Aside from lightening the load in a student's backpack, e-textbooks can save money and provide integrated study helpers. |
And if you consider yourself a life-long learner, e-textbooks can be an affordable and engaging source of material.
E-textbooks have been a bit slow to catch on with college students, accounting for only 9 percent of textbook purchases, but their use is growing. Just this year, big players have entered the market, including Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, through its purchase of Barnes & Noble's Nook digital e-book business.
How do e-textbooks work?
All e-textbooks must be read through an app, which fall into two distinct groups — plain and fancy. The first group really is no different than most e-books, which are digital copies of a book with the added abilities to highlight and take notes.
But the fancy types support textbooks with bonus features such as video, rotating 3D models, automated flashcards, study journals and shared note-taking with teachers and other students using the same book.
Do I need an e-reader or tablet?
Most digital textbooks are "device agnostic," meaning they can be read on any device or operating system with compatible apps. The apps are free. Make sure your vendor has an app that fits the devices you plan to use.
Most other apps can be used on both mobile and desktop devices, but some, like Barnes and Noble's Nook Study app, can only be used on computers — not on its e-readers or tablet. Go figure.
Where can I buy e-textbooks?
You can start at your campus bookstore or its website. You'll buy a "code" to access the book from a publisher's website. But you'll want to do some comparison shopping.
Amazon.com launched its e-textbook service earlier this month, offering savings of up to 60 percent compared to print copies. You won't find fancy features like video that Apple and some of the others offer, but you can highlight, add "post-it" notes and create bookmarks the same way you can with any Kindle book.
You can use a Kindle Fire tablet or the free Kindle app on an iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android phones and tablets, as well as Macs and PCs.
You also can buy basic e-textbooks from Chegg.com that are browser-compatible and from CourseSmart.com that offers mobile apps for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire, as well as access through browsers.
But if you've got a tough course in one of the sciences or just want to go full throttle with e-textbooks, look to Apple, Inkling and Kno.
Earlier this year, Apple partnered with McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to create "Multi-Touch" textbooks for iPad. Students can find them in the Textbook section of the iBookstore where they can download a sample and purchase books for no more than $15.
Like Apple, Inkling has partnered with publishers to create special editions that include material you won't find in basic e-textbooks. Better yet, Inkling sells individual chapters for about $4 each, good if your professor assigns only part of a book.
Inkling books can also be used on PCs and Macs with Chrome and Safari. The company also offers rich e-books for hobbyists, cooks and travelers, such as the Frommer's travel series.
Kno.com offers full-featured e-textbooks for iPad, Android, Windows 7 OS and both PCs and Macs via a browser. This week, Kno added social sharing to its app, so students and teachers can collaborate with each other inside their book apps.
The Kno app comes pre-installed on Samsung's new Galaxy Note 10.1 (starting at $500), an Android tablet that supports handwritten input.
Should I rent or buy e-textbooks?
Renting will be cheaper and is a good option if you don't intend to use a book for later reference. CourseSmart.com is rental only; Apple and Inkling.com are buy-only. Kno.com, Barnes & Noble, Chegg and Amazon let you do either.
Bottom line, what's the best e-textbook value?
Hands down, Apple e-textbooks are the best value at around $15 each. Not only are they priced at about a third the cost of other e-textbooks, they're packed with interactive features. However, if you don't have an iPad or your book isn't part of Apple's offering, you're out of luck.
Feature-rich Kno textbooks can be used on any device and are generally priced lower than Inkling. But if you just need a few chapters, Inkling is the way to go.
Otherwise expect to pay around 40-60 percent less than for a hardcover when you buy a basic e-textbook from Amazon or another outlet.
Ogden, Utah-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question? Email Leslie Meredith at email@example.com, or join her at AskLeslie on Facebook or Leslie Meredith on Google+.
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