Tablet vs E-reader vs Book: Which Is Best For Me?

If you’re anything like me, then the thought of suffering through a bus or plane trip without the company of a good book sends you into a cold sweat. Even if your level of addiction doesn’t extend quite this far, I’m sure a great many of you out there nevertheless enjoy a spot of reading in your quieter moments just the same. With the onslaught of the digital age, the once simple task of opening a book has become more than simply a matter of remembering where you left off. Tablets and e-readers of all shapes and sizes have flooded the market in recent years, and their portability and ability to hold vast libraries of books have meant that physical copies of your favourite works are becoming scarce.


That said, some people still hold out that the traditional format is best, while amongst those who have converted the debate of tablet versus e-reader is a focal point of many discussion forums. Trawling through all this information and trying to decide for yourself which product to buy can be an exhaustive process, made all the harder if you are unfamiliar in the first place with technology. After personal experience running this gauntlet, I’ve decided to pass on my experience and give my opinion as to which item you should be bringing with you on your next train ride.


Why should I buy…

A tablet? Tablets are the cool kid of the e-reader world. Bedecked with HD displays, internet access and more bells and whistles than you can poke a stick at, they deserve to be classed apart from more pure reading platforms like the Amazon Kindle, despite their similar appearance.


As soon as you buy a tablet, you have made a compromise on how comfortable you value your reading experience to be. The screens on most tablets while excellent for displaying web and media content, and typically unsuitable for long periods spent reading due to their glossy finish and bright backlighting. Backlighting will strain your eyes after some time, and after a prolonged session you may find your eyes are watering, stinging, or having trouble focusing. This can be combated somewhat by turning the brightness setting down, but in glary situations this will quickly make just seeing the screen an absolute chore.


Reading for long periods can be a pain with a bright, glossy screen.


“So then why the heck would I buy a tablet?”, I hear you asking. A tablet may not be perfect for reading it is true, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serviceable. Tablets really come into their own when paired with a user who wants and needs the other features they offer but don’t want the extra hassle of two devices. The full featured web browsers and app capability of most tablets mean you can do more than just read, and on higher end models it’s even possible to be somewhat productive, with many an app available to provide full featured office suites and the like.


If all you want to do is read books until the apocalypse without any pesky distractions, perhaps a tablet isn’t the right product for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy browsing the web, playing the odd game and generally doing a wider variety of activities, then perhaps you should consider a tablet over its less featured cousin, the e-reader.


So then, how about an e-reader? E-readers are primarily for consumers who have a lot of reading material, but want to keep it all in one place. A Kindle or other e-reader can potentially replace an entire bookshelf worth of material and store it in a space the size of a large book, saving quite drastic amounts of space. (The damage to bookshelf industry will probably be heavy, but as with any great revolution, heads must roll).


E-readers are great for portability, but don’t offer the same tactile feel as a real book.


In this respect, e-readers are very similar to their tablet brethren, but it is in the screen department that the e-reader really flexes its muscle. True e-readers possess a technology known as ‘electronic ink’ or ‘e-ink’ for short. This technology mimics the properties of ink and paper and provides both a traditional and pleasant to view method of displaying its content. E-ink displays are viewable in areas in which tablets struggle, with their matte screens adding to their effectiveness under bright or glary conditions. E-ink is also far easier to view for extended periods than more usual LCD displays found on tablets, and will not cause the same eye problems that the latter is prone to do.


However, the advantages e-ink brings are offset somewhat by the fact that the displays are nearly useless for viewing multimedia content. The screens are firmly rooted in text-only content, meaning that in general you won’t be using it for anything other than reading. The Amazon Kindle has included a rudimentary web-browser in some iterations, but due to the severe limitations of the display, the addition fails to be properly viable in any respect.


That said, e-readers are by their very definition made to read books on, and it is in this respect they excel. The e-ink screen is a pleasure to read on, and if viewing complex web-pages is what you need your device to do, then you will most likely be looking elsewhere anyway.


Last but not least, what of the traditional book? Ah yes, the book. Amongst the excitement of these emerging technologies, it’s easy to forget that they are still perfectly viable for reading your favorite novels on. Reading a proper, physical copy of any book is in my experience, a wonderful thing. People often cite reasons for this being the feel or smell of the paper, but I have a less romantic opinion; I just like knowing where I am. With a physical book, being able to see how far through the story I’m progressing is a simple matter, and watching the space between where I am and the back cover decrease is rewarding in a subtle way. With a tablet or e-reader, there is no sense of progression, as the devise stays exactly the same no matter how far through the book you are. This, unfortunately is not something that new technology will ever be able to fix, and if it is important to you, or you simply prefer the feel of a book for some other reason, then perhaps no amount of extra functions or pleasant to read screens will be able to placate you. From personal experience, I find I am less motivated to read when using a tablet or e-reader than I am with a physical book, and have hence moved back to the traditional format after a dogged foray into the new tech.


Books offer the purest reading experience, but will quickly take up space in you bag.


The decision on which reading format is best for you is a largely personal one, and the factors that apply to you may not be the same for others. In summary, users who want to combine all their various pursuits into one jack of all trades, master of none style device, the tablet is probably the best bit of kit to get the job done. If the reading experience is more important to you, and you like to read for long periods at a time, then perhaps an e-reader will have you covered. Those of you who choose to continue with the old format, a physical book, will primarily do so not for practical reasons, for there is nothing practical about a traditional book these days, but instead for nostalgia or because you simply cannot gel with the alternatives. Either way, reading has never been more accessible, and it is thanks to these new technologies that the humble pastime of sitting down with a good book should endure for a long time to come.