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Apple iPad vs. Amazon Kindle: E-book reader review

Is the Apple iPad or the Amazon Kindle the better e-book reader? Mandy Wolf Detwiler says it all comes down to how you want to use the device and personal preference.

When industry rumors of an Apple tablet product began swirling last year, Amazon executives certainly took note: as a digital book reader, how would Apple's premium product compare to Amazon's groundbreaking Kindle e-reader?

In his keynote address premiering the iPad to the public, Apple founder Steve Jobs applauded the Kindle's baby steps in changing the face of publishing but promised the iPad would also appeal to readers with a digital library -- one that is proprietary to Apple and would compete head-to-head with Amazon.

After spending a week with the iPad, exploring both the free iBook app as well as the Kindle app for the iPad, there are certain inalienable differences that bode well for both Amazon and Apple. Let's explore.

Cost

First, the Kindle hit the market with its initial version as a pricey (a whopping $399) -- if limited -- gadget. The Kindle was initially so popular with consumers that it was back-ordered for five months. It was replaced in 2009 by the currently available Kindle 2, a slimmer model priced at $259. It's touted as Amazon's best-selling product.

The Kindle DX was released in May 2009 on the supposition that the product would better accommodate newspapers and textbooks. It was the first to be released with an accelerometer, allowing both horizontal and vertical viewing. The Kindle DX is currently available for $489.

The iPad was released earlier this month with a stair-step pricing ranging from $499 (16 GB) to $599 (32 GB) to $699 (64 GB). Apple plans to release a 3G version of the iPad soon, which will add $130 to each version's cost.

Comparison

As a voracious reader, I've spent the better part of a year devouring books on the original Kindle and the Kindle DX. I've spent a week reading three books on the iBook reader via the iPad and one on Amazon's Kindle app for the iPad, even going so far as to read the same book on the Kindle and the iPad.

One of the most notable differences is the screens. The Kindle boasts a nearly book-like grayscale matte, while the iPad is equipped with a LED-backlit glossy cover. Initially, my eyes took only a few minutes to adjust to reading on the Kindle (the gray viewing platform using E Ink is similar to a printed book), whereas I found the backlit iPad to be harsh on the eyes, especially for those who spend most of the day working on a computer. The Kindle is easily readable in bright sunlight; the iPad is not, nor could it be viewed wearing sunglasses, so I wouldn't want to take this to the beach.

The iPad's iBook app does allow readers to change the size and the style of a book's fonts, adjust the screen brightness level, and search a book's contents. One of the most notable features is the ability to hold a finger over a word in iBook and look up the definition in less than a second. Using the Kindle, you can also look up a word, but it takes a bit more navigation because the device's built-in dictionary is stored in the menu.

The Amazon Kindle for the iPad app takes viewing a book a step further -- not only do users have the ability to manipulate text size and screen brightness, but they are also able to change the page from white (with black lettering) to black (with white lettering) and sepia (with black lettering). Sepia most closely resembles the Kindle's E Ink screen; however, you still have to deal with the glossy cover.

The Kindle does allow users to change text size and has text-to-speech capabilities, neither of which I've personally needed to use.

The iBook gets cutesy with the ability to add colorized illustrations -- a feature not available on the Kindle (nor any color, for that matter, although artwork is visible). It also has a novel page-turning ability that allows readers to flip pages from the corners or by tapping the screen.

Turning pages on the Kindle is done with buttons on either side of the device. I've found page-turning easy on both units, although after using an iPad, I tend to want to use my fingers on the Kindle screen rather than the buttons.

The user interfaces also differ dramatically. The Kindle's GUI is easy to use but not as easy as the iPad's iBook app -- the iBook boasts a digital bookshelf that allows you to switch from one book to another on sight without losing your place. The Kindle also saves places when reading, but I have to scroll through my current list of downloads before I am able to find the book I'm looking for. The iBook is quicker to open downloads and turn pages, but only by seconds.

Finally, the Kindle's battery life is far superior to the iPad. With wireless turned off, I get about two weeks of reading versus the touted 10-hour battery life on the iPad. This is especially useful when traveling, as I don't have to pack a power cable for the Kindle.

When it comes to handling, the Kindle's size (8" x 5.3" x 0.36") makes it easier to hold, as opposed to the more unwieldy iPad, which weighs in at 9.7 inches. I find I need to prop the iPad up to read on it, whereas the Kindle is much more comfortable in-hand.

Final word

In terms of which device is a better e-book reader, it all comes down to how you want to use the device and personal preference. I have to give the Kindle an advantage for its easily readable screen, long battery life, and significantly lower cost. But, the iPad clearly outperforms the Kindle with its touch-screen interface, page-turning speed, and capabilities beyond being an e-book reader.

If you want a device that will be used solely as a reader, the Kindle provides the best bang for your buck; but, if it's a tablet PC experience you seek (including social media capabilities, Web browsing, video, and email), the Apple iPad is the one you want.

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16 comments
fbartolom
fbartolom

I wonder why no one thinks of layering the two tecnologies: digital ink on the lower layer and a transparent led on the upper one. The possibility would be for the system to use either one or both of the layers depending on the application: for book reading the led would be totally transparent until an image were shown, for applications the digital ink layer would likewise support the led layer for giving true blacks and white and save battery life for still or slow moving objects. If someone patents this innovation, please remember me, I have a paypal account :-) Greetings, Fabrizio Bartolomucci

brian.sinclair-james
brian.sinclair-james

While the iPad has some advantages, they tend to be generic, non-reader advantages. The kindle is a better reader. The iPad is better multi-media device. The new convertible netbooks are better computers. I like the kindle, but couldn't see paying that much for something that's only a reader. I like the iPad, but want something I can work on as well. If you're like me, buy a Lenovo (the PeeWee if you're younger) or wait for the flood of new devices that will hit the streets this year.

DadsPad
DadsPad

For $150. It has a 6" screen, but no wifi, but easy to download ebooks and upload to reader. (See ZDnet first look). I hope this will start a trend on reducing the cost of the overpriced Kindle and Nook.

jimmanis
jimmanis

The majority of readers (at least in the Western world) are female. This has been true for at least 150 years. How about marginalia? If we are examining these products in terms of education, then the ability to generate marginalia (not simple highlighting) but easily accessible notes written on the page is imperative. This is the heart and soul of true scholarship, or as academics like to term it, "real reading." In other words, you ain't readin' 'less you got a pencil in one hand. Or, let's look at this screen reading another way. What effect on literacy does this have? Not what do we "guess" it has, but what can we demonstrate that it has?

Mafig
Mafig

It would be interesting to know the differences (if any) between the Amazon system and the Apple system. At least the way of buying ebooks, the availability of the service, etc.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

This is an E-book reader review, yes You say iPad wins with the closing remark: ...and capabilities beyond being an e-book reader. If this is an E-book reader review then capabilities beyond being an e-book reader are irrelevant.

azoth23
azoth23

It is an interesting reader, but KOBO does not have the books I want

MandyDet
MandyDet

The iPad downloads new books almost instantaneously, while the Kindle lags for just a few seconds. I only had trouble purchasing one book -- it wasn't available on the Kindle but WAS via iBook. The book was released on April 6, 2010 so there was ample time for Amazon to get it Kindle-ized.

sperry532
sperry532

Your line "...significantly lower cost." pretty much puts your article into perspective. And that perspective is skewed. There is a $10 (ten dollar) difference between the equivalent Kindle and iPad. Ten. This is not "significantly lower." While I agree on viewability in direct sun and battery life, the iPad has far and away more functionality that the Kindle. Nice try, though.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I believe this is an E-book article too, so the "cabilities beyond being an e-book reader" statement is irrelevant. In my opinion, the Kindle wins, just from reading the article, the Kindle has more Pros than the iPad. If I were going to buy an E-book reader it would be the Kindle, but I'll stick to physical books myself.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

In fact, it was quite obvious. And honestly, up to a point I happen to like the Kindle reader in the iPad; more features that the Kindle Reader itself doesn't yet have. What's worse, the iBook reader doesn't have a couple features that I use in Stanza (now owned by Amazon) all the time. I'd really like to see those features fully integrated either into the Kindle software or the iBook software. However, while the author dismisses the color graphics capability of the iPad, you should keep in mind that while novels normally don't use images (or at best they're line art drawings), textbooks, educational books (I'm speaking of all the 'For Dummies', 'Missing Manual', and other guides to improving skills, techniques and personal life types) as well as other non-fiction genres tend to carry a lot of graphics--usually in color. Even newspapers are very graphic-oriented now, with color images on every page. The Kindle itself simply can't do that. If you asked me, the author attempted to give a very balanced and realistic review, despite his long experience with the Kindle vs the iPad; I commend him. However, even he admitted that the iPad's user interface quickly changed how he tried to use his Kindle itself.

Justen Case
Justen Case

My wife has a Kindle DX and a great feature is the included cell service allowing you to download content anywhere Sprint has coverage. The iPad only has WiFi (unless you wait for 3G and pay extra), to me this adds to the bang for the buck of the Kindle.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

That He happens to be a She - In fact, it was quite obvious.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

just using the term 'the author' instead of he or she? As for non-gender-specific term when you're speaking or writing about an individual - 'They', 'Individual', 'Person' are but to name a few... I think she gets it now readers.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

The gender of the author is unimportant in this case, and I used the generic 'he' because it didn't matter. You would rather I used 'Herm'? 'Sie'? I'm sorry, the English language really doesn't have a non-gender-specific term when you're speaking or writing about an individual. While "political correctness" says to use some dehumanizing term, I would prefer to stick to centuries of established writing tradition and use the masculine when the gender doesn't matter. It's not the best possible answer, but it's the best available for now that I know of.