The Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi e-book reader is shown in this undated publicity photo released to Reuters July 28, 2010. QUALITY FROM SOURCE. REUTERS/ (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCI TECH BUSINESS IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

London - Christmas is coming and many retailers want one gift to top everyone’s wish-list – an electronic reader.

A wave of these devices is being launched in a market where downloaded books are already starting to outsell printed ones.

For every 100 printed books sold by online shop Amazon this year, 114 were downloaded from its website to be read on an ebook. Ebook downloads make up 15 percent of all book sales.

But do you need one? And will it save you money?

The Kindle is the biggest seller in an increasingly competitive arena. Last week, consumer lobby group Which? awarded Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite ‘best-buy’ status, followed by the Sony Reader.

Other popular ebooks include the Nook by Barnes & Noble and the Kobo by WHSmith.

Miranda Moreno, a medical journalist from Battersea, south-west London, was given a Kindle for Christmas two years ago by her husband Nick. Miranda, 46, an avid reader, admits her heart sank when she ripped open the wrapping paper – but now claims that she could not survive without an ebook.

“I read the same amount of books and still prefer the appeal of a printed novel,” she says. “But rather than go on holiday with a suitcase full of books, I can just take a handy reading device. It’s also comfortable to read in bed.”

Miranda is not impressed by the cost of some ebooks as online novels can be more expensive than even hardbacks sold at discount.

Miranda, who has three children, Joe, 16, Maddy, 14, and Kitty, nine, believes her purchase is more about convenience than saving money.

Buying a reader is straightforward. The devices connect to the internet through wi-fi, enabling you to download books at home, in cafes, or wherever you can obtain a connection. You then buy the content from an online bookshop, with the download taking place more or less instantaneously. If you use a Kindle, you can buy through your Amazon account.

Bookworms should be aware of the different formats on offer. The Kindle allows access only to Amazon purchases, for example, while Kobo, Nook and Sony use the ePub format.

Each format has its own online store stocking more than a million books with prices for specific books roughly the same. Apple users are encouraged to use its iBookstore, although a Kindle app available for iPhones and iPads means those with these devices can read Kindle books, too.

Peter Crawshaw, co-founder of online bookshop, says: “Each ebook provider pushes its own website for sales but readers should compare before taking the plunge – and shop around for the best download deals.”

Outfits such as Lovereading can help with choosing book downloads – as well as provide book tasters for free – while the ebook gadgets are best compared online and tried out in High Street shops.

Crawshaw says: “Factors to consider include backlights that allow you to read in the dark as well as battery life.

“Some readers last more than a month between recharges – ideal if you’re going on holiday. It should also be possible to enlarge text for easier reading. And some allow you to play music or audio books.”

He believes the quality of ebooks is comparable between popular models and that with most offering enough capacity for at least 1,000 books, memory should not be a major concern.

If the ebook device is lost, readers should still be able to retrieve the book from the online shop. With a typical six-inch screen, pages are comparable to those of books so the decision about which ebook to buy might simply come down to how it feels in the hand. Dearer tablets offer greater internet access, colour screens and apps, but will not make the reading experience any better.

Crawshaw points to the new Kindle Fire HD, launched in October with a top-end model costing £159 (about R2 000). More than a book, it allows users to watch movies and surf the web. All this may be excessive for those merely wanting to curl up on the sofa with a good book.

Other recent arrivals include the £109 Kindle Paperwhite, the £109 Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, the £79 Nook Simple Touch and the £119 Sony Reader PRS-T2.

Jim Martin, features editor of PC Advisor magazine, says: “As technology has improved, so has the quality of the ebooks. The screens are increasingly like paper on the best devices.”

But he warns: “Don’t be seduced by expensive tablets. They may offer extra facilities such as the internet, but the screens tend to glare like computers.”

Once a book is downloaded, readers can dip in and out whenever they like, never needing a bookmark, and are not tied into any contracts. They can access dictionaries or mark passages at a click of a button.

Kindle allows books to be lent for up to 14 days at no extra charge. But not all books qualify for lending and those that do may be lent only once. - Mail On Sunday