My Technologizer column over at TIME.com this week is about Barnes & Noble’s new Nookcolor e-reader, the first dedicated e-reader from a big company with a full-blown color touchscreen. Overall, I like it–I’ve never been as happy reading monochrome E-Ink displays such as the ones on last year’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle as much as I’m told I should, and the new Nook’s full-color experience is everything that E-Ink is not.
I suspect that most folks who consider buying both the Nookcolor and the Kindle will quickly gravitate towards one or the other: The Kindle gives you E-Ink and a month of life on one charge, and the Nookcolor gives you backlit, touch-enabled color but only eight hours between recharges. They’re both legitimate approaches, and you get to choose. (More on Time.com: Where to Find the Best Free E-Books)
Or you could choose to buy no e-reader at all–even if you’re an avid reader of stuff in digital form. Rather than doing everything in their power to get you to buy their hardware, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are rolling out applications that bring their e-book stores to phones and other gadgets. You can Kindle or Nook even if you don’t own a Kindle or a Nook.
Amazon.com’s app selection is particularly bountiful: It has ones for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, Windows, and OS X. Barnes & Noble has ones for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Windows. They’re not comprehensive recreations of the two companies’ hardware devices in software form: Features such as highlighting and note-taking, for instance, are sometimes missing, and so is access to magazines and newspapers. But all the apps are free, and they all work on one or more devices you already own.
The upshot: Even though I have both a Kindle and a Nook here at Technologizer World Headquarters, I do most of my e-reading on other devices. And my single most-used e-reading device is my iPhone, simply because I take it with me nearly everywhere and can dip into any e-book I own in seconds, often while I’m doing something else at the same time. (I get a lot of reading done while waiting in line at Trader Joe’s–basked of groceries in one hand, iPhone in the other.) (More on Time.com: E-Books Added To NYT Best-Seller List)
Both companies also have synching technologies that keep track of where you are in a particular tome: I can read a few pages on an iPhone, pick up on my Mac, and then finish a book on an actual Kindle. And I do, frequently.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble both lock up their e-books with copy protection, but the fact that they support so many platforms adds a measure of safety: If you dump your iPhone for an Android handset, you book purchases come with you. (Apple’s iBooks–currently available only on the iPad and iPhone–don’t have that flexibility.) And if you start out reading on a phone and enjoy the experience so much you decide to invest in a Kindle or Nook, you can have a library of books you’ve already bought waiting for you.
I still buy my share of dead-tree books–anything that involves beautiful artwork, for instance, still works better on paper than it does on either E-Ink or LCD. But I’m glad that I have a library of e-books in the cloud, too.
More on Time.com: