Five tips for choosing an e-reader

Don't get stuck with an e-reader that doesn't include the features you need. Here are five questions you'll want to ask when you go e-reader shopping.

E-readers have quickly gone from relative obscurity to mainstream popularity, so it's no surprise that numerous manufacturers now offer them. But how do you know which e-reader is right for you? Here are some things to consider.

1: What file formats will it support?

When I was shopping for an e-reader a few months ago, I began to realize that some readers are limited in the types of documents they will allow you to read. For example, some manufacturers lock you into using only e-books you purchase from their e-book store.

While this might not be a problem for some, it was a major issue for me. I had just finished writing a book and was about to take a long vacation. Right before I was supposed to go, my publisher asked me to look over the proofs before the book went to print. I really didn't want to take a laptop on vacation with me, so I looked for an e-reader that could display PDF documents. The reader I ended up purchasing also supports Microsoft Word documents, which has come in handy on a couple of occasions.

2: What types of books do you want to read?

Another consideration is the type of publications you will be reading. If you are only planning to read novels, any e-reader will probably do. However, if you are also planning to read magazines and newspapers, you will probably want to invest in an e-reader that can display graphic images. You will also need to make sure that the device you choose can be used with a source that delivers the types of content you are interested in.

3: Will DRM be an issue?

Some e-books and most of the audio books that are available for download are copy protected through a mechanism called digital rights management, or DRM. Unfortunately, some devices do not support the use of DRM-protected content.

Another problem with DRM is that some providers use it as a way of locking you into a subscription for life. When I bought one of my devices, for example, it came with a coupon for some free audio books. As it turned out, all of the audio books were DRM protected, and accessing them required a monthly subscription fee. The company gave me the first month free, but when I canceled my membership at the end of the trial period, I lost access to the audio books I had downloaded.

4: What extra features do you need?

Not all e-book readers are created equal. Some readers are nothing more than a platform for viewing electronic publications. Others have lots of bells and whistles. For example, some of the higher end e-readers will allow you to highlight text and take notes on what you have read (although this technology has not yet matured). You might also find e-readers that can play audio books, that offer Wi-Fi connectivity, and that include Web browsers.

5: How will you use your e-reader?

Finally, you need to think about how you will be using your e-reader. For example, if you like to read e-books while lounging by the pool, you should probably purchase an e-reader with a high contrast black and white screen that will show up well in bright sun light.

I bought my e-reader just before a three-week expedition to Antarctica. Because I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time on planes and at sea, I wanted something that had a high capacity and long battery life. Since storage capacity was a consideration for me, I purchased an e-reader that had a built in SD card reader. That way, I was able to load audio books onto a series of SD cards and was not limited by the device's built-in storage capacity.

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Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

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