Friday, December 14, 2012

E-Reader Guide for Young People

Another question that comes up occasionally is, what device should I buy for tweens and teens interested in e-books?

The first question to ask is the same as for adults, how do you see him/her using the device?  If you're looking for a device primarily for reading books, go with an e-ink or basic e-reader.  Then you just have to decide whether you want to immerse your young person into the Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Kobo ecosystem. Sony is also in the e-ink e-reader market but they've never had a particularly competitive e-book store.  So, I presume you'd be getting most of your content for a Sony Reader from Overdrive, B&N or Kobo.  I have to say that the Kobo Mini is possibly the cutest e-reader ever, if that's a consideration. The one big advantage of Sony Readers is for schools.  The Sony Pocket Reader (no longer being made) was a small, sturdy, metal encased e-reader that was difficult to damage.  And it didn't come with wifi.  On the whole, e-ink readers are easier on the eyes, have long battery life, are small and light and very portable and are considerably less expensive than the color versions.  If you think there's a good possibility of loss or damage, you're not likely to be as concerned if you've shelled out $70 vs. $200.  Another question to consider is how easily distracted the young person is.  If you fear that s/he may spend more time on Facebook, messaging or gaming than reading, you may want to go with a less distracting e-ink device.

Some features to consider - Touch vs. manual controls.  I prefer touch screens.  Somehow it seems more natural, but I like the Nook Simple Touch because it offers both touch and manual page turns.  Wifi vs. 3G - this is mostly used to buy and download new books.  Especially if you have wifi at home, I'd think you could save the money and skip the 3G.  On the other hand, it can be quite useful if you find yourself trapped in an airport or on a runway and your kid could really use a new book to entertain him/her.  Web browser -  I believe all of the Kindles have a web browser of some kind - generally labeled experimental.  B&N Nook Simple Touch does not have a web browser, nor do the Sony Readers.  The more recent Kobo devices do have web browsers.  None of these are particularly appealing on an e-ink reader but they do offer access to the Internet, if that's a concern.  Parental controls - purchases and content.  This is always going to be a difficult issue.  The stereotype is that kids know more than their parents about gadgets and the Internet and will find a way around any controls you attempt to establish.  While that may be true in many cases, I think that bringing an e-reader into the house is a great time to have that Internet talk about responsibility and potential dangers, etc.  While I think you can probably control charges to your account on any of the devices, there is a lot of less than desirable content kids can access and download.  Given the gray scale displays, there's probably less concern about graphic depictions of pornography or violence on an e-ink reader, but it's probably worthwhile making clear your expectations.  And I'd also include a chat about pirated content.

Amazon Kindle - starts at $69
Barnes & Noble Nook - starts at $99
Kobo - starts at $80
Sony Reader - starts at $129

Color E-Readers - What Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble are marketing as e-readers are really limited utility tablets, so, I'll include these with other 7 inch tablets.  The pros for considering this category are the color screens which are great for illustrations, graphic novels, and photographs, and the wide variety of apps you can run.  Kindle and Nook both strive to control access to content and apps, but there are still plenty available.  I think the most important thing to keep in mind about these devices is that they are mobile Internet access devices.  They come with browsers, cameras and ready access to app and content stores.  They play movies, music and numerous games. If free unfettered access to the Internet and/or the potential for major distractions are concerns for you, you'll want to look into parental controls.  Kindle just recently boosted their parental control capabilities on Fire HD with FreeTime that allows parents the ability to set the amount of time a child spends on various activities on Kindle Fire, e.g., hour for games, hour for video, 2 hours for reading, etc.  And you can set multiple profiles with different settings for different family members.  They also have a FreeTime subscription plan called FreeTime Unlimited that offers unlimited selected books, games, educational apps, movies, etc. for a monthly fee.  Nook also offers parental controls and multiple profiles.  In addition, Nook has a special Nook Kids Store where you can shop by age group.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD - starts at $199
Nook HD - starts at $199
Kindle FreeTime Unlimited

The wider world of Android tablets, including Google Nexus 7 and Kobo Arc, provide no built in parental controls.  You have to rely on third party apps.  But you will find a lot of familiar brands from the PC filter business also offering Android and iOS filter apps.  As always, when considering filtering products, I'd read the reviews and take advantage of free testing periods to try out the apps and make sure they work as you want them to.  Another caution is that quite often the app is free but you need to pay a subscription fee to get updates.

There are tablets made specifically for children.  One example is the nabi 2.  It's an Android tablet but with a customized interface and apps designed for children.  It also looks pretty durable with a thick bumper so it can probably withstand a lot of drops and abuse.  It runs $199 which puts it in the same range as Kindle Fire and Nook HD and has similar specifications.  It might be worth considering, especially for younger children.

nabi 2 - $199

Finally, there's the latest entry into this smaller tablet market, the iPad mini.  At $329, it's the highest priced tablet in its class but Apple seems to like to charge a premium price for its products.  iPad mini does come with parental controls.  It also has access to the Apple iTunes app store with its hundreds of thousands of apps, including those aimed toward every age group.  Apple is also making a push for the education market so there are a wide range of educational apps and books designed specifically for iPad.  In addition, I expect they have the largest number of beautifully designed interactive multimedia book apps for children.

iPad mini - starts at $329

I'm not going to go into the larger tablets - iPad or Kindle Fire HD 8.9 or Nook HD+ or the like.  If a young person tells you s/he wants one of these, it's not for reading.  These are more laptop replacements.  But the same caveats apply as for the smaller models.  The only difference is that they're bigger and heavier and more expensive.  They're also potentially more appealing for movies and gaming, but hold no particular advantage for reading unless we're talking about PDFs or graphic novels.  In both cases bigger is better.  For more information on the larger tablets and their respective advantages and disadvantages, you can see an earlier blog post on tablets.