A colleague asked me to weigh in on the difference between eReaders and tablets. She's considering buying one or the other, but is confused by the similarities between the two.
Tablets like the Google Nexus 7 or iPad mini are my own preference. The tablet computer is a powerful, versatile machine for web surfing, staying connected with social networks and consuming entertainment like video and music while on the go. They have dedicated apps that allow them to function like eReaders, and the smaller tablets at 7 or 8 inches in diameter fit well in the hand for extended reading sessions. For sheer capability, a tablet blows away an eReader.
But eReaders are less expensive than tablets. So what's the better buy? If all you want to do is read books and don't care about updating your Facebook status or watching Netflix on the go, an eReader is the obvious choice. That's especially true if you're headed to the beach this summer.
An eReader is really just a dedicated, limited tablet and looks superficially the same as a conventional tablet except that it is lighter and smaller with sizes from five to six inches in diameter.
eReaders have better battery life than tablets. Compared to a tablet that requires recharging every second day, an eReader can run for days or even a couple of weeks on a single charge depending on your usage. That's an important consideration since palm trees don't carry electrical outlets.
The screens on eReaders are different than tablets and more closely replicate actual printed pages in how they function. Most eReader screens require an external light source for reading and perform well outdoors, compared to tablets screens which bleach out or suffer glare in direct sunlight.
Indoors, the difference in screens between tablets and eReaders is a tossup. Some people find tablet screens, which use the same technology as a computer monitor, cause eyestrain after long reading sessions, but I haven't found this to be the case.
Both eReaders and e-reading apps on tablets allow you to adjust font type and size, and in this both have a tremendous advantage over traditional books. For older eyes in need of bigger print, this is a key consideration.
Tablets have a lot more memory than eReaders, but that's because they need it for huge files like video, music and photos. Any eReader on the market has enough memory to hold hundreds or even thousands of books, which is all anyone needs in a device the size of a mid-sized paperback.
If you opt for an eReader, expect to pay $100 or more, compared to tablet prices which range from $200 to $320 for the book-sized models.
The popular eReaders in Canada are the Kobo, Kindle and Sony readers. Each has their own dedicated bookstore from which to purchase electronic books, usually directly from the eReader device through a wifi connection.
The debate rages online about which is the best eReader for Canadians, who have fewer choices for purchase compared to our American neighbours. The Kindle is praised for its hardware and customer support but it tries hard to restrict purchases to the Amazon digital bookstore thanks to its use of a proprietary ebook file type.
Unlike the Kobo or Sony readers, it does not support borrowing free ebooks from libraries in Canada or (easily) purchasing books from third-party bookstores. My sense is that the difference in books available from the Kobo or Kindle stores is a wash.
I'd suggest looking up titles you'd like to buy and comparing their pricing and availability from the competing stores before jumping to one camp or another.
Fortunately many free books, usually pre-20th century classic literature that is no longer under copyright, are available for all eReaders.
(The site Canada-eReaders.com has an interesting post, with reader comments, on the Kobo versus Kindle debate. Find the link "Kobo vs. Kindle Smackdown 2".)
So why do I stick with a tablet for e-reading? The answer again comes down to flexibility. With my Nexus 7, I can use apps to access and read books from both the Kindle and Kobo stores.
I can also buy books from Google Play, which has a bookstore for Android tablets. (iPad owners can buy books from Kobo and Kindle as well as from Apple's proprietary iBooks store.) I like having that great range of choice.
If you're going the tablet route, the Google Nexus 7 is still my best value pick for Canadian tablet buyers. But also take a look at the Kobo Arc.
Barry Link is the editor of the Vancouver Courier.
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