Kindle or Tablet PC for taking notes on PDFs?
May 14, 2009 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Tablet PC or Kindle DX for graduate school?

I'm starting a PhD program in the fall and the reading will be mostly articles, so I was intrigued by the prospect of doing my PDF reading on the new Kindle DX and taking notes there. I've also been thinking about a tablet PC like the Thinkpad x200. Would you recommend either of these for the purpose I have in mind? What are the relative advantages and disadvantages? I need to get a new computer anyway. Thanks!
posted by tonci to Technology (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As far as I can tell, you can't take notes on a Kindle:
The USB ports that it has are designed for charging the battery and syncing to PC's, according to the official site. No mention of keyboard attachment.

Tablet PC's are specifically designed to allow you to take notes right onto the screen of the laptop. That functionality costs a premium: they are typically several hundred dollars more than regular laptops with equivalent hardware.

Summary of these products' niche:
-Kindle is for people who have a lot of money to spend and don't like carrying books or papers (it's $500!! You can get a good laptop for that.)
-Tablet PC's are for people who really prefer taking handwritten notes, and for whom its worth the price to be able to easily store and categorize the notes electronically.

I would opt for a regular laptop, unless you really hate typing.
posted by dualityofmind at 1:19 PM on May 14, 2009

Personally, I'd go with the kindle for two reasons:

- the kindle screen is easier on the eyes for the balls-load of reading you'll be doing

- kindle has a less-capable graphics processor, which gives you fewer opportunities to screw around on the internet/gaming/etc.


-the kindle has a black & white only which may be a problem if your Ph.D is in, say, cell biology, and many of the articles you're reading include color photos and diagrams of fluorescent microscopy, etc.

- Kindle is not intended as a replacement for a computer; it doesn't have as robust of features. If all you do on your computer is read news, email, and coursework (Which is all you should be doing! Get back to work! Earn that degree!), that's fine. But no YouTube, gaming, or porn.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:23 PM on May 14, 2009

A Kindle won't really work for articles, due to the small screen size. I see a lot of students with tablets, but only the newbies actually write on the screen -- apparently it's kind of annoying. I sometimes read articles on my (very small) laptop using software that turns the screen sideways, which is OK, but paper is still easier on the eyes.

My suggestion is a regular laptop, a cheap laser printer, and a carton of paper.
posted by miyabo at 1:26 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The main Kindle advantage is that the e-paper is easier on the eyes than any LCD for hours and hours of reading. It's also smaller and lighter, but not very much so if you're talking about the Kindle DX. Graphics aren't great, though, with limited grayscale.

A tablet PC might not be as nice for 12 hours of reading per day, but it'd be a lot more flexible for other purposes, like actually using applications, surfing the Internet (the Kindle browser is horrible) and other fun things like watching occasional movies or music. Just having last night's TV available for your breaks might make a big difference in your day, depending on your preferences and time-management skills.

I'd probably get the tablet, but choose one based on screen quality.
posted by rokusan at 1:26 PM on May 14, 2009

The kindle does not have dedicated number keys. You have to press ALT and then the relevant QWERTY key. It also doesn't have full punctuation choices on the keyboard. Most have to be accessed through a symbol menu. I wouldn't want to take a lot of technical notes on it.
posted by IanMorr at 1:29 PM on May 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback! To clarify, I'll either have a regular laptop and a Kindle DX or a Tablet PC, so the question is between those choices.
posted by tonci at 1:38 PM on May 14, 2009

I print out everything that I am serious about reading for my thesis.

Yeah, it's a "waste" of paper, but:

1) It's easier on the eyes
2) It's easier to take notes / highlight stuff
3) Paper doesn't crash
4) Paper is cheaper than a fancy touchscreen computer
5) Paper doesn't run out of batteries
6) You can read paper in a lot of places where a computer is inconvenient

If you're going to a school worth a damn, you will be able to print whatever you want for free. If not, then your grant money can pay for it.
posted by bengarland at 1:38 PM on May 14, 2009

Does it really bother you to read on a screen rather then a computer display? If you can afford a tablet PC over a Kindle (an additional $1k almost) I would go with that, but you might even consider getting a cheapo net book if all you need to do is read articles.

Here's the thing, the full version of adobe acrobat is friggin' awesome for taking notes. You can highlight text, and add popup notes, etc. It's great. Obviously that wouldn't work on a PC. Lately I've been thinking of getting a cheap netbook and loading it up with PDFs and taking it around with me to read PDFs and DjVu files. You can get EePCs with 10 inch screens (larger then a standard kindle) that get 9 hours of battery life, enough to read all day and recharge at night.

With acrobat, you'll be able to take all kinds of notes just not actually doodle on them with the digitizer pen like you can on a tablet, but you can't do that on a Kindle The full 'standard' version of acrobat is only $299, so netbook + acrobat would only cost a little more then a Kindle DX, give you a color screen, great note taking ability and not lock you in to Amazon's DRM bs.
posted by delmoi at 1:44 PM on May 14, 2009

I wouldn't do either. I'd get a netbook.

The screen is smaller, but you've got a keyboard.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:45 PM on May 14, 2009

Well if you're forcing the bundling of the Kindle and a laptop, it then makes more sense to get a tablet PC, both financially as well as only having to worry about one item.
posted by dualityofmind at 1:53 PM on May 14, 2009

I own an HP tx2000 tablet and while it's not a badly made product, I haven't found it very useful. The handwriting recognition works amazingly well 80% of the time but it's a lot of trouble to get 100% right. The display is small (wxga) and has a layer of touchscreen glass that makes the desktop look grainy and "distant". The battery life is horrible. It's also heavy.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:55 PM on May 14, 2009

If it's primarily for reading, I'd say get the Kindle. The fact that it uses e-ink and isn't illuminated makes it as comfortable as reading a book. Reading also goes much faster because you only have to push a key to change the page- so there is little to no interruption in your flow.

If you have to take notes, get the tablet but it probably won't be as comfortable to read things on.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 1:57 PM on May 14, 2009

Also, Jarnal is a free program that lets you take notes on PDFs, using either a regular keyboard or by writing on a touch screen if you have one. Not quite as good as Acrobat Professional, but $299 cheaper.
posted by miyabo at 2:06 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

As far as I can tell, you can't take notes on a Kindle

Sure you can, it's got a keyboard built-in. It's not like typing on a PC, because of the delay between refreshes of the e-ink; as someone who remembers the days of being able to type far ahead of the PC, I don't find it too annoying, but YMMV.
posted by nomisxid at 2:08 PM on May 14, 2009

Wait until fall... maybe there'll finally be a Mac tablet .
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:20 PM on May 14, 2009

Current issue of Technology Review has a quick review of the Touch Book, a tablet netbook that will be out this summer for $399. Here's another article on it.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:20 PM on May 14, 2009

I vote for buying a Kindle DX (for reading) and a small netbook (for your notes) (and this will still probably be cheaper than buying a new tablet PC). I have a Kindle 2 and I really, really love it, so I am a bit biased. Will probably be buying a Kindle DX for academic/other pdfs if they get reviewed favorably.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 2:23 PM on May 14, 2009

If you can wait a few more months, Asus has a touchscreen netbook coming out that sounds like exactly what you're after.
posted by hnnrs at 2:34 PM on May 14, 2009

Kindle just isn't an option for professional users : small screen, no note taking, atrocious pdf support, remote kill switches, locked down, etc. An iRex iliad has vastly superior pdf support, plus many more, lets you take notes, and mark up documents.

So the question is : Do you want a tablet or labtop? Or do you want a desktop plus an iLiad? I'd stick with the desktop and paper, but find an iLiad you can try out.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:37 PM on May 14, 2009

Kindle just isn't an option for professional users : small screen, no note taking, atrocious pdf support, remote kill switches, locked down, etc.

Kindle DX
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 2:44 PM on May 14, 2009

Yes, I know the screen is bigger and the DX gets pdf support, but platform remains closed, and the keyboard isn't suitable for note taking. You really want either a full keyboard or a tablet for notes, otherwise you'll switch to paper. I'm also skeptical of the DX's pdf support since I've seen bad pdf readers mangle documents created with pdflatex.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:55 PM on May 14, 2009

Seconding the suggestion of a netbook --- I've been using a friend's backup Acer laptop for the past month, and it's a great substitute for when I don't want to lug around the main laptop. I use it only for reading online (it's book-sized, so good for E-books and articles) and taking notes, and then transfer everything I write down to my main laptop. Plus, it's cheap and superportable.
posted by puckish at 2:56 PM on May 14, 2009

I own a tablet PC, and it's not exactly great for reading articles. If you go the tablet route, make sure you factor weight and size into the picture. I don't own a kindle, so I can't offer any direct comparisons.

Honestly, my suggestion: For research related reading, get a comfortable chair, a good sized monitor that can rotate to closely match standard paper dimensions, and Zotero.
posted by pwnguin at 2:58 PM on May 14, 2009

If you're in biology or chemistry, you'll want color when you read, so buy the tablet, but maybe wait & see if your advisor's grant will pay for it.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:00 PM on May 14, 2009

My vote is for the tablet. With the right software, it can read anything you can throw at it. It can also search the web, do audio and video, take notes, send email, etc.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 6:30 PM on May 14, 2009

Why not wait until the DX actually comes out? Then you can try it out and see if it works for you. There are also supposed to be other large readers coming out in the next half year, some with touchscreens that you might be able to write on.

Since no one's actually tried the thing yet, it's hard to get great advice about it.
posted by trig at 6:58 PM on May 14, 2009

Where are you planning on keeping your notes? In a management system like Zotero or EndNote?

I keep my notes in Notepad docs myself and then have them also embedded in the PDF. Full version of Acrobat or FoxIt should work easily.

If I were you, I'd have the regular laptop and wait and see if you need something to just read in. Myself, I always have a 2nd window open with any PDF.

YMMV, but I am a PhD student.
posted by k8t at 9:51 PM on May 14, 2009

consider a tablet netbook ... with a soilid state drive to increase battery life.

Ausu is about to release the eee t91 ... which may meet your requirements quite nicely.
posted by jannw at 12:57 AM on May 15, 2009

As you make your choice, keep the Livescribe Smartpen in mind as well. It's $149, and allows you to take notes that you then sync onto your computer. In addition, if you're taking notes with it during a lecture, you can simultaneous record the audio. Later, when you go back to review your notes, you can tap on a word and hear what was being said at the moment that you wrote that word.

I use it every day. I wish I had one back in graduate school.
posted by umbĂș at 6:50 AM on May 15, 2009

I do not know how the DX is actually going to manage pagination, but there is no improvement over the regular Kindle, I wouldn't advise it. There are no page numbers on a Kindle, only "location" numbers. This is because you can change the font size and so the amount of text on a given screen changes. This, and the nature of the device (buttons to move forward and back one page) makes it very difficult to flip back and forth between pages and sections. The Kindle does allow for bookmarking multiple pages, adding notes, and searching, but it is by no means an easy, transparent process. For example the original Kindle only allows you to search the entirety of the books that you have on it, you cannot search an individual book. Plus its slow.

I love my Kindle for reading, I am sure it would make me crazy to try to study from it.
posted by rtimmel at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2009

I'm in a PhD program in mathematics and I got a tablet pc, a Lenovo X61. One of the biggest advanteges over an eink device is searching. You will most likely have a huge library of articles you'll need to access at any given time, and I know that I spend more time searching for specific phrases than just straight reading. Lots of hunting around is hard on dedicated reading devices. The tablet also comes in handy at conferences.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:45 PM on May 16, 2009

Oh, and be sure to get something with an active digitizer, like a Lenovo, rather than a passive digitizer. It's much easier to write on,IMO.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:47 PM on May 16, 2009

Tablet PC's are specifically designed to allow you to take notes right onto the screen of the laptop. That functionality costs a premium: they are typically several hundred dollars more than regular laptops with equivalent hardware.

Convertible netbooks like the ASUS T91 are coming out over the next few months (and the Gigabyte m912 has been out for a while, with a slightly bigger brother in the pipeline), and they will not be prohibitively expensive. They'll do anything you want and more, and you have the luxury of using it as a regular laptop/media device/web browsing tool as well.

There's no way I would touch the Kindle in its current, limited incarnation.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:53 PM on May 17, 2009

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