I remember the excitement I felt, as one of the first people to order and receive Amazon’s original Kindle, back in 2007. The clunky awkward device (viewed retrospectively, not that it seemed so at the time, of course!) cost $399, but seemed like a bargain!
Amazon is now on its fifth generation of Kindle ereaders, and prices have been steadily dropping, with an entry level Kindle today available from Amazon for as little as $69. Massively sophisticated color tablets – their Kindle Fire series of Android powered devices – start at half the price of the earlier clunky Kindle (ie $199).
A few people futuristically predicted there might come a time when eReaders would be given away, with the companies who gave them away seeking instead to recoup the cost of the device through ongoing sales of eBooks, and I believe there may have been a short time when Amazon was indeed giving away Kindle eReaders to some of its most prolific book buyers.
But, with that possible exception, for most of us, we need to hand over a minimum of $69 to get a Kindle or other entry level low priced eReader. Until now.
A German company, Txtr, has announced a new eReader which it calls the Txtr Beagle. The device, which is expected to go on sale in Europe in November, and hopefully in the US in a similar time frame, will sell for €9.90 or £10. The €9.90 price in Europe suggests it could sell in the US for as little as $13. More details here.
How can an eReader be so inexpensive? What is the catch? What is missing?
Txtr have certainly taken a minimalist approach to the Beagle eReader. The most obvious difference is the screen size. Although it has the same resolution as earlier Kindles (800 x 600 pixels) it has a 5″ diagonal screen rather than the 6″ found on most earlier eReaders. It uses the same type of eInk technology to display the text, however.
Instead of rechargeable batteries, it uses either two or three AAA batteries (some sources say two, some say three). The batteries are claimed to give a year’s reading life to the Beagle, but the fine print of the company’s claim indicates it defines a year of reading as being 12 – 15 books. This is certainly enough for a longhaul roundtrip and a bit of reading before, after, and at the destination, but the year’s life claim is a bit aggressive.
The Beagle reader relies on additional software that runs on a tablet or mobile phone to download and manage books, and the books are sent from the phone/tablet to the Beagle via a (wireless) Bluetooth connection. There are no external connectors or anything else on the device itself.
On the positive side, the unit is not only amazingly inexpensive, but also slim and lightweight (its weight is a mere 5 oz, its size 5.5″ x 4.1″ and apart from a bulge at the bottom where the batteries go, it is 0.2″ thick). Compare this to the smallest Kindle, measuring 6.5″ x 4.5″ and 0.34″ thick, and weighing 6 oz.
It is a bit hard to be sure from the information currently released, but it seems the device will read eBooks that have been published in generic free unrestricted file formats, and probably the supplier, Txtr, will also be selling regular commercial titles too with some sort of ‘rights management’ copy restrictions on them. But your existing library of eBooks from Barnes & Noble or Amazon may perhaps not be available to read on this new device.
This is the most obvious and – potentially fatal – weakness in the device for many of us. Those of us who have been steadily buying eBooks, eg from Amazon for the last five years already, are amassing an appreciable number of titles and are increasingly locked into the one source of books for the future.
The flipside consideration is that you need to be reasonably assured that whatever eReader you choose will be assured of an ongoing relationship with its associated ‘bookstore’ so that both titles you’ve already purchased remain available online for you, and so you can continue to buy new titles – and at good prices – into the future.
Our Recommendation for the Best eReader
With the Christmas gift buying season almost upon us, it is perhaps relevant to quickly survey what is out there and which would be your best choice of eReader.
Selecting the best eReading device of course involves some compromises and value choices. It is made more complicated by the happy fact that both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have released their eReader software to run on just about any other device with a screen – smartphones, tablets, and computers. This begs the question – do you even need a separate eReader?
If you have a portable device such as a large screened smartphone or a tablet, maybe you don’t need an additional eReader too. And if you don’t already have such a device, maybe you would be better advised to get a tablet that can do double duty as an eReader also.
But most multi-purpose tablets suffer from two important limitations – battery life and size/weight. The longest battery life in a tablet today is in the order of 11 hours of operation. A dedicated eReader with an eInk screen will have 15 – 30 hours of battery life, and clearly all of that life is yours to use exclusively for book reading, whereas your tablet is doing double duty for other things too. (But there’s a trade-off : The long-lived eReaders with their eInk screens only display in black and white, the tablets will also display color, and particularly non-fiction books increasingly feature color photographs.)
As for size, a 7″ screened tablet will unavoidably be bigger than a 6″ screened eReader (about an inch wider and an inch longer and slightly thicker) and with the extra size and electronics comes extra weight, too – instead of weighing 6 – 7.5 oz, it will weigh about 14 oz, and while that might seem light, it becomes appreciable if you’re holding it for an extended time, unsupported, and it sits more heavily if carried in a pocket.
A dedicated eReader is more of a ‘go anywhere/use anytime’ device. You can conveniently stick it in a jacket or even (if you’re careful) trouser pocket, and its lighter weight makes for more comfortable reading in any position.
So – which is the best eReader for you today?
If you primarily want a device to use at home, and don’t plan on traveling with it much, and if you’re a light to moderate reader, then you’re probably going to be best served with either an Apple iPad (note also the new smaller iPads expected to be announced in a week’s time) or a comparable Android tablet. The Google Nexus 7 is the clear ‘best of breed’ for 7″ screen sized tablets, it is not so clear which is the best larger screened Android tablet, and rumors suggest Google will be releasing a larger screen Nexus tablet, probably not long after Apple releases its smaller screened iPad.
You don’t really need the biggest 9.7″ + sized screen if your main use will be reading books on a multi-purpose tablet, and so the amazing values offered by the Google Nexus 7 (and, to a lesser extent, other 7″ sized tablets) would make for a compelling choice. But if you want to play games, watch video, and work on spreadsheets, then you should get a larger sized tablet.
Note that we do not recommend buying the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, because this is not a full featured tablet capable of doing anything and everything a tablet can do, and doesn’t allow you to run all tablet software from all sources. With the Google Nexus 7 being close to identical in cost and functionality, we suggest the open ended nature of the Nexus 7 makes it a better choice for most people.
If you are more interested in a device to travel with, then smaller size and longer battery life become more important to you and it makes sense to have a separate dedicated eReader, even if you already have a tablet (or subsequently buy a tablet, too).
Our preference then switches to either the least expensive $69 Kindle or the slightly more expensive $119 Paperwhite Kindle. Both are similar in size and weight (the Paperwhite is very slightly larger and 1.5 oz heavier, not that you’d really notice this at all) and the Paperwhite offers three appealing advantages – a backlight for its eInk screen, which is useful if reading in low light conditions, more pixels on the screen, leading for clearer easier to read text, and twice the battery life of the $69 unit (30 hours instead of 15 hours). It also has slightly higher contrast between the black text and white background, but this is not as important.
If you can justify the extra $50 for the Paperwhite, you’d be very pleased with your decision, but if you simply get the entry level unit, you’ll be paying $69 for a better device than was sold for $399 five years previously, so there’s no downside to whichever you choose. We also note that if you want something for yourself, immediately, the Paperwhite eReader is currently out of stock, and Amazon are predicting it will take 4 – 6 weeks to fulfill orders placed today. So you could get one in time for Christmas, but probably not in time for Thanksgiving.
We’ve not commented, in this article, on the fine Nook products from Barnes & Noble. They are closely comparable in quality and price to the Kindle products, and it is merely because we ourselves are great fans of every part of the Amazon product range and service and already have an investment in Amazon eBooks, that we would choose an Amazon Kindle over a Barnes & Noble Nook.
As for the possibly $13 priced Txtr Beagle, we’d prefer to pay a mere $50 or so more to get an entry level Kindle and the almost guaranteed certainty of ongoing supply to the largest inventory of books and at the best prices, from Amazon, both now and well into the future.