Last Friday I headed over to our local Apple retailer and picked up an iPad 2. When I returned home, my wife told me that she thought she might want one, too, but she later backtracked and decided to get an Amazon Kindle instead.
So why the difference of opinion? Mainly because we’re looking for distinctly different things. I’m looking for a lightweight, multi-purpose internet device, whereas my wife is primarily looking for an e-reader. The iPad is a great solution for my needs, whereas the Kindle is the ideal solution for her needs.
If you’re looking for a handheld computer…
The iPad is a great solution if you’re looking for a handheld computer that can tackle a wide variety of tasks. While people often focus on how great the iPad is for consuming media (books, movies, websites, etc.) it’s quite good for computing tasks such as note-taking, light word processing (especially when used in combination with a wireless keyboard), drafting e-mails, and so forth.
It’s definitely serviceable as an e-reader, but it has some shortcomings. Perhaps the biggest of these is the screen glare when you’re using it outside, especially if you’re in direct sunlight. Not only does the screen kick up a glare, but sunlight also makes all the smudges and fingerprints stand out.
Another drawback is the size. While the iPad is both small and sexy, it’s still considerably larger than a book. Thus, when you use it as a reader, you’ll find that you typically need to hold it with two hands. Workable, especially if you’re reading with it in your lap, but not great. On the plus side, the LCD screen means that you can read it in the dark.
Another huge strength of the iPad is compatibility. You can read just about any sort of e-book on the iPad, including iBooks, Kindle books, Nook books, EPUB books, and it also does a great job of rendering pdfs.
If you’re looking for an e-reader…
In my humble opinion, the Amazon Kindle is probably the best e-reader currently on the market. I know that the Nook (from Barnes & Noble) has a loyal following, but the simple fact is that B&N is struggling and likely to follow Borders into bankruptcy in the not-too-distant future.
Strengths of the Kindle include it’s crisp e-ink screen that is both easy on the eyes and essentially glare-proof. On the downside, it’s not backlight, so you can’t read it in the dark. I don’t really view this as a limitation of the Kindle, though, because you can’t read regular books in the dark, either. If reading in dark places is important to you, then you just need to pick up a cover with a built-in light.
In terms of size and weight, the Kindle is fantastic. It’s easy to hold in one hand while reading, can be tossed in your bag, or even slipped into a decent-sized pocket. It doesn’t have a touch screen, but the controls are intuitive and it’s very easy to flip from one page to the next. Oh, and the battery lasts forever.
The primary drawback of the Kindle is that it’s really a one-trick pony – though it does that one trick very well. While you can do a limited amount of web surfing on the Kindle (and the 3G service is free), the e-ink screen really isn’t up to heavy duty browsing. So yes, you can check your Gmail in a pinch, or look something up on Wikipedia, but you probably don’t want to rely on it for internet access.
Another potential drawback is compatibility. The Kindle is really only designed to handle Kindle books. It won’t handle books from other vendors, it can’t handle EPUB without conversion, and it’s not great for viewing pdfs.
What about cost?
Of course, another huge consideration is cost. The iPad costs anywhere from $499-$699 for the wifi-only version, with 3G capabilities costing an additional $130 (plus the monthly service charges). As for the Kindle, you can pick up the wifi-only model for just $139, and the wifi + 3G model costs $189 with no additional service charges. The lighted case that I mentioned above adds another $59 to your total.