The Kobo eReader vs. the iPad
I’ve been toying with the idea of buying an ebook reader for some time, ever since the Kindle was released. Since it wasn’t available in Canada, I looked for, and used, alternatives such as my iPod Touch, an EeePC, and an Archos 5 Internet Tablet. None of these have been satisfactory for a number of reasons. When the iPad was announced, it looked like an interesting option. But with the availability pushed back in Canada, I was left waiting once again. In the meanwhile, the Kobo eReader was announced, and made available. I pre-ordered one and it arrived just last week. I’ve since read my first full novel on it, and have some thoughts. And just yesterday, I got a chance to test out a friend’s imported iPad for a good half hour. So, finally I can compare the Kobo eReader to the Apple iPad.
First off, the Kobo eReader is just an ebook reader. It doesn’t have WiFi access (though it does have Bluetooth), or a web browser, nor does it play music files. So, in comparing it to the iPad, I will only looks at the iPad’s ebook capabilities. Yes, the iPad can do so much more, but that’s not necessarily a good thing… if you just want to read books.
Right off the bat, the first thing you notice about the Kobo eReader is that it’s thin (10mm) and light. It’s as light as, or even lighter than, the average paperback: 221g (0.5 lb) — that’s a third of the weight of the iPad (hmm, and a third of the price as well!). And the screen is about the same size as a paperback page, 6″ diagonal. And just like a paperback, you get black text on a white page. But there the similarities end. Some of the advantages of reading on the Kobo eReader (or on similar devices like the Kindle) compared to paper books, and compared to the iPad:
- You can change font size. If I’m reading a paper book and am a bit tired, turning a page to find a long paragraph in a small font size is a bit daunting – all those words to wade through! With the eReader, I can just bump up the font size so that I only see a bite-size amount of text. This also helps if the lighting is dim, for there’s no back-light.
- You can hold it like a book. Duh, you say. But the iPad is so much heavier , 0.7 kg (1.5 lb, and 1.6 for the 3G version), that I’m sure it’ll get tiring to hold it unsupported after a short while. The eReader is light enough that I can hold it for hours ‘twixt finger and thumb.
- You can only read a book. At first I thought this might be a disadvantage. I mean, the iPad can do so much more than read books. But the longer I read on the eReader, the more I like the fact that it helps me to stay present, or rather, lose the present and immerse myself in my novel. There are no Facebook notifications popping up to distract me. More and more, I consider this a feature, not a flaw.
- The battery life is essentially infinite. With the eInk screen, there’s no power required to display a page. You can “leave the book open” at a certain page for a day, or a week, and the battery won’t have dropped. eInk screens only consume power when changing a page. So the battery life is not quoted in hours, but in page turns. The eReader’s battery lasts 8000 page-turns; that’s about 10 War & Peace novels! With my Archos 5 tablet, I was always aware that the battery was running down while I was reading, and my inclination was to try to reduce the brightness all the time. And, if I stopped reading for more than a minute, the screen would shut off and activate the screen-lock, forcing me to unlock the device before I could continue. Though the iPad’s battery will last 10 hours, you will not be able to take it camping for a week off-grid and do very much reading. (Sure, you can take along a solar charger for it, but that adds weight, complexity and cost).
- It comes pre-loaded with 100 classic books. That makes the device a bargain beyond its low retail price of $149, which is $100 less than the Kindle. I mean, if you went to a used bookstore you’d pay well over $150 for those 100 books. It’s like buying a library of classic literature, and they threw in the reader for free.
- The memory is expandable. In the unlikely event that you fill up the internal memory (those 100 books take up only 120 MB of the 1 GB internal storage), you can just pop an SD card into the slot and add thousands more books. If you live in a small apartment like I do, there’s a considerable appeal to the reduction of the physical amount of bookshelf space I need to house my book collection.
- It’s not a shiny bauble like an iPad, and as such is less likely to be ripped from your hands by a thief as you sit reading it on a park-bench somewhere.
And now some of the disadvantages of a dedicated eReader like the Kobo (and the Kindle):
- The screens are black & white, so you won’t see the lovely colour illustrations that are included in some printed books. Clearly, the iPad has an advantage in this regard… which is why Apple included the colourful Winnie The Pooh with the iPad, and why it’s promoted the iPad as a colour magazine reader.
- The page-turns take a couple of seconds, and involve the whole screen flashing to black momentarily. It’s a bit like a mild electric shock the first time you experience it. After a while you get used to it, and to pressing the Next Page button as you begin to read the last line of the current page. The iPad has a much more pleasant page-turning experience, at least if you want to see a full-colour animation of an actual physical page moving each time you want to advance a screen.
- With the initial version of the Kobo software, PDF documents are a pain to read. Their content does not reflow as you change zoom size, so you end up having to scroll sideways on the page to read them. I understand that this is likely to change in an upcoming firmware update.
As for the iPad, it seems to me to be a wonderful little general-purpose computer that many will love to own, though it is overkill for the simple task of reading books. There are lots more opinions about the iPad as an ebook reader on the TUAW site. And for more user opinions and discussions on the Kobo eReader, check out the MobileRead.com user forum.
What are your thoughts about dedicated ebook readers versus multipurpose devices like the iPad?