[This week is Off-Topic Week at TOP—Ctein's forthcoming column (the post above this one) excepted. This is just a temporary interlude, not a permanent change of direction. Please join us next Monday morning when we'll resume normal programming. —Ed.]
Despite owning a Kindle Paperwhite, which I do like, in recent months I've taken to doing almost all of my book reading (and a little more—see below) on my iPad Air. I have the basic 16 GB Wi-Fi model (in white), which currently costs $493.94. Unlike Ctein I am not a power user: I use the iPad Air for reading and surfing and little else, so 16 GB is plenty. I also have the Smart Cover in black (it comes in a number of colors as well). Some people hate the Smart Cover but I like it a lot. The new one has three sections, so, unlike the older one, it doesn't overlap when it's configured in a triangular shape to use as a stand, but I don't have any trouble with that or any objection to it.
I find the iPad Air to be an immensely pleasing device, but not necessarily actively so—for the most part, for me, it has simply become transparent. I take it with me when I might need something to read (in doctors' waiting rooms or when I'm dining in restaurants alone) and I read with it in my armchair and in bed. I also use it for surfing the Web when I'm watching TV. Battery life is excellent and never an issue for my uses, although charging time is relatively slow. The size and weight are just about perfect—I wouldn't want it any smaller or larger and I don't even think I'd prefer it to be lighter—it has a nice heft and is light and easily hand-holdable as it is. As I say, it disappears for me.
The only time when this transparency in use fails is in particularly bright light or outdoors, when the screen becomes dark, sometimes even too dark to read. If you read outdoors or on the beach, the Paperwhite pulls ahead. I seldom read in bright light so this is rarely an issue for me.
Both devices have illuminated screens, which is much more of a factor for me—my favorite Japanese restaurant is usually too dimly lit to comfortably read print magazines, and I read in bed in the dark. Which screen you will prefer is a matter of taste—the conventional wisdom is that iPads cause "eyestrain" and that the Kindle is better, but the conventional wisdom is not true for me. I'm continually conscious of both the grayish look of the Paperwhite screen and its unevenness, and find the exceptionally clean, bright, crisp look of the iPad Air screen to be much more pleasing. "Eyestrain" is not an issue.
The best thing about an e-reader, apart from the illuminated screen and the absence of physical bulk of files as opposed to stacks of bound paper, is that every book has variable type size. You can make every book a "large print" book or, in my case, a "right-sized print" book, adjusting the font size to taste for any file and reading situation. Very nice.
I still do think that e-readers are best for "read straight through" books of text, but publishers are getting better about illustrations. The last book I finished, Charles C. Mann's 1491, Second Edition (an excellent and fascinating layperson's survey of the current state of pre-Columbian archaeology, a gift from my friend Steve Rosenblum), has a number of black-and-white illustrations. Enlarging the illustrations to full page size is easy and makes them adequately legible, but throughout the book the captions for each illustration appeared on the screen following the image, often above the next image. They'll get it right eventually. Illustrations fare much better on the iPad Air than on the Paperwhite.
I do my reading with the Kindle app and use my computer or the Kindle Paperwhite for purchases from Amazon.
Recently, I've been experimenting with reading magazines on the iPad Air as well. I subscribed to the late David E. Davis's Automobile magazine and have been reading the electronic version. Magazines are a different kettle of fish, because they're so much more illustration-intensive, and I would imagine that each one is different, depending on how good each publisher is at setting up the files. I haven't investigated magazines on the iPad deeply enough yet to know. I'll find out, because based on my good experience with Automobile I'll be reading more magazines on the iPad Air in the future.
E-readers have changed my book buying habits. I now seldom buy reading material in print form, although in certain rare cases I will buy a hardcover version of a book I particularly love after reading it on the e-reader, just because I want to have it. My book buying has thus shifted almost competely to the purchase of photographic books. I have one photographic book in electronic format and actually didn't mind reading it and looking at the pictures on the iPad Air at all—I wouldn't hesitate to buy another—but I prefer ink on paper with photographs.
The bottom line is that I now prefer to do my reading on e-readers, and I prefer the iPad Air above all the other e-readers I've owned (it's my fourth one) or seen. My current book is How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It, Arthur Herman's classic (and wonderful) account of the Scottish Enlightenment, which I'm reading for the second time. Even though I have the print version already, I bought the Kindle version this time around, and am reading it on the iPad.
UPDATE: Kindly commenters have reminded me of three important things I left out of this article. First, that the magazine on the iPad allows for links and multimedia presentations—the current issue of Automobile has two or three videos inline with the contents, which is really pretty great.
Secondly, price: the iPad is overkill as an e-reader, whether compared to the Kindle Paperwhite or to competing tablets. The Barnes and Noble Nook (which might not be around much longer) is dirt cheap by comparison, and the Kindle itself is a fraction of the cost of the Apple product (although as you can see from Ctein's post above this one, the iPad Air is useful for a lot more things, too, including editing pictures, and displaying pictures—not to mention taking pictures! As an e-reader it's expensive, but as an auxiliary computer it's quite reasonable).
And thirdly, the Kindle app allows for syncing between the Kindle Paperwhite and the iPad (and, presumably, other devices). Regardless of which one I pick up or take along, each device remembers what page I'm on even if I'm switching from the other one. Very convenient.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Rob (partial comment): "As far as I am concerned, the Smart Cover is a work of genius. I cannot understand how anyone could think otherwise."
Rowan: "Interesting article. I still far prefer reading paper books over e-books, but well over half my magazine consumption is now done through my iPad, and I read a lot of magazines. I think I see books as possessions, but magazines as consumables."
Moose (partial comment): "You...don't mention the cost differences. I recently bought a backup Nook for our two on sale for $39, less than 1/10 the cost of the iPad Air. That makes a really big difference in how casually one may treat it, more like a book. If it gets lost or broken, it's no big deal, so I'll take and use it anywhere.
Dennis Mook: "To surreptitiously bring in a photographic reference to this non-photographic week, I download and keep a PDF copy of all my cameras' user manuals on my iPad for instant reference. Very handy when you can't quite remember how to get from here to there on our electronic marvels."
Pat Trent: "Mike, reading your column is always a rewarding experience, but especially so today. Thanks to you I learned of two books, 1491 and the companion volume, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, both of which I just purchased for our Kindle Fires. My husband and I will thoroughly enjoy them over this coming rainy weekend while my cameras sit on the shelf awaiting drier weather."