Every Fourth of July, my friend Mary’s father used to pile his entire family into the car a few minutes before the start of the local fireworks spectacular. When they arrived, he’d double-park the car, turn the flashers on and squeeze the family onto the crowded lawn to see the show. Then, just as the pyrotechnical display started to reach its crescendo, Mary’s dad would corral the family back into the car and take off, just in time to avoid the after-show traffic jam.
This year Mary asked me for some Father’s Day gift advice, because, as you might imagine, buying a gift for someone so practical isn’t easy.
Mary’s Dad loves to read, so the answer was easy: an e-reader. But which one? Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook? (Yes, there are others, but these two are the best, in my opinion.) When choosing between a Kindle and a Nook, there are five important things to consider.
B&N or Amazon?
The first, and most important, choice is which ecosystem to buy into. This is a critical decision because B&N e-books can’t be read on Kindle e-readers and vice versa. You must choose your e-book “platform” carefully, though tablets like Apple’s iPad have apps for reading Nook, Kindle, Apple iBooks and other e-book formats.
Both B&N and Amazon offer over a million e-books, though many are public domain, free titles by long-deceased authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. Both platforms offer the ability to subscribe to magazines and newspapers, and Kindle also lets you subscribe to blogs.
B&N and Amazon both let you borrow library e-books, though some reviewers say B&N makes this process more difficult.
Also worth considering: For $79 a year, Amazon Prime, which offers free two-day shipping on many items, lets you stream thousands of movies and TV shows and borrow one Kindle e-book per month. Amazon says its lending library features over 145,000 titles.
Does your Dad borrow library books frequently? If so, Kindle may be the way to go. Does he primarily read the latest bestsellers and/or love the classics? Either ecosystem should do. Is he a fan of audio books? Both devices play audio files, but Amazon has a relationship with Audible.com, which offers some 100,000 audio books in a variety of categories.
Tablet or Dedicated E-Reader?
B&N and Amazon both offer Android tablets, which, along with serving as e-readers, also provide access to a subset of “curated” Android apps. In other words, with these tablets Dad won’t have access to all the Android apps in the Google Play store. For that, he’d need a full-blown Android tablet like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.
B&N’s Nook tablets are Nook Color (an older model that costs $169) and Nook Tablet ($199 for 8GB or $249 for 16GB). Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet costs $199. Both companies’ tablets have been fairly well received by tech reviewers.
If your Dad has a geeky side, he might enjoy a Kindle Fire or Nook tablet. But be aware that neither the B&N nor Kindle Fire tablets offer cellular wireless connectivity, which means Dad will need Wi-Fi to download books. Also, tablet-screen glare is a problem in direct sunlight, while the e-ink screens of dedicated e-readers are better suited for outdoor reading.
3G or Wi-Fi Only?
Amazon’s dedicated Kindle e-readers feature two types of connectivity: Wi-Fi and 3G cellular. Some have both, while others are Wi-Fi only. B&N Nook devices only offer Wi-Fi. If Dad is frequently mobile and reads a lot on the go, the decision is clear: get him a Kindle with 3G and Wi-Fi.
Ads or No Ads?
B&N devices are ad-free. Amazon’s Kindle e-readers give you a choice: Buy a model with ads that display on the home screen and at the bottom of the library screen for less money or pay extra to be ad-free.
For instance, Amazon’s Kindle Touch Wi-Fi only e-reader (which I own and recommend) is $99 with “special offers” (read: ads) or $139 without them. I actually prefer the ads on my Kindle Touch to the alternative, Amazon’s line-art drawings of dead authors. And the ads don’t appear while you’re actually reading a book, so they’re not obtrusive.
Built-in Light or Add-On?
The e-ink screens on B&N and Amazon e-readers are not backlit, like a tablet’s display. That makes e-readers screens easy to read in sunlight, but they require a light source when used in dark environments—just like a printed book. If Dad likes to read in bed at night, consider a B&N Simple Touch with GlowLight ($139), currently the only e-reader with built-in lighting for its e-ink display.
Alternatively, you can buy Kindle covers that have built-in lights. I bought an Amazon Kindle Touch Lighted Leather Cover (the purple one looks great) for my e-reader. It works well, though it’s expensive at $60.
Which One to Get?
You may have noticed I have a preference for Amazon’s Kindle. That’s mostly because I chose Kindle at the beginning of the e-book boom, and I have little experience with the Nook. But I’d venture that it’s hard to go wrong with either ecosystem. And practical Dads—like Mary’s, with his double-parking fireworks show strategy—will no doubt love how fast and easy it is to start enjoying a new book.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.