So what's your take on which e-reader is (or has the potential) to be the best? Say, for the type of customer who probably won't use advanced features and doesn't want to pay a ton of money.
You'll never hear me say here that one device is patently "better" than another, but Tharyn asked a question with some very specific parameters around it. 1. Won't use advanced feature; 2. Won't pay a ton of money. Based on those two things, I'm ready to recommend based on my direct experience with specific devices.
Skiff is first a periodical reader and second a book reader. It's a big 8 1/2 x 11 inch device that's still only 1/4 inch thick and weighs less than a pound. You can write on it and annotate what you are reading. --Coming soon. That doesn't sound like the device you are looking for "for the type of customer who probably won't use advanced features..." Don't know about the price yet.
I have a Sony Reader and have been very pleased. I have the PRS 505 and believe it or not, have purchased only one book in the 9 months I've had it (though I've read dozens). The rest I've gotten from free book sites and from the local library. It's small, convenient, and when I broke the screen, Sony replaced it. I paid ~260 for it. Sony has a new touch-screen version out at about $300 and a pocket reader that is slightly smaller size for under $200. Sony has a big bookstore of several hundred thousand eBooks and has now switched to the industry standard ePub file format. It also reads Sony's proprietary files and PDF. If I were forced to buy a new device today, that is probably the one I'd buy. In three months my answer might be different.
I've looked at the Nook from Barnes & Noble and had a fun time helping unpack it. I guarantee you will break the packaging when you try to follow the two pages of unpacking instructions and will panic, but all will be well when you finally hold it in your hands. As to the device itself, B&N probably knows its market better than any retailer in the world. (I think it is because people work there.) They designed this device specifically to appeal to 25-40 year old women who would normally wander into the store and spend an hour looking around, reading, and choosing a book or two each month. This device is just made for that audience. It feels good in the hand, has a very book-like interface, and the color touch screen is great for looking at your library and selections from the bookstore. If you are in the bookstore you can connect wirelessly and read anything in the electronic store while you are in the store, just like taking books off the shelf. The downside is that the Nook, from the reports I've read, doesn't have great responsiveness, takes a long time (mostly waiting) to set up, and is generally slow. I'm sure that will improve soon, but maybe not in the first release.
Of course there is Kindle. It has one of the largest bookstores of electronic books available and is the biggest seller by virtue of the fact that it has been pretty much unchallenged for two years. But Amazon suffers from Microsoft syndrome. If it's not made here it doesn't count. So they've not yet adopted the industry standard ePub format, meaning that the only books you can really read on it are Amazon's Kindle books. Last I heard it wasn't even displaying PDF. I don't think you can check out Kindle books from the library because the library uses almost exclusively ePub and PDF. Sony recently switched its standard to ePub and both Nook and Skiff are ePub readers (after a fashion), so I'd guess that Amazon is going to feel the pressure to adopt the IDPF ePub standard as well eventually. Right now, though, I'd consider it more a Web surfing device than an eReader.
So of the devices I've seen and used to date, I'd rank them like this for the person you describe: Nook if you can stand the slowness (not so evident while actually reading), Sony Reader Pocket edition if you like something really compact, Sony Reader Touchscreen if you'd like something a little slicker. If you read periodicals or need to annotate things, I'd wait for the Skiff or one of the other large-screen readers. If an immediate library of over a million titles and several subscriptions to periodicals are a priority, then Kindle.
Hope this was helpful!