Computers were my 'thing' when I was back at school and they were how I cut my teeth in the early part of my career; technical support jobs involving guiding people through how to do stuff on the computers they used at their workplace. I did technical support as a career for about 6 years, although I've been doing technical support for people that know I can do technical support for as long as I can remember.
In a former life however, I devoured paper books with reckless abandon, shunning the usual pursuits of people my age by chewing through pages of textual goodness and escaping into whatever was happening on the page. I love the smell of new books, more so than old. Dr Chris Johnstone's Find Your Power has a nice whiff to it, and the printed photos in Sepp Holzer's Permaculture give it an entirely different, but still pleasant, aroma. As is the case for many of us I imagine, I have limited space for books. It's a small house, and working from home with my wife (Emma Cooper, author of The Alternative Kitchen Garden ...and yes, that is our back garden on the front cover) means a sizable portion of the floorspace is already set aside for our respective offices. The sad truth is that my bookshelves are just about full.
I am confident, however, that I've found a good balance between the wired and un-wired worlds of reading: electronic books, or e-books. In the main, e-books have the same content as their printed brethren, albeit with no paper, printing process or binding. These electronic book versions are simply files that are readable on computer screens, handheld book-reading devices (also known as e-book readers) and some mobile phones. As I write this in the summer of 2011, two of the most popular e-book readers are the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad, both of which I own and have used over the past few months. There are numerous (and increasing) other readers available on the market, but, as I haven't had long-term experience of them, I am not in a position to comment on them. What follows is, hopefully, a technobabble-free comparison and user review of the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad.
Key Differences: Kindle vs iPad
- The Kindle 3 has a 15cm (6") greyscale (black and white) LCD screen. The iPad has a larger 24cm (9.7") glass, full-colour touchscreen, which makes it over three times as heavy as the Kindle 3 whic is smaller and lighter, weighing in at 225g (8oz)
- The glossy iPad screen is backlit with basic brightness control, the matt-finish Kindle screen doesn't have a backlight but does have a contrast control.
- The Kindle has a small QWERTY keyboard and some navigation buttons to help you around the various menus and options. The iPad keyboard appears as part of the touch screen when needed (for example, sending an email or browsing the Internet), but it has no physical keyboard.
- Come supplied with charging cables which, when connected to the USB port on your computer, can also be used to transfer things back and forth, be they e-books, music or whatever else.
- Both devices can, in my experience, be charged from the USB port on a Solar Gorilla from my home in Oxfordshire, England on sunny days. Charging a device from solar power is all well and good in my little world, and it certainly saves on munching the juice coming out of the wall sockets.
Using iPad outdoors
Speaking of sunny days, the iPad is close to useless outside in the sun. Really, it's awful. The beautiful glossy, glass touchscreen is not fond of the sunshine, and all sunny days succeed in providing is a smeary a touchscreen. The Kindle, though, is great outdoors. The screen is not glossy, and performs far better than the iPad if you're outside on sunny days. It's far more conducive to sitting on the grass, lazing in a chair or hiding away in your garden shed, especially if you've spent the household food budget on a new Kindle and your partner isn't pleased.
Specs for iPad; specs for Kindle
The technology inside the iPad is far more advanced than the Kindle; the Kindle is designed to be an e-book reader, a job it does very well, whereas the iPad has e-book reading capabilities from one of its many thousands of applications. The Kindle has recently acquired very basic Internet browsing capability thanks to a free-to-download software update. Given the choice, I wouldn't use a Kindle for looking at web pages – for one, the colour aspect of the Internet is gone, you're surfing in shades of grey. The iPad is essentially more like a laptop or handheld computer than an e-book reader. The focus of the iPad is the overall user experience across all of the things it can do – an experience which, to me, is more intuitive than the Kindle, but this is entirely down to personal choice. Both Kindle and iPad have wireless (wi-fi) networking bits built-in as standard.
iPad and Kindle Memory Capacity
Both of these devices have an internal memory for thousands of text-centric books, but neither have a camera-style memory card slot for upgrading. The more photos, diagrams and pictures an e-book has, the larger it will be. Photo-heavy titles like Ben Law's Roundwood Timber Framing are larger than epic text-heavy works like Patrick Whitefield's recently-updated The Earth Care Manual. Simon Fairlie's Meat is a great example of text-heavy small-memory book. Except for the front and back covers, there are simple-yet-clear diagrams accompanying the text, meaning a shorter download time and less of your storage space taken up.
How readable is the text on an iPad or Kindle?
When you buy a paper book, it's typically arranged and printed to the publisher's specifications, even on this website, the text you're seeing has been formatted to be displayed in a readable style. Clever folks have already decided how far apart the words should be, how high the lines are etc. And therein lies the success: they get it right so you don't have to worry about it. However, with an e-book, you have a level of control over how you read your text. If you're familiar with changing the appearance of text in a document on a computer in, say, Microsoft Office or Word, then this is what you should expect from an e-book reader. Most readers, regardless of their origin, can change the size, spacing, and layout of the text. If you prefer large type, you can have it. If you like to have hundreds of words on a page with smaller text, no problem. Don't like the fancy font the text is shown in? Chances are you can change it to something simpler. You may find that reading on the bus is easier with more space between the lines. Once you've read a few e-books on a Kindle or iPad, you begin to know what works for you, and that's the key. The iPad has a clever function of being able to change the text background from white to sepia, giving e-books a bit of a nostalgic, aged look and being easier on the eyes late at night.
Downloading PDFs on an iPad or Kindle
Both Kindle and iPad can display PDFs. Neither device does it absolutely perfectly, but the iPad does a far better job at it and the Kindle is limited to showing shades of grey. Again, the PDF function is a fairly new addition to the Kindle via a free software update. As a reader, you are restricted to how the PDF is laid out by the publisher. There is little or no change to this layout that you as a reader can make as t he clever design folks have made the PDF to look like the paper version of the book.
Over time, publishers will make new and old books available as downloads, both from places like the Green Shopping e-books page and the relevant online stores for Kindle and iPad. Amazon's Kindle store has a larger range of books than Apple's iBooks store by virtue of it having a head-start by over a year. Both have a large selection of free-to-download books. The first Kindle-native e-book from Permanent Publications is Chrissie Sugden's Grounds For Hope and is available for immediate download from both Green Shopping and the Amazon Kindle store. Even with Amazon's relatively fast shipping, there's a lot to be said for immediate fulfillment. That's another key difference between paper books and e-books – spur-of-the-moment impulse purchases are just that, they're typically delivered to you in less than a minute and you don't need to constantly listen for delivery trucks.
iPad, Kindle and e-Book Prices
Expect to pay considerably more for an iPad than a Kindle; typically, a basic iPad is about three-and-a-half times the price of a standard Kindle. E-book prices will vary from title to title, but are largely similar across the various formats, so you won't normally pay a premium.
iPad Durability; Kindle Durability
The price difference has had a practical impact on how I treat each device, however. My Kindle is light, portable, and crucially I don't feel the need to wrap it up in cotton wool to protect it. My iPad, however, has an after-market protective cover. I am far more wary of where it's used and stored and I wouldn't dare throw it in a rucksack like I would with a Kindle.
Where can I buy an iPad, Kindle and e-Books?
You can buy a Kindle direct from Amazon.com for domestic or international shipment and selected high street and online retailers. As a resident Limey, I bought my Kindle direct from Amazon.co.uk. You can buy an iPad from the Apple store online, via their retail stores and also at other 3rd party retailers. In both cases, the prices are largely similar from place to place. In my experience, Amazon are cheapest for iPads and Kindles, though pricing in each territory will vary slightly. An interesting recent development is the arrival of an ad-supported Kindle, which is available for a lower price ($25 less) than the standard (ad-free) version, though currently only available to North America. Called the Kindle with Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers, it displays special offers and sponsored screen savers when you're not reading. There are clearly pros and cons to this new version, though it might be worth looking into if you're impervious to advertising and on a tighter budget. The screen savers on the standard version are portraits of well-known authors and other innocuous/uncontroversial book artwork.
How Big is the Carbon Footprint? - Packaging
Both companies have made thoughtful decisions on reducing packing weight and wasted space. Both product boxes are small and well-packed, with the Kindle packing verging on minimalist. At the time of purchasing, both of my devices has card outers and no blown polystyrene inside. The Kindle tray was recycled card and I don't recall any plastic being used. My iPad packing tray was marked as PET and can be readily recycled where facilities exist. Less wasted space in the box means more efficient packing, which means fewer cargo shipping containers in the long run. Ultimately, each device was designed in the USA, manufactured and assembled in China and then shipped to its destination, so bear this in mind if you are mindful of the embodied carbon of each device.
Conclusion: What's the best e-reader?
Within the confines of an article about e-books, it's fair to say the extra stuff the iPad can do make it more suitable for people who are less voracious book consumers and want more of a computer experience with email, web browsing and the like. If I wanted a device primarily for reading text-heavy e-books, I'd get a Kindle. It does the job very well and I'm completely happy with it. Whether or not e-books are appropriate for the permaculture movement remains to be seen: there are compelling and rational arguments for and against, something which I'll go into more detail with in a future article.
If I've achieved what I set out to do, you're read this far and learned a bit (or a lot) about the basics of Kindles and iPads. I could talk for hours on this subject but I will close by asking you to leave any outstanding questions in the comments below if you've got that spooked look on your face after reading this, and I will do my best to answer them. For now, however, I am going to shut down my computer, grab my Kindle, go outside in the sunshine and read a book...