E-reader roundup: 8 devices compete for the crown

We look at the current state of the market and review 8 of the most popular e-readers

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Apple iPad

With 4 million-plus units sold since its introduction this spring, Apple's sleek and stylish iPad instantly became the 800-pound gorilla of computer tablets.

And that is both its strength and weakness -- the iPad is a powerful and versatile computer tablet, not a dedicated e-reader. So, how well does it function as an e-reader?

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

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Actually, very well.

Like most Apple products, the iPad is easy to learn and simple to use. Its large, bright color touch screen displays side-by-side or single pages. Turning a page simply requires the light swipe of a finger over the text.

Although the iPad's LED backlit touch screen consumes much more power than E Ink or TFT monochrome screens, its built-in battery can give up to 10 hours of continuous or intermittent reading. Another plus is that Apple's iBooks store makes browsing, sampling, buying and downloading books a quick and painless experience.

What's interesting: We don't know if Apple has set out to establish one of the world's largest online bookstores, but with millions of book downloads made available in an astonishingly short time, it's right up there at the top with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. As an e-reader, the iPad has quickly found an enthusiastic following, especially among those drawn to its remarkable ease of use and large and legible, ultrabright color touch screen. The screen more closely mimics book pages than any e-reader, even down to a swishing sound it makes when you turn the page.

What's good: Besides offering two type sizes and five fonts, users can, with the swipe of a finger, turn pages, adjust the brightness, activate the dictionary, make a bookmark or start a search. (Sorry, but you can't spread your fingers to automatically enlarge or shrink e-book text.) It also quickly and automatically orients itself to whatever way you're holding the iPad. After you exit to check your e-mail or watch a Netflix film, it automatically returns you to the correct page when you decide to resume reading. And in the header and footer, you always know the name of the author, the book's title, what page you're on, and how many pages are left in the chapter and the rest of the book.

What's not: Despite its long list of pluses, the iPad has a few serious ergonomic drawbacks that may somewhat diminish its e-reader appeal.

It's significantly larger and heavier than all other e-readers we tested -- not only can't you read comfortably with one hand, but holding it with both hands quickly becomes exhausting. Heaven forbid that you happen to drop the iPad, because its fingerprint-prone glass touch screen can easily shatter. Also, the highly reflective, backlit touch screen, while bright and highly legible in normal light, is difficult to impossible to read in bright light.

Bottom line: Apple's remarkable iPad is far more powerful, versatile -- and expensive -- than every other e-reader. It's certainly the one to get if you want a tablet that can double as an e-reader. But it's both overpriced and overkill for those who only want a small, compact and affordable device dedicated to reading.

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