Friday, April 15, 2011


It's not often I'm fooled by technology. I like to know how stuff works. It helps me evaluate the relative merits of the common consumer gadgets on a purely technical basis.

But on the run up to Christmas last year, as I was browsing the technology section of our local department store, I got completely taken in by one gadget in particular - Amazon's Kindle.

I'd played with Sony e-readers previously while killing time in an airport, but this was my first close encounter with a Kindle.

Well, actually, a dummy Kindle. Because of the two on display, only one was a working model - the thing I was uselessly prodding was a mock-up, with a printed sticker for a display. I really was convinced the thing had just hung and needed a hard reset.

So not only is the actual Kindle as light as an in-store fake, the screen - the e-ink display - is as convincing as a printed label.

I was impressed.

However as an iPad owner one has to make do and to be honest at that point I had yet to fully read a book - a novel - on it, from cover to cover. So to speak.

So now, it's late April, nearly a year of iPad ownership behind me and I have actually got around to reading again, the idea of getting down to some good old science fiction (Philip K. Dick) as impetus.

A few novels later, using both the Kindle app, and Apple's own iBooks, what's it like, reading on an oversized iPod?

First is the weight. iPad, 1st generation, weighs 690 grams. A large hardback picked randomly weighs in at 898 grams. Yet amazingly the book seems lighter. Crazy, I know. Something, I suspect, to do with the relative density of the two. But my gut tells me the book weighs less.

What does this prove? It proves that the iPad is a heavy old thing that needs propped up for lengthy sessions. I tend to use it landscape, resting it - well, balancing it really - between my thumb and forefinger. Mostly, though, I look to rest it up against something, like a leg, or an armrest. Or just an arm.

Anyway we knew this already. And iPad doesn't get heavier the more books you add - one of the key benefits of an e-reader.

Another important factor seems to be about location i.e. where one does one's reading. For example, on a recent flight, the iPad proved awkward to position to avoid reflections from the bright sunlight cascading through the window. This is true of viewing anything on iPad in bright daylight, something the Kindle excels in.

Conversely, in a darkened room, with the brightness of the iPad dialled as low as it will go, the reading experience is perfectly comfortable, the soft light from the screen invisible to a dozing partner.

Beyond physical aspects, the actual process of reading is just like, er, reading. Forget the arguments over eye-strain - sessions of up to one and half hours (an yes I know many people read for hours on end) were perfectly fine. In fact I'd go as far as saying that the experience is so convincing, I'd lose the notion I was reading a device, rather than a book.

Which brings me to the software.

As a book reading experience, I found the Kindle app closer to the real thing. A simple tap or swipe enough to bring up the next page. In contrast, although iBooks will flick pages on a tap, the whole, beautiful page animation thing only served to get between me and the words. I found it easier to swipe back a page on Kindle on the occasions I needed to review the last words before the page break - you know, when you lose track of the syntax of a sentence.

In conclusion, this leaves iPad as a perfectly good e-reader, but without the crisp outdoor readable display and the almost weightless feel of Kindle.

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