Not too long ago, Amazon's Kindle was to e-readers what the iPad was to tablets: king of the jungle. Today, choosing an e-reader is hardly a simple process, with offerings available from Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others. Most of these devices have their own strengths, but in terms of a dedicated e-reader, it's hard to beat Amazon's Kindle.
To be clear, if factors like Web browsing and hackability are criteria in your decision, this article won't pertain to you. But if you're in the market for a minimalist, distraction-free e-reader, then read on.
Nook vs. Kindle: Ecosystem
It's a reasonable leap to assume the Nook is the "reader's e-reader" since Barnes & Noble is still a bookstore at the end of the day. However, few still remember that when Amazon first launched in 1995, it only sold books. In fact, it used to bill itself as "the world's largest bookstore," a claim that precipitated a Barnes & Noble lawsuit charging Amazon was no bookstore at all — only a book broker.
At any rate, while a company's "bookishness" might inform the nature of an e-reader's ecosystem on some aesthetic level, an e-reader is still a piece of consumer tech and consequently, requires a bit of IT savvy.
Purchasing a book on a Kindle is as simple as buying a song on iTunes. Likewise, bypassing the Amazon book store is doable, but somewhat inconvenient — like bypassing iTunes to sync pirated content. The Nook takes a more laid back approach to DRM and utilizes ePub format, which makes it easier to backup your content as well as load free and pirated eBooks.
Essentially, the Kindle offers a premium experience for a price. While Amazon's approach to DRM, like Apple's, can be Draconian at times, it still creates a more complete, streamlined user experience.
Amazon also has a larger library of eBooks than Barnes & Noble, including more than 200,000 exclusive titles.
Nook vs. Kindle: Display
The Nook and Kindle are pretty comparable in terms of display. Both come in regular and backlit varieties. The plain Nook costs $79 and is ad-free — the same price as the plain Kindle, which runs ads on the screen while you're not reading. If you want your Kindle ad-free, it'll run you an extra $20.
The Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight are again pretty comparable. Amazon's is $129, Barnes & Noble's is $119. The Paperwhite has a higher resolution, but most users likely won't notice the difference.
On paper, the Kindle's display has stronger specs. Things like font and character size however, will play a much larger role in defining the look and feel of your e-reader, so it's a good idea to try to actually get some hands-on time with both before making a decision.
Nook vs. Kindle: Design
The Kindle and Nook both have 6-inch screens and weigh around the same. The Kindle is slightly more rectangular, while the Nook is more of a square. The Kindle has no physical hard keys, while the Nook has page-turn buttons on either side. Previous versions of the Kindle had similar hard keys, but for a more distraction-free experience, it's convenient to be able simply to tap the screen. Like the display, the design mostly boils down to a matter of preference, so we'd suggest trying out both the Nook and Kindle in person before making a decision.