The e-book war is heating up, and bibliophiles looking to make the switch to digital will have some promising e-readers to choose from in the coming months.
And as competition increases, the consumer wins, with prices coming down — at least in some cases.
Barnes & Noble officially entered the skirmish last month by announcing the Nook, a $259 device with an electronic ink display and wireless connectivity to its online book store.
Due out later this month, the Nook is intended to go head-to-head with Amazon's Kindle reader and various e-readers from Sony and other companies. Kindle's price dropped by $60 to $299 in July than came down again recently to match the Nook's price.
In addition to its primary 6-inch e-ink display, the Nook sports a secondary color LCD touchscreen that will also double as the device's keyboard.
The Nook's killer feature, however, is its ability to share books among friends — a feature the Kindle lacks. Barnes & Noble says users can lend their books to a friend's Nook, cellphone, or computer for up to 14 days at a time, but not all e-books will be available for lending.
Like the Kindle, the Nook has free 3G wireless access (through AT&T), making purchasing and downloading digital books and magazines easy. The Nook will also pack Wi-Fi connectivity and 2GB of onboard memory, which can be expanded via an expansion slot.
Not to be outdone, Sony is promising a new ebook reader in December called the Reader Daily Edition. Sony has numerous other e-reader offerings, but the Reader Daily Edition will be the first with wireless 3G connectivity. Previously, Sony Reader users had to connect their devices to a PC using a USB connection to download books.
Sony is also hoping to win customers by adopting the open EPub format. This will allow users to read books purchased from the Sony store on any EPub-compatible device.
In contrast, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble use proprietary digital formats, essentially locking users to the companies' devices. A Kindle user can't switch to a Nook or a Sony Reader without losing access to all the books they purchased through Amazon.
However, with a price tag of $399, the Sony Reader Daily Edition is $140 more expensive than the Nook and the Kindle (which is also $259 for the standard model; Amazon also makes a jumbo-sized Kindle DX).
Another company to watch out for is Apple. Already dominant in the music player and smartphone markets, rumors are swirling that the company is developing an iPhone-like touchscreen tablet that can, among many other functions, read ebooks.