Katherine Boehret

A Kindle Swipes Fine, but Still Hooked on a Nook

Despite the advantages of full-featured touchscreen tablets like the iPad, plenty of people opt for e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle, finding them more comfortable in the hand and easier on the eyes.

This week, I tested the new Kindle Touch in a head-to-head comparison with Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch. The Kindle Touch includes several features that Kindle fans have been waiting for, particularly better navigation. The Nook Simple Touch, which came out last summer, dropped in price to $99 and received a software update last week.

Navigating these touchscreens is a breeze, and you’ll be happy reading with either the Kindle Touch or Nook Simple Touch. Both feature E-Ink, nonreflective screens without backlights—great for long stretches of reading. These smaller devices are also lighter than a tablet.

Overall, I prefer the Nook for its better price and usability.


The Nook

Each e-reader costs $99, but the Kindle Touch comes pre-loaded with so-called special offers—ads that take over the device’s screen when it’s in sleep mode and appear whenever you touch its Menu button. A Kindle Touch without on-screen ads is $139, or $40 more than the ad-free Nook. A Kindle Touch with a 3G Internet connection costs $149; Barnes & Noble doesn’t offer a 3G Nook Simple Touch.

Physically, the Kindle Touch is a bit taller, while the Nook is slightly wider with a contoured back that’s easier to hold. The Kindle Touch relies solely on tapping or swiping on the left or right of the device’s touchscreen to turn pages. Nook users can turn pages using these methods or physical buttons on the left and right sides of the screen.

I prefer the option of physical buttons so I can hold the device and not move my hand each time I want to turn the page. These buttons are also handy at times when touching the screen isn’t ideal, like after using suntan lotion at the beach.

Though the Kindle does a lot of the same things the Nook does, Amazon’s clever terms make these same actions sound more whimsical. When using the cloud to sync content and page location across devices, Amazon calls this Whispersync. Amazon’s community-generated encyclopedia is named Shelfari.

Three notable new features work with Amazon’s Kindle Touch.

X-Ray is a feature that displays book-report-like data points when someone taps the screen at any point while reading one of “thousands” (Amazon wouldn’t give a more specific number) of titles.


The Kindle

This could be a real boon for non-fiction readers, but since I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, X-Ray wasn’t too useful in my books. While reading John Grisham’s “The Litigators,” I used X-Ray to read Wikipedia descriptions of Chicago and Big Pharma. This data can also come from Shelfari.

The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is available to Amazon Prime members—Prime costs $79 a year—and lets users borrow from over 5,000 titles. People who use this can borrow one book each month with no due date. I tried this and found books in the Kindle store listed with “borrow for free” icons where a price would normally display. I tapped this option beside “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, and the book was sent to my Kindle. An on-screen message notified me that I couldn’t borrow again until Dec. 1.

Finally, Kindle users can borrow books from their public library via easy, wireless downloads, though these are bound by the same lending rules as physical library books. I borrowed a book from my Washington, D.C., public library by browsing available Kindle books on the library’s website and virtually checking out a book after entering my library card number. I followed a link from there to Amazon.com, where I selected the “Get Library Book” box, which appeared where “Add to Cart” is normally found. Your Kindle must be using a Wi-Fi connection—not 3G—to get these books.

The Nook can only load library books via a clumsy USB cord transferring process. A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman said the company plans to offer Wi-Fi downloading of library books early next year.

If you’d rather lend books to fellow e-reader users, Kindle and Nook can do this. Books can be lent to friends for 14 days, during which time the book’s owner can’t read them.

The latest Nook software update makes improvements like the ability to turn pages faster. Both devices enable highlighting passages, though the Nook doesn’t allow public highlighting like the Kindle, which shares highlights with other readers. Both can send book details to friends via Facebook and Twitter. Kindle offers a text-to-speech function for books, which Nook lacks.

The Kindle Touch is a huge improvement on Amazon’s last Kindle, but Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch maintains its lead in this category.

Write to Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.

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