ghostpony at 12:09 PM on June 24, 2010

And the Nook Wifi is $149. I took the plunge this morning.
posted by Zed at 12:55 PM on June 24, 2010

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