Best E-Reader Or Tablet For Physics Textbooks?
November 9, 2017 4:20 PM   Subscribe

What's the best E-Reader I can get to read a physics textbook that has lots of equations in it?

My E-reader is a Kobo Aura. Recently I tried to read some physics textbooks on it, but it just didn't work because the equations are rendered super-small on the screen and can't be enlarged. This seems to be an unsolvable problem, so I think I need a new E-reader.

But what device is best for textbooks? Is there an E-reader that can display equations in a decent size, or will I have to venture into the alien world of tablets? I don't know anything about tablets and would prefer to stick with the friendlier world of Kobos and Kindles, but if tablets are the only devices that can render equations in a readable format, then I guess it's time to venture into the unknown.

Context: I'm Canadian (so Kindle Fire tablets aren't an option), and not a student of any kind. I'm just a guy who likes to read textbooks on the bus. Can you help me?
posted by Kevin Street to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For textbooks, you basically have to get a tablet. Ereaders don't handle PDFs very well, and I always ran into issues w/font scaling, weird OCR, etc.

I don't know much about Android tablets, but for Apple ecosystem - I would look into the original generation iPad minis (if the equation scaling there is okay) since those are older and I would assume rather cheap these days. If those are too small (& you don't want to use the tablet for anything else), I would check out the first generation iPad Airs.
posted by angst at 4:43 PM on November 9

Tablets are the only devices that can do reasonably well with textbooks. Kobos are horrible for image support; Kindle e-readers may be a bit better but not much. The Kindle DX has a larger screen; it may do better with equations.

I'm out of touch with the newer e-reader market; I gave up once the US lost all epub-based e-ink readers other than the Kobo line. (I like tiny e-ink readers - 5" screens - and nobody at all is making those anymore.) There used to be a few larger screen readers intended for the academic market, but I believe they dried up. A few of the ereaders used to advertise "can blow up images!" but that mostly turned out to be useless because the publishers would shrink the images to a reasonable size for the ereader screen.

If you can't find an answer here, try Mobileread's Which One Should I Buy? forum; this is exactly the kind of question the forum was made for.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:45 PM on November 9

I've read many papers, many with equations, tables and figures on android tablets with 9 inch screens for at least 5 years. Recently, I purchased a chromebook that can fold into a tablet, an ASUS C302. Its useful not just reading, but writing as well---i have done three papers on it now.

The pinch to zoom is really great for my older eyes. A 9 inch screen is the right size. I find the mini size 7 inches too small to read formulae and graphs in particular. Android/chrome integrates really well with Google drive and docs which makes for a productive work flow for me with both PDFs and my own documents.

it is also my preferred device for general reading, both the web and books.
posted by bonehead at 6:13 PM on November 9

A tablet is probably the best option for this. You can put an eReader app on it that you like. I'd recommend a surface or something similar - a desktop operating system can make a big difference with graphing, pen support, and other software options if you'll be doing that sort of thing as well.
posted by Verba Volant at 6:19 PM on November 9

I gave up once the US lost all epub-based e-ink readers other than the Kobo line. (I like tiny e-ink readers - 5" screens - and nobody at all is making those anymore.)

Not to do with the original question, but they still make Nooks. They just came out with a new one.
posted by bongo_x at 7:30 PM on November 9

Personally I use a tablet. I had a Kindle for a while, but it wasn’t really doable and one of the ebooks of a textbook I got had a huge number of typos (they tried to put some equations in regular font, and that was a Bad Idea for a relativity textbook).
If it’s price that’s your concern you might be able to get a used one; honestly the best tablet I ever had for reading and scribbling was an old Galaxy note 8” (Not the current Note 8; it was actually 8”). I was so sad when mine died.
posted by nat at 11:29 PM on November 9

Just to caution that unless you're talking about PDFs (which isn't clear from the question), the size of equations and images in an EPUB will be subject to the publisher's markup and CSS choices, not necessarily in control of the device. You could have a huge iPad Pro and still end up with tiny, unreadable equations if the publisher has coded it so. It's possible that some reading apps support pinch and zoom regardless of the markup, but I'm not sure which ones. It's the software, not the hardware, that controls it.
posted by libraryhead at 6:31 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]

I have an (older) iPad mini and it's perfect for reading math-heavy books. The size is awesome. 8" is so much better than 7" and the aspect ratio of the iPad is also better for books than the widescreen aspect ratio that many Android tablets have.
posted by blub at 8:09 AM on November 10

Not to do with the original question, but they still make Nooks.

Whoops, sorry. And thanks. The early Nooks were so terrible that I'd blocked them entirely out of my mind. Because of the combination of poor design choices and the way B&N screws over their ebook customers, I don't even think of them.

Their 8" or 9" tablet might work fine, but there are probably better tablet options for the price. (Their e-ink remains a mediocre product plagued by bad features and lousy customer service.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:48 AM on November 10

Thanks for pointing that out, libraryhead! I was indeed talking about EPUB books and not PDFs. It's discouraging to think that even a tablet that's eight times more expensive than the Kobo might not do a better job of rendering equations. Still, I guess EPUBs can be converted into PDFs?
posted by Kevin Street at 11:19 AM on November 10

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