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.


Another thing to consider is where you read. Do you like to read in bed, maybe on the couch in the evening, or anyplace where the light might be dim? If so, you want to be sure to get a reader with a backlight function. I didn't think of this when I purchased mine a couple years ago, now I wish I had.


It's fairly unhelpful that you chose not to refer to any e-readers by name. There are only a few out there. What are you afraid of?

Zahra B.
Zahra B.

I am considering buying an e-reader and one of the considerations, for me, is the page-turning speed. I checked out some of the Sony readers when they came out and 1 second to "turn" a page is really too long. I see that the newer e-readers have a better performance in that regard, so I'll have to check them out.


I did this research myself earlier this week and found the Wikipedia e-reader comparison matrix very handy. Search for "Wiki e-reader" and the link to "Comparison of e-book readers" will show up. I am currently in favor of the B&N Nook as it is the only true Android based device (most others are "linux" of some sort) out there right now which should promise future access to more android apps/features and maybe even mods/hacks. The Nook has: - Web Browser (in Beta but it's there) - E-ink screen (so you can read at the beach) - A small color screen area in the bottom that is a combined touchpad/scroll/navigation area (to scroll - Web pages for example) - A couple of Games - Reads PDF (not sure about MS Word) - Audio jack for mp3 playback - Up to 10 day battrery life (w/ wifi off) B&N also offers you instore wifi benefits like free download of books that you can read for 1 hour per day while in the store. I did find the navigation on the small color screen pad ara a bit odd at first and it's not browsing the web at light speed but overall my hands on demo gave me a good feeling. Having said all that I am trying to get my hands on the Kmart Augen 7" 800x480 LCD color display eReader that also handles video and supports Kindle/Kobo/B&N for just under $100! Sounds to good to be true.......


So tell us - which one did you buy, were you happy & did is survive Antarctica?

Mickey's Friend
Mickey's Friend

Thanks for the list. I have a Sony e-reader and take it everywhere with me. I read in the normal places: while standing in line at the bank or Walmart, at a restaurant, anywhere that I need to wait. People always ask me about it and which one to buy. I am not up on the new ones, but I usually try to explain what to look for. As a tech, pdf files are important to me. I try to explain when they are important. Your article will give me more to explain. I don't have wifi yet, but my next one will. Just curious, whick one do you have.

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