It’s that time of year again and students new and old are heading back to college for the fall. Now, more than ever, having an eReader just makes sense for anybody serious about their education. That said, with so many options on the market it can be hard to choose. Kindle or Nook? eReader or Tablet? Skip it all and just get a laptop, since there are eReading apps anyway? When trying to decide, there are a few factors that are really important.
First, determine what your eBook needs will be. Students new to college can expect significant introductory coursework. This often means older, more widely read works of literature and basic textbooks. Generally this means extended reading of the literature and textbooks only pulled out to work through assignments. For that combination, I recommend an eReader like the Kindle or Nook combined with a PC app for textbook reading (They’re only going to be opened for a few minutes at a time anyway). As always, check the list of required texts to make sure this is feasible before buying. This combination has the added advantage of paying for itself in savings very quickly since a Kindle will only cost you $114 and many commonly used books can be found for free.
In terms of more advanced students, the individual needs will determine whether use of an eReader is feasible. Many technical texts require both extended study and full color diagrams to make sense. The current monochrome limitations of the Kindle would make it less than useful for this. If the program in question requires extensive illustrated textbook reference, you probably don’t need one. If you will be spending much time using academic text references like JSTOR, or focusing on purely text-based studies, the Kindle makes perfect sense.
Assuming you have an idea what kind of product you need, the next step is choosing the particular model. Availability is not really a concern with the Amazon Kindle always including free shipping and the Barnes & Noble Nook available in all of their local stores and many of the college book stores they service. For the most part, this is a matter of personal preference. Both devices accomplish everything you would expect from a reading device and neither has a clear advantage over the other. For a hands-on comparison, many Best Buy stores will have both devices side by side.
I do not recommend using nothing but a laptop PC if the goal is to focus on eBooks. Extended reading on LCD screens can be uncomfortable at best, and the potential for distraction is far higher than on an eReader.
Similarly, there are no circumstances under which I would consider an iPad a valid substitute for either a laptop or an eReader. In terms of reading, they fall short due to the short battery life and a back-lit display that can be hard on the eyes during long study sessions. In classes, the potential for distraction is far higher than on something like a Kindle, which has led to many instructors being uncomfortable even having the devices present in the classroom. They also certainly do not manage to work as well as a laptop for composition or presentation preparation. Students will be forced to perform necessary tasks elsewhere.
Whatever the needs, make sure to keep in mind both the Kindle eText rental service and public domain titles available through the Kindle Store (or just Project Gutenberg) for free. Making use of eBooks will save you money, if you are careful, even accounting for the costs of the reading device.