Reading Books on iPad and Kindle: A Comparison

I’ve now had my iPad long enough to read a couple of books all the way through and compare to the experience of reading books on my Kindle. I’ve come to the opinion that I think for many (most?) people, the iPad will be the more compelling choice. That includes people who read just a few books each year, as well as students, as texts for school become more interactive and engaging. But for lifelong readers like myself, who read long books frequently, the Kindle is a superior reading experience for a number of reasons.

In other words, they’re different devices, and one is not the superset of the other.

I’ve gone through a few stages in coming to this conclusion — pre-iPad I was convinced the iPad wouldn’t be any good for reading at all. I was wrong. The first few weeks I had my iPad, I didn’t turn on my Kindle a single time. But the last couple of weeks I’ve been balancing out usage, and finding that I’m much happier.

The iPad is, for sure, a better experience for magazines, newspapers, and (obviously) web content. (Not to mention video and interactive stuff, which the current Kindle can’t even attempt.) It’s quite an acceptable reading experience for books, too, especially if you’re reading just a few pages at a time.

But whenever I tried to read for a longer time, I found a few problems. It’s pretty heavy to hold in one hand. The touch UI means the screen is always smudgy and needs attention (that same attention I’m trying to pay to the actual content). It’s not very comfortable to hold laying down in bed. And I found that the backlit screen tended to get me worked up as I was trying to drift off to sleep — sort of defeating the whole purpose.

There’s also an unusual psychological effect that happens. My brain tends to think of my iPad first in terms of communication — checking mail, following Twitter, whatever. And so even when I’m trying to focus on a book, I find myself hopping out of the book for just a few seconds to check up on things. With Kindle, my brain seems to understand that I’m in long-form-reading mode, and stays more still.

As I’ve read full books on both devices over the past few weeks, what I’ve found empirically is that I can read faster, and for longer, and with better understanding and recall when I’m using my Kindle than when I’m reading on my iPad. I can’t prove that to you for a certainty, but it’s very obvious in my recent reading — there’s just no comparison. So for me, the iPad can’t supersede the Kindle. They’re different devices for different purposes.

When I use the iPad, in a lot of ways, I feel like I’m living in the future. It’s an amazing device — beautiful, fun to throw data around, etc. And ultimately is an incredibly interesting split between form and function. (The form has essentially nothing that indicates what the function is — it’s perfectly plastic.)

And looking at the Kindle, it feels a lot like I’m looking at the past. It’s kind of a homely looking device. Has too many buttons in weird shapes. It’s black and white. Strange to say that about an invention that didn’t even really exist 3 years ago.

But I think it’s that in-the-past-ness of the Kindle that’s also its great strength. I find my mind more still, more focused. I find myself able to pay utmost attention to the content, and to really live in the words and ideas. In an age where I’m super-twitchy to read my tweets and mails all the time, the focusing effects of Kindle vs iPad feels like a real throwback win.

It’s pretty clear to me at this point that we’ve moving into a world where we’ll all have multiple screens around us — things we used to call “televisions,” or “phones,” or “eBooks,” or “computers.” And some of those screens will be have their own light and computing power like iPad; others will have reflective displays and mostly show content that comes from the cloud, like Kindle. I think as consumers, we’ll increasingly want all our content on whatever screen happens to fit our current circumstance. What’s around, what’s easy to hold, maybe what’s easy to share with others. It’s very clear that we’ll have screens everywhere, and content connected to all of them.

Anyway, like I said at the top: I think that for most folks who only read a little bit, the value proposition of the iPad and everything it can do will be superior.

But for a guy who for his whole life has never gone anywhere without a book in his hand, the iPad just doesn’t serve me as well as the Kindle for reading books right now. That might change; I might adjust. We’ll see. But for now, for me, my Kindle is the place for books.


  1. Excellent! I fully agree with you. Same experience here. The iPad is better for business content, but the Kindle is more like a real traditional book.

  2. I like your point of view. I agree that devices with narrow specialization are better in case you need most of all this particular function, so it’s no surprise you prefer long-time reading on your Kindle which is especially made for comfortable reading. Though iPad is beyound doubt a great gadget, and its multi-functionality is its main advantage. So the case is just what you personally need it for…

  3. You’ve actually done a reasonably good comparison here, but I disagree with you on 2 points:

    One – I have found the iPad to be perfectly confortable to read while lying in bed. In bed is one of the WORST places to try and use a Kindle due to the lack of backlight.

    Two – my experience with the Kindle (and other eInk devices) is that there is not, as yet, anough contrast to make it an ideal reading device except in high-light conditions. I know not everyone feels this way, but, for me, I find it difficult to read on the Kindle unless the lighting conditions are just right. The iPad is usable in nearly every condition except direct sunlight, where the Kindle is better.

    For these reasons the iPad is proving to be my “go to” device for everything, including eBooks and reading – not the Kindle.

    That said – the Kindle software is my eBook reader of choice – not iBooks, but only because of the much bigger available library, not any quality of the software itself. If the iBook store had a better selection I would likely use it instead – I think it’s “feel” is even more natural than the Kindle device. LOL

  4. I think you make a great point about the Kindle enabling you to focus more “long-term” on what you’re ultimately doing, which is reading. You mention that sitting down with a Kindle allows you to focus more on the task of reading, than if you are sitting down with an iPad.

    The emphatic poiint I want to make here, is that surely a device that existed more than “3 years ago” is even more suited to the task? A device which is now-used-for-actual-kindle, the good old fashioned book.

    Sitting down with a e-reader, or Kindle, an iPad or an app on the iPhone is no substitute (let alone comparison) for reading a book. These devices might bring the art of literature to a wider audience, granted, but for the actual thrill of reading, of being immersed in fictional (or even non-finctional) work, one can only really say that a paper based book is the real winner.

  5. It is interesting blog! In addition, I come!

  6. nice article…thanks

  7. thanks for your review. I’m torn between the Kindle and iPad but your perspective nudges me closer to the Kindle. I just don’t think the iPad is going to be worth my while in the long term as an ereader. thanks again, and it would be great if you could post a follow-up again in a few months.

  8. JoAnne SanMateo

    Excellent review. I agree with you especially on being able to better focus when reading on the Kindle. I’m the type of person who’s always tempted to check my email, check websites, or just plain get distracted with other things that an iPad is capable of.

    I have many uses of course for iPad. Recognizing the strengths of both devices is key.