The eReader is emerging as a true friend of the reader: they’re useful, entertaining and you can have thousands of eBooks on your virtual bookcase without taking up valuable space.

If you don’t know much about eReaders, consider this a primer. An eBook reader also called an eBook device or eReader, is an electronic device that is designed primarily for the purpose of reading digital books and periodicals. The main advantages of these devices are portability, readability of their screens in bright sunlight (e-ink technology only), and long battery life. Any Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) capable of displaying text on a screen is also capable of being an eBook reader but without the advantages of an electronic ink display. Personal computers, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and some cell phones can also be used to read eBooks.

eBooks have been around for a long time and the most well-known provider of digital content has been Project Gutenberg. Hundreds of volunteers help with this non-profit organization as it digitizes and edits its way through books that are in the public domain. These are books that either do not have a copyright or the copyright has lapsed because they’ve been around awhile. Gutenberg makes its digitized books available in a variety of formats, including text, HTML (web page), epub, and mobi, the last two of which are usable on portable reading devices such as the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony’s (Borders) eReader.

Tablets, such as Apple’s iPad, break the eBook reader stereotype and offer a touch screen, color, and wi-fi and web capability. Other Android platform tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy, compete with the iPad and offer similar options but without Apple’s proprietary software and hardware restrictions.

It seems like every day new devices are either being released or upgraded and as they do, prices drop. So, which one is right for you? Well, it’s hard to say. Many people prefer the iPad for its versatility and its web and video options.

If you don’t want to go with that expensive a tablet, consider the Kindle Fire. What a game-changer! The Kindle Fire is nearly one-half of the price of the iPad and is a perfect present for loved ones.

According to Amazon.com, the Kindle Fire is capable of running movies, apps, games, and music, and of course, is the ultimate reading platform. It is using Amazon’s revolutionary, cloud-accelerated web browser, Amazon Silk. Its color touchscreen has an extra-wide viewing angle and it uses a fast dual-core processor, which enables “prime members” to instantly stream movies and television shows.

It uses Amazon’s Whispersync technology, which automatically synchronizes your library and the book you’re reading to the last page viewed. The Kindle Fire also uses Whispersync for streaming video.

In addition to all the fun multimedia applications, users can browse the web, check email, and even read documents. That’s right, Kindle Fire lets you take documents — Word, PDF, and more — with you or e-mail them.

Don’t worry about the space needed for the more than 18 million movies, shows, songs, magazines, and books available for purchase — Amazon offers the customer free “cloud storage” of all content not being used.

Even with all its resources, don’t expect too much. It is a device that falls somewhere between an e-reader/media player and an Android tablet, but at less than $200, it’s an awesome gadget.