The Reading Experience: Tablets and E-book Readers Revisited

The iPad in its various incarnations is undoubtedly the best study device available today. Although it lacks Flash for education sites such as and BBC ByteSize, it makes up for it with excellent free education apps and iTunes U. However, as many people quickly found out, tablets that are larger than 9" are less than ideal for leisurely consuming books. Having never tried reading with a 7" tablet, I laughed when I read that users routinely hit their foreheads or experienced tired wrists after attempting to read Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series with their full-sized iPads. However, the continuing popularity of the much smaller Kindle and Kobo readers is a testament to the resilience of the standalone ereader market and the 7" or smaller reading device.

Long before receiving an iPad 2 (Thanks Gretchie!), I was already reading Ghost Sweeper Mikami manga and Wilkie Collins books on a Sony PRS-600 ereader I purchased from Best Buy in 2010. The red aluminum ereader was a mistake in many ways.  Although it had all the features I wanted (file support, MP3 player, expandable storage, dictionary), the battery life was inconsistent, the device was extremely slow, there were issues with the software, touch response and the reflective screen was awful and it was overpriced.

But here's the thing. The 6" screen size is perfect for reading and the lack of apps and frills made the admittedly buggy Sony ereader a better reading device than the iPad 2 or 4th generation iPod Touch I own. I'm currently finishing and enjoying The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler with the Sony.

IPS Panel and E-ink

Ok, so most ereader fans probably have moved on from the early ereaders and bought the latest Kindle PaperWhite or an awesome Kobo Glo. If you love reading and hate online distractions, ereaders are great. If you're only forcing yourself to read and you're attached to social networking than ereaders aren't for you. That's pretty easy enough to understand.

But what about the display? Does E-ink's purported advantages really have a leg up over bright backlit IPS panels if the user doesn't read for hours? I like reading but I'm not one of those ludicrous readers who boast about reading 10 books a day and who reread Fifty Shades of Grey four times a day. I like to take my time with a novel or anthology of stories. I look up the words using the dictionary and reread parts I didn't quite understand and translate foreign phrases and expressions I come across (Guy de Maupassant's tales have tons of them). I max out at two hours - and that's when I'm reading excellent books like the Charlie Chan series or stories by Sheridan Le Fanu.

I put the whole "tired eyes" concept to the test with the aforementioned Sony PRS-600 and a borrowed ASUS Padfone. I loaded the Android-powered Padfone with BlueFire Reader and side-loaded Masterpieces of Mystery: Riddle Stories, which I downloaded from

On the one hand, I thought I would favor the 7" IPS panel of the Padfone by a huge margin over the old dodgy Sony ereader. On the other, I was pretty sure my normal 40 minute reading sessions would be cut short by the bright display of the LCD screen. After two weeks of just using the LCD display for reading I came to the conclusion there was hardly any difference. The backlit IPS panel saved me from turning on a lamp while reading but other than that I found casual reading as enjoyable as ever. Most days during the trial period, I read for 45 minutes with the Padfone and stopped because I had a horrible day at work and it was 17 degrees Celsius outside.

As usual, it wasn't the reading device that really mattered but the story or novel I had loaded.  Did the newer Padfone's display and performance totally trump the aged Sony Reader? Sure. Did it matter to me as a reader? No.

7" Android tablets and ereaders

Android tablets are so affordable now that you can actually buy a Google Nexus or Acer Iconia tablet to serve as your dedicated reader for colored comic books or novels. I certainly wish I could buy a Kobo Glo this holiday season to replace the PRS-600, which is currently having problems holding a charge longer than a week. On the other hand, I realize a cheap Android tablet is a great option especially after my informal experiment with the Padfone. At the end of the day though, the most important factor is selecting great literature to read. That means the excellent Battle Royale by Koushun Takami not Hunger Games and the Amazing Spider-Man circa 1980s by Roger Stern and not the moronic Superior Spider-Crap.


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