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5 reasons to buck the tide and buy an e-book reader

Consumer Reports News: April 22, 2013 11:08 AM

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Standalone e-book readers—Nooks, Kindles, and their ilk—are plummeting in sales; only a third as many Americans will buy one this year as did in 2011, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. That only confirms that a rise in "e-reading" on tablet and smart phones is killing the need for dedicated digital-reading devices. Right?

Actually, wrong. Even as its sales sag, the e-book reader remains as compelling a device for digital bookworms as when its sales were soaring. Here's why:

E-readers' size is optimized for reading. Almost all e-book readers have a 6-inch screen, which holds enough type to minimize page turns while making the device small enough to hold in one hand. While screens on smart phones are swelling, they're still too small to be ideal for e-reading, and even 7-inch tablets offer more screen than is required for a typical book page.

Need a new e-reader? Check our e-book reader buying guide and Ratings.

Weight matters. Tablets may be getting lighter, but they're still much heavier than most e-readers. Though among the lightest of tablets, the 7.9-inch Apple iPad Mini tablet, for example, weighs 3.5 ounces more than the 6-inch Nook Simple Touch. That doesn't sound like much, but you'd be surprised at how much that extra weight affects your comfort during hour after hour of reading.

E-book readers run forever on a charge. Despite gains in battery life, the best tablets still run for hours on a charge—but e-readers run for weeks, thanks to their energy-sipping e-ink screens. That's true even of two e-readers that have built-in lights, the Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch With Glowlight and Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (which, like tablets, allow you to leave your spouse undisturbed as you read in a bedroom with the lights off.) Another plus to e-ink screens: They're far easier than backlit LCD screens to read outside in bright light.

E-readers are so cheap, you can afford one and a tablet. The top-rated models in our e-book reader Ratings already cost only around $100—and the CEA predicts prices will drop further in 2013. Since some Recommended tablets in our Ratings cost just $200 or so, you can now buy a tablet and an e-reader for about what an e-reader alone cost in 2009. (In a promotion that was a telling sign, Barnes & Noble even gave away an e-reader for free when you bought one of its Nook tablets.)

A focus on reading can actually be a plus. Device versatility has its downsides. Personally, I "e-read" on multiple devices, taking advantage of the fact that Nook and Kindle e-books synch across platforms, so I can resume reading on my tablet where I left off on my e-reader. But I read with fewer interruptions (so more rapidly) on a reader—since I can't as easily distract myself by checking e-mail or news headlines with an tap or two.

The allure of e-book readers may fade in the future, if tablets improve for e-reading and e-readers don't also evolve. And a dedicated e-reading gadget is unnecessary if you read only occasionally and fleetingly. But e-book readers are still by far the best digital devices for reading books, however unprofitable and unfashionable they've become.

Paul Reynolds

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