Tablet, eBook reader or plain old paperback?

26 May 11 07:00AM EST
Post by Matthew Steen  Matthew Steen Google Plus

When CHOICE started testing eBook readers a few years ago, there was nothing like the iPad out there. But since its inception and inclusion in our second test, the question we get asked most regarding eBook readers is: why bother with an eBook reader when I can get a tablet?

For our most recent test, the third one in as many years, we didn’t need to test the iPad again because the iPad 2 is virtually the same as the first generation iPad with regards to its native eBook reader application, iBooks. But still the question remains - why bother?

I’m not a diehard fan of any particular eBook reader – so consider me a level playing field.

The tablet situation is ramping up, perhaps to take over from laptops as the reigning champion for portability, or perhaps as another device from which to draw entertainment and education; whatever the case, consider eye fatigue when considering an tablet. There are two types of eBook readers, ones that are back-lit and ones that are not – the latter display in what is called e-ink. E-ink supposedly recreates the book format, displaying as ink on a plain page. There is no additional light, so if you want to read in the dark, you’ll need a bed side light just as you do for a paperback.

Tablets, whether it’s the Apple, Acer, SamsungViewsonic or Blackberry offerings (with more to come), are all backlit. This means they light the text from within so you don’t need any additional light when reading. Sounds great? Not necessarily – get a free book for your normal computer and spend a few hours reading on the monitor, all of which are backlit. If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, you’ll not last long before your eyes start getting tired. If you are not a heavy reader, it’s not going to make a difference to you. If you are, it’s a decision maker.

Secondly, most of the e-ink readers last a long time, some 10,000page turns. Long battery life is not what tablets are known for. They’ll go on about 8-10 hours. That’s a great thing? Not when I’m reading all three The Lord of the Rings books in a row. Not when I’m out and about and have no access to a charger. I don’t want to have to plan when I take my book outside to read.

This brings me to my third point: readability. Most of the time, I read inside with a light on somewhere. Regardless of if I am inside or out, I don’t want reflection: if I want that, I’ll get a mirror. The downside of the tablet is that they all have glossy screens, so it’s going to reflect something back at you. The downside of the e-ink readers is that they all have matte screens, so not so great in direct light like the sun. Though let’s face it, how often do I read in the sun? When it’s a nice day and I think to: not very often.

So why are people so besotted by the tablet? It’s a computer the size of a paperback, or a hardback. It does a lot more than just display books. It can grow with applications, rather than stay static like an e-ink reader.

We recently went on holidays and I read on my Apple iPhone 3G, while my wife read paperbacks. I was constantly worried about running out of battery, getting WiFi for more books (I read fast) and having to look away for lack of screen real estate because of the small screen. My wife cruised through the books without any of those hassles. Having said that, I was the one carrying the books for her, and I can definitely see the positives of having one device to carry all your books on.

I can’t say which one is better for you but I already have a couple of computers at home and for all the reasons listed above, right now I’ll stick with my paperbacks.

Are you with Matt and sticking to your paperbacks or did you go backpacking with 12 novels loaded in your eBook reader? If you prefer a tablet to an e-ink reader or vice versa, why?

Check out our  review of 25 eBook readers to compare their performance in different lighting conditions, their battery life, and features.


How to comment

Here's your chance to join in the debate. Click in the comment box and let the CHOICE Community know what you think.

Reporting comments

If you see something offensive or irrelevant, hit the report button and let us know immediately. View the Terms of use for user comments.

Have your say

Your say - Choice voice

We'd love to hear what you think but you'll need to register top, right to join in the conversation.

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments
Your say - Choice voice

Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.