I 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
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).
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.
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.
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!