Kindle vs iPad: Which is the Better eReader?

Amazon Kindle vs Apple iPad iBooksI love ebooks. Oh boy, how I ever love ebooks. It’s been a little over two years since I got my first eReader–a Kindle 2–and I can count on one hand the number of dead tree books I’ve read for pleasure since then.  Not that I don’t still love normal books; I just prefer ebooks.

My wife bought the Kindle 3 when it came out, and it’s better in almost every respect than the Kindle 2. My work also recently bought me an iPad because we are piloting an ebook textbook program in the fall, and I get to help with initial research.

Since I lucked into having both devices, I wanted to write a Kindle vs. iPad comparison post.  They’re both expensive enough to limit most households to one or the other, so I figure people may be interested in which one is the better eReader.

So which is it?  Well, the Kindle and the iPad both have a lot going for them, just in different ways. Let me break down my experiences with both:

 

Amazon Kindle 3

Pros:

It looks like a book. Really.  The screen is beautiful, and the Kindle 3’s page refresh is much faster than older generations. The contrast is so high that the pixels I could see in the K2 aren’t there anymore. The “Pearl” technology in the new generation is worth the upgrade if you already have a K2.

It’s portable. It’s light, it’s small, and it’s even more comfortable to use than the old versions. It’s light, and even with a case, the Kindle 3 just as light as many paperbacks. Even with a cover, we don’t really even have to think about bringing along the Kindle. Just toss it in a bag and go.

The K3’s WiFi connectivity is much improved over AT&T Edge. The Kindle 2 is great, but the connection is slow. The newest generation’s WiFi lets us never worry about whether or not our highlights, notes, and locations are synced.  You can even keep WiFi on and still get nearly double the batter of the older generation.

That said, the battery life is phenomenal. Jennifer has had her Kindle 3 since it’s release, and she has had to charge it maybe 3 times. We keep wireless off, but it’s quick to turn back on and connect. Faster than the K2 does with Edge.

It might not sound like much, but the new firmware allows the use of actual page numbers over locations. This is a vast improvement for those doing research on the Kindle, but it’s not a huge difference from percent-done in terms of pleasure reading.  This one may or may not matter to you at all.

It’s affordable. At $139, the Kindle has come a long way from its original, first generation price of $399. I predict by Christmas of this year, we’ll have a sub-$100 version, which will likely mean Amazon takes a loss on the device in order to profit from its ubiquity. Even at $139, though, it’s one of the cheaper eReaders. And if you buy the $189 version, Amazon will even toss in free 3G (the iPad’s 3G is available only with a monthly data plan).

Cons:

The screen is still black and white with a manual refresh. While it’s much better for reading, being monochrome limits Internet use and the availability of magazines and apps. The Kindle 3 is still a device for reading books and books alone.  If you’re wanting more than that, you need an iPad or a Nook Color.

The screen is still not backlit, which means you need a secondary light if you want to read in low/no-light. However, the lack of a backlight is what makes it possible to read clearly in all other conditions (such as outdoors or in bright flourescents), so you should weigh this with your own reading habits.

No ePub support. Still. Amazon still only allows the Kindle to use its proprietary .azw files or .mobi files. These days, you can buy Kindle versions at most online retailers (other than Amazon’s competitors, Barnes and Noble or Apple’s iBookstore, obviously), and you can always use a converter like 2epub or Calibre to make your files usable. It’s still not the most elegant solution, however.

 

Apple iPad

Pros:

It can almost serve as a whole computer. While the iPad is certainly designed with near limitless consumption in mind, it’s possible to use it to create content, too. If you want to do pretty much anything, then more than likely there’s an app for that. This gives it much more versatility than the Kindle.  The only drawback is the lack of a true file system and external drive, which can be worked around using apps and services such as Dropbox.

The iPad has access to all kinds of ebook apps. If you’re looking at the iPad as an ereader, then you will be pleased to know that all of the major online retailers have apps for it. So no matter if you like buying from Apple’s iBookstore, BN.com’s NookBooks, or even Amazon’s Kindle Store, you can read those books on the iPad and then sync to your other devices. And unlike Kindle and Nook, the iBooks app will even let you sync between sideloaded books (those you did not buy from the proprietary book store). Not even the Kindle apps do that–if you have the same file on three Kindles, Amazon treats them as three separate files. Not iBooks; they sync.

The screen is in color, and it is huge. I can’t deny that the iPad is a pretty device. From the moment you turn it on, it’s “oooh” and “aaah” until you turn it off. Magazines and images are gorgeous on the device, and the screen real estate is unreal. You don’t feel limited like you may on a netbook or a mobile phone (even the iPhone).

It’s easier to annotate books on the iPad than it is the Kindle. Now, the K3 has certainly made annotation easier, the iPad has it beat. The Kindle’s keyboard still has a lot of room for improvement, but the iPad’s virtual keyboard and touch interface lets me tap a couple of places and quickly make my note. It’s far less of an ordeal to mark up my books than I thought it would be, so I find myself doing it a lot more of it on my iPad than I ever have on my Kindle.

It has everything I want in one place. I can have almost all of my textbooks, lecture notes, personal and classroom readings, and everything else in one place. I use DocsToGo, Dropbox, and Google Docs to sync pretty much my entire professional and personal lives onto the iPad. No matter what the situation is, I have what I need. I don’t even bother printing out copies of materials or hardcopies of textbooks I need for class; I just bring along the iPad and hold it while teaching. I’ve even used it to take notes in conferences and business meetings. My briefcase and organizational skills thank Apple daily.

Cons:

While it’s nice to have a large screen during use, the big screen limits its portability. It is also kind of heavy. The iPad is not anywhere close to unwieldy, I like to be as comfortable as possible when reading. As an eReader, the iPad is a bit uncomfortable. At 10 inches, the device is a bit too large and heavy to use with one hand. Now, I have to mention that the iPad 2 is a tiny bit lighter, but it’s not any smaller. The size also makes it harder to bring along places because it doesn’t just fit anywhere a paperback or small book would. It’s definitely portable, but the iPhone or Kindle is still my “read anywhere I happen to be” device.

The backlit screen gives me a headache. The backlit screen, while unquestioningly gorgeous, can really hurt my eyes after long periods of use, especially if that use is in low/no-light. I like to read at night when my wife is already asleep, and the Kindle with a booklight is far easier on my eyes than the iPad is, even when I dim the screen.

On top of that, the screen is glossy, which means it glares. A lot. I like to use the iPad on my lap, and if I’m not at home, there’s a good chance there are overhead lights. Those lights mean that I can’t just put the device wherever I want to; I have to position it so that I don’t have a gigantic reflection obscuring the screen. In addition, I can’t see the thing outside. When it’s nice out, I like to be able to read in the sun or on the porch or in the park or on the college green. With an iPad, that’s a no-go. That still doesn’t make me like that snarky Kindle commercial from last year, though.

The battery, it dies! In all seriousness, I get anywhere between 8 and 11 hours of use out of it. Which is phenomenal for a computer. For an eReader, it’s garbage. So you have to decide which you are buying. If you’re buying it as a dedicated eReader, you may want more battery life than that. I have to charge it every couple of days, often daily. The whole appeal of an eReader is to “replace” books as seamlessly as possible, and going months without charging is the easiest way to do that. Even weeks. I want to forget that my eReader is actually a machine.  And that’s just not possible when I have to plug it in every couple of days.

And then there’s the biggie:  iPads are expensive. One of the biggest knocks against the iPad is the cost. The cheapest you can get one is $499 (well, $399 for the first-gen, but who knows how long that will last?). That’s a lot more of a decision to make than $139, and that alone puts it out of the reach of many people.  Add in 3G so you can use it anywhere, and you’re shelling out a couple more hundred dollars and paying for a monthly data plan.

 

So, which is the better eReader, Kindle or iPad?

So everything being equal, in my mind, the Kindle wins. But only just barely.

But hear me out. The Kindle is a dedicated eReader. It should win. For me, the combination of a long battery life, ease and comfort of use, and total lack of eyestrain make it the choice for an eReader. At least for personal use. When I read for fun, it’s going to be on my Kindle. I don’t want to have to think about my eReader any more than I have to, and the Kindle is as hands-off as it gets. Plug it up every few weeks or months, and turn on the wireless whenever I want a new book. That’s it. Other than that, the thing might as well be made out of paper.

If you’re a reader who just wants to read, get a Kindle. You can’t go wrong. It’s so close to being a book, you’ll never miss turning pages. I promise.

The iPad, though, has proven invaluable in the classroom and in the office because I can pretty much do anything on it, I make sure I have it in my briefcase every day. It’s great for textbooks and lecture notes, and when I’m done working or taking a break, I can read for pleasure, too. Just not for extended periods of time.

If you’re a student, teacher, or a professional who’s constantly on the move, you might be better off with an iPad. It’s not as cozy as a Kindle, and you certainly can’t snuggle up with it, but it has a far wider range of consumption than the Kindle. It’s not quite a replacement for books, but it’s a good substitute for a lot of things, which may make it your cup of tea.

Do you have experience with an eReader that you want to share? Toss your vote on which eReader is the best in the comments!


Comments

  1. If I do end up getting an eReader it’ll be a Kobo: http://www.koboereader.com/

    The biggest selling point, IMO, is the number of formats that it supports…. in particular, ePub. The Kindle is simply too locked down and closed a system for me to want to invest in it.

    • My problem with Kobo is how it’s Borders’ device, and we all know the problems Borders is having right now. I have a hard time getting behind a device that may lose all support in a few months.

      But then again, since the Kobo supports so many formats, it might be possible to buy from other marketplaces.

      I don’t mind having a closed system personally, but I can see how it can affect others. I’ve rarely had something I want to read not be on Kindle, and I have never found an ebook I wanted that was on another format but not the Kindle.

  2. Its not the reader its the books.

    I am a fairly recent convert to e-books but I got a fairly rude awakening when I found out that the books I want to read are not available in every format. This may be a worse problem in Europe than in the USA because of restrictive publisher license but I keep finding books on Amazon USA that I am not allowed to download because I live in Europe.

    This forced me to do a long hard think about the issue and I realised that the device I use to read is only an enabler. It is the the books themselves that really count. Kindle is out for me because it refuses to handle Adobe DRM which is a common format here. Lending libraries for example use it for their ebooks.

    Unfortunately Ipad is also out for me because it is too big. I need a reader that can fit in my pocket.

    I currently read devices on my smart phone which can handle both Kindle and Adobe via multiple apps. Its not the most elegant solution but it is the only solution which allows me to carry all the books I want to read around in my pocket.

    • The size of the iPad is a big detractor for me. While in use, the size is fabulous, but when idle, it’s almost unwieldy.

      I’ve never had to deal with not being able to find books because of restrictions. I guess that’s because I’m from the U.S. and we got lucky in that regard. I wasn’t aware, either, that Kindle wasn’t able to process the Adobe DRM; I thought since they could read PDF files, it was a given it worked with Adobe Digital Editions.

      • Oddly enough adobe ebook drm is based on the epub format rather than the pdf format. To be honest adobe epub is probably more widely supported than kindle but of course Amazon is the world’s largest bookstore so it is hard to ignore them. I also doubt Kindle will ever support adobe epub because it would allow kindle owners to buy books from other booksellers.

        • I hadn’t actually realized ePub was an Adobe format, but it makes sense. I hadn’t put two and two together.

          I doubt Amazon will, either, especially since their marketing plan seems to be all about profits based on ebooks rather than readers. I don’t blame them, honestly, because I think it’s the smart move. And because I’m U.S., it doesn’t affect me quite as hard as other parts of the world, which makes me wonder about the long-term viability of the plan.

          • John A

            That’s the same basic marketing structure as console video games. A company often sells a system at anywhere from 10-30% less than what it costs to build it, then make money back on the games. In fact, the first company to make a profit on a system alone was Nintendo with the Wii.

  3. While the Kindle does fit the bill as an awesome e-reader, it automatically loses out for me because I can only buy books, not check them out from a library. And I love buying books! But buying books from Amazon always makes me feel a bit guilty, especially if they’re newer. I like to get new books for full price from the bookstore.

    If you want an e-reader, I choose the Sony E-reader.

    If you want and e-reader/computer, iPad.

    • I’ve messed around with a Sony E-reader, and I wasn’t impressed. The screen was nice, but the page-forward and page-back buttons were located only on one side of the device, and the tap/swipe on the screen was inconsistent, which meant that I was limited in how I could hold/use the Sony due to design. It might have been okay if it wasn’t for that (to me) major design flaw.

      Also, I’ve heard bad things about the Sony bookstore, but I haven’t had any experience with it myself, so I can’t pass judgement.

      I’m curious, though. Why do you feel guilty for buying new ebooks from Amazon? The publishers/authors are making just as much money on the lower-priced ebooks as they do off the hardcovers, so why not go for what you want? I mean, if you want the physical book, that’s one thing.

  4. John A

    I’m not to keen on the iPad because of it’s size, and I don’t like that most e-ink based readers don’t have backlights.

    Now I would love an iPad to use with all my PDF gaming sourcebooks, but for just regular reading, I am loving 7-inch Android tablets. My first one works great with v1.6 but has terrible battery life and is slow with anything else, but this new one I got, considering I use it almost exclusively for reading e-books, I can get 6-7 hours out of the battery, which is fine for me since I generally don’t go on long trips and need a big battery. It does have a glossy screen, but I usually read in very low light areas anyway. So these things work great for me.

    • I’m amazed. I thought you’d like the e-ink screens. To me, that’s the biggest selling point is that they’re NOT backlit. The matte finish is lovely, and making sure I have a light is nowhere near a hassle. In fact, it lights up the room less than the iPad does when I’m reading in bed.

      I do feel you on the size. I would love a 6-7 inch tablet. The battery life is a problem for me because of how mobile I tend to be with my devices, but the size woud be perfect. Which is why I’m thinking of saving for a Nook Color and rooting it to get Android Marketplace.

      • John A

        It’s not that don’t like the e-ink screens, it’s just they aren’t high on the functions list when considering an e-reader. However, you’re idea with the nook sounds great! I’ve not even looked into them. Can they support the Kindle App and Aldiko?

        • It depends on how much reading you do. You simply are not going to enjoy reading from an LCD screen for extended periods of time. If you read books in chapters for brief bursts it’s not a problem, but for a test, go to project gutenberg, click on the html version of a lengthy book, and see how long you can read it from your PC.

          The kobo is a crummy e-reader. If you want lowcost tablets, Archos makes some cheap 7inch ones that you wont need to root, but both will seem bad compared to an ipad due to thinks like the sluggish touchscreen and memory/processor issues.

  5. Funny story – I was on a bus last week and an elderly gentleman sitting across from me produced an Ipad from his briefcase, opened up the book reader and started to read.

    By read I mean he bent over until his nose was literally resting on the screen and proceeded to squint at the non magnified pages.

    It looked completely ridiculous and I had to resist the temptation to tap him on the shoulder and suggest that he use zoom. I don’t have an Ipad and for all I know you can’t zoom (surely not). Also he might have had some funny eye condition but what he was doing looked painful.

  6. I studied them all before buying the Kindle. I stare at an LCD screen enough as it is, and the Kindle is easy on the eyes – literally. I can read outside too, which is a big plus.

    The iPad is a tablet/multi-media device that can be an eReader too, but staring at that screen would just erode your eyesight eventually.

  7. I would maybe go with a slimmer version of an Ipad like a Samsung Galaxy tab. I almost walked out of the Verizon store with one the other day when I got my new droid phone, and I still am tempted to go back and get it. It is about half the size of Ipad, probably closer to kindle size…I think its a seven inch screen if I remember right. The best part was it was on $199.

  8. iPad. Simply because of its versatility. Yes its more expensive and heavier and requires more frequent recharging than a Kindle. However with a Kindle all you can do is read books and for that its cost is high.

    Bottom line – not a big fan of single use devices.

    So the pertinent question for me is not which is the best e-reader but which is the best device that functions as e-reader.

    iPad. No contest.

  9. I agree. I have both a Nook and an iPad. For sheer portability and a more genuine “book feel”, I rely on the Nook. If I’m reading at home, I tend to go for the iPad’s bigger screen. Bottom line, I love them both… my preference at any given moment depends on where I am and how I intend to use it. Oh… and I do love the iPad Zinio app for magazines. I don’t get any paper magazines anymore.