By its cover

In this edition of our monthly Gadget column, we examine tablets and e-readers.

The tablet


At the iPad’s release, it was among only a handful of tablets, and their versatility, color touchscreens, and media options clearly distinguished them from e-readers with their black-and-white displays designed to mimic print publications. If you’ve yet to decide whether an e-reader or a tablet is right for you, there has never been a more confusing time. Tablets, such as the iPad, offer full-color touchpad screens that bring Star Trek’s PADD device to life. Grab a movie off iTunes, or download the Netflix app, and your tablet is a portable home theater system. And, yes, you can download books and turn it into an e-reader, but it’s a very expensive e-reader. If an e-reader is a 2009 Toyota Camry, an iPad is a 2012 Lamborghini. They will both get you from Point A to Point B, but the iPad will get you there faster, with more bells and whistles, and turn a few heads on the road as you watch your bank account drain, Starting at $499;

The e-reader

Nook Color

Barnes and Noble’s color e-reader recently updated its operating system (OS) to run a modified Android OS. It’s not the Android that many new tablets are running today, but the change brought apps an improved web browser and email client to the Nook Color, morphing it from a $249 e-reader into a $249 mock-tablet—emphasis on the “mock.” The slow processor will give some people 14.4 Kbps flashbacks, the app store doesn’t offer Netflix or Hulu, and there is no 3G connectivity, so you’re cut off unless you have wi-fi. Still, the Nook Color supports almost every e-book format so regardless of where you purchase a novel, Nook Color can display it—something the iPad and Kindle are hard pressed to claim. In the end, Nook Color is a fancy, touchscreen e-reader but nothing more. However, if you’re more interested in learning why the caged bird sings than making the birds angry, a flashy e-reader may be the ticket. $249;

The hybrid

Kindle Fire

The Nook Color’s Android update went a long way to bridge the gap between e-reader and tablet, but on Sept. 28, Amazon seemingly dammed the river and bulldozed over the gap entirely. Kindle Fire, set for release on Nov. 15, has a 7-inch color touchscreen and a dual core processor to take full advantage of the Amazon Appstore and Amazon Instant Video, which has more than 100,000 movies and TV shows. Kindle Fire is just under $200. Kindle Fire seems the perfect hybrid. All of the media, browsing and gaming of a tablet with Amazon’s e-book library behind it. The latter may be the most important factor. Since this is Amazon’s device, they can push it and its content in the same way Apple works with iTunes/iBooks. Kindle Fire won’t burn up the iPad, but it will provide an affordable alternative for people who want the speed, Flash (pun intended), and content of a tablet without the sports car lifestyle or bank account. $199;