I am the proud owner of a Kindle Touch. I’m also the proud owner of a Sony Tablet S and a couple of iOS devices with the Kindle app installed. Was it a waste of money for me to buy the Kindle Touch?
If you’re torn between buying an e-book reader and a tablet, or just want to find out if buying an e-book reader is worth the investment when you already own a tablet, this article may answer some of those questions for you.
Let’s get one thing out of the way here first and foremost. The NOOK Tablet and Kindle Fire are not e-readers in the traditional sense. These are Android tablets that have been designed with heavy reading and media consumption in mind. As opposed to tablets attempting to gain ground as content production devices, these tablets are all about consumption. For this reason, I’ll reference them separately from e-readers and tablets as they could sit in a class of their own.
The Kindle Fire, for example, is run off a specialized Android OS that doesn’t exactly do all the things you might expect another Android tablet such as the Transformer or Sony Tablet S to do. Its primary focus is on media consumption, and for that it does a great job.
Aren’t E-readers Just Cheap Tablets?
Contrary to popular belief, e-book readers (even touch-capable ones) are not the same as tablet computers. While they’re still technically computers, and exist within the tablet form factor, the capabilities of the two devices are generally very different. Some e-readers may employ a touch screen, but a touch screen does not a tablet class computer make.
The problem with doing direct comparisons is that these two devices are intended to do very different things. My iPad is great at general tasks including light gaming, writing, video chat, and browsing the Web. My Kindle Touch is an excellent platform on which I can read books, magazines, newspapers, and even have these books read to me through text-to-speech.
The e-ink display featured on non-Android Kindles and Nooks is intended to make reading fine text for long periods of time easier on the eyes while extending the battery life well beyond a typical tablet’s 5-10 hours. A Kindle Touch can continue to operate under normal usage conditions for over a month. That makes it my favorite gadget on long trips.
When it comes to battery life, the e-ink based e-reader is king. This isn’t the case when you cross over into e-readers with video capability running on LCD/LED technologies. The Kindle Fire, NOOK tablet, and others may have great battery life between 9-11 hours, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to the efficient e-ink display.
Edge: E-reader (e-ink)
When you’re comparing a family of devices to another family of devices, you can’t factor in extremes on both sides of the fence. Not every dedicated Android tablet has the same processor, and not every e-reader is a slouch in the specs department. Working off general averages here, it isn’t hard to understand why tablets have more going on under the hood.
Tablet computers are intended to perform a wide range of tasks, with some of them boasting video editing capabilities as well as enhanced 3D graphics. The new iPad drives a screen with a resolution that far surpasses that of most desktop monitors. It’s quite impressive what kind of hardware manufacturers can pack in such a thin package.
The Kindle Fire and NOOK Tablet both feature a Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 CPU which has more than enough processing power to compete in the greater tablet market. The Kindle and Kindle Touch both feature the Freescale i.MX515 processor with 256 MB of RAM. The NOOK e-reader family uses OMAP 3621 processors with similar capabilities. All of these processors are actually quite capable of competing with the A4 chip found in the iPad family.
Apps are one area in which tablets and tablet-like e-readers such as the Kindle Fire and NOOK Tablet have a distinct advantage. E-readers may have basic browsers or games provided by the manufacturer, but they generally don’t have third-party app capability.
For tablets powered by Android and iOS, the sheer volume of software available is incredible. Hundreds of thousands of apps have been created for these platforms, and many of them are capable of competing head-on with desktop software.
If any one dividing point splits e-readers from tablets, this is it. If you have to choose between the two platforms, tablet computers deliver a lot more in terms of software.
Tablet computers often come with 3G/4G capabilities. Not all of them, but enough to make it a feature to look for in the platform. Wi-Fi is standard issue, and any tablet that doesn’t have Wi-Fi enabled really doesn’t deserve consideration as far as I’m concerned. Tablet computers thrive on Internet connectivity, but don’t usually require it to get things done. Tablets also have a more full-featured browser.
E-readers are also largely Wi-Fi capable, but some give you free 3G coverage. This coverage enables you to download books, newspapers, magazines, and more while you’re on the road. One interesting advantage to this free coverage comes when the e-reader has a browser. I’ve successfully checked my email, updated my Twitter status, and even got directions using an e-reader while on the road when my iPhone battery died. It’s a great thing not to have to pay a monthly fee for.
At the end of the day, e-book apps are available on just about any platform with a screen and an Internet connection. Your Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7, OS X, Windows, and Linux computer can display e-books. The difference between the two technologies comes down to how easy the screen is to read.
Would I rather spend an hour staring at a bright LCD or an e-ink display? In almost every case, I’d pick the e-ink display over a LCD. Options like the NOOK Glow and the rumored Kindle coming with a front-lit e-ink display make reading in the dark easier, but even the traditional e-ink devices are easier for me to read than LCDs.
The new iPad features a retina display that is remarkably easy to read. Text is crisper and much less fuzzy, but the screen itself is still capable of causing you eye strain. E-ink is a brilliant technology for reading, and I prefer it over just about anything else hands-down.
Tablets and e-readers are two very different devices. They’re often compared because they have the same basic form factor and for many people, the uses are pretty much the same. The differences between the two define the two products and each fulfills a different role.
I may carry my iPad 2 around with me during the day, but the last thing I look at before I turn the lamp off at night is an e-reader. The e-reader gives me the ability to read a book without the constant eye strain I have to deal with throughout the day during my professional and personal life. Backlit LCDs are all around me all the time, and it’s a relief to be able to focus on something that is just there, free of flicker, and available for me without making me feel as though I need to check the battery level every time I turn the page.
Is one better than the other? That all depends on you and your own personal needs. Don’t worry about the critics out there that proclaim one device is better than the other. They’re not you, and you never know just how much you’ll enjoy something until you pick it up and try it out for yourself.