When the kids were young, almost every weekend included at least one birthday party to attend. We never struggled with finding a gift. We gave books. The children knew books wouldn't generate the excitement of the latest battery-powered toys, but they'd be enjoyed long after the others had been forgotten.
We still give books, but we've made room for digital ones to read on Kindles and Nooks, alongside printed copies crowding every available shelf in the house. This holiday season, consider an e-reader. Sure, you can read ebooks on tablets with equal portability, but the benefits of a simple e-reader are compelling.
It's true tablets have largely replaced e-readers. In 2011, consumers snapped up 23 million e-readers. Just a year later, they bought only 15 million, while iPad and other tablet sales have soared. But tablets are expensive, fairly fragile and subject to an annual upgrade cycle, which means they won't drop in price the way e-readers have. The new iPad is $500, equal to the cost of the 2010 original. As for the Kindle, the hand-held device launched in 2007 for $400 (and sold out in less than six hours), and today sells for $69. The processor is a little better, which makes for quicker page turning, but the technology has remained virtually unchanged. Dollar for dollar, you can't find a better value.
Better technology for reading
Both Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook use e-ink technology from E Ink, a firm based in Cambridge, Mass. The technology allows users to read in bright sunlight and consumes very little battery power, two attributes in which tablets with their LCD displays can't compete.
Here's how e-ink works: Microcapsules filled with black and white pigment chips are suspended in a clear liquid. Turn the device on and a positive electric field pushes the white chips to the surface, making the screen white. A negative electric field pushes the black chips up to form letters and images.
E Ink recently opened a $40 million research center in North Billerica, Mass., where it will test new compounds and manufacturing processes to improve refresh rates as pages are turned, as well as increase resolution. (Dimming between pages is the one thing I find distracting about reading on an e-reader, so I hope the company is successful.)
E-ink is also easier on the eyes compared with an LCD back-lit screen, so you can read for longer periods of time. Further, a no-frills e-reader won't make it harder to fall asleep. Tablets and any device with an LCD display emit wavelengths of light that interfere with nocturnal melatonin production and therefore should be turned off at least an hour before you want to sleep, according to the Lighting Research Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Even Amazon's pricier Kindle Paperwhite ($119) will cause more eye strain with its built-in light than the cheaper $69 Kindle.
Special features for Kindle readers
Late last month, Amazon launched Kindle MatchBook, a service that lets customers buy heavily discounted ebook versions of books they've already bought in print from Amazon. As of last week, about 75,000 ebooks were available for $2.99 or less.
With Amazon Prime -- my recommended alternative to Netflix and other entertainment services -- Kindle owners can choose from hundreds of thousands of books to borrow for free with no due dates, including over 100 current and former New York Times best-sellers. And I've saved the best for last: Best Buy has released its Black Friday deals, which include $20 off the Kindle. The deal is good from Nov. 28 through Nov. 30. Doors open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and the $50 Kindle can also be ordered online with free shipping.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. She has designed and manages several international websites. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at email@example.com.