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Technology

The 3 Best Color E-Readers

Read books, play games, check e-mail, and watch movies and TV—without busting your budget.

Light my fire

KINDLE FIRE ($200)

Amazon’s first tablet was a hit right out of the gate when it debuted in November, and for good reason. Attractively priced at $200, the Kindle Fire delivers the core features you’d expect from a tablet, as well as one-tap access to Amazon’s well-stocked online store.

SEE ALSO: Giant Screens, Smaller Prices

With its vibrant color display, the Fire makes a respectable video player for online streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. Its 7-inch screen is smaller than the standard set by the 9.7-inch display of the iPad tablet computer—but then again, it costs $300 less. The reduced size isn’t a drawback when you’re reading a book, but the screen can feel a bit cramped when you’re watching a movie or playing a game.

But smaller can be better, too. The paperback-like Fire weighs nearly 7 ounces less than the iPad and is easier to hold with one hand. The weight difference may not seem like a lot, but it matters when you’re watching a two-hour flick or spending the afternoon reading a novel.

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Early reviews criticized a few Kindle Fire glitches, including poor parental controls and a sluggish touch screen that didn’t immediately respond to finger taps. Amazon’s recent software upgrades have corrected many of these short­comings. Given the Fire’s software and content, it gets our nod as the best of the current crop of color e-readers.

Bookseller’s duo

NOOK COLOR ($200) AND NOOK TABLET ($250)

Barnes & Noble has a pair of impressive color e-readers: the Nook Color ($200) and Nook Tablet ($250). Viewed side by side, it’s hard to distinguish between them. Each has a sturdy feel and a quirky, carabiner-like loop in the lower left corner, which doesn’t appear to serve any practical purpose. Of the two, the Nook Tablet has the better display; in fact, its crisp, vibrant 7-inch screen is the best in this roundup. Text looks sharper on the Tablet, skin tones are more realistic, and there’s less glare. If you’re willing to shell out an extra $50, the Tablet is the better Nook to buy.

Both models provide tablet essentials, including applications, games, e-mail and video, but the Nook Tablet has a peppier processor and more storage: 16 gigabytes versus 8GB, although most of that space is reserved for books, apps and other content purchased from Barnes & Noble. Need more room? You can add a microSD card (up to 32GB) for about $30.

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Barnes & Noble’s online store can’t match Amazon’s retail powerhouse, but its color e-readers have the apps that most people want. The Nook Tablet, for instance, comes preloaded with Netflix and Hulu Plus, and both the Tablet and the Nook Color have Pandora Internet radio.

If display quality is your number-one criterion, get the Tablet.

The contender

KOBO VOX ($200)

The Kobo Vox, a $200 color tablet, hasn’t gotten as much attention as its rivals. True, it falls a bit short of the Kindle Fire and Nook: The Vox is a little chunkier than its competitors. But a color band around its edges, in your choice of blue, green, pink or black, does add a touch of flair.

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Like its competitors, the Vox runs Google’s Android software, but its version isn’t as sophisticated as the others. For example, the Vox isn’t as easy to navigate. We found its touch screen to be a bit balky, too; it sometimes took us two or three taps before the Vox recognized our inputs.

Still,the Vox has its pluses. Most notable is Kobo’s “social reading” experience, which makes going on Facebook and other social Web sites to discuss the books you’re reading easy. The Vox also tracks your reading history, including the books and pages you’ve read and the minutes per reading session. Think of it as a health-tracker app for bibliophiles.