We don't always do special blog posts announcing that a certain product has received a CNET Editors' Choice Award, but in the case of our two new winners--the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook Color--we're taking a moment to explain our decision for a couple for reasons.
For starters, in the case of the third-generation Amazon Kindle, the product has already been out a few months. So why award it an Editors' Choice now? Well, we had been leaning for a long while toward stamping it with an "EC," but upon hearing rumors that Barnes & Noble might have a new Nook, we decided to hold off until everything was out for the holiday season before making a final decision.
As it turned out, the new Nook was a color product, and though Barnes & Noble has released its new 1.5 firmware update that improves performance and adds a few new features to its existing e-ink models, we felt that the Kindle--with its slimmer, lighter design, 4GB of internal memory, superior battery life (four weeks with the wireless turned off), slightly higher contrast "Pearl" display, and strong Amazon shopping experience--has the edge in the e-ink e-reader market. (Our Editors' Choice Award extends to both current 6-inch iterations of the Kindle--the $189 3G/Wi-Fi model and the $139 Wi-Fi-only model.)
That doesn't mean the e-ink Nooks should be be ruled out when you're shopping for e-ink e-book readers. They offer better compatibility (EPUB support), the option to lend certain titles to fellow Nook users, and virtually unlimited full-book browsing when you log in from a hot spot within a Barnes & Noble store. If any of those features--or the LCD navigation screen--appeal to you, don't hesitate to buy a Nook. But we had to pick one e-ink reader, and the Kindle is it.
As for color-display e-readers, the iPad remains the strong choice for those looking for a multifaceted device that does more than reading, but in terms of dedicated e-readers in the sub-$250 range, the Nook Color stands out. Its interface is great, and its sleek design makes it more portable than the iPad. Yes, we'd like to see some more apps, but overall the Nook Color is a solid product that will improve with time--and a few software updates. As a result, we feel comfortable recommending it to folks looking for an affordable Android tablet that's heavily slanted toward reading.
So, there you have it. Until this point, we hadn't doled out any Editors' Choice Awards in this category, largely because it has evolved--and continues to evolve--so quickly. We expect to see new e-readers at CES 2011 (January) along with a lot more Android tablets that should become more compelling digital-reading devices as they get more affordable. If you're shopping in the meantime, the Kindle and Nook Color are our top choices, depending on your price range and screen preference (e-ink versus color LCD).