What About the Books?

What Kind of Wireless Connection Do You Need?
Amazon's original Kindle integrated an always-on cellular radio that let you buy and download books from anywhere, over the air, for free (aside from the cost of the book itself, of course). Most devices now offer Wi-Fi as the base level wireless connection—at a much lower cost—with 3G cellular data only available as part of a more-expensive model.
As long as you don't mind waiting until you're at home or near a hotspot to shop for new books, Wi-Fi should work for you. A select few may still prefer to pony up for 3G to buy a new book while, say, on a long train trip, or lounging at the beach. Devices without any wireless connection at all have essentially disappeared. Some ebook readers like the Kobo Aura HD and H2O come with memory card slots, so you can sideload digital books or PDFs in addition to buying or downloading media wirelessly.
While we're on the subject, internal storage capacity is not much of a concern. Most every ebook reader you can buy today can store more than 1,000 books, with some offering room for upwards of 3,000 titles. And if you have more books than that, each of the major vendors offers cloud storage, letting you download books to your device whenever you need them, assuming you're in a Wi-Fi hotspot (or anywhere you have a cell signal, if you have a 3G-capable model).
What About the Books?
This is where things get a little complex, so bear with us for a moment. There's no single universal ebook format; essentially, when you choose an ebook reader, you're making a decision up front as to which ecosystem you'll support. If you buy a Kindle now, and then want to switch to a Nook later, none of the books you buy through the Kindle store will work on your new Nook.
With free, public domain books, you have some more flexibility, but it's actually more complicated. For example, Google offers over a million free books in the popular, open Epub format, which many public libraries now use for lending books. However, Kindles don't support Epub. Amazon launched its own public library lending tie-in, which differs on a branch-to-branch basis. Amazon also has the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, which lets you borrow a book a month from a selection of over 600,000 titles, but only if you pay $99 a year for the Amazon Prime service.
(For an in-depth comparison of supported formats across various ebook readers, check out Wikipedia.)
To make things even murkier, the ebook stores themselves aren't all the same. Book selection, size, and pricing varies from store to store. The best way through this thicket of digital underbrush is to spend a little time browsing ebook stores before you commit to a device. You can access both Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's ebook stores online to see which store carries the most of the books, magazines, and newspapers you want to read. Or, if you're planning to borrow ebooks from the library, check your local branch to see what format is in use, and then make sure the reader you want supports it.
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