The Kno is a reader that gives students the option between one or two screens. As our sister site Engadget pointed out, it's a mammoth piece of technology -- it's much larger than most other readers (13.1 inches tall and, for the dual screen, 18.3 inches wide). But in software and hardware, let's see how it sizes up to the competition.Hardware
Being a big machine comes with advantages that iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and other tablets don't have. Specifically, it can support a USB drive. The Kno also comes equipped with a microphone, which presumably can be used for note taking. The machine also comes equipped with a stylus pen, which isn't compatible with the iPad. This makes jotting down notes a bit easier than the iPad's typing system, and it also opens the Kno up to be more than just an electronic textbook. With note-taking capabilities, the Internet, and the addition of a USB drive, the Kno is a full-functioning classroom buddy that'll serve more needs than just reading the text.
Like the iPad, Nook, and Kindle (to a certain degree), the Kno features a Web browser and email support. There isn't much information available on the Web browser. However, the fact that it can even surf the Web gives it a leg up on the competition. The machine comes equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth. And best of all? The Kno supports Adobe Flash, which the iPad famously can't. The one foreseeable downside about the Kno is that there isn't a 3G model at the moment (like with the Kindle and iPad).
The Kno's storage system is similar to the iPad's -- the low end of storage is 16GB and there's the option for 32GB. Compared to the Nook's 8GB and the Kindle's 4GB, that certainly isn't bad.
The Kno team has advertised that in the future, the reader will support apps and an app store. However, they haven't arrived quite yet.
This is where the Kno plans on having the upper hand. Yes, there are many digital bookstores for best-selling fiction and nonfiction, but textbooks are in more of a gray area. Every major digital bookstore has them (Google, Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble), but the availability of each book varies. So let's take a look at a few randomly-selected textbooks (from Textbooks.com) in different areas of study to see where they're available and for what prices:
- Algebra for College Students -- The Kno has this book available for rental for $90.99. You can rent it from Barnes & Noble for $80.28. It's nowhere to be found on either Apple's or Google's stores, and Amazon carries the actual book for $139.09 (used; starting at $99).
- Biology: Concepts and Application -- The Kno has the seventh edition available for rental for $94.99. Barnes & Noble has the eighth for rental at $83.81. The seventh edition is also available for sale on the Kindle for $121.56. Again, it's nowhere to be found on the Google e-bookstore or Apple iBookstore.
- An Introduction to Business Ethics -- The Kno has the fourth edition available for $45.22, or to rent for $35.17. On the Nook, it's $40.64 to rent and $31.77 to buy. None of the other in the big three have it available.
- Elements of Style -- The Kno doesn't carry the Strunk & White classic guidebook, but you can get it on the Nook, Kindle, iBookstore, or Google's e-bookstore for 99 cents.
- AP Stylebook -- Similarly, the Kno doesn't carry the journalism-style standard. Nor does the Nook or the Kindle. Google's e-bookstore has it for $9.99. It isn't available on the iBookstore, but there is an AP Stylebook iPhone app for $24.99.
- Gardner's Art Through the Ages: Global History, Enhanced Edition -- The Kno does carry the latest edition of the art history textbook for rental at $88.99. The Nook's rental costs $78.52. It's not available through Amazon, Google, or Apple.
The Kno, at its cheapest, runs for $599. That's a 16GB single-screen Kno. For the most expensive Kno (dual-screen, 32GB), it's $999. The cheapest Kindle is $139, the Nook runs for $149, a Nook Color goes for $249, and the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad is $499. That makes the Kno, at its cheapest, more expensive than any of the "big three" readers.
The Kno is marketed to be the reader for students. But in today's economy and with today's technology, price and size are everything. Unfortunately, the Kno, with all the positive things to be said for textbooks and note-taking, doesn't win the day with either.
At its cheapest, it's $100 more expensive than an iPad and more than double the price of a Nook Color. At its most expensive, it's the same price as a MacBook Air. The textbooks are more expensive than most used physical copies of the textbooks, and the Nook has nearly all of the same ones for about $10 cheaper every time. And the size? Today's technology has moved everything to be smaller and smaller to the point where our iPods are postage stamps and our computers are almost paper thin. Compared to the other major readers, this thing is huge.
But perhaps that's what today's readers have lost sight of. Maybe people don't just want to read digital books on one thin screen. Maybe it's the weight, size, and double-paged feel of a textbook that's missing in some people's e-reading habits. So maybe by being the elephant in the room, the Kno has an advantage. Ultimately, it depends on how much weight each student wants in his or her backpack and how they feel about the readers that are already out there.