Cool stuff: Your 2009 holiday gift guide

Find the best HDTVs, laptops, smartphones and some surprise goodies to give this year

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E-readers erupt into the market

Although the original Kindle is now two years old, e-readers started really taking off in 2009, and are bound to be a popular item among the digerati this year. These mobile devices use a technology called e-ink, which mimics the look of ink on paper. These e-readers are not only very easy to use, but they're much easier on the eyes than the typical computer or smartphone screen.

The leader in this category is, no doubt, the Kindle, which offers readers a wireless connection to Amazon's huge storehouse of books. However, there are some strong alternatives out there. For example, Sony has several readers available, ranging from the small and inexpensive Pocket Edition to the Touch Edition, which boasts a touch screen -- but not the wireless connection to a bookstore that the Kindle includes.

Another contender here is Barnes & Noble's Nook, which includes Wi-Fi, an online store, a touch screen and a color navigation display. It also allows readers to lend their e-books to friends, with some limitations. Finally, owners of the iPhone and other recent smartphones are opting to bypass e-ink and use apps such as Kindle for iPhone to get their reading done.

As with many of today's devices, which you choose will depend on what you're looking for in an e-reader.

Amazon Kindle 2
Amazon Kindle 2
Amazon Kindle 2  (Click to view larger image)

Amazon's Kindle 2 has improved on its predecessor with a better screen, slightly more efficient (and thinner) design, a built-in PDF reader and text-to-speech. It retains the built-in and free Sprint 3G wireless connection, along with Amazon's incredible selection of books.

According to PC World reviewer Melissa J. Perenson:

In the e-book universe, the Kindle retains a significant edge. Offering built-in Sprint 3G wireless (at no extra cost to users) and tight integration with Amazon's shopping engine, the Kindle handheld delivers a cohesive reading and shopping experience (even the Kindle for iPhone application doesn't allow you to shop within the app itself). Its nearest competitor, Sony's PRS-700 Reader, can't come close: Amazon's library of Kindle e-books, all available for immediate delivery, gives new meaning to the concept of instant gratification. (See the full review)

Kindle 2 from Amazon.com Inc.

Price: $259  |  Tech specs  |  Phone: 866-216-1072

Summary: Amazon's Kindle e-reader is still top in its field and makes books ridiculously easy to purchase via its free 3G wireless network.

Sony Reader Touch Edition
Sony Reader Touch Edition
Sony Reader Touch Edition  (Click to view larger image)

One thing that the Kindle lacks -- and that this Sony e-reader offers -- is a touch screen, allowing readers to page through a book or tap on an icon in a more natural manner than having to push buttons. (The Sony Daily Edition, a $400 device which will have its own 3G wireless connection to Sony's eBook Store, is due to ship later in December). PC World reviewer Yardena Arar writes:

The Sony Reader Touch Edition (PRS-600) is Sony's new flagship e-book reader, offers something we haven't seen in previous Sony Readers: a touch screen and stylus for navigating and for creating drawings and handwritten notes. Whether this innovation enhances the e-book experience is open to debate, but the overall quality of the product is not: Except for its lack of wireless connectivity for purchasing books without connecting to a PC, the Touch Edition is a worthy competitor to Amazon's Kindles. (See the full review)

Reader Touch Edition from Sony Electronics Inc.

Street price: $275 - $300  |  Tech specs  |  Store locator  |  Phone: 877-865-7669

Summary: The Sony Reader Touch Edition offers a more naturalistic feel to its e-reader, along with a lighter feel and access to a wider range of document formats.

Barnes & Noble Nook
Barnes & Noble Nook

Barnes & Noble Nook

(Click to view larger image)

Barnes & Noble's Nook is the latest e-book reader to hit the market, and it adds a bit of color to the mix. The Nook includes the now-expected 3G wireless network (this one from AT&T), a color touch screen that lets you swipe through titles or use a virtual keyboard, and the ability to "lend" out books by sending them to another Nook for up to 14 days. PC World's Jared Newman writes:

The things you'd expect in an e-reader -- Wi-Fi, an online book store, the ability to mark up what you read with notes -- are paired with things that haven't yet become the standard, such as a touch screen, a color navigation display and way to lend e-books to friends. If any e-reader illustrates how badly the Kindle needs a redesign, not just a price cut, this is it. (See the full review)

As of this writing, the Nook hadn't shipped yet, but it's already sold out -- Barnes & Noble will, however, sell you a holiday certificate promising a device as soon as it's ready.

Nook from Barnes & Noble Inc.

Price: $259  |  Tech specs  |  Store locator  |  Phone: 800-843-2665

Summary: The new Nook, from Barnes & Noble, brings color browsing to the e-book market, giving it the potential to be a real competitor to the reigning Kindle.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

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