If you’re completely new to the world of ebooks, this post is for you. There are so many options available now that it can be confusing for newbies. Kindle, Nook, iPad! Which is the best for you? If you’re not at least basically aware of the consequences of your choices, you can end up with a bad experience. But not to worry! This post will give you enough background on ebooks to get started. I’ve broken it into two sections, for those who already own a device that they want to read ebooks on, and for those who want to get a new device for ebook reading.
A. WHEN YOU ALREADY OWN A DEVICE
This is the process I recommend for you if you want to read ebooks on a device that you already own. This might be your smartphone, iPad or other tablet, or an eReader that you acquired in the past.
1. Do Not Buy or Download Any eBooks Yet
eBooks come in different formats, and not every format can be read on every device. Before you spend any money buying eBooks, follow the next few steps. This will save you money, time, and confusion.
2. Learn Which Types of eBooks You Can Use
If you have an eReader (like a BeBook, Cybook, Sony Reader) that’s not tied to a specific bookseller, the best thing to do is to go to the website that sells that device and look in the specifications to find out which ebook formats it supports. Also look for support for “DRM” (digital rights management) because without it, the types of ebooks you can use will be further restricted. Most eReaders can read PDF and ePub files and some can read additional file types like Mobi, txt, and others.
If you have an eReader (like a Kindle, Nook, or Kobo) that is associated with a specific bookseller you won’t have to worry about file types if you only purchase ebooks from that specific store. However, the Nook and Kobo eReaders can also read PDF or ePub files from other sources.
If you want to read ebooks on your iPhone or iPad, you can use iBooks, which is built into Apple’s system. By doing so you can easily get ebooks in the same manner that you download apps. You can also read PDF or ePub if you get an app that can handle those file types. In addition to that, big booksellers like Amazon and B&N have iOS apps that will let you read their ebooks without having to own a Kindle or Nook device.
If you have an Android phone or tablet, you can read Kindle and Nook ebooks with their respective Android apps. You can also read PDF or ePub if you get an app that can handle those file types.
3. Install Software/Apps If Necessary
E-Ink eReaders like the basic Kindle and Nook eReaders don’t need apps. But if you want to read on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device, you’ll need an app for reading ebooks. The best one to use depends on where you’ll buy your ebooks. I have explained this in more detail in previous posts: Best eBook Apps for iPad and iPhone, Best eBook Apps for Android
4. Find Out Where Your Type of eBooks Are Sold
Here are the basics:
If you have a Kindle then you must buy ebooks from Amazon.
If you have a Nook you can buy eBooks from Barnes & Noble or any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks.
If you have a Kobo you can buy eBooks from Kobo or any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks.
If you have an iPad or iPhone you can buy eBooks from iBooks, use the iOS app from Amazon/B&N/Kobo, or any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks (check DRM requirements – you might need a specific app).
If you have an Android phone or tablet you can use the Android app from Amazon/B&N/Kobo, or buy from any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks (check DRM requirements – you might need a specific app).
If you have another eReader (like a BeBook, Sony Reader, etc) you can buy eBooks from any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks (check DRM requirements – you might need a specific app).
If you have an off-brand cheaper eReader, you can probably use PDF and ePub ebooks, but you might not be able to use DRM-protected files. It’s vital that you check the specifications for your particular eReader.
5. Get eBooks!
Once you’ve done all of the research and learning above, go forth and buy ebooks from your chosen book store.
B. WHEN YOU DO NOT YET OWN A DEVICE
This is the process that I recommend if you don’t yet own a device for ebook reading, or if you’re not yet sure which device you want to use.
1. Do Not Buy an eReader or Tablet First
Don’t buy anything until you have a basic grasp on the options available.
2. Consider eBook Stores
My recommendation is to first figure out where you want to buy ebooks. This will narrow down your device choices. For example, if you really want to buy most of your ebooks from Amazon, you should get a Kindle. (You can also read Kindle ebooks on an iPad, iPhone, or Android device with the Kindle app). Likewise, if you really want to buy your ebooks from Barnes & Noble, you should get a Nook. (You can also use an iPad, iPhone, or Android device with the Nook app). The same goes for Kobo. If you like buying things from Apple and would like to buy your ebooks through iBooks, you should get an iPad. If you’re the type of person who wants to buy from smaller ebook websites, you can pick and choose from a few different sites like ebooks.com, ebookmall.com, or diesel-ebooks.com, as well as others. They will be able to support a lot of devices with the main exception being the Kindle. However, the process isn’t as streamlined as when you buy a specific type of ebook for a specific type of device, like a Kindle ebook for a Kindle eReader.
3. Based on Your Store Choice, Consider eBook Readers
Let’s say you decided that you’d really like to buy all of your ebooks from Amazon. That makes it pretty easy because you can get any Kindle model that you want. (Note that Kindle is not synonymous with eReader. A Kindle is the type of eReader sold at Amazon.com.) The same goes for Barnes & Noble — just get one of the Nook models. If you would like more variety, you could consider getting and iPad or Android tablet. That’s a great choice because you can use ebooks from a variety of sources, and you’ll also have a fully functional tablet computer that you can use for web browsing, movies, or whatever else.
4. Buy Your Chosen eReader
Once you know where you want to buy your ebooks and what kind of device you want to use for reading, go get your eReader!
5. Install Software/Apps If Necessary
Depending on what kind of device you’ve chosen, you might need to install an app or other software. E-Ink eReaders like the basic Kindle and Nook eReaders don’t need apps. But if you want to read on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device, you’ll need an app for reading ebooks. The best one to use depends on where you’ll buy your ebooks. I have explained this in more detail in previous posts: Best eBook Apps for iPad and iPhone, Best eBook Apps for Android
6. Get eBooks!
Go forth and buy ebooks.
I hope this guide is helpful for ebook newbies. If you have any more tips for someone who is completely new to ebooks, leave them in the comments.
The best Android ebook app for you mostly depends on where you want to buy your ebooks. Each ebook app works for a specific type of ebooks, so you need to match up the type of ebooks you own to the type of app you need. The apps below are the most popular for Android users and cover most main ebook sources that people use today.
The Aldiko Android App is the best alternative to apps from big ebook sources (like Kindle or Nook) because it allows you to read PDF and ePub ebooks from independent ebook sources. It supports Adobe DRM and non-DRM ebooks, so you can read ebooks that you purchased at places like ebookmall.com, ebooks.com, or diesel-ebooks.com. You can also import your own content and create your own ebook catalogs.
Download: You can get a direct download from Aldiko.com or find Aldiko in the Google Play Market.
Android OS Version Supported: Android OS 2.1 or higher
eBooks Supported: The Aldiko Book Reader supports Adobe-DRMed ePub and PDF as well as non-encrypted ePub and PDF formats. Get eBooks anywhere ePub and PDF eBooks are sold or available for free. You can also get ebooks from your public library (where supported).
Amazon Kindle Android App
The Kindle App for Android lets you read all of your Kindle ebooks on an Android device, even if you don’t own a Kindle eBook Reader. If you do have a Kindle, you can read your ebooks on both the Kindle and Android device. Your reading progress will be synced between the devices with Amazon’s “Whispersinc”. You can use the Kindle Android app to borrow ebooks and view free samples.
Download: Go to the Kindle for Android page on Amazon. Or, while on your phone you can search for “Kindle” in the Google Play market.
Android OS Version Supported: Android OS 2.2 or higher
eBooks Supported: Amazon Kindle ebooks in the AZW format that are only sold at Amazon.com/Kindle
Barnes & Noble Nook Android App
The Android Nook App from Barnes & Noble lets you read all of the Nook ebooks on your Android device without having to own a Nook eBook Reader. Nook for Android gives you access to over 2 million books, magazines, and newspapers. You can try newspapers and magazines for free for 14 days and sample lots of Nook ebooks for free. You can also start reading an ebook on one device and continue at the same place on another device.
Download: Get the Android app at B&N’s Nook for Android page by scanning the barcode shown with your phone. Or search for “NOOK” in the Google Play market.
Android OS Version Supported: Android OS 2.1 or higher
eBooks Supported: If you want to read ebooks using the Nook App, then you should get ebooks from Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.
Kobo Android App
With the Kobo Android app, you can buy ebooks from inside the app and download them directly to your phone. Take your entire library with you on the go. You can find all of your favorite titles and authors in Kobo’s large ebook selection of over 2.5 million books. You can also get personalized recommendations.
Download: Go to the Kobo Android App webpage to scan the QR code. Or search Google Play for Kobo.
Android OS Version Supported: Android OS 1.6 or higher
eBooks Supported: If you want to use the Kobo Android app, you should download eBooks from the Kobo eReader store.
The Sony Reader Android app comes pre-loaded with three classic titles and three excerpts from bestselling ebooks. You can sync your reading position, bookmarks, and highlights to Reader Daily Edition (PRS-950SC with firmware 2.0). Like the other apps, you can also read Sony Reader ebooks even if you don’t have a Sony Reader.
Download: Go to the Sony Reader for Android webpage and scan the QR code. Or, search for the app in the Google Play market.
Android OS Version Supported: Android OS 2.2 or higher
eBooks Supported: If you want to read Sony Reader ebooks on your Android device, get them from Sony’s Reader Store.
The best ebook reading app for your iPad or iPhone depends mostly on where you get your ebooks. Each of these apps have basically the same features, so the main issue to consider is the type of ebooks that they support. All of the major ebook sellers have their own ebook app that works only for their ebooks. You can put lots of different ebook apps on your device, though, so that’s not really a problem — it just means that you probably won’t be able to stick to one single app unless you commit to only buying ebooks from one source. If you have a favorite ebook app for iOS, mention it in the comments along with info about what types of ebooks it can use.
iBooks is Apple’s native ebook app for iOS. The only thing that’s really important to know about this app is that it is mainly meant to be used with ebooks that you get from Apple’s iBookstore, and won’t work with ebooks that you purchased elsewhere, unless they don’t have DRM.
Use This For: eBooks you purchase in Apple’s iBookstore. Your own PDF, ePubs, or books you created in iBooks Author (only non-DRM). iBooks textbooks are only available for iPad.
iTunes Download: Download iBooks
The Kindle app lets you read all of your Kindle ebooks on your iPhone or iPad — no Kindle eReader required. This app will only work with Kindle ebooks that you buy at Amazon.com. (It will also read .mobi files, but only those that do not have DRM, and you won’t find many of those ebooks anymore since Mobipocket is out of operation.)
Use This For: Kindle ebooks that you buy at Amazon.com.
iTunes Download: Download Kindle App
This is the app from Barnes & Noble that you can use to read your Nook ebooks on your iPad or iPhone. It is only made to read Nook ebooks that you get from Barnes & Noble. That includes all of the magazines that they sell as well.
Use This For: Nook eBooks from Barnes & Noble.
iTunes Download: Download Nook App
This is the app from the ebook company Kobo. You can use it to read ebooks that you buy from Kobo, as well as your non-DRM PDFs and ePubs. Kobo is also putting a lot of focus on “social reading” so this app has more of that than apps from other companies.
Use This For: Kobo eBooks from Kobo.com and non-DRM PDFs and ePubs
iTunes Download: Download Kobo App
Bluefire Reader is a great app because it fulfills a need that all the other apps do not: it supports Adobe DRM, so you can read your DRM-protected PDFs and ePubs. If you like to shop at independent ebook stores, this is the ebook app for you. It also reads standard non-DRM PDFs and ePubs. See my Bluefire Reader page for instructions on how this works.
Use This For: DRM and non-DRM PDF and ePub ebooks.
iTunes Download: Download Bluefire Reader
Overdrive Media Console is the app to use for your ebooks and audiobooks that you get from the library. Check with your local library to see if they have ebooks and to get help or technical support.
Use This For: Library ebooks and audiobooks.
iTunes Download: Download Overdrive App
Project Gutenberg has free downloads of public domain works in .txt .html and .epub formats. They were all created by volunteers over the past 15+ years. These aren’t high quality digital books, but they are free and without DRM, so you can read them on just about any device.
Scribd is a service where users can upload their own documents to share with others. You can download those documents or embed them into your website. Not all of the documents are books, but there are lots of books included.
This site has all legal free downloadable ebooks. I couldn’t find anything on the website saying which formats the ebooks are in, but my guess is that most are PDF.
This is a small but growing collection of free ebooks. Downloads are either PDF or ePub. Some are samples but most are full books by modern authors.
MemoWare has a ton of documents and files that are formatted for different devices. They used to advertize devices like Palm and Pocket PC, but now their website says their files also work on Kindle and Nook.
Amazon has an entire section of their website with free Kindle ebooks.
Adobe has a collection of free sample ebooks that you can download for Adobe Digital Editions. They are PDF and ePub formats.
Free ebooks organized into categories. Some are online and some are links to other websites for a download.
This is a big index of free books that you can find online or for download in PDF format. You could kind of consider it a Wikipedia for free ebooks.
Here is a great free online personality test that will help you find out your personality type according to the Myers Briggs theory based on Jung.
With the free account option you can get access to HTML ebooks and up to 5 downloads in PDF or TXT.
Early this month Amazon pulled the plug on Mobipocket. If you go to mobipocket.com now, you’ll find a selection of 12 free ebooks on the home page, but all of the other ebooks have been removed. The Mobipocket company was acquired by Amazon in 2005, and they used the technology of the ebook format in the development of their Kindle software.
Before being bought by Amazon, Mobipocket was an odd company. They were based in France and always had a very relaxed way of doing business, sometimes not responding to questions for months at a time, and even not collecting fees from publishers or retailers for months after they were due. On the other hand, I always felt that their software was ahead of its time. Unlike Adobe and Microsoft, they had a pretty good method in place for DRM. It was based on a PID (personal identification) number that was unique to each copy of Mobipocket Reader. All you would have to do was find that number and then enter it before you downloaded your ebook. Later, they switched to a username/password system, which was still much easier than Adobe and Microsoft’s complicated registration systems. The Reader was also very versatile, supporting most of the mobile devices of the time, like Palm, Pocket PC, Nokia, and Blackberry.
In 2008 there was supposed to be a version of Mobipocket Reader released for iPhone, but that never happened. I’m sure at that point Amazon had decided to stop working on the Mobipocket brand separately and just focus on Kindle. Around the same time, or perhaps a little later, people started complaining that the Mobipocket support forum had become useless because staff never responded to posts. Before that, the Mobipocket staff was quite active and provided most of their customer support through the forums.
So, what does this mean for people who used the Mobipocket format in the past? A few things:
– Amazon is claiming that they will keep past downloads available to customers. I would recommend downloading your Mobipocket ebooks as soon as possible just in case those downloads become unavailable later. They probably won’t last forever.
– Mobipocket ebooks with DRM can only be read in Mobipocket Reader, so if you need a copy of that, you should probably download it soon. Who knows how long Amazon will continue to provide downloads for it. (Mobipocket ebooks without DRM can be read in the Kindle software.)
– If you were reading Mobipocket ebooks on a Blackberry device, you’ll probably have to switch to Kobo. They provide an app for Blackberry. Your old Mobipocket ebooks won’t work in the Kobo app, but you can get Kobo ebooks from now on.
– If you were using another device that Mobipocket supported, like a Windows Mobile phone, you have less options right now. The majority of ebooks being sold now are PDF or ePub, and DRM for those formats is usually handled by Adobe’s Content Server. They do not support Windows Mobile (or other devices Mobipocket supported like Symbian and Palm). You will probably have to stick with non-DRM ebooks until an app becomes available for those devices that supports Adobe’s DRM.
Meanwhile, Lexcycle.com is still unavailable, so it looks like Amazon has definitely killed off that software as well.
With all of these ebook formats changing or falling by the wayside (not to mention devices as well), what should a person do? Amazon is doing so well with Kindle ebooks that I bet that format will be pretty safe to use for a long time. Even as they keep introducing upgraded versions of the hardware and software, you should still be able to keep using your older purchases. Other than that, I know that PDF and ePub have persevered over many years. PDF is such a ubiquitous file format that it’s likely to keep being used for many years to come, and ePub is by far the best format for smaller screens like smartphones and it’s still being developed. So if you’re not using a Kindle, it might be a good idea to read ebooks on a device that you use for other purposes, like a phone or tablet. Buying a device that’s only for ebook reading, or using an ebook format that is specific to one type of hardware, will probably be a poor investment in the long run. Instead, try and get PDF or ePubs and read them on a device that you’ve already bought for something else.
Holiday shopping has (ridiculously) already started here in early November. I’m pretty sure that a lot of eReaders will be given as gifts this year, what with the newly released models and price competition. With that in mind, I thought I’d compile a list of useful reviews about popular eReaders. I will try and do another list about tablet-style devices later — this one is just for the newest E-Ink eReaders. (Update: see Tablet Review Roundup)
Kobo eReader Touch Reviews
Engadget — “For those looking for a device strictly for reading, the new Kobo is a nice little option. It’s small enough to slip into a pocket, can do more with a PDF than the competition, and at $129, it’s $10 cheaper than both the Nook and Kindle WiFi. There’s also nothing in the way of social functionality on the device, but we didn’t really miss it. Ultimately, however, the eReader Touch Edition has one fatal flaw: it’s not as good as the Nook.”
TechCrunch — “Superficially similar to the new Nook, but the Kobo is perhaps even simpler, and the form factor is slightly more book-like. If you don’t need 3G or the other perks of the Kindle ecosystem, and just want a straightforward e-book reading device, this Kobo could be a good match.”
PCMag — “The Kobo eReader Touch Edition brings a nice touch interface and a small footprint to Kobo’s ebook reader line, but its performance and design don’t measure up to its best competitors.”
PCWorld — “It’s rare to find an inexpensive product that also introduces innovation into its category. And yet that’s exactly what Kobo Books’ Kobo eReader Touch Edition does. The company’s third-generation e-reader, this model is the smallest and lightest 6-inch E Ink e-reader currently available.”
ZDNet — “Kobo’s new touchscreen-enabled ebook reader may actually beat the new Nook as the best dedicated ebook reader.”
Wired — “$10 less than comparable Kindle and Nook, making it the cheapest, smallest and lightest e-reading in the pack. Nicely motivates by projecting both the fun and sport of reading. Faux-quilted plastic back sacrifices ergonomics. Touch screen is sometimes slow.”
Nook Touch Reviews
Engadget — “The new Nook is a bit of an enigma, in a sense, simultaneously adding more features while attempting to return to the simple reading experience missing from tablets like the iPad and Nook Color. It succeeds on both accounts. All of the new features enhance rather than detract from the goal of reading, and they’re there when you want them and mostly invisible when you don’t. The social functions are about reading and reading alone — if you’re looking for a place to play Words with Friends, look elsewhere.”
TechCrunch — “After a few days with the new Nook I was hooked. It is a pure reading experience condensed into a device the size of a paperback and with a super-crisp e-ink touchscreen. The Nook is, in short, the best e-reader from a major player I’ve used thus far and is well ahead of its competitors in terms of usability and form factor.”
PCMag — “Thanks to plenty of upgrades and a laser-sharp focus on the reading experience, the second-gen Barnes & Noble Nook Touch Reader is our new Editors’ Choice for ebook readers.”
PCWorld — “I can’t say that the Nook is the absolute best e-reader available today, but it comes close. Nook gets marked down for its terrible button design and inconsistent contrast; and yet, it wins favor for its interface and touch navigation. Those factors, coupled with its light weight and long battery life rating, make Nook a solid choice, as long as you plan to use the touchscreen and not the buttons to page through your books.”
ZDNet — “This is a stripped, bare basics version of the Nook that would be ideal for students and anyone else on a budget.”
Wired — “By now, most everyone in your circle of friends has played with a Kindle and an iPad. Fewer have picked up a Nook. But I’d urge you to give this dark horse a shot.”
Amazon Kindle Reviews
Engadget — “If you’ve ever played with a Kindle, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the fourth-generation is one solid device. The hardware is well made, the processing is snappy and the screen is extremely easy to read. It is, however, sorely lacking in the bells and whistles department, with a renewed, almost one-track focus on reading.”
TechCrunch — (Video) “The first device Jeff Bezos showed off at today’s Amazon event was the diminutive Kindle Touch, a $99 e-ink device that should be on everyone’s Christmas lists this year. The Touch has an 6-inch, IR-based touchscreen and includes all of the features found in the ne Kindle models including the new X-Ray feature that adds research and information to any book downloaded from the Kindle store.”
PCMag — “The new Amazon Kindle rings in at a bargain $79 price, establishes the new class standard for affordable ebook readers, and still features the best ebook store on the market.”
PCWorld — This is a very simple overview for the 3rd generation. I could not find one for the current 4th generation models.
CNet — I couldn’t find a review specific to the newest Kindle models. This link gives you a list of all related Kindle reviews on CNet.
Wired — “Amazon’s new Kindles bring an updated hardware design to its family of popular black and white e-readers. There are different configurations — touch and non-touch, Wi-Fi-only, and 3G cellular data-enabled — all being sold at different prices, and all of them cheaper than the $200 Kindle Fire tablet. They’re made for people who don’t want the tablet; those who just want to read comfortably in a way they’ve grown familiar with, thank you very much.”
Sony Reader WiFi Reviews
Engadget — “There’s a lot to like about this new guy. The WiFi Reader has a lot of compelling functionality, including dual-touch pinch to zoom, handwritten note taking, audio playback and built-in access to public library and Google Books content. At $149.99, it’s also quite reasonably priced for a Sony reader, down $30 from the Sony Reader Pocket Edition (which, it’s worth noting, failed to include WiFi).”
TechCrunch — “Will the T1 do the impossible and overthrow Amazon and BN’s hegemonic hold on the eReader market? In all honestly, probably not, but a functional and stylish alternative can help keep innovation alive and the big guys on their toes.”
PCMag — “Sony finally comes down to earth with the Reader Wi-Fi, a $150 ebook reader that compares well with the B&N Nook Touch and upcoming Amazon Kindle Touch.”
PCWorld — “Price and design are the two biggest factors driving the e-reader market; and in the past, Sony severely dragged its feet on the former. But today the company has rectified the situation with the introduction of the newest Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1.”
ZDNet — “While there’s no compelling reason to buy it over the Kindle Touch, the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is a very solid e-reader.”
Wired — Does not currently seem to have a review of the WiFi T1 model.