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Why and when the iPad is the best e-reader

Joel Mathis | April 5, 2013
There are many ways to read a book. Joel Mathis argues that you ought to cater your device choice to the kind of reading you're doing. And that, at the end of the day, there's a clear best choice.

When the Kindle appeared, readers realized that years of false starts and empty promises were over, that the e-reading revolution had really and finally arrived. And then, a kind of Cold War set in between two kinds of readers: bibliophiles who insist that wood pulp--the musty smell of real paper!--is the best way to read, and the rest of us, who increasingly love the convenience of the digital ebook era.

They're both right.

For the first time in history, when we sit down to read a book, we're faced with more than simply a choice of what to read--we must also decide how to read it. Perhaps you've found your favorite reading method, and tend to stick with it. But the truth is that different mediums offer different strengths, which are in turn tuned to different types of reading. Wedging yourself into a corner with just one device for all types of reading can deny you the pleasures and advantages of the other.

In the last two years, I've read books in numerous ways: a desktop computer, a netbook, my iPhone, my iPad, an e-ink Kindle, and--believe it or not--a good old-fashioned paper book. (I even listened to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom with the iPhone app.) The strength of those first three options, in most cases, was that they're available: If you need to read something now, they'll do in a pinch.

Mostly, though, I stick to the iPad, a basic model e-ink Kindle, or paper. The iPad is the closest thing to my default reading device, for reasons I'll get to in a second, but it's never an automatic choice. Why? Because each has its advantages.

For studious reading, I prefer the iPad. Yes, I've been out of college for years now, but in one of my other journalistic pursuits I co-host a podcast featuring interviews with authors of books on politics and policy. That means lots of reading, lots of highlighting, and lots of note-taking. The iPad is clearly best at the latter two tasks, especially the note-taking. And it keeps getting better in that regard: Amazon recently updated its Kindle iOS app to offer several different colors of highlighter ink, making it easier to color-code your notes in a book as you go. That's a feature shared by Apple's iBooks app as well, as both companies work to appeal to the educational and textbook markets.

This isn't necessarily deep reading: The iPad facilitates note-taking and skimming--the kind of reading done by college students. But at the end of a book, it's so much easier to go back, find your notes, and give yourself a Cliff's Notes overview of what you just read. If you're in information-processing mode, the iPad is usually the way to go. Making and navigating these sorts of notes on an e-ink Kindle is painful.


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