Whether you spend time in your favorite coffee shop, in airports or on public transit, you no doubt have seen a good number of people flipping through digital pages of an electronic book reader or touchscreen tablet.
You’re finally ready to buy one for yourself, but the big question remains: Which one?
Ebook readers and tablets might look similar at first glance, and they’re both touchscreen-enabled, but they serve different purposes and can vary greatly in price. To make matters more confusing, a new crop of premium ebook readers with tablet–like functionality and color screens are now available, with a cost somewhere in between regular e-book readers and full-blown tablets.
To help you decide which one is for you, consider the following look at each choice.
What are they: As the name suggests, ebook readers – sometimes referred to as e-book readers or simply e-readers – are ideal for people who like to read. They’re designed primarily for downloading electronic books (ebooks) from a wireless store, or in some cases you can download the books on your computer and transfer them over to the ebook reader via USB cable. Most ebook readers also let you download and read digital magazines and newspapers. With ebook readers, simply tap or swipe the page to flip through the “pages” of an ebook, plus you can enlarge, shrink or change the font; tap a word to look up a definition (or in some cases, make annotations); and many ebook readers let you borrow books for free from your local library (excluding Kindle).
Benefits: Ebook readers are usually smaller and lighter than tablets, which make them more portable and easier on your wrists while holding, plus they have non-glare (and usually non-illuminated) screen that makes it better to read in bright sunlight, if need be (not so easy to do on a backlit tablet). Ebook readers are also more affordable than tablets, starting at about $80 for an entry-level model from a brand name like B&N Nook or Kobo; Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader models cost more, but there are less expensive ebook readers, too, from lesser-known brands like Aluratek and Pandigital (starting at $50). Ebook readers also have a battery last lasts an entire month, on average, compared to 10 hours at most for tablets (the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite can last 2 months).
Drawbacks: Ebook readers are ideal for reading ebooks, but not much else. This is fine for those who only want to read on them, but the lack of power and limited functions (like no video playback) and no (or few) apps means the experience is, well, limited (yes, there are also those hybrid ebook reader/tablet products that have a little more umph under the hood, color screens and the ability to do more than just display books). A black and white screen is ideal for books and newspapers, but there’s an obvious trade-off when reading magazines without color. Finally, ebook readers typically have screens that measure 5- to 7-inches, but some people prefer reading on larger tablets as you can fit more words on the page.
What are they: Touchscreen tablets — like the mega-popular iPad, as well as Android, Windows 8/RT and BlackBerry PlayBook models – are also thin and light devices you can tote around, wherever life takes you. You use your fingertips to tap, swipe and pinch through content on the screen, which typically ranges from 7 to 12 inches. Tablets have a color and usually glossy screen and built not just for reading ebooks, but also checking email, browsing the web, playing games, listening to music and watching video. Tablets usually have two cameras, front and back. Downloadable apps number in the hundreds of thousands, and are downloaded from various online app stores, wirelessly. All tablets have Wi-Fi and some can take a SIM card for cellular connectivity (monthly data plan required).
Benefits: Tablets are a computer – just like your laptop – even though it’s crammed into a super thin and lightweight body and relies on touch instead of mice and keyboards. As a result, you can do almost everything on a tablet you would on a more conventional laptop or desktop, including document creation, video chats, shopping online, reviewing calendar appointments and even making a phone call with one of the many free VoIP services (Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity required). In fact, tablets can do things your other computer probably can’t, such as take pictures and shoot HD video, help you navigate city streets using GPS and wirelessly play music on nearby Bluetooth headphones or speakers. As you can see, tablets are very versatile devices that also boast large and colorful screens, and they’ve got support for hundreds of thousands of apps at both the Apple App Store and Google Play, to customize the functionality of the tablet in a variety of ways; tablets have free apps for all the major ebook companies, too, including Kobo, Kindle, Sony Reader, and others. Tablets also have more accessories than ebook readers, ranging from cases and keyboards to stands and speaker docks.
Drawbacks: Tablets can cost 4 to 5 times as much as an ebook reader. For example, the Kobo eReader Touch Edition with Wi-Fi costs just over $100, while the fourth-generation iPad (now called “iPad with Retina display”) starts at $499 and Microsoft’s Surface starts at $499. There are less expensive tablets, of course, such as the Google Nexus 7 (from $199) and iPad mini (from $329), but because a tablet can do so much more than an ebook reader, and with more power and speed and a beautiful color screen, you need to pay for these added luxuries. Tablets are also usually a bit heavier and bigger than dedicated ebook readers, which makes them less portable and not as comfortable to hold for extended periods of time. For bookworms, tablets have screens that are ideal for indoors but not so much outside because they’re backlit and glossy (and thus, words are hard to see or there’s glare) — but on the flipside, most ebook readers require a light on or small lamp beside you to read in dimly-lit environments.
If all you want is a portable and affordable ebook reader, there’s no need to buy a pricier tablet with all the bells and whistles you won’t use. On the other hand, if you’d like a thin, lightweight and touchscreen device to carry with you — one that does a lot more than a basic ebook reader, and you prefer a larger and color screen, too – then a tablet is what you should invest in. Again, keep in mind there are “tweener” products, too – such as the $199 Kindle Fire HD or Nook HD, and $170 Kobo Vox.
Whichever device you decide to go with, happy reading!