Book fans who are just now getting ready to take the e-reader plunge can go straight to the tablet: Three major book retailers each has its own full-color, multimedia touchscreen tablets that follow in the iPad's shiny footsteps while trying to put books before Angry Birds. The iPad has some e-reading advantages. Its large 9.7-inch screen is wide enough to let e-books open into a two-page layout, and you see pages flip at your fingertips, yet it does so much with its enormous variety of apps, easy streaming and 3G connectivity that it also comes with a pricetag that starts at $499. The new e-readers that have evolved into tablets can be bought for half that, or less.
On its face, Amazon's new full-color tablet looks a little like the iPad, but its seven-inch touchscreen is more compact: It can fit in the back pocket of an average pair of men's jeans. It makes buying books, music, games and movies easy — the digital shelves where your media are stored connect straight to Amazon.com. It uses Wi-Fi, has apps and email, but is missing some features — maps, calendar, camera — found on full-service tablets. But yes, you can read books on it and easily buy other e-entertainments too.
Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, $249
Introduced in early November, Barnes & Noble's new Nook Tablet is full-color, has a seven-inch touchscreen, is equipped with Wi-Fi. The extra cost comes from the Nook having more storage and RAM than the Kindle Fire, which gives it more than eight hours of battery life. It also means that streaming — with the preloaded Netflix and Hulu for movies and TV, and Pandora for music — should be smoother. The Nook allows consumers use the device to shop for multimedia wherever they like. Barnes & Noble's emphasis, in the Nook, is on selling e-books to readers.
Kobo's Vox, $199
Kobo's new tablet has a full-color seven-inch touchscreen, is equipped with Wi-Fi and can pretty much go toe-to-toe with the Kindle and the Nook down the line. It's even got some extra features. It comes in snazzier colors (turquoise, pink, and lime as well as the ubiquitous black), and it uses a less-customized operating system, so it is more open to new apps being built for Android. "Breakfast Club" jokes aside, Kobo is the top e-reader in Canada, where the company has partnered with major book retailer Indigo. It is making up for a poor U.S. partnership with the now-defunct Borders by being swifter to explore new e-reader tools, like social reading.
All these started out as e-readers first, and grew up to be tablets; for the curious, there are many more tablets on the market that can also serve as e-readers. Look for them in the same aisle in mostmajor retailers. While you can order these devices online, it's a good idea to eyeball them in person. Literally, put your eyes to them; vision is individual, and some may prefer the older, e-ink style e-readers to the high-contrast backlit tablet.
If you've got one of those on hand and are ready to swap to a tablet, Amazon wants to bring you into the fold. It has a Trade-In Store offering rebates for tablets, the iPad and their old Kindles, too.