eReader and Tablet Buying Guide (Part 1)

Buying an ereader or a tablet has become increasingly daunting and confusing for many consumers. You’ve finally decided to buy a tablet or ereader. But which one to buy? What features are important? Is bigger necessarily better? Do you need to spend extra money on all the bells and whistles? The list goes on and on.

There is not one week that goes by without another e reader or tablet manufacturer entering into the already hot-contested market.  An ereader or a tablet has been the “it” gadget to buy for the past few holidays. 

In this guide, I’ll share some insight into the major differences between an ereader or a tablet and what to look for when buying for one vs. the other. I hope it will help you answer a few burning questions and make the best buying decision based on your needs.

For the simplicity, I am going to focus on only four brands, Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nooks, Apple’s iPads and Sony Readers and Tablets in this guide, but the logic would apply to any other brand.

new-ipad-vs-kindle-toucheReader vs Tablet

An ereader is a portable electronic device primarily designed for reading books and periodicals. The device allows a consumer to browse, shop, download and read digital content via wireless connection.  Most e book readers are in gray-scales of 8 to 16.

A tablet is a mobile computer or a tablet PC with a touchscreen or a pen interface that’s great for multi-media content consumption besides e reading.  All tablets are in color. Please refer to my comprehensive comparison of ereaders vs. tablets for more details.

In this guide, the two terms will be referenced often together and at times interchangeably.  Where appropriate, I’ll highlight the major differences in them.

What’s Your Main Use?

Before delving into the specific features of ereaders or tablets, it is very important for you to decide what  you would use the device for.  If you want to read, then get an ereader.  If you’d like to enjoy rich media content (videos, movies, magazines, TV shows, music, web browsing, email, etc.), a tablet would be a smart choice.  If you are somewhere in between the two, I would advise you to get a tablet just in case you will expand your use of the device in the near future.

1.     Display – Technology, Size and Color

Display Technology

One of the most distinct features in an ereader is marked by the screen display.  There are two types of display technology which are E Ink in e-readers vs. backlit IPS LCD in tablets. 

There are several advantages of E Ink Technology.

  • It displays text much like actual paper.
  • It has very little glare due to the reflective nature of E Ink.
  • It’s great for reading in bright light such as outdoors.
  • It doesn’t cause much eye strain and is designed for reading for hours.

The benefits of having an LCD display in a tablet PC are:

  • It is designed to display colors and images.
  • It has a wider angle viewing angle thanks to IPS technology for sharing and viewing multi-media content (e.g. movies, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, and games).
  • It is OK for reading (not as good as E Ink) and great for viewing in the dark without external light source due to the backlit LCD.

Display Size

Size does matter when shopping for an ereader or a tablet.  Most brands and models come with display screen size from 5 to 10 inches diagonally. It goes without saying the bigger is better in terms of the size because it offers bigger viewing area.  But the flip side of being bigger is that it is heavier in weight.  All things considered, the weight of the heaviest tablet is still much lighter comparing to a laptop.

The most popular size is 6” for top-selling ereaders.  Several ereaders are equipped with a feature that allows you to adjust the font size and style.

For example, if you are a baby boomer, you might want to adjust the font size up so you won’t have to hold the device two miles away to see clearly.  The opposite is true that you can adjust the font size down if you want to have a full page of text shown once without zooming in and out.

Display Color

As I mentioned earlier, most of the ereaders are in gray scale, sort of in black and white.  On the other hand, all tablets are displayed in color.  Some brands are better with more vibrant colors due to higher resolution and more color saturation.  So far, the new iPad has the best display, also marketed as Retina Display.  For more details on the new iPad, please read my full review.

2.     Design, Weight and Dimensions

When it comes to the design of ereaders/tablets, homogeneity seems to be the norm.  Most of the manufacturers have adopted a minimalistic style with either high quality plastic or aluminum. The aim is to be simplistic, cost-effective, light-weight, yet durable.

Comparing to a laptop, an ereader is really feather-like in weight.  Most of the ebook readers weigh between half a pound up to one and a half pound. The dimension is about the size of a paperback to slightly larger.

The easy adoption of ereaders by the masses is partially due to the light weight and compact size.  It’s easy to carry it around and doesn’t take much space to tuck it away in a purse or bag.

(Go to Part 2)