E Ink displays used on a majority of these devices is very similar to reading off of regular paper, and therefore much more easy on the eyes than those now-ubiquitous LCD screens we've all surrounded ourselves with. We've rounded up a few of our favorite devices, though be warned: with a market this much in its infancy, there's always going to be something just a bit more exciting right around the corner.
Holiday Gift Guide 2009: e-book readersSee all photos
Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300 - Representing the bare bones of the bare bones for major manufacturers, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300 has a one of the smaller screens around (5-inch), no wireless capabilities, and doesn't even play back music. It makes up for these shortcomings with a sweet price tag and Sony's much improved 3.0 software, which is available for Mac and PC and syncs the device iTunes-style not only with Sony-bought books, but with thousands of free titles available through Google Books and even content available from your local library -- making it not only easy on your pocket, but easily replenished by your knowledge-loving recipient.
$199 - Buy from Sony
OpenMoko WikiReader - It's not exactly for reading books, but the OpenMoko is a single-purpose device for browsing a cached version of what is perhaps the greatest paper book killer of them all: Wikipedia. Of course, any decent smartphone has access to Wikipedia online or through an app, but for somebody unwilling or incapable of pulling up Wikipedia articles on their phone, this little touchscreen, monochrome device provides a nice alternative.
$99 - Buy from OpenMoko
Gift certificate - Like we said at the outset, many people don't even need or want a dedicated device for reading e-books, and if the book lover in your life already has an iPhone or an iPod touch it's no trouble at all keeping them drenched in prose. They simply need the free Kindle or Barnes & Noble app and they can use a Barnes & Noble gift card or Amazon gift card to purchase e-books for download and reading. Alternatively they could use an iTunes gift card to purchase one-off e-book apps, but those are a bit of a mixed bag in interface and quality, so buyer beware.
Buy from Barnes & Noble
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Apple
Oh, you shouldn't have
Amazon Kindle - The clear leader in e-book land (marketshare-wise, at least) is of course Amazon's Kindle, and not for no reason: the device itself is simple enough for your parents to love, but has enough tech to impress the nerds in your life. The well-established Whisper Sync technology lets people keep track of a single book across multiple devices, there's a physical keyboard right up front, and the device can even browse the web. Your recipient will be pretty locked down for content, since the Kindle doesn't support the open, Google-backed ePub format, but you can't do much better for paid content than the Kindle Store.
$259 - Buy from Amazon
Barnes & Noble Nook - While Barnes & Noble has shown off its new Nook e-book reader to the masses, at the time of this writing we haven't actually played with it, and odds are most holiday shoppers won't get an opportunity to try before they buy either: current pre-orderers will receive their device on December 18th. Still, Barnes & Noble brings a formidable force to the e-book market, and its dual-screen interface, open format support and in-store tie-ins differentiate it from Amazon's offering. So it's a bit of a risk from a gift giving perspective, but if you've got a Barnes & Noble fanboy in your sights, it might just be worth it.
Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-900- Up against the Kindle and the Nook, Sony's Daily Edition reader seems dramatically overpriced. However, for that price you get the only 7-inch touchscreen among the trio. It's also the winner on format support, and of course works with those afore-mentioned Sony e-book store advantages. Unfortunately, it's also on backorder at the time of this writing, and has an even lower chance than the Nook of being spotted in the flesh before Christmas.
$399 - Buy from Sony
We can't afford the rent now, can we?
Amazon Kindle DX - Aimed at businesses and students, with a 9.7-inch screen and wider format support (like PDF), the Kindle DX still seems prohibitively pricey for what you're getting, but if you can swing it we're sure the much loved PDF junky in your life won't mind.
$489 - Buy from Amazon
IREX DR 800SG - With stylus input and an 8.1-inch screen, the IREX DR 800SG is a luxurious way to approach the e-book market, and includes a number of wireless-accessible stores to choose from for content. It also has a world roaming modem capable of downloading books in the States and internationally. It probably won't be on as many wish lists as the Nook or Kindle, but for a few (very particular) readers it might be just the thing. Unfortunately, its product page at Best Buy is down at the moment, but hopefully it's back in time for the holidays.
$449 - Buy from Best Buy
"Wait" - No, there's no e-book reader catchily dubbed the "Wait," but there's plenty of interesting stuff happening in e-book land in the near future, particularly in the premium space. Plastic Logic's QUE proReader 8.5 x 11-inch behemoth quickly comes to mind, as does the Spring Design Alex -- whose dual-screen design is litigiously similar to that of the Nook. There's also of course the steady drumbeat of technology, the ever-rumored Apple tablet and an inevitable 3rd generation Kindle to look out for, so perhaps your gift recipient would be understanding of an IOU this holiday season.