Let’s start by listing out the qualities we want in an eReader for reading at night –
- Light Source – A backlight is ideal. A reading light is a reasonable compromise if it’s easy to attach and has a dimmer.
- Good Readability – High pixel density and good resolution. Basically, the writing should be crisp and clear and reading should be easy on the eyes.
- Decent Size Screen and Compact Size – Large enough for comfortable reading. At the same time it should be easy to handle.
- Light Weight and One Handed Reading – We want a light device and the ability to hold the reader in one hand. Essential for all the tossing and turning.
- Quietness and Brightness Control – To ensure the light or the noise doesn’t wake up anyone.
- Easy on the eyes – We want to make sure the reading is relaxing and not stressful.
- Convenience – Various factors we’ll discuss below including battery life.
Your personal criteria might include some or all of these. Please make a decision based on your preferences and feel free to disregard any criteria you don’t care about.
The devices we will look at are – Kindle, Kindle DX, iPhone, iPad, Nook, and Sony Reader.
If you’re interested you can look at two rough videos comparing reading at night on the various devices at the Kindle Comparison Videos page.
Reading at Night on the Kindle
Here’s how the Kindle stacks up –
- Light Source – The Kindle has no backlight (it would actually reduce readability so it’s a good decision) and no sidelight. You have to use an external reading light and that means – batteries, potentially waking up people, etc.
- Good Readability – The Kindle has excellent readability. The pixel density is very high and the reading experience is very close to an actual book.
- Decent Screen Size and Compact Size – A very good combination as it has a 6″ eInk screen while still being small and compact.
- Light Weight and One Handed Reading – You can easily hold it in one hand and its very light (10.2 ounces) so your hands don’t get tired.
- Quietness and Brightness Control – The Next Page button makes a slight noise (people with sensitive hearing and light sleepers might not think it’s slight – check the video). There is no brightness control unless your reading light has one.
- Easy on the Eyes – Yes. You can pretty much read for hours on end without tiring your eyes.
- Convenience – Yes. There’s a wireless connection with 60 second book downloads and Free Internet and free Wikipedia so you can stay in bed and keep reading. The battery life is excellent so little chance you run out of power.
Overall, the Kindle scores a healthy B grade – The lack of a backlight and the clicking noise of the Next Page button being the two flaws.
Reading at Night on the Sony Reader
The Sony Reader is delightful –
- Light Source – It needs a reading light.
- Good Readability – Excellent readability as eInk has very high pixel density.
- Decent Screen Size and Compact Size – Good 6″ screen and very compact size (more compact than the compact Kindle).
- Light Weight and One Handed Reading – Very light (10.1 oz) and good for one-handed reading.
- Quietness and Brightness Control – The buttons are silent and there’s also the touchscreen (works with finger or stylus). No brightness control unless your reading light has one.
- Easy on the Eyes – Yes, very. Like on the Kindle you can read for hours and hours.
- Convenience – While there isn’t a wireless connection you do get the benefit of great battery life.
The Sony Reader gets a solid A- grade – It being quiet, more compact, a bit lighter, and having a touchscreen puts it ahead of the Kindle. It’s only significant flaw is the lack of a backlight.
Reading at Night on the iPhone
The iPhone is also great for night reading –
- Light Source – There’s a backlight and its very handy.
- Good Readability – The screen is good. It’s not as good as eInk for reading though iPhone Apps provide a lot of options like inverted colors and that helps.
- Decent Screen Size and Compact Size – The screen size is too small. The size is definitely very compact.
- Light Weight and One Handed Reading – Very light and one-handed reading is easy and comfortable.
- Quietness and Brightness Control – Very quiet to use. You can change the brightness level in iPhone Settings.
- Easy on the Eyes – Depends. For me reading over 30 minutes or so gets taxing. Some people claim they are unaffected by LCDs – even when reading in the dark. Some people get tired eyes or worse.
- Convenience – The battery life is on the short side. There is a convenient 3G connection so you can buy books. Brightness controls are not in the reading app which is a bit of a pain.
Overall, the iPhone narrowly squeezes its way into an A- grade. The screen size is tiny and reading for longer than 30 minutes will probably tire your eyes. However, the backlight, small size, apps, and comfort win out.
Reading at Night on the Nook
The Nook starts off strong with its excellent screen contrast –
- Light Source – No backlight and a reading light is needed.
- Good Readability – Yes, excellent readability. Nook has perhaps the best readability due to its excellent screen contrast.
- Decent Screen Size and Compact Size – Nook has a 6″ screen and is very compact.
- Light Weight and One Handed Reading – The Nook suffers here as its heavier weight (12.1 ounces) is noticeable pretty soon. One Handed reading is possible but not comfortable.
- Quietness and Brightness Control – The Next Page button is noisy though using the touchscreen is quiet. You’re using a reading light so brightness control will only be possible if it has a dimmer.
- Easy on the Eyes – Yes. All the eInk readers are great for reading. Nook is probably a tiny bit better as it has better contrast.
- Convenience – Wireless connection to the Store but no Free Internet. Good battery life. Some of the design decisions make things like taking notes painful.
The Nook manages a B- grade – It suffers due to its heavier weight, lack of backlight, and clumsy interface.
Reading at Night on the iPad
The iPad is an interesting creature –
- Light Source – A good backlight.
- Good Readability – Yes. The LCD is however not as good as eInk (see the videos to compare).
- Decent Screen Size and Compact Size – Very good screen size and you can read a book one page at a time or two pages at a time. It’s not very compact and can be a bit awkward.
- Light Weight and One Handed Reading – At 1.5 pounds it’s too heavy to hold without a rest. One handed reading is almost impossible.
- Quietness and Brightness Control – Very quiet. Comes with a great brightness control that is in the reading apps themselves.
- Easy on the Eyes – Not really. The LCD will be uncomfortable for some readers. Like on the iPhone you get apps with inverted colors and the brightness control helps – However, reading beyond 20 to 30 minutes is taxing.
- Convenience – Yes. 10 hours battery life is decent and you’re unlikely to be interrupted in your reading.
The iPad comes with a B- grade – The awkward size, the weight, the LCD’s lower pixel density and the stress the LCD creates when reading for longer periods makes the iPad non-optimal for night-time reading. Do note that if you tend to read sitting up with your physical book resting on your knees then the iPad gets a B grade.
Reading at Night on the Kindle DX
Haven’t read enough on the Kindle DX at night so this would have to be an Incomplete Grade. Will list the things that are obvious –
- Light Source – No backlight.
- Good Readability – It’s eInk so it’s great for reading.
- Decent Screen Size and Compact Size – Great screen size and not at all compact.
- Light Weight and One Handed Reading – The weight is too much (18.9 ounces) and one-handed reading isn’t really possible beyond 5 or so minutes.
- Quietness and Brightness Control – The button is quieter than on the Kindle (press it in the centre close to the edge) and brightness control depends on whether your reading light has the option.
- Easy on the Eyes – Yes, very.
- Convenience – Yes, as it has the wireless store, 60 second downloads, free Internet, and a long battery life.
The Kindle DX’s grade is Incomplete – However, it’s safe to say it’s unlikely to get an A or A- grade.
A Surprising Conclusion – Sony Reader and iPhone are best devices for Reading at Night
While the iPhone was a bit of a dark horse due to its compact size, its backlight, and the variety of available reading apps the Sony Reader Touch Edition was a complete surprise.
Here’s why each really shines –
- The iPhone’s backlight, small size, light weight, variety of apps, inverted colors option, brightness control, and comfort make it a winner.
- The Sony Reader’s excellent eInk screen means it’s easier to read and not tiring. It’s also very compact, quiet, has a touchscreen, and has excellent battery life.
If most of your reading is done at night going with the Sony Reader or iPhone (both get an A- grade) would be the best option. The Kindle is pretty good too (it gets a solid B grade). Do factor in the reading at night criteria that matter the most to you.