by Sean Drysdale

In a world of tech this and tech that, you think that something like a book would always be a book, right? Wrong.

That's right, folks. Because of technology we don't have to pack books in our suitcases anymore before going on vacation: we can download them digitally. A lot of people have known for awhile about the ability to download books from the internet onto your computer; For those who didn't, let me now inform you that indeed, yes, it's possible.

While this concept of getting your books digitally is not all that new, each day more products hit the market that are. From smart phones to your laptop to Amazon's Kindle, and now Barnes and Noble's Nook, there is almost an infinite amount of ways to read on the go or save some space on your bookshelves. Let's take a closer look at the top two hand held devices, Amazon's Kindle 2 and Barnes and Noble's Nook, to see which better fits your needs.

Let's get into the technical details and tell you what both of these have in common. First off, both use eInk and do not use a backlight, which means that the screen won't hurt your eyes like a laptop screen will over time as you read. Second, they have built in WIFI and AT&T 3G capabilities—although Nook offers a WIFI-only model—that offer the ability to download books directly through the device. The readers also share a number of features, including the ability to change the text size and the font itself, to bookmark pages and create highlights on what you are reading, and to play MP3s; both have a built-in web browser and batteries that last almost 2 weeks on one charge.

From here things begin to differ. The Kindle 2 has text-to-speech, which means it can read books aloud. This feature is popular with an older demographic and others who might have trouble seeing. However, it is very robotic, and quite honestly, if you have sight problems then the device itself probably isn't for you, since it would be extremely difficult to download books in the first place. Kindle 2 can also read Microsoft Word documents. This is the one feature that people seem to want that the Nook doesn't have.

While the Kindle 2 has a nice button keyboard, the Nook uses an LCD screen as its keyboard, much like a smart phone. It is a bit unresponsive, but with free downloadable upgrades it can be made very smooth.

And this isn't the only difference. The Nook displays book covers in color, and uses icons similar to Apple's Apps to access all modes of use. The Nook has the ability to update itself with new options, such as games, faster page turning, as well as general upgrades from month to month that keep the Nook in competition with everyone else. Also a nice feature on the Nook is that you can add more memory with a Micro SD card. The battery is easily replaceable as well, so you don't have to replace the item itself when the battery dies. A drawback, however, is that the Nook freezes up from time to time, which is an easy reboot fix, though it can be annoying when it happens.

The two greatest perks of being a Nook owner are: one, it's the only device that allows you to share books with anyone; and, two, if you walk into a Barnes and Noble, you can use the Nook to read anything for free for up to an hour every day of the week. Additionally, Nook owners who visit the store with the device in hand have access to coupons and free downloads (selected by B & N Corporate, of course). One more thing to keep in mind: while the Nook cannot read Word document files, it does read more files than the Kindle 2, such as ePub, which is fast becoming the top format for eBooks.

While the Kindle 2 has a much smoother performance over the Nook with no freezing problems, the Nook really wins with its ability to add more memory, and the downloadable updates mean you won't need a new device in the next 6 months to a year. Kindle, on the other hand, is set to release Kindle 3—which coincidentally bears a resemblance to the Nook—not even a year after Kindle 2 was released; soon after that, a business version called the Kindle XD is slated for release. The Nook also uses downloads from both Barnes and Noble ebooks and Google ebooks, giving it far more titles to choose from than Kindle's Amazon store. In the end, the Nook gets my vote for its ability to share content and update, and for being attached to a brick-and-mortar store.

Remember when it comes to gadgets, always get what meets your needs and your own personal aesthetic. Please always think it through before you purchase; occasionally you can't get your money or your time back! And be on the lookout for good eReader deals: the battle for the most desirable features has turned into an all-out price war. No doubt the consumers will be the victors.

Shop wisely friends.

© Sean Drysdale, 2010