fourth generation Kindle (which starts at an enticing $79 for the ad-supported version) and the Kindle Fire, which is helping to further blur the lines between the e-reader and tablet worlds. Not to be outdone, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Sony are also offering up impressive new devices for the holiday season. All in all, there's never been a more exciting time to give the gift of reading.
At $79 for the ad-supported version, this is the device that will finally get plenty of holdouts to bite the e-reader bullet. It's also a great price for those looking for an affordable gadget gift. The fourth generation Kindle carries on Amazon's tradition of delivering solid hardware, with a six-inch Pearl E Ink display, a zippy processor and a slim body -- though there are certain sacrifices here, namely the lack of a touchscreen and keyboard. If you're in the market for either of those, Amazon has you covered with the Kindle Touch and the Kindle Keyboard (the re-branded third-generation model). For most, however, typing is secondary functionality on a reader and the physical page buttons on either side of the display will likely suffice. For those looking for a truly inexpensive option, however, the latest Kindle can't be beat.
Key specs: Six-inch Pearl E Ink display, 2GB of storage, 800MHz.
Price: $79 (ad-supported), $119 at Amazon
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When it first hit the market earlier this year, Barnes & Noble's touchscreen reader quickly became one of our favorite devices, featuring a great form factor and some excellent social networking features. The company made the package even sweeter earlier this week, dropping the price by $40 and rolling out a software upgrade that increased battery life, page turn rate and made the display a bit crisper. And, as Barnes & Noble put it, "best of all, no ads."
Price: $99 at Barnes & Noble
Sony's been in the e-reader game for some time now, but has failed to make much of a splash against the likes of Amazon and Barnes & Noble -- at least here in the States. The consumer electronics giant has a real winner on its hands this time out, however. The lightweight Reader WiFi packs in all manner of cool features, including pinch-to-zoom, built-in access to public library rentals and free Google Books content, touchscreen note-taking and multimedia features like music. Also, as the name suggests, this thing has WiFi built-in -- unlike the previously lowest priced Sony reader. This is a full-featured dedicated e-reader -- and then some.
Key specs: Six-inch Pearl E Ink display, 2GB / expandable storage.
Price: $149 on Amazon
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Kobo's touchscreen reader is a solid device -- albeit one almost entirely lacking in bells and whistles. It offers up 2GB of built-in storage, microSD expandability, the company's competitive Reading Life and some decent PDF viewing options. At $129, the reader is moderately priced -- though it has since been undercut by the likes of Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Price: $129 from Kobo
Amazon shed the physical keyboard this time around, making for a reader that slips nicely into a pocket that also offers the page turn swipes that we've grown accustom to on the Nook and Kobo. Also, unlike those readers, Amazon has equipped the Touch with a 3G option for downloading content on the go. Oh, and like the fourth generation Kindle, you can subsidize the cost a bit with ad-enabled options.
Price: $99 (ad-supported), $139 WiFi; $149 (ad-supported), $189 3G at Amazon
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On the outside, Barnes & Noble's latest entry sure looks an awful lot like the Nook Color. There are a few aesthetic differences here -- it's a little bit lighter in the color and weight departments, shedding an ounce from its predecessor. The key differences are a souped-up IPS screen with reduced glare that can handle video up to 1080p video, and some improved innards like a 1GHz dual-core processor. The latest Nook is all about multimedia, offering up apps like Hulu Plus, Netflix and Rhapsody, but the tablet hasn't fully abandoned its bookish roots, giving users a great full-color reading experience for magazines, comics and kids books. It'll cost you though -- at $249, this is easily the priciest selection on our list.
Key specs: Seven-inch IPS display, 1GHz dual-core processor, 16GB built-in / expandable storage.
Price: $249 from Barnes & Noble.
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Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire may most appropriately be described as a tablet, with a slew of multimedia features, a multi-touch color display and downloadable apps. But given Amazon's background in books, you better believe that this Android-based device is an excellent reader, too. It's a bit on the pricey side for the e-reader world, sure, but as far as tablets go, it's a downright steal.
Price: $199 from Amazon
Kobo joined the tablet bandwagon with this nicely priced Gingerbread tablet. The seven-inch slate offers up some reader-centric features like Reading Life and the Social Reading Pulse, plus access to some 15,000 Android apps for those times when you're on the search for another distraction.
Price: $199 from Kobo