Which e-reader or tablet is best for, you know, e-reading?
August 8, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

In terms of readability and eye comfort, which of the following devices is best-suited for reading basic e-books with black text: a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle Keyboard, or a backlit tablet like an iPad 3, Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire?

I currently own a Kindle Keyboard and am pretty happy with it for reading books due to it's e-ink display and long battery life. However, I am in the market for a tablet, and I'd like to have one device for reading and tableting. The options I've narrowed it down to are: iPad 2, iPad 3, and Google Nexus 7, all of which run the Kindle app. Compared to my Kindle Keyboard, how likely am I to be happy with the e-reading experience on these devices?

Sub-question: I sometimes read in bed at night before going to sleep. I have heard that staring at a backlit LED/LCD screen before going to sleep can "wake up" the brain and make it harder to fall asleep. Is this a valid argument in favor of an e-ink device like the Kindle Keyboard over a backlit tablet?
posted by iamisaid to Technology (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
An e-ink display will be best. For me, however, the difference is not significant enough to take both my Kindle and my iPad 2 on trips—I just take the iPad 2.

I have heard that staring at a backlit LED/LCD screen before going to sleep can "wake up" the brain and make it harder to fall asleep.

That's my experience. Although if I turn the iPad device brightness down all the way and then the Kindle app's own brightness setting down all the way, and set the color to sepia, the light is pretty dim. What's worse is the temptation to check e-mail while in bed (ow, my eyes!).
posted by grouse at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's less "wake up the brain" and more that it's harder to get to sleep if you've been shining a flashlight directly into your face for an hour, especially if you're reading in the dark. I use a booklight with my Nook and it's definitely a less jarring transition to go to sleep from that than from the laptop/iPhone.

Personally, I can't read books on a backlit screen; no matter how I adjust the font, text size, column width and whatever else, I still get eyestrain that I don't with e-ink.
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's really hard to beat the iPad 3rd Gen for readability in terms of LCD devices. I wouldn't have thought it to be that much different than the iPad 1 / iPad 2, but the legibility does make a difference. I'll usually set the reader apps to the night theme to go to white text on black background, though, just to reduce the amount of light into the room.

I also have the basic Kindle Wifi, but don't really use it any more. The font clarity is still probably the best out of the devices you have listed.

The thing the Nexus will have over the iPad is the weight -- I don't really have a problem holding the iPad 3 for extended reading, but there is a difference between holding that and the e-ink Kindle.

Haven't noticed any differences falling asleep after reading either the Kindle e-ink or the iPad.
posted by curse at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2012

I read in bed using my iPad every night, with the brightness set quite low and the color set to sepia, as grouse mentioned. No trouble falling asleep at all.
posted by idest at 9:31 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Both the iPad and Nexus 7 are about equal wrt the Kindle software (note you can't directly buy books on the iPad app); the N7's biggest advantage for reading IMHO is size and weight. It actually reminds me of my long-deceased K3 (aka Keyboard) in terms of feel (though still heaver, but lighter than the Fire and much less than a 10" like the iPad).
posted by ConstantineXVI at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2012

For both ease of reading and falling asleep, a dedicated e-reader that uses e-ink will be your best bet. You'll probably need a book light for it, if you don't have a bedside lamp, but that's still better for you (in terms of being able to fall asleep relatively quickly after you finish reading) than reading on an LED/LCD screen.
posted by asnider at 9:37 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

For simple plain textbook - with few to no illustrations, and those being simple line drawings - then hands down an e- ink device such as a Kindle or a Sony ereader will cuase less eye strain than any kind of Tablet, because with an iPad, Nexus 7, or Kindlefire, you are in simple terms staring into what amounts to a lamp. Sure it's a sophisticated lamp, but you are still staring into a light source with the text being lit essentially from behind.

As long as the simple text does not have any special qualities like footnotes, illustrations, or font size restrictions, then any e-ink reader of reasonable size (think 7 inches diagnonally across) will cause less eye strain than any kind of LED or AMOLED or lit glass screen.

7 inches diagonally is the average size of most paperbacks which is why it's a good size factor.
scalabe / zoomable text is important because font size and style is something that is very individual. A font size/style that is comfortable for me to read might quckly give someone else brain and eyestrain.

Fnally, consider what kind of conditions you will be reading in, because apart from one model of Nook (I think) thatnall e readers currently on the market require an additional light source to read in dim / dark conditions. You can read from a tablet device with no additional light source, but e-ink mimics paper, and so needs an external light source facing the devices screen.

Good luck getting. The best reader to suit you!
posted by Faintdreams at 9:38 AM on August 8, 2012

PS: I've never noticed any particular sleep issues with LCDs, but I also have a history of terrible sleep in general so take that for what it's worth. AMOLED-based devices in dark mode may be easier to handle as black pixels aren't lit at all, but the biggest AMOLED screen I'm aware of is on the 4.8" SGS3 (not quite tablet territory).
posted by ConstantineXVI at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2012

I've used a Kindle and iPad, and love reading on both, but to really enjoy reading on the iPad, I need some sort of anti-glare screen protector.
posted by 4ster at 9:42 AM on August 8, 2012

I am a huge fan of reading on my iPad 3 in bed. I put it in night mode (with white text on black background), and I usually even turn down the brightness a little from the default setting. The best part is if I wake up in the middle of the night and read, I don't need to turn on a light or headlamp and disturb my wife's sleep.

It is a little heavy, though--more like holding a hardcover book than a paperback. But I sometimes use my folio case to prop it up to let it sit on the bed and read without having to hold anything.
posted by partylarry at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2012

I have a Kindle Keyboard e-reader and an iPhone with the Kindle app. I have less eyestrain with the Kindle. YMMV.

The "wake up the brain" argument for backlit devices, I think comes from the theory that your body won't produce melatonin, a hormone that helps us go to sleep. Melatonin is usually produced when the lights dim, body temperature drops, etc.

I don't know if backlit devices inhibit melatonin any more than, say, television, lamps, or any other artificial light around the house. Even when you use an e-ink display, you need a light on. You can probably Google some studies.

Anecdotally, when reading in bed, I find that I stay up longer when using a backlit device like an iPhone or laptop than when using a reading light.
posted by Boxenmacher at 9:45 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read in bed with my iPad every night. I prop it up with its case, weight is a non-issue. I don't have a problem with the backlit screen, either with eye strain or sleeping. As someone else said, my biggest problem is getting distracted by all the other crap on my iPad...
posted by upatree at 9:48 AM on August 8, 2012

The Kindle is better for me for long periods of time. But just barely when compared to the New iPad (3, Retina, whatever it's called). The iPad in a sepia type mode without much brightness still allows me to fall asleep. But then the machine crashes into my face and I wake back up.
posted by DigDoug at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2012

One of these devices was invented solely for reading comfort and ease on eyes

which one was it though
posted by MangyCarface at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, over time, the spots and stripes my fingerprints leave on the ipad can be pretty bad for the legibility of the text
posted by DigDoug at 9:53 AM on August 8, 2012

I have both an iPad 3 and a 3rd-generation Kindle. When I first got the iPad, I used it for 100% of reading and liked it. However, for some reason I took out my Kindle to read something and was amazed by how much lighter and more comfortable it was to read. The combination of smaller size and less weight makes it much better to hold in one hand. I also like being able to flip to the next page with either hand, rather than having to use my only my right hand in the Kindle app on the iPad.

The one thing I do miss from the iPad is the ability to use it in dark locations, since you need a light to read the Kindle. I'm hoping Amazon comes out with a "glow" version soon, similar to the Nook, to alleviate this problem.

I don't know if the Kindle is any better for eyestrain—the biggest thing for me is the smaller size.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 10:01 AM on August 8, 2012

[Works in epublishing, has lots of experience with ereaders]

My feeling is that this is going to be entirely dependent on your personal preferences. For me, having a tablet was what made me love ebooks--for others, they can't read on tablets for more than ten minutes or so.

Realistically, in terms of difference in e-reading experience, the various iPads and Android-based tablets will be nearly indistinguishable. They both have various low-brightness settings, etc, to customize the reading experience. Whether any of them will compare (for you) to reading on your Kindle isn't a question we can answer.

My suggestion is to buy the tablet you want, and then decide if you're willing to use it as an ereader, as well. I went from having a Kindle and a tablet to just having the tablet, and that works great for me. It's not for everyone, though.
posted by MeghanC at 10:13 AM on August 8, 2012

Agreed, it's a personal preference. I think the e-ink is really the best, but my partner prefers a tablet because you can customize the color, the amount of brightness, etc. (Even if I preferred a tablet, I would probably carry along a little e-ink reader when traveling, for the long battery life.)
posted by BibiRose at 10:17 AM on August 8, 2012

I have a Nexus and a Nook touch. Prefer the nooks e-ink for reading at night, my husband reads on the colour Nook with LCD screen but he puts it into night mode and manages to go to sleep OK and I know this is a option in most reading apps on tablets.

Something to think bout is I find the Nexus a lot easier to hold for reading, it is more kindle/nook sized and if you are going to do a lot of reading on it the size and weight might be something to consider, maybe go into a store and hole one for a while like you are reading. I find Ipads too large for comfortable reading. I have found the nook app on the Nexus to be pretty much identical feeling to use as using a nook touch, I can't comment too much on the kindle app as I don't have a kindle to compare it with but it runs well on the nexus for what I've used it for.
posted by wwax at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2012

I quite fancy picking up a Kindle for long-form reading, but my iPad has been great for reading books, articles and so on. From trying the demo units in stores, I'm not sure how much I like the screen refresh and of course the difficulties reading in the dark.

For those worried about the effects of LCDs on sleep, this is regarded to be an issue of colour balance - the near-blue colour temperature of a screen apparently inhibits the production of melatonin.

If you have jailbroken your device, you can install F.Lux from Cydia, which will automatically adjust the colour temperature of the device for ALL applications over the course of the evening. So, the "colour of your ... display adapts to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day".

The latest version of F.Lux knows where you are (if you want it to), so it can adapt to sunset and sunrise times of your actual location automatically.

Combined with Dimmer, which allows you to dim the display all the way down to backlight off, the iPad's backlight can be made to be very comfortable indeed for reading including in a dark bedroom (also useful for not disturbing others trying to sleep!) or to reduce fatigue when reading during the day.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 10:43 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Given that you have a kindle keyboard the Nexus 7 is slightly more similar to the device you already have than the ipad. I wouldn't recommend the ipad 2 at all but it's hard to compare the Nexus 7 and the Ipad 3 given that one is $200 and one is $500. I have both and the ipad 3 is still a little heavy and big for some reading. However the big retina display is unmatched for reading larger formatted non-plain-text (pdfs and magazines.) I've started reading magazines from the kindle store on the ipad 3 and it's awesome. Not that I would pay $500 for a magazine reader so it's really about the bigger set of things you want to do.

Both the Nexus 7 and the Ipad 3 are great kindle tablets. I'm a huge ios fan and I'm really impressed by the Nexus 7.

FWIW in bed the ipad 3 weight is less of an issue. If I'm kicking back in the lounger reading I have a tendency to want to hold my book/tablet with one hand by the corner and this is not quite great on the ipad.

I'd say it's a wash on the kindle thing.
posted by Wood at 10:49 AM on August 8, 2012

which of the following devices is best-suited for reading basic e-books with black text

Kindle Fire has a reverse function where the page is black and the letters are white.
Sounds kinda not right, huh?
I have abandoned using my e-ink Kindle with the nine inch screen in favor of the Fire with the smaller screen in reverse mode. The overall surface area of white isn't there burning itself into your retinas and your brain. The black page melds with the Fire's black bezel and disappears. Definitely much more comfortable reading in the dark.
Definitely a personal preference thing... Mrs. Shmoobles won't read on her Fire in reverse mode but I happen to love it.
Try to evaluate the function on a friend's Fire or in the store to see if you like it.
posted by No Shmoobles at 11:48 AM on August 8, 2012

The one thing I would say to you is please, please, pick up and hold for a while whatever device you choose before you buy it. People love their iPads so, so much, and I completely understand, but the one time I used an iPad, it was almost comical how precisely sized it was to defy my efforts to find any comfortable way to hold it. The Fire, on the other hand, is just right for my stumpy fingers.

I personally believe that e-ink versus backlit is much less important than what it feels like in your hand. I think a lot of people have always assumed backlit is harder on the eyes, and I used to be one of them, but I think most of the research has demonstrated it isn't, really. Think about how you'll hold it, how you'll prop it up, how you'll lie in bed with it. My guess is that will affect your enjoyment more.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:50 PM on August 8, 2012

I read in bed just about every night using my laptop with the brightness turned way down and the colors set to tan text on a dark green background. I am totally comfortable reading for long periods of time this way, but if I could justify the expense I would probably go with something e-ink based instead. I've played with 'em and those screens are definitely very easy on the eyes compared to LCDs; not only do they not shine light into your eyes, the pixels are also kind of random which I think makes text look a lot more natural and legible.

Reflective displays are the way of the future, in my opinion -- as the technology progresses we'll eventually see them replacing LCDs, and they'll have backlights as well (which can be switched off) for when you need to see them in the dark. Once the expense and resolution and color rendering and refresh rate stuff is all sorted they're going to become a lot more generally-useful instead of just being specialist text-reading displays.

It annoys me though that neither the Kindle nor the Nook can read both epub and flat text files, however. I am not going to invest a bunch of money in a reader that can only read files in a locked-down proprietary format rather than the format that the rest of the world uses, and I'm irritated that the other major reader won't display a stupid dumb text file of all things.
posted by Scientist at 1:36 PM on August 8, 2012

It sounds like you are planning to buy a tablet. Once you have a tablet, you can decide for yourself whether you'd rather continue to use your Kindle for the things you use it for now, or whether you'll be happy to switch those activities to the tablet.

Given that, it seems your question is really: which tablet should I buy if reading Kindle books is important to me?

The 2012 iPad (AKA iPad 3) screen is great, and the iPad has the broadest functional utility of any of the options you are considering. The downsides are the obvious ones, heavier, higher price. I think the biggest downside for reading ebooks is the weight, though I'll note I've found that just removing the smart cover entirely makes a significant improvement in ergonomics for prolonged hand-held use.

The Nexus 7 has an advantage over the iPad of a lower price, and lighter weight. The downsides are that it isn't useful for as wide a range of apps as an iPad. It's not going to be as good for ebooks as an eInk kindle, but that is offset by being good for video and games, and better for web browsing (with the caveat that a lot of desktop targeted web pages that would be readable on an iPad without zooming will need panning and zooming on an N7).

If you do end up favoring the N7 because of price or size, I'd strongly suggest waiting until Apple's anticipated announcements in mid-September to see if Apple does indeed announce a smaller, cheaper iPad. Most of the reviewers and friends who have made a case for the Nexus 7 end up making and even stronger case for a smaller, cheaper iPad.

Remember too, the Kindle and Kindle apps can automatically sync your reading position in the cloud, so you can easily switch from your Kindle to a tablet and back in a single day according to convenience.
posted by Good Brain at 2:28 PM on August 8, 2012

If you have jailbroken your device, you can install F.Lux from Cydia, which will automatically adjust the colour temperature of the device for ALL applications over the course of the evening. So, the "colour of your ... display adapts to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day".

The latest version of F.Lux knows where you are (if you want it to), so it can adapt to sunset and sunrise times of your actual location automatically.

This is a great option. I use F.lux on my laptop and it's great. I sleep much bettter since I began using it. Still, e-ink is easier for long periods of reading than an LCD screen, regardless of whether or not F.lux is being used.
posted by asnider at 3:23 PM on August 8, 2012

I have a Kindle and a Nexus 7, and I read books solely on the Kindle - it is so light, and so easy to read, especially in bed (in my preferred lying on my side position - I am very short sighted, and sitting up in bed with glasses on isn't relaxing for me). The Nexus is fantastic, and I love it, but it is pretty heavy to hold book style in one hand, for me. I got my Kindle a case with a built in light, and wish I had done so ages ago, it is excellent.
posted by woolly pageturner at 4:21 PM on August 8, 2012

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