These days ebook devices are becoming increasingly common thanks to the convenience they afford readers and the affordable prices. As much as I love holding an actual printed copy in my hands, I’ve experienced several benefits from owning an ebook reader that make me thoroughly glad I decided to try them out.
Why buy an ebook reader?
One of the benefits that most appeals to me about having an ebook reader is that it means I no longer have to wait several days (or even weeks) for books I order to arrive. When a given book catches my eye, I can buy it on the spot and generally read it in the same amount of time or less that it would have taken for the printed version to arrive in the mail.
This immediacy factor is a major plus for me, and it’s not just limited to the delivery time side of things. Kindle ebooks are often available a week or two before their printed versions hit the shelves, which grants me the ability to read them before they become available in stores.
The Kindle store also allows me to read a free chapter from each book. This is a useful feature that has already spared me several times from buying books that appealed to me at first glance, but which I wasn’t too keen on once I’d actually started reading them (here, as always, the good old expression don’t judge a book by its cover rings true).
Another thing to consider is the wealth of books that are available in electronic format only that you can read on ebook devices. When dealing with such books, an ebook reader becomes a much handier, cheaper, and eco-friendly alternative to printing the book yourself or having it printed by an on-demand service.
Another point regarding ebook readers that I wholeheartedly enjoy is the fact that if I encounter a large article on the web that I’d rather read “offline”, I’m able to save and automatically download it (using a service such as Instapaper or the Klip.me extension for Chrome) to my ebook reader, then read it later at my convenience (sans the reflective glare of my laptop screen).
Lastly, all of these factors have definitely increased the overall amount of reading that I do these days.
Which ebook reader?
Understanding the appeal of ebook readers is easy. The tougher point is figuring out “which one is right for me?”. Personally, I wanted to have access to the Kindle store. As such the two best options for my needs were the Kindle DX and the iPad (which has an app for that). I say Kindle DX, and not regular Kindle, because I also like to read technical books and articles which benefit from the larger screen that the DX packs.
After thoroughly researching numerous ebook readers, I went with the Kindle DX. However, as luck would have it, a couple of months after doing so, a friend gave me a brand new iPad Wifi + 3G as a gift (awesome friend, no?).
This means that I’m now in the (I’m assuming) relatively rare position of owning both of these devices, and as such I’ve been able to draw some interesting comparisons. Granted the following are just my thoughts on the subject, but I hope that they’ll be of value to those who are trying to find the right ebook reader for their own needs and are debating between the Kindle DX and the iPad.
The Kindle DX currently costs a little under $400, whereas the 3G equivalent version of the iPad will run you at least $600. As you can see, the iPad is clearly the more expensive device, particularly if you plan on using a 3G internet plan (I’ll touch on this more later in this piece).
The Kindle DX weighs 1.13 lb (540 g) versus the iPad’s weight of 1.6 lb (730 g). While neither is going to risk being confused with a feather any time soon, they both relatively light and easy to hold. However, that half a pound difference in weight is something that one notices during periods of extensive use. Please note that the actual weight is a bit higher than these numbers, as you need to factor in the non-negligible weight of a protective case for either device. For the Kindle DX I use the leather cover produced by Amazon, while for the iPad I opted for the Incase Book Jacket. Both are excellent, even though the Incase is bulkier (and arguably offers better protection).
The Kindle DX sports the following dimensions: 10.4 (h) x 7.2 (w) x 0.38 (d) inches. The iPad on the other hand is 9.56 (h) x 7.47 (w) x 0.5 (d) inches. As you can see the Kindle DX is slightly longer and narrower, as well as quite a bit thinner. In my opinion, this makes it both easier to handle and more ergonomic.
Despite the different geometry of the two devices, both feature a display that is 9.7 inches (diagonally). However, the similarity between the two screens ends here. The Kindle DX totes an E Ink Pearl display that is light grey and is supposed to mimic the feeling of printed paper. It has a 1200 x 824 pixel resolution at 150 ppi, with a 16-level gray scale, and a 10:1 contrast ratio.
Conversely the iPad features a shiny multi-touch, LED-backlit IPS LCD with a resolution of 1024 × 768 pixels, a scratch-resistant coating, and millions of colors.
The Kindle DX’s display is visible in sunlight, whereas the iPad’s reflective surface is much harder to see in bright light (it’s akin to using a high-quality, glossy laptop screen in the sun). If you plan on doing a lot of reading outside, you’ll find that the Kindle DX is often a much better option (in fact, Amazon capitalized on this in one of their commercials, and they really do have a point).
As you can see, we’re dealing with two very different displays, each of which is clearly optimized and well designed for (somewhat) different uses.
The Rails 3 Tutorial on the Kindle DX
The battery life is generally good for both devices. If fully charged, the Kindle DX can last up to 3 weeks with the wireless switched off (and about a week with the wifi on). The iPad’s duration is much harder to estimate, given that it depends heavily on your usage habits and settings. I’ve found that in my case, with fairly intensive usage, a sufficiently bright screen, and push notifications enabled, my battery will last for around 10 hours.
The difference in battery life clearly gives the Kindle DX an edge, yet keep in mind that if you turn off your Kindle DX and don’t use it for a while (e.g., a month), you’ll still have to recharge your battery when you go to use it again.
The iPad doesn’t have this issue, and you’ll usually find the battery charge level to where you left it when you last turned your device off. It’s also worth noting that the iPad lasts about a month in stand-by mode, provided push notifications are disabled.
Kindle DX Vs. iPad for users with special needs
If you are considering which device works best for someone with a limited range of motion, I would suggest trying them both in person. The iPad can turn the page with a single tap of the screen, while the Kindle DX requires a decent push of a button. One great feature that both devices sport is their ability to read text aloud, which is something that may appeal to a broad range of users (as this feature essentially turns any book or document into an audio book).
3G Connection and Internet Surfing
If you buy the 3G model of either the Kindle DX or the iPad, you’ll be able to connect to the internet from virtually anywhere you encouncter 3G reception. The 3G service provided by Amazon is free and is included in the price of the device (and each book that you download). There are no monthly fees associated with operating this device.
The iPad Wifi + 3G accepts a micro-SIM card that allows you to buy a monthly service which charges you based on the data plan you choose (depending on your country, this means an extra $10-50/mo).
While this point may look like a big advantage for the Kindle DX, don’t get too excited about it. The iPad is a stunning device for casual browsing. Its Safari-based browser enables you to visit a substantial percentage of websites without encountering any problems (Flash based websites are a notable exception, however there are dedicated apps if you want to use sites like YouTube).
This blog on the iPad
The Kindle DX’s browsing experience is admittedly experimental and rudimentary at best. If, goodness forbid, you suddenly needed to avail of the internet so as to save your life, you can reach it via the Kindle DX. However for casual web browsing, the DX leaves much to be desired.
This blog on the Kindle DX
I really cannot stress the massive difference in internet capabilities between these two devices enough (definitely a matter of night and day).
The iPad can read virtually any type of format, whereas the Kindle DX is limited to PDF, text, and .mobi documents. Amazon can convert PDFs and other documents (though you can also do so yourself with free software programs like the crash-prone Calibre), but the results are usually less than stellar (if layout changes take place during the conversion).
Interestingly, you can request a free conversion of any document by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In turn you’ll receive an .awz document (essentially a .mobi file) back by email in very little time, and you can also have it delivered directly to your device via 3G for a small fee.
Reading technical PDFs
I personally use my Kindle DX to read technical and scientific books and articles all the time. These are often in PDF format, unless I buy them from the Kindle Store.
The readability of PDFs is generally good, including advanced diagrams and figures. The font may be a bit too small for some users though if the original book or magazine was much larger than the DX’s screen.
With the “native” Amazon files one buys from the Kindle Store, it’s possible to zoom in by simply increasing the font size. If you change the font size, the whole layout will usually readjust accordingly and simply leave fewer lines (of text) on each page. The font range spans from extremely small to extra large, so there’s a comfortable size to be had for most users.
With PDFs, this is not the case. The Kindle DX offers zooming, however in this case you zoom in like you do on an image. Furthermore, the DX’s zooming is limited to a portion of the screen. For example, zooming at 150% with the current built-in PDF Viewer, you need to pick either the left or right side of the page and then enlarge the view based on that point of view. As a result, you’re no longer able to see the whole page at glance in many cases. (In other words, PDF zooming is less than desirable when using the Kindle, unless you’re trying to zoom in on a specific image or diagram. Because of this point, I practically never zoom when using my DX.)
Generally, if a PDF has an original format that is far larger than the default format for my Kindle DX, I simply opt for a conversion. To be fair, I don’t need to do this often at all, but it’s something I felt was worth pointing out.
PDFs show up fairly well on the iPad and look much as they do when you view them on your laptop (except on a smaller screen). With a pinch-and-release gesture you can zoom in and out, and drag the portion of the page around very interactively.
Zooming wise, the iPad has a clear edge over the Kindle DX.
I find the reading experience to be much nicer, and above all easier on my eyes, when I use the Kindle DX. Portability aside, I don’t see much difference between reading on my laptop screen or reading on the iPad. It’s just an LCD screen, and I don’t find it to be ideal for intensive reading sessions with larger sized material such as a books, magazines, or very long articles.
The concept of interactive books that are available in the App Store is certainly intriguing, but for my reading habits this option doesn’t justify preferring the iPad over the Kindle DX (solely) as a reading device.
Generally speaking I really like the the Unix tools approach which aims to do one one thing and one thing only, excellently. While this approach may not be practical for hardware devices, in the case of the Kindle DX I love that’s it’s pretty much just a dedicated ebook reader that allows me to concentrate on reading, distraction free.
When I’m spending time with the Kindle DX, I don’t feel the urge to check my email or do other activities. When I sit down with it, I read (much as if I was holding a paper book). And that’s plenty good for me.
The Kindle DX offers some non-reading features, like its rudimentary browser and the ability to annotate passages from a book then share them on Twitter – it can even play some basic games like Scrabble (an all-time favorite of my wife and I on the iPad). That said, it’s absolutely not worth considering this device based on those extra features, as they all pale in comparison to what the iPad can do.
The iPad is truly a mobile computing device that’s well suited to perform a myriad of different tasks. It has become my leisure machine, which I use for great apps like Flipboard (to stay up-to-date with other people are reading or twitting). I also use it to play casual games (like the aforementioned Scrabble), and I turn to it during times when I don’t need to be hyper-productive, and can instead focus on casually browsing or checking and replying to my email. Other uses that come to mind are watching movies on the go, checking the stats of my sites – and yes, even reading, which I usually do through the browser or Reeder (my favorite feed reader).
Conclusion (and a few last thoughts on which device to buy)
To summarize, selecting between the Kindle DX and the iPad may not be the easiest of decisions for many buyers. The choice really comes down to what you want to do with your reader. If you simply want a reading device, and can live with the fact that it won’t do much else, then picking the Kindle DX is the way to go (it’s cheaper and it boasts a significantly better reading display).
Both of these devices are terrific though. Honestly, it’s not a matter of one being flat out better than the other, each has it’s pros and cons, as outlined in this article. Personally, I almost always end up doing serious reading with the Kindle DX, and casual surfing and lightweight productivity tasks on the iPad (this arrangement, while admittedly an expensive one, works well for me).
Interestingly, the limited scope of the Kindle DX may be a blessing in disguise, as it means you won’t encounter as many distractions (such as games, having a beautiful web experience at your fingertips, and other alluring distractions that come part and parcel with the iPad).
If, on the other hand, you want a device that makes reading on the go possible and still grants you most of the great features of a laptop (with an interactive user experience), then go with the iPad (I highly doubt you’ll regret it).
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Antonio Cangiano is a Software Developer and Technical Evangelist at IBM. He authored 'Ruby on Rails for Microsoft Developers' by Wrox (2009) and 'Technical Blogging' by The Pragmatic Bookshelf (2012). He is also the Marketing Lead for Cognitive Class, an IBM educational initiative which he helped grow from zero to 1 Million students. You can follow him on Twitter.