eReader vs Tablet comparison – Which is right for you?

In his CES Keynote today Steve Ballmer is apparently going to introduce an HP/Microsoft Tablet which might be a real-life implementation of the Microsoft Courier prototype leaked last year. It has ‘ereader functions’.

This is going to give rise to endless articles about how the Apple iSlate and the Microsoft Courier will annihilate the eReader, broker peace talks in the Middle East and babysit your kids on date night.

However – The eReader Vs Tablet contest probably doesn’t even exist.

  1. If you read a lot you should ALMOST ALWAYS get an eReader. A good clue is if you spend too much on books or read too much. An eReader is also a good fit if you really, really want to read more than you do.
  2. If you read once in a while you should ALMOST ALWAYS get a Tablet. If you read less than one book a month the Tablet is the right fit.

That really is the answer – The rest of the post is a long explanation of the simple solution to eReader Vs Tablet i.e. if you read a lot or really, really want to read a lot then get an eReader (perhaps the Kindle). In every other case – get a Tablet or better yet get a netbook.

eReader Vs Tablet – Which is right for you?

An eReader is the answer if reading is the most important thing you’ll do with the device and/or reading is the thing that you’ll do most often on the device.

Is reading the single most important thing you’ll do with the device?

Consider all the forms of reading we do daily -

  1. Obvious reading – Books, Newspapers, Magazines.
  2. Online reading – Blogs, websites, email, news.
  3. Necessary Reading – Work, School.

How important is this reading to you? How often do you read?

  1. If reading is very important to you.
  2. If you’ll be reading 50% or more of the time on the device.
  3. If the amount of reading you do is more than 1 hour a day.

Then perhaps you should get a device built for reading – get an eReader.

Is Reading just something you’d like the device to be capable of?

There are various cases in which an eReader is obviously a bad choice -

  1. If you read very little.
  2. If you want something complex and/or technically very cutting edge.
  3. If you can handle reading on LCD screens all the time. There is a huge difference between eInk and LCD – However, a small portion of people don’t feel it.
  4. If you want a device that specializes in something else, but also lets you read.
  5. If you want to be able to say your device can read without really needing to read on it.

In all these cases – get a Tablet or better yet an iPhone or a netbook. 

There is a very huge divide between an eReader and a Tablet

If you’re trying to decide between a Tablet and an eReader -

  1. Chances are very, very high you should get a Tablet.

If reading is the #1 priority and a great reading experience is the #1 feature then an eReader is perfect.

An eReader is for reading. No other device (not phones, not laptops, not netbooks, not Tablets) comes close to an eReader.

In every other case i.e. if reading is the #2 priority or you’ll read only 1 hour for every 5 hours of watching YouTube, get a tablet.

Here are some additional thoughts that might help you get more clarity on which device is better for you.  

eReader Vs Tablet – Completely different purposes and philosophies

Let’s assume

  1. Purpose = the intent behind an object existing or being made or used. Courtesy Wikipedia.
  2. Paradigm = World View or the model of reality you have. Courtesy Wikipedia -

    Another use of the word paradigm is in the sense of Weltanschauung (German for world view). For example, in social science, the term is used to describe the set of experiences, beliefs and values that affect the way an individual perceives reality and responds to that perception.

Consider the differences -

eReader Vs Tablet on Purpose

A rough comparison -

  1. An eReader’s purpose is to let you read easily and well.  
  2. A Tablet’s purpose is to make computers portable and personal and bring all the abilities of a PC into your hand.

These are very, very different purposes.

eReader vs Tablet on Paradigm 

Another rough comparison -

  1. The eReader paradigm is that people would like to be able to read on a screen akin to a real book, with extremely long battery life, and would want a device committed to reading.  
  2. It involves words and phrases like – reading, readable, portable, like print on paper, cheap, convenient, unitasking, dead simple, intuitive, keyboard, book replacement.
  3. The Tablet paradigm is that people want a PC that has all the power and still fits in the palm of their hand.
  4. It involves words like – multimedia, camera, dual screen, multitasking, photo, video, games, music, portable, cool, flashy, multi-touch, computer replacement, pretty.

In the Tablet paradigm reading is NOT important.

  • Reading is one out of 20 things you can do.
  • Tablets devote neither planning and design time nor actual resources to reading.   
  • They want to drum up its eReader functionality because eReaders are hot.

The Real Paradigm battle for Tablets

It’s worth pointing out that Tablets have failed to break through for decades (since 1982). Before they can beak through and kill eReaders and netbooks they need to create several paradigm shifts i.e.

  1. Users have shown an amazing amount of affinity for the plain old physical keyboard. This by itself might be enough to stall Tablets.
  2. Below a certain screen size productivity and ease of use is just too low. 10″ Tablets might just be impossible to work on.  
  3. The niche for a mix of portability and functionality is already occupied by Netbooks which fit nicely into people’s understanding of computers i.e. people do not have to take big, huge conceptual leaps and figure out something completely new – which they would have to do with Tablets.

In a sense the Tablet is the perfect example of companies taking two existing booming niches i.e. netbooks and eReaders and extrapolating -

  1. How could eReaders be successful? How could Netbooks be successful?
  2. There must be a market for portable devices.
  3. What would we want as an ideal portable device – Perhaps a mix of the eReader and the Netbook.
  4. That’s not cool – let’s add something cool like multi-touch and a new design and a cool new concept.

Tablets are the perfect example of a technology that is so cool it should have already succeeded.

That leaves just two possibilities -

  1. Tablets weren’t fulfilling users’ needs well enough. 
  2. There isn’t any fundamental user need that Tablets actually address.

The latter is a question well worth asking – Could it be that typing is just a better, easier option than writing? Could multi-touch and touch be a step backwards from keyboards?

Closing Thought – eReader Vs Tablet is about Marketing

Tablet makers bring eReaders and reading features into the picture for one of two reasons -

  1. To steal some of the buzz that eReaders are getting.  
  2. They can’t make the paradigm shift that people might care so much about reading that they want a dedicated device.

eReaders (and even Netbooks) are frustrating to tech experts because they are marvels of fulfilling a user need while being terrible at impressing tech experts.

In many ways Tablets are the sort of product tech experts wish would sell – they are cool, they are a new design paradigm, they look like they should be easy to use, and they look like they are the future.

They are so perfect that they have been ‘the next big thing’ since 1982 – at some point a company will get Tablets right and the decades of failure will be justified.

We don’t know if and when Tablets will succeed. We do know that Tablets are not the best device for reading – they aren’t even close.

If you really want something to read on get an eReader.

More than an hour of reading a day (or one or more books a month) means an eReader is the right choice.

19 Responses

  1. Thanks for the excellent points. You are helping me make a decision. I am torn between a kindle dlx and a HP tx2z tablet while is upgradeable. My only concern is the ability to easily read on the tablet given that it is not eInk. Kindle for PC will solve my Kindle need but cant decide if eInk is the real deal breaker. And then there is the rumored Apple Tablet. That may change everything :-)

  2. Very helpful — thanks for the write up.

  3. Thank you – I’ve been trying to decide between an ereader and a tablet. Yyou make some very compelling arguments.

  4. Thanks–this really helped. I get it now.

  5. How would you rate the Barnes & Noble Nook or Color Nook compared to a tablet? I would like to use it for reading, photographs and as a computer, mainly for email, when I’m traveling.

    • Diane, it’s very good for reading and photographs. Better than iPad.

      As a computer is tough – it’s not a full-fledged tablet. It’s good for email but the screen at 7″ is smaller than a 10″.

  6. Thanks for a comprehensive and well written summary. I thought I wanted an ereader but, now I think I’d be better off with a tablet. Any ideas on a reasonably priced, hopefully upgradeable model?

  7. This article does nothing more reiterate the same point in every paragraph…while not listing any differences between the two types of devices except their purpose.

  8. I’m torn between the Kindle and a tablet for two particular reasons. All though all the extra stuff a tablet offers is ‘cool’ (lack of a better word at the moment but you get the point), I already have a smartphone and laptop. Therefore watching videos, surfing the web, downloading apps, etc I already have in some form or another. My two biggest problems are:
    1. On a tablet you can download both amazon kindle books and nook books I hear. So they offer more of a variety of what exactly you can have and prices you can spend.
    2. I’m not sure if I want color or not. I hear amazon is planning on making a color kindle later on in the year but if that’s with an LCD screen then it’s probably better to get a tablet right? The reason I would want color is because I’m not only a student, but I’m also an art student. So hopefully as the textbook market on kindle grows I can download more of my textbooks at a cheaper price but I don’t know if I can compromise (especially with art) not having color.

    So those two points make me very much on the fence for what I want. The reader is that basic reason why I want either, I just don’t know which is better.

  9. This is the best, most definitive explanation on how to choose between the two devices that I’ve read – and I’ve read a lot!

  10. No ,mention here of all of the LOST PRIVACY when using the ereaders…a tablet/netbook can be configured to avoid that, easily. Also the fact that a netbook is it’s own case, and so, is much better protected than an ereader (or tablet!). Download the free and excellent Calibre software to manage and read your ebooks – you can even customize the colors and fonts, and read ALL ebook formats!

  11. Thought I was leaning towards the ereader until this post from Anthony Willis. I dont personally see how an ereader is more or less a privacy concern compared to a tablet, but my decision is more on having the most access to a wide variety of books options. I thought I was leaning to the Nook, then Anthony’s post said you can read all formats with a tablet. I guess the determination for me is if you have to pay for subscriptions to use aps that will read the books? I am also a teacher and perhaps there are other useful aps on a tablet?

    • Teacher, there are no changes or subscriptions. If you bought books at Amazon or B&N or any other etailer, they have free apps that let you read those books.
      Buy once, read anywhere.

      And yes, a Tablet will have more apps that you might find useful.

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