$79 Kindle or $60 Kobo (or $99 Nook?)
January 15, 2012 12:07 AM   Subscribe

Which of the cheapest e-readers should I choose, especially considering support for/access to lots of free ebooks? I'm currently eyeing most heartily the $79 Kindle and the $50-60 refurbished Kobo, but open to suggestions...

My priorities are:
1) Cheap, $100 or UNDER would be great.
2) Good selection of books and lots of FREE books (library checking out, free downloads, etc.)
3) e-ink

I am considering the Kobo because it supports ePub format and maybe will support more free downloadable ebooks than the Kindle? I've heard lots of complaints about the Kobo but have lived with someone who owned one, it really didn't seem that bad. I'm paying less attention to the Nook/Barnes&Noble because it seems they have skipped the low-end non-touch version of the device and I am trying to go cheap as possible...but I could be convinced if ya'll think I'd be throwing my money away on the Kobo.

Or maybe I can work around the formatting restrictions on the Kindle with the help of Calibre? Would Calibre work and be relatively easy to learn/use on my Acer AspireOne Windows netbook? I'm not particularly PC-saavy but I'm open to learning new skills!

Oh, also, I'm pretty much always going to use the cable and my PC to update it, as there's not much WiFi in the rural area of developing country where I live.

Thanks for your help! There are so many options and not many reviews out there comparing these "low end" devices now that the flashy tablet hybrid things exist.
posted by dahliachewswell to Technology (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
i had the kindle 2 with the keyboard, it didn't take long for the screen to crack. my sister had the same problem. i have no idea if the new kindles have these issues.

i know amazon has a pretty draconian DRM policy, which is why i don't prefer the kindle. i'll leave it to a more knowledgeable responder to provide details.

i went with the nook simple touch as a replacement, i did look into a kobo, i don't know why i settled on the nook to be honest with you. the touch element is nice as it makes it simple to navigate, which was part of it. i think maybe subconsciously i was deterred from the kindle because of the screen crack and their horrid DRM policy, but b&n's policy might be just as unreasonable, as far as i know. i do know if you buy a book on the one site you can't use it on the other's device.

when you're looking for "free" books, i don't know what the user rights policies are in your country, but generally anything that's available for free you can get from gutenberg.org in nearly any format (kindle, nook, txt, pdf, whatever). in the U.S. this generally includes books printed before 1923, but the rules are more complicated than that. the sites (amazon, b&n) will have the same books available on their website, sometimes for free, sometimes for $1 or $4, but you don't have to get their version.

as for a web browser, it wasn't one of your questions, but i feel it's worth mentioning:
the nook used to be a work-around to use it as a web-browser, which b&n blocked with a recent software update. there is still a work-around of sorts, but it's time-consuming and clunky and hardly worth it. the kindle 2 had a work around that was simple to use; also the kindle 2 had voice to speech, which was roboty, but maybe if you're on a drive and don't mind the robot voice it's a nice feature.

i hope this helps!
posted by camdan at 12:34 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

the kindle 2 had text-to-speech, sorry. voice to speech makes no sense. i have no idea if the kindles now have that option.
posted by camdan at 12:49 AM on January 15, 2012

my 2 cents : Kindle gives you access to the (large) Amazon catalog and from what I understand not much else. It doesn't read, the .epub format, who is popular with independent authors and others digital bookstores.

Unfortunately there are very few e-readers out there that read both .epub file format *and* the .azw (amazon) file format.

If you're certain you're never gonna wander outside of Amazon's territory, the Kindle will be all you need.
posted by Baud at 12:49 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

calibre won't let you convert anything that has DRM protection, so that's basically anything you buy from the major two websites. to piggy-back off of Baud's comment, as far as i know b&n has nearly the same catalog as amazon. i've only seen some minor exceptions in my hunt for books, for some pretty obscure works.
posted by camdan at 12:52 AM on January 15, 2012

Calibre is pretty easy to use and is very good for ebook conversion. I manage a library for my Kindle with it. For lots of free ebooks of course check out Project Gutenburg.

I absolutely love my Kindle 3 (They are now called Kindle Keyboards) and I consider it one of the greatest presents I have ever received. I have not had any problems with unit durability, but I bought a cheap cover which I keep mine in. Its pretty safe in that, I've dropped it numerous times without any noticeable effect.

My biggest annoyance is the cost of ebooks with Amazon. Convenience is certain with the Kindle ebook store, but for me its hard to justify buying a $10 ebook when I can get a used copy of the book for $4 shipped. If ebooks start retailing at $4 I would buy a lot of ebooks.

Of note, the $80 Kindle is the low end Kindle in the current generation. Arstechnica has a review which came off slightly negative to me. The main point is that the device is solely and completely for reading ebooks. Don't expect to do anything else with it. Also of note is that this Kindle version is ad supported.
posted by graxe at 12:54 AM on January 15, 2012

My Kobo is supposed to read .mobi files but I've been disappointed with the .mobi files I uploaded to it so far.
posted by Baud at 12:55 AM on January 15, 2012

Both the Kobo and Kindle will work for your purposes.

However, out of the U.S., you may find problems purchasing books (with both of them) because of regional restrictions. The same applies for library books. I would see if you can talk to people in your country about their experiences.

If the books have no DRM to begin with, you can easily use Calibre to convert them to either epub or mobi format, so I don't think that matters much.

I'm not sure what model of Kobo you are looking for, but one thing you may want to keep in mind is what generation of screen it has. The latest generation of e-ink screen is Pearl. You probably want to get something with that, as it has better contrast.
posted by shoyu at 12:57 AM on January 15, 2012

Response by poster: Blerg! I of course should have expected regional restrictions getting content outside the U.S. I'll do some more research on this. In the mean time:
---Additional question---: Has anyone out there had problems buying or checking out e-books while travelling abroad?

Couples points of clarity:
The Kobo I'm looking at is sometimes called the Kobo Wi-Fi and is the older, non-touch version which I believe they have stopped producing but is fairly widely available factory refurbished (at Best Buy, etc.)

I will only be using this to read books, while traveling for 6 months to a year outside the U.S., so for me the "only does one thing" is a big plus.
posted by dahliachewswell at 1:49 AM on January 15, 2012

I check out books from my library for my kindle from across the country, but I don't know if it would work outside of the US.

Calibre is easy to use, to convert from whatever format you have to whatever you want. It can even be used to strip DRM if you add the right plugins.

I bought both the $79 Kindle and the Kindle Touch, giving the $79 one to my mom after we played around with it and found it easier to use. I actually slightly prefer it to my Touch, but I'm happy with that too. I don't really see anything compelling about it that would keep me from going to a nook or kobo next time though. Calibre makes me not too worried about converting my library if necessary.
posted by skewed at 3:02 AM on January 15, 2012

Take a look at your library's web site (depending where you are, I guess), and take into account what formats they offer. Ours started with mobi pocket (which had to be downloaded to computer for transfer), then switched to ePub (an Overdrive instant download-- awesome), and is now phasing in kindle. I was excited about the kindle books, until I realized I'd have to download to my computer and transfer manually.

Either way, I've saved hundreds of dollars a year by checking out popular books from my library. Maybe thousands. (Um, ok... Actually, I probably check out at least 5 books a week times $5-10 times 52 weeks. Definitely thousands.)
posted by instamatic at 3:11 AM on January 15, 2012

Your kindle does not require you to be in country X to download content assigned to country X. You just have to say you are, or were, or will be.

I'm in Canada and often "move" to the United States for a few minutes (via updating my Amazon.com billing address) to buy books that are not for sale in Canada. Since my credit card was previously validated there's nothing stopping me from moving back and forth a few times a day, as needed.

When I do so, if my Kindle is turned on, I might get billed $1 extra for "international" delivery since my Kindle is 'travelling' in Canada while my address is in the United States.

This can be easily avoided by making such purchases via Amazon's website (with the Kindle's wireless turned off) and changing the address back before the book is delivered.

Once I've moved back to Canada and my kindle's wireless is in Canada there's no extra delivery fee, even though the thing being delivered supposedly isn't for sale in Canada.

I hope Amazon isn't reading this.

Another big advantage of the Kindle (possible other readers) is that you can have more than one (limit is five, I think) on one account. So my partner and I only have to buy one copy of any book we both want to read.
posted by tiamat at 3:36 AM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Since you mentioned Calibre I'll point out that they have an open books section on their website. It links to places which sell drm-free books. Some are free, some are super cheap (a couple bucks) and others less so. I haven't had a ton of time to look through the available books so I'm not sure of the quality, but it's worth a look.

I just bough Zoo City from these guys for $4, drm-free the other day for instance.

Also, if you think you might like any of Cory Doctorow's stuff, all his novels are available for free at his website in a ridiculous number of formats.

Finally, I don't know if it's true of the refurbished kobos, but new kobos (used to?) come with 100 books pre-loaded so that might factor into your decision.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 4:28 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would check your local library to see what formats they offer and use that to make your decision.

I have a Kindle with 3G and a keyboard (it's whatever the latest one with the keyboard is, which I think hasn't changed since last year), and have had no problems with the screen, though I do have a cover for it.

My library has Kindle books. For their system, you don't need to manually put the ebook on your Kindle. I think OverDrive no has some kind of partnership with Amazon, so when I check out a book from the library's website, Amazon sends it to my Kindle (I think I had to go on the Amazon website to set that up -- it is free). It's a completely online process, and I can check out books wherever I am (plus, no late fines!). But it does require some other internet capable device besides the Kindle in order to search the library's website (the browser on the non-color Kindles is painful). If you are traveling, you can use an internet cafe. Amazon also has a lending library that allows 1 book a month for free, but it's not their entire catalog, so check and see if they have any books you're interested in. I have successfully checked out one of these books when I was traveling abroad, though I do have a US Amazon account. (I'm sure it's obvious, but to buy and/or check out books, you need a wi-fi connection; I think there are only charges if you download books with 3G, which the $79 Kindle doesn't have).
posted by bluefly at 4:30 AM on January 15, 2012

I'm paying less attention to the Nook/Barnes&Noble because it seems they have skipped the low-end non-touch version of the device and I am trying to go cheap as possible...but I could be convinced if ya'll think I'd be throwing my money away on the Kobo.

Just going to chime in in support of the nook. B&N's library is huge. It's dead easy to sideload novels from other sites, no cracking or translating needed, and it works incredibly well as a simple eReader. Yes, it's touch. But it does the one thing it's designed to do--download and displays ebooks--very, very well. I'd recommend going into a B&N and playing with one.

I needed an ereader with epub support, FWIW. I didn't consider the kobo for very long. The nook is pretty much just the way to go for an open-format ereader.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:51 AM on January 15, 2012

I live in China and when using my Chinese billing address was unable to but certain books, but as soon as I used my U.S. address also on file it was no problem. (seconding tiamet)
posted by bearette at 4:57 AM on January 15, 2012

Might not matter to you, but the special offer $79 Kindle display screens are ads (mine was a crazy-smiling lady wanting to sell me tooth whitener); I sent mine back 'cause I couldn't take it.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:19 AM on January 15, 2012

I like my Nook - it handles EPUB format, which the Kindle doesn't, so you can load from other book sellers like OmniLit. Library books, too.

My library uses OverDrive for ebook lending -- they're the only library vendor right now that lends to Kindle owners. So check your library before buying, in case they're not an OverDrive site.

I just posted about finding free ebooks for work: where to find free ebooks.
posted by hms71 at 6:56 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider a 7-inch Android tablet. I use mine for reading books and watching movies whenever I travel. I have an older version of Android and no cell phone carrier (WiFi instead) so I'm pretty sure my device is free of CarrierIQ. The tablet even fits in my purse!

There are inexpensive tablets available and Asus is supposed to be coming out with a $249 Android 4 model. You'll get Kindle for Android, Laputa, Alkido, Overdrive, plus just about everything else an Android device can do. And you won't really have to worry about format restrictions. Sideloading (cable + PC) is supported on my tablet.

Bonus: I don't believe Laputa or Alkido are tracking what you read. Not yet, anyway. :-)

Caveat: I have dry eye to begin with and the screen kills my eyes after a couple hours of use; I'm not sure if other ereaders would be better.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:00 AM on January 15, 2012

I love my Kobo. But I don't purchase or borrow books online. I would definitely not get a tablet though. E-ink is so much different than a backlit screen, and the Kobo is incredibly lightweight too. Far less hand and eye strain.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:19 AM on January 15, 2012

I was considering buying a Kindle for my grandad, who lives in Britain. It's cheaper to buy a Kindle in the US than in the UK. While researching, I came across this page on Amazon, which, along with the other pages about travel, seems to do a decent job of explaining the options for using a US-bought Kindle overseas. (There's a Kindle for international shipment option, too. I never figured out whether the $79 Kindle would somehow break if you left the US, as that might disrupt the ads.)
posted by hoyland at 7:37 AM on January 15, 2012

Best answer: ---Additional question---: Has anyone out there had problems buying or checking out e-books while travelling abroad?

I used a Kindle while living in India, before they even allowed international use. If you aren't using the wireless option, they really don't care where you are. Just buy the books, download them to your computer, and transfer them via the USB cable.

Or maybe I can work around the formatting restrictions on the Kindle with the help of Calibre? Would Calibre work and be relatively easy to learn/use on my Acer AspireOne Windows netbook? I'm not particularly PC-saavy but I'm open to learning new skills!

As camdan mentioned, Calibre does not let you convert books that have DRM protection. However, it's fairly easy to add a plugin which strips the DRM from books you have purchased. This way you can convert the books to whatever format you want, and if you ever want to switch to another brand of e-reader, you won't lose access you your entire library.

Also, don't miss out on Many Books, which allows easy downloading of copyright-free books, in a variety of formats including Kindle's .azw and .epub (used by nook and Kobo).
posted by bookish at 7:53 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had a drink with a friend last night. He had an older kindle. Off hand I don't know the model, but he said it was the generation before the ones available now. I think they were $79 new, but he said he got his on Ebay for much less in "like new" condition. Also he said that it has ads, but that there's an easy jailbrake to remove them. And for the final coup de grace, he says he gets all his books off torrent trackers (it supports .mobi format) and isn't paying Amazon a dime. Oh, and he's had it for 3 weeks, read a 1000 pages over xmas and hasn't charged it yet.

If all you wanna do is read, that sounds pretty good, imo.
posted by halatukit at 9:33 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Or maybe I can work around the formatting restrictions on the Kindle with the help of Calibre?


Would Calibre work and be relatively easy to learn/use on my Acer AspireOne Windows netbook?

I've only used it on a Mac, but in my experience, yes.I only know how to do a few things (strip DRM from amazon books, convert to various formats) and that it can do much more, but figuring out how to do the things I want was quite painless.

I just - like, two days ago - got the Kindle Touch (with special offers - my credit union offered it as a bonus for joining) and so far, I'm loving it. I've used Calibre to convert some epub format books to mobi, chucked them on my Kindle, and started reading. I run adblock and flashblock on my laptop because I hate ads, but the ones on the Kindle haven't bothered me at all, probably because they're not blinky/flashy/shouty.
posted by rtha at 9:37 AM on January 15, 2012

I always vote for the not-Kindle, not because I think that Amazon is evil or anything, but because I want them to have some competition. I have a very old Sony eReader and I, for some reason I can't recall, started buying books from Kobo and have never stopped. I find their storefront rather irritating and their search function is somewhat eccentric, but I've always found what I wanted at the right price, so I don't care.

When my current eReader dies I'm going to get a Kobo.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:38 AM on January 15, 2012

My Kindle 3G (same as the Keyboard 3G now, I think) plus Calibre has been the bomb for me. I have bought a half-dozen books from Amazon since it's so convenient, but most of the 1,000+ books on mine were ePub or whatever open format. And yes, I've used the free internet in North America, Europe, the UK and the Middle East for both Amazon buying, e-mail etc.

It's been rock solid, cheap, durable, the battery lasts more than a month at a time, and oh-my-god did I mention free worldwide 3G internet? This has saved my ass more than once with e-mail and (slow) web access.

The free internet alone makes it 10,000 better than a Nook or any other, in my opinion and experience. If you really don't care about the internet, I guess a Nook or whatnot is just fine too.
posted by rokusan at 10:47 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Every other week I'll see a refurb'd Color Nook on sale for $129.

I know that's more $$ than what you want to spend but its a great tablet. I have Android 4.0.1 (ICS) running on mine and even though it is officially Alpha software, it's working great.
posted by cowmix at 10:51 AM on January 15, 2012

Best answer: The Nook Simple Touch is available for $79 if you're willing to go with a refurb unit. I like being able to swipe and tap and whatnot, while also having physical buttons on the bezel (they're hard to see in pix, but they're there). Each type of interaction is useful, depending on how you find yourself seated/holding the device.

I am a very happy Nook owner, for many of the reasons others have mentioned above — native ePub support, no ads, not-Amazon. My library uses Overdrive, and I have checked out books and read 'em on the Nook, no problem, as well as side-loading content from munseys, gutenberg, manybooks, baen and others. I haven't actually bought anything from B&N yet.

In my experience, the Kindle's renderer is a bit crappier than the Nook's, by the way. Even using Amazon's own KindleGen app to convert files from ePub to mobi, some styling information gets lost/ignored, centered things may get left-aligned, etc... If you plan to be drawing a lot on the world of free ebooks, I'd suggest going for a reader with native ePub support — a lot of free ebooks are badly formatted as it is, but at least your device won't be making it worse.

Best of all, pehaps? While it does involve some technical jiggery-pokery, the Nook Simple Touch can be rooted without much difficulty. Once done, it becomes an Android 2.1 tablet with an eInk display that just happens to run the B&N Reader software. It's terrible for web browsing (though briefly novel), but you can also install additional applications from the And, like Kindle.app, for reading Amazon purchases, or Dropbox / Box.net etc for auto-synching files with your computer.
posted by mumkin at 11:00 AM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I started with the Kindle keyboard, which I used and loved for a long time. Then I tried the Kindle Touch 3G, which I hated and promptly sent back (mostly due to the lack of physical page turning buttons). I had also hoped that I would finally be able to see book covers in my library, but nope, still just a list of the titles.

The one thing that I didn't hate about the Kindle Touch was the size and weight so I decided to try out the Nook Simple Touch. Hands down, it's my new favorite reader. Rooting it (if you're even remotely inclined to do something like that) is also a huge plus. I love being able to check my e-mail when I'm in the middle of reading.

Also, here is a link to everything free in the B&N Nook Store (arranged by category on the left). Ignore the apps.
posted by eunoia at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2012

And for the final coup de grace, he says he gets all his books off torrent trackers (it supports .mobi format) and isn't paying Amazon a dime. Oh, and he's had it for 3 weeks, read a 1000 pages over xmas and hasn't charged it yet.


You can find torrents of all sorts of ebooks. Most trackers are of epub and pdf collections. Not that I know anything about that, but this isn't a "plus" that's limited to amazon.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:47 AM on January 15, 2012

I also use an iPad, but there's no way I'll read novels on it unless I forget the Kindle.

It's a great screen for web surfing and video, but black and white (well, grayscale) e-paper is sooooo much easier on the eyes for actual reading. It's not even close.

I get a headache just thinking about reading for hours on a cheap Android color screen. Ick.
posted by rokusan at 11:52 AM on January 15, 2012

I've been using a Kobo (lightly) for a few weeks now. I don't have experience of any other ebook readers, but the reviews I read suggested there wasn't a lot to choose between the cheap ones in terms of hardware - they're all great for basic reading. From what you say, the Kobo Wifi will meet your needs and if you can get one very cheaply, you won't feel so bad about giving it away and upgrading in a few years, when the technology will have moved on enormously.

Downsides to the Kobo? If you want to buy recent books from a wide selection, then it probably isn't as good as the Kindle or Nook. However, there are enough free books out there that you don't actually need to buy any books unless you want a specific recent title legally.

Calibre is pretty easy to use (though once you get away from the basic features there are some scary menus). The only downside I can see for using it on a netbook is that it's always nicer to manage a large library on a big monitor and if you're doing any hardcore batch conversions it may take a long time with a slower processor.

The Kobo wifi comes with 100 classics preinstalled, but you'll want more material for a 6-12 month trip. In terms of obtaining free books legally, I would suggest torrenting a Project Gutenberg collection and using Calibre to convert it to ePub. (I'm not aware of an ePub format dump of PG books - perhaps someone else does?) You will then have tens of thousands of ebooks and probably be able to fit a few thousand on the Kobo's 1GB built-in memory at a time - or spend a few dollars on an SD card for the joy of knowing you have more information than was in the library of Alexandria in your 220 gram device...

If you don't have a problem with illegal downloads (or they're not illegal in your developing country) there are torrent collections of thousands of bestsellers in ePub format which you could download and transfer over without even needing to convert them.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 12:50 PM on January 15, 2012

I've picked up Nook touch for $80 bucks at best buy on sale and they come on sale from time to time. I got one for my Mother in Australia and she can buy books from B&N using my account no worries, she has trouble downloading using wifi but can download to a computer and then install it using Calibre.

I went the Nook route as it has less restrictive DRM and and as it uses the ePub format I find it easier to find books in ePub format. We can also share books on the account between our Nooks which is fun.

Oh Project Gutenburg has ePub versions of it's books, and B&N offer a selection of "free" books for download though they are not the greatest titles, pretty much the same free rubbish Amazon offers.
posted by wwax at 2:39 PM on January 15, 2012

My husband has the first generation Kobo - it's great, no complaints. I have the Kobo Touch - it's also very robust.

They handle epub and pdfs well.

Also, your book selection will be excellent. You can buy epubs from anywhere for the Kobo - I have some from Kobo.com, and some from Google books.
posted by jb at 7:40 PM on January 15, 2012

Just want to throw another option out there: I got a refurbished Sony Reader (the PRS-300, I think) for $50 on eBay. I'm a Linux user, so I pretty much have to use Calibre to manage my books (both DRMed and non-DRMed), and I haven't run into a problem once I got it set up. I haven't tried to load a library book on there yet -- my library's selection is slim, and everything tends to be checked out all the time, with double-digit wait lists for the more popular books. The device itself is very, very basic -- no touch screen, no wifi, and the only "fancy" thing it does is have 3 zoom levels. For $50, I'm not complaining.

As others have said, if you don't mind stripping the DRM or downloading illegally, any e-reader that's not a Kindle would give you the basically same selection of books. I tend to buy my books from the Barnes and Noble site. Prices are comparable to the Kindle books, and I'd rather not feed into the Kindle ecosystem if I don't have to.
posted by natabat at 9:16 AM on January 16, 2012

I can't say if this is the same for the Nook, but the winning factor for me is that the Amazon has kindle apps for just about every platform (the browser reader is brilliant), so even if you forget to bring your Kindle, you can still read (and continue where you left off).

#2 is the fact that you will pretty much never need to transfer files over USB. You can send your books (even non Amazon) and documents to their cloud and download them to any Kindle app or device.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:11 PM on January 16, 2012

I'm using a basic older Nook, and I'm very happy with it. Almost everything I read on it is a Google ebook, because Google gives my local bookstore a cut if I buy through their website. (I can also read my Google books online from elsewhere, so wongcorgi's point about the Kindle app isn't definitive.)
posted by tangerine at 4:29 PM on January 17, 2012

There is also a Kobo reader app for Windows / OSX and for phone/tablet forms of iOS, BlackBerry and Android. I haven't used the app, so investigate further if that's a key feature (I don't think it is for the OP).
posted by Busy Old Fool at 12:34 AM on January 18, 2012

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