Although the line between full-fledged tablet PC and eReader is becoming more and more blurry, vacationers, business travelers and students alike continue to flock to handheld devices which primarily focus on providing vast libraries of books at the touch of a fingertip, but provide just enough individual features to justify the purchase. Here are the 5 best eReaders and eBook-playing gadgets for anyone on the go. Needless to say, all make great personal purchases or gift-giving options.
Amazon Kindle Fire
With a full-color display and Amazon’s dedicated app store offering millions of entertainment options like TV shows, music and more, the Amazon Kindle Fire is sort of a souped-up eReader or stripped-down tablet, depending on how you want to look at it. The 7” touchscreen is not only bigger than other eReaders, but also in full-color. The Kindle Fire connects easily to Wi-Fi networks to provide for web browsing via Amazon’s Silk browser, and also offers enhanced features for Amazon Prime members, offering free books and streaming capabilities from select items from Amazon’s vast catalog. Priced at just under $200, the Kindle Fire quickly became the second-most popular tablet device (after iPad) when it debuted in 2011.
Sony’s dedicated eReader, the Sony Reader, is a lightweight and elegant device, designed to maximize battery life while providing crystal clear and paper-like displays. Priced at $129, it’s less expensive than the Kindle Fire, and is a great choice for travelers who need to unplug for a bit – a single battery-charge with the wireless turned off can last up to five weeks. The Sony Reader also boasts unprecedented and simple access to borrowing eBooks from public libraries, it’s as simple as pushing the public library icon.
Nook with GlowLight
Barnes & Noble’s Nook with GlowLight focuses on getting the light just right, no matter what the light situation. The soft, glowing light is optimized for low-light situations and designed so that it’s just bright enough for the reader to see, but not so bright as to distract others. Switching brightness is as simple as adjusting an onscreen slider and fonts can easily be made bigger and smaller, depending on your preference. The Nook also comes with built-in social features that allow you to easily connect with other Nook-using friends over Facebook to compare and recommend books you’ve read. The Nook retails for $139 and boasts a comfortable exterior and a battery that can last up to a month on a single charge.
Kobo eReader Touch
The Kobo eReader Touch is designed to provide an eReader that is simple and comfortable to use. Taking a cue from Apple’s iPad, the eReader Touch has one physical “home” button and uses the touchscreen for all other user input. You can spot a Kobo eReader Touch by its distinctive soft-quilted back, which makes it comfortable to hold with one hand or set in your lap. For non-English speakers, the Kobo is a great choice as the first eReader device to be available in multiple languages. It’s a great value too, with a $99.99 price tag that makes it the most cost-effective choice on the market. And if that’s not inexpensive enough, you can buy a Kobo eReader Touch for $79.99 that pushes ads or offers to you in exchange for the lower price.
Although the iPad is much more than just an eReader, its overwhelming popularity, sleek design and high-resolution Retina display make it great for taking books on the go. Sure, it’s got a high-resolution camera, hundreds of thousands of apps, and even the ability to take HD-quality videos, but as an eReader you can download apps from all the other competitive eReaders and enjoy access to their library books straight from you iPad. If cost is no object and you have an iPad anyway, you’ll probably want to consider using it to access the eReader libraries of all the other products we mentioned, whether by an official app or through other apps that let you access your libraries for devices like the Sony Reader via the iPad.
Though buying a video game console may seem like an expensive purchase at first glance, it’s actually a great long-term entertainment solution for families. It’s an even better choice than ever, thanks to frequent price cuts and sales. But with so many systems to choose from, there are a few things to consider before buying a gaming system. Units currently on the market (e.g. the PlayStation 3, xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS/3DS and PlayStation Vita) offer a rich variety of content across multiple genres, including tons of educational and kid-friendly fare. Here’s what else you need to realize to successfully know how to buy a video game console.
There are lots of games for kids, but not everything is kid-friendly – Though video games are sometimes pigeonholed as a pastime for children, not all the software that’s for sale is appropriate for youngsters. Pay attention to the Electronics Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating on each game, and visit the ESRB’s website for detailed breakdowns of the potentially offensive content in each game.
Most game consoles—including handheld game consoles, like the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita—have parental controls that you can use to disallow children from playing games above a certain rating. With some parental control settings, you can also restrict the amount of time that your child is allowed to play.
Some consoles sell add-on accessories that are ideal for family play—Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has a separate attachment called Kinect that allows you to play certain games using the motion of your whole body. It was engineered with families in mind, and there are lots of fun, kid-friendly games that utilize the accessory. You can buy the Kinect separately, though Microsoft also sells it as part of a bundle (a common industry practice which can provide cost savings when determining how to buy a video game console).
The Wii is your cheapest console option, but has limited features – Nintendo found enormous success with its Wii console, thanks in no small part to the fact that the system is priced considerably lower than its direct competitors, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 (approximately $100 to $150 cheaper, depending on where you shop). That’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re on a budget, though there are certain departments where the Wii is a little lacking. Its online features aren’t as robust as its competitors’, it doesn’t support HD graphic displays, and third-party support for the system isn’t very strong (“third parties” refer to game developers that aren’t Nintendo itself). The Wii might not be the best choice for a savvy game player who craves gameplay variety and/or a strong online presence, but the system still has wonderful games in many of Nintendo’s best-known franchises, including Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Donkey Kong, and Metroid. Tablet-powered successor the Wii U will also be out by year-end (it’s backwards compatible with Wii games), which may affect your purchasing decision as well.
Game purchases don’t stop at retail, and some consoles have stronger online markets than others – Buying a video game no longer means trudging through the elements to reach a game store—not exclusively, anyway. Modern game consoles also offer a plethora of downloadable games, including brand new titles and some previously-released retro fare for anyone who’s nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” of gaming. The Wii has the Wii Shop Channel; the PlayStation 3 has the PlayStation Network (PSN); and the Xbox 360 has Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA). Again, each online market has its strengths and weaknesses. XBLA and PSN are great for downloading original games, but if you want to play all those awesome NES, SNES, and Nintendo 64 games that were released in the past, you’ll have to go on the Wii Shop channel!
Don’t forget, mobile phones and tablets have a lot of cheap, fun games – Finally, if you have a mobile phone, particularly an iPhone, at your disposal, you already have access to a huge library of cheap (and free!) games. Tablets like the iPad are also striving to compete directly with consoles, and a short search through online stores like the App Store will yield a selection of decently-priced, high-quality games. You may even find some reasons to skip the console race entirely.
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Many of the best pre-paid cell phone plans come with no contracts, and are continuing to gain in popularity, with major cell phone carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T noting their first declines in contract-based plans in early 2012. Pre-paid plans are great for professionals, families and kids as they allow you to pay for the services you use and avoid for paying for extra features you don’t. But there are hidden fees and technological limitations to many pre-paid plans, so here are several things to consider to know if prepaid is the way to go for you.
Advantages of pre-paid plans:
- No chance of crazy overages. You’re only on the hook for what you paid for, and after that you can’t exceed your limits. If self-discipline is a problem for you or your kids, pre-paid is a great way to ensure they don’t use more than they can.
- No contracts on pre-paid plans ,make them a perfect option for short-term usage. Whether you’re on an extended business trip, a vacation or are potentially between phones, pre-paid is the perfect solution if you only need a phone for a few weeks or months.
- Prepaid phones also provide a good test of usage habits before locking into long term plan. If you’re scared of making a commitment to a two-year contract because you just don’t know how much texting or calling you really want to do, prepaid can provide a nice test run as you settle on a more permanent option.
Disadvantage of pre-paid plans:
- Hidden Fees can surprise you. While you may think you’re getting a certain number of minutes for what you spent, carriers sometimes charge daily access fees that can quickly add up.
- You can lose your minutes. You paid for them, so you better hope you use them. Without rollover solutions, you may end up paying for more minutes than you actually use.
- Prepaid plans often only provide the most basic phones. If you want the latest and coolest smartphones and gadgets, you’re likely out of luck if you are using prepaid plans. Although there are some nice phones to be had that may seem a bit outdated but still powerful, they are not the top of the line versions.
- No ability to transfer phone number after your prepaid service. Prepaid numbers stay with the prepaid service, so if after a couple months you decide to switch to a plan with a two-year contract, you’ll likely need to get a new phone number.
If you’re interested in the different prepaid cell phone plans available, here’s an overview of some of the most popular:
Virgin Mobile – Plans start as low as $35 a month with unlimited data and messaging on all their offerings. For more money, you can get more voice minutes.
Cricket – Buy an inexpensive phone and pair it with their plan. Cricket also highlights their Muve Music library and includes downloads and music playback as a key feature of their service.
Metro PCS – Offering unlimited plans along with the ability to keep your number, offers plans by the minute, by the week or by the month, and can cost anywhere from around $40 to $70 per month.
Verizon Wireless – Offering $50 a month plans for basic phones and $80 a month plans for smartphones, Verizon is trying to capture pre-paid customers who are balking at two-year contracts.
US Cellular – US Cellular offers standard and prepaid plans, but is only available in certain parts of the country. For only $10 per month, you can get a voice only plan, or upgrade to as much as $70 per month to get unlimited data and messaging.
AT&T GoPhone – With a ton of different pricing options, GoPhone lets you pay $50 for an unlimited plan, or a $2 daily rate that allows unlimited calls and texting only on the days you use it.