Kindle 3, iPad and specialization for reading

We don’t have the new Kindle 3 shipping yet so will include my experience with both Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 when contrasting Kindle, iPad with respect to their specialization for reading.

You can also check out my complete Kindle vs iPad review (based on Kindle 2).

Kindle 3 , iPad, Specialization – How does Kindle 3’s specialization for reading improve readability over the iPad

There are a few different ways in which Kindle’s specialization for reading will help improve your reading experience.

The eInk Screen

Kindle uses an eInk screen that reads like print on paper. Its reflective so it works in sunlight. It doesn’t tire the eyes because the contrast is very good and there is no backlight to hurt your eyes. The Kindle 3 uses a new generation of eInk called Pearl that has 50% better screen contrast so the gap between Kindle and iPad for readability will increase.

Is eInk really better?

There is a small percentage of the population that can read on LCD without any side effects. Some of them even claim to be able to read on LCDs in direct sunlight. You have to consider how you feel -

Do you prefer eInk? Do LCDs hurt your eyes? What about when reading a book on a LCD screen? Do you want to keep stressing your eyes with backlights and LCDs?   

If one screen has been built specifically to replace paper and another has been built to show movies and video games then the argument that reading will be the same on both is rather flimsy.

Kindle 3, iPad – Focus on reading and reading related features

If you want a device that makes no compromises when it comes to reading the Kindle 3 has a clear advantage. Kindle 3 is giving up on color and touch to ensure readability is excellent. Depending on whether you’re looking for a great reading device or a do-everything device this decision will seem either brilliant or stupid.

You have to contrast the two -

  1. Kindle 3 is a device built from the ground up for reading. 
  2. iPad is a device that was built to bring the the Tablet PC market to life and it’s trying to cover reading as a side project.

If you read once in a while (less than a book a month) then the iPad is good enough. If you read more you probably want a device that is really great for reading.

Also note that Kindle 3 is $189 and Kindle WiFi is just $139 – That’s a lot cheaper than iPad at $489.

The Kindle 3’s focus on reading is evident from its reading related features -

  1. Kindle 3 has up to a month of battery life with wireless off and 10 days with wireless on. iPad has 10 to 12 hours battery life.
  2. Kindle 3 is very light (8.7 ounces) and compact (7.5″ by 4.8″ by 0.335″). iPad is 1.5 pounds and its 10.1″ screen makes it rather large. When it comes to reading the difference manifests in a lot of ways – One-handed reading and even two-handed reading are difficult on the iPad. You have to rest iPad somewhere. iPad is not as portable as Kindle.
  3. Kindle 3 is like a book in that it reflects external light and thus there is no glare and Kindle is readable in bright sunlight. iPad reflects objects and in bright lights turns into a mirror (well, it is multi-purpose). You can read the Kindle in the park or on the beach and pretty much anywhere there’s light. iPad’s backlight makes it great for reading at night but useless whenever there’s sunlight. Bright lights are also a problem since they cause glare and reflections.
  4. Kindle 3 has Text to Speech. Apple is trying to pass off its VoiceOver Accessibility feature as text to speech. It works – however, it also turns buttons into ‘accessible buttons’ and is not very easy to work with.  
  5. The Kindle Store has a lot more books. You can use Kindle for iPad to get Kindle Store books on the iPad too. 
  6. Amazon has a bunch of Kindle Apps that let you read across various devices – PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, and Android. This is a sign of the focus on reading because Amazon has taken into account that you might not always have access to your Kindle or might prefer a back-lit device at night.  
  7. Free Global 3G wireless with Kindle 3. If you get Kindle 3 (as opposed to Kindle WiFi) you get free 3G access in USA and in 100+ countries. This includes browsing the Kindle Store, buying books, and Internet Access via a basic experimental browser (Internet Access is only for US Kindle owners). Amazon has basically made it easy to shop for books anytime and convenient to use reference features when reading.

iBooks on iPad is one out of tens of thousands of apps – there’s only so far you can go with software when the underlying device itself is not suited to reading.  

The absence of distractions

Apple is trying to kill tens of thousand of birds with one stone.

Reading is just one thing it’s trying to do and whenever you’re reading the other tens of thousands of things are trying to wrest away your attention.

There are quite a few iPad owners who’ve realized this, mentioned that they weren’t reading nearly as much as they thought they would, and bought a Kindle.

A related problem is that iPad prioritizes video games and TV and movies over reading – that means it’s much closer to a portable TV or a portable game console than to a book. If you’re using a device that specializes in something other than reading it’s safe to say the temptation to do other things, which the device does much better, will be much stronger.

Kindle eliminates distractions by being terrible at everything other than reading. You can’t play games except for very basic games and you can’t watch movies at all. You’ll end up spending most of your free time reading books.

Are there disadvantages to the Kindle 3’s specialization for reading

Yes, there are lots of disadvantages -

  1. It’s not good for anything other than reading.
  2. You’ll end up reading more.
  3. There’s no color so books that depend on multi-color illustrations won’t work.
  4. There’s no touchscreen. Not sure how that’s relevant as there are physical keys and a physical keyboard – However, some people feel a touchscreen is important.
  5. You’ll end up buying more books as you’ll be reading more and having a bookstore with 630,000 books in the palm of your hand is very tempting.
  6. The new WebKit browser is supposed to be better – However, the browser will probably still be pretty basic and the 6″ screen is a little small for viewing websites. Note that mobile sites work fine including mobile versions of all the big email providers.
  7. Use of eInk means page turns take around .6 to .7 seconds each. As eInk is evolving this has come down a lot. However, it’s still much slower than LCDs.

The two main disadvantages are that Kindle’s specialization for reading makes it terrible at everything else and that it’s specialization for reading makes it great for reading – you’ll end up reading more books and buying more books than you expect.

Kindle 3, iPad – How big is the difference in readability?

It’s really difficult to quantify how much better Kindle 3 is for reading than iPad – It’s significant enough that if you can afford $139 for a dedicated reading device like the Kindle WiFi you should definitely get one.

We can talk about the qualitative difference between reading on iPad and Kindle 3 -

  • Kindle’s eInk screen is much better to read on. At night you need a reading light so the iPad wins due to convenience and its back-lit screen. For every other lighting condition the Kindle is clearly better.
  • You’ll almost certainly enjoy the reading experience more on the Kindle than on the iPad.
  • There are very few distractions on the Kindle. You are likely to read more books if you buy the Kindle 3. With the iPad you might end up reading very little. Not an issue if you have immaculate will power.
  • iPad lets you carry one device to do lots of things – So though you might not choose it over Kindle at home you might decide to carry it and not the Kindle.
  • Kindle is much lighter and easier to hold so you won’t strain your hands as you would with the iPad. Resting iPad on your knees/lap strains the neck if you read for long stretches.

It comes down to your personal preference and what you believe – If you think reading isn’t important enough to merit a dedicated device then get the iPad. If you want a device that’s great for reading get the Kindle. If your eyes are unaffected by LCD screens the iPad is good for reading. If you believe a device can excel at everything and beat even best of breed devices then perhaps the iPad is right for you.

From my perspective the only viable argument in iPad’s favor is ‘value for money/it can do more than read’ and that was only viable when we were comparing the $259 Kindle 2 with $499 iPads. Now, we have two completely different devices at vastly different price points – It’s an easy decision since only one of them is great for reading.

By introducing Kindle WiFi at $139 and Kindle 3 at $189 Amazon has made the decision automatic – If you read one or more books a month, or read lots of PDFs/documents, then the Kindle 3 is the right choice for you. If not, or if you can read entire books on LCD screens without any discomfort, then get the iPad

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