Most academics read scholarly materials and textbooks with a pen or highlighter in hand, but many eReaders makers claim it’s just as easy to take notes on or alongside your digital textbooks. The Kindle lets you do this using the five-way controller and full keyboard. However, when students were given a Kindle DX to use for classwork at Princeton University, Case Western Reserve University, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business during the 2009-2010 school year, the experiment was a failure with students. The biggest reasons cited: the inability to easily highlight text.
The Sony Reader Touch Edition lets you write on the touchscreen with the included stylus, or you can use the on-screen keyboard to type notes on a page. Nook and Alex eReader offer a small ancillary LCD display below the eInk screen where you can add notes on a page. Apple’s iBook app for the iPhone ($99-$199) and iPad (starting at $499) now supports both note-taking as well as bookmarking, so you can pick up where you left off.
Those who prefer to scribble in the margins might consider dual-screen devices like the Entourage Edge or the upcoming Kno Tablet. On the Edge that means an Android-powered 10.1-inch color touchscreen on one side and a 9.7-inch eInk screen on the other. Students can use the included stylus to take digital margin notes or annotations. And the Edge has its own App store for books and other Android apps.
The Tegra-powered Kno Tablet sports a stylus and two 14-inch, LCD touchscreens, and weighs 5.5 pounds (4 pounds more than the iPad). It blends textbooks, note-taking, web access, and digital media into one device, but it’s not meant to replace a laptop.
Any eReader you select for your student should involve little to no learning curve. That partly comes down to the placement of buttons, and partly to the way the menus are organized. The Kindle’s page turn buttons are in a logical place and the interface is intuitive. Meanwhile, the Nook’s buttons were slightly out of reach when we cradled the eReader in our hands, and the menus displayed on the color touchscreen were confusing. With the Alex, we typed on the on-screen keyboard with our thumbs just as we would on a smart phone. However, the page turn buttons are so far toward the bottom that it was hard to hold the device in a way that felt natural while reading. The Sony Daily Edition fits comfortably in one hand and offers a simple user interface that’s easy to navigate with your finger, the controls, or a stylus.
One convenient bonus lacking on the Daily Edition, Edge, and Kno is a multi-device approach. With the Kindle, you can work on the iPad, iPhone, Android phones, or your actual Kindle device. The same goes for the nook, the same will also be true for Borders-friendly devices such as the Alex and Kobo. This will come in handy for last-minute cramming on your phone.