- Comparing the Kindle and iPad August 06 2013

For the purposes of this article, the word Kindle will refer to the Amazon Kindle e-readers that come with E Ink screens, and not the Kindle Fire tablet.

Many people have this question: why do I need another device like the Kindle if I already have a smartphone or a tablet? After all, all devices can read text and books nowadays. True, but that is not the whole story. The Kindle currently is one of the few devices that really mimics a book due to two reasons. The first is the technology of the screen. The second is the essence of reading a book.

1) The technology.
Kindles use displays manufactured by E Ink. It is difficult to explain E Ink because it's so different from what we're used to. So what's so good about this technology?

  • The ability to read in sunlight.



There is no way you can do the same with a tablet in very strong sunlight. (Note the sharp shadows.)


Take your smartphone or tablet out into the sun or a shaded outdoor area. It's hard to see the screen. Why? Because the screen needs to give out light to show its content. How much light? As much light as needed to 'compete with the sun'. The light needs to be stronger than the sun's. Sure, most smartphones can do that. However, the battery life will be affected.

Now the difference with the E Ink screen is that it doesn't give out light. I find this so fascinating that it bears repeating. The eInk screen does NOT give out light!* So how does the screen work? It reflects light, just like a real book. The brighter the surroundings, the better! The reverse is true, when it is dark, it's not easy to read the E Ink screen. Generally speaking, when it's too dark to read a real book, it's too dark to read a Kindle. And that's where the Paperwhite comes in, but I'll touch on that later.


  • The ability to read comfortably at night

Some people feel that E Ink screens are easier on the eyes. While that is generally true, we can also say that modern LCD screens are okay on the eyes too, especially indoors where the sun poses no problems. I think the advantage of E Ink is at night, ironically. The Kindle Paperwhite adds a light to the screen. The screen is not backlit, but it is lit from the top by clever use of tiny light sources and 'mirrors'. When I compare a tablet in pitch darkness, the Paperwhite does not need to be as bright to maintain a similar contrast, so it's more comfortable comparatively speaking. This point is my subjective view, I don't have numbers to back it up. Nonetheless, reading at night with the Paperwhite works really well.

2) The essence of a book
The book is a wonderful invention. It is simple to understand, and easy to manufacture. It is not fancy and it allows people to read without much fanfare and fuss. The important thing to note is that reading books involves doing just ONE thing. And that is its appeal; to go lost in the book.

Compare this to current devices we have. Multitasking, Facebook, Angry Birds, Whatsapp, probably all at the same time. What happens when you read a book in this environment? You tend to lose the essence of reading originally intended, which is focused uni-tasking. I'm not saying that one or the other is better; the experience is just different. However, most good readers know that it's quite impossible to get into the 'zone' if there are so many distractions that come with the book. The Kindle solves this issue in this way: it really is not good in anything else. It has a web browser, but that's just an afterthought, you can email with it, but it's cumbersome. Most of this is due to E Ink. E Ink is not designed to refresh the screen quickly to allow a lot of updates on the screen to allow for meaningful quick interactions like web browsing.

So, when you hold a Kindle in your hand, something magical happens. Your life stops and is only about the book, nothing else. People who love to read crave this feeling. Tablets may be fleshier, but it's much more difficult to arrive at this state of mind.

These are 2 essential differences between the Kindle and iPad. I'll add more to this entry when I have more thoughts on this.

When is the iPad a better choice?
I have the iPad too, and it's better than the Kindle in a few ways. The first is if the reading material is not long-form reading. For example, if you are reading Lord of the RIngs, you don't read Chapter 3 first, then 5, then 1 and so on. No, you do it linearly. But if you were to read a 1000-page book on Objective C programming, the situation is completely different. You want to skip to the relevant parts, and continue on to different parts of the book. The Kindle is not good at all for this kind of technical manuals. It is also not good for PDF files with complex layouts and graphics; the ability of 'pan and zoom' is not good enough because of a small screen. I'd recommend a full size iPad for this sort of materials.


 *Fun fact: Actually it doesn't use any power to display a page of text indefinitely. It only uses power to refresh the screen.