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Kindle, iPad or the old pen and pad?

About a month ago I bought a Kindle e-book reader.  In this column I’ll tell you why a chose the Kindle instead of other e-book readers, including the iPad.  I’ll also discuss why a Kindle may be right for me, but not right for you.

Amazon released its first e-book reader in Nov. 2007.  It sold out in a matter of hours.  Several of my acquaintances were among the purchasers.  They were unanimously enthusiastic about the device.  I could not see paying $399 for one.  I’m one of those people who love the touch, smell and feel of hardbound and softbound books.  I also love to underline and make notes when I read, especially in nonfiction books.  Whatever desire I might have have mustered for an e-book reader was quickly dissipate by price.  One can buy a lot of books for $399.  Even better, one can go to the library and get them really cheap.  So it was the price that caused me to dismiss the e-book reader.

Not long after the Kindle came out that I purchased my iPhone.  Lo and behold there was a free Kindle app for the iPhone.  I downloaded it and a few free books – value conscious cheapskate that I am — and began reading.  Even though the screen was small, the convenience was really nice.  I could read anywhere.  I almost did not mind waiting anymore.  I even purchased a couple of books and downloaded them.

Soon the Apple iPad came out.  Users began raving.  Indeed, the iPad had one of the highest if not the highest consumer satisfaction rate of any product ever.  Ipads were suddenly everywhere, and the question that was asked by some:  Should you get an iPad for your e-book reader instead of a Kindle or one of the other e-book readers?  There were pros and cons to each.  The iPad had a color screen and more features.  Apple claims that it is “the best way to experience the web, email, photos and videos. Hands down.”  No argument here.  But is it a good e-reader?  The answer is a resounding yes.  Magazines and newspaper articles, with their color photos and fancy graphics, come alive.  But how does it stack up and an e-BOOK reader?  Most reviews pointed out that the iPad has a screen glare that is not as prevalent as that of the Kindle.  The same is true of other e-book readers. This is exploited in recent Kindle ads in which a man with a competing e-book reader lounging at a sunny poolside can not see the screen for the glare, and asks the girl beside him how she is able to read.  She replies, “It’s a Kindle.”  She then smiles and tells him she paid more for her sunglasses.

Reviews also point out that the iPad is really overkill if one just wants to read books.  I agree.  Especially at a starting price of $499.  And it is that price feature that kept me at bay.  The original Kindle, after all, had a price tag of $359.  The Kindle 2 was introduced in the summer of 2009 at a price of $299.  I could still buy a lot of books before buying the thing.

Then a few months ago, things began to line up.  A new Kindle 3 came out in the summer of 2010 at a price of $139, which included built-in wi-fi.  Amazon.com was offering best-selling books for the Kindle for about $10.  Hmm.  Price was becoming less of an issue.  I looked at my calendar and saw that I had several upcoming travels that involved airports and airplanes.  I usually take along one fiction and one nonfiction book on such trips.  It just so happened that the two books I wanted to purchase and take with me had a combined total of 1,673 pages (“American Grace” by Robert Putnam and “Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett).  I did not want that much weight to lug around.  I also calculated that a dozen or so e-book best-sellers would pay for the Kindle when compared to purchasing hardback best-sellers.  I took the plunge and placed my order with Amazon.com.  Even the shipping was free.  So after a month of use here is my review in one paragraph.

I really like my Kindle.  It has more than ample battery life, an excellent reading screen and even a web browser.  It seems that every day I am discovering some new feature.  Yesterday, I read a few chapters on my MacBook (free Kindle download for it), and then today when I picked up my Kindle e-book reader it asked me if I wanted to sync forward and pick up reading where I had left off on my computer.  There is a long list of features that are too numerous to name here.  All are useful.

My main point here is to say that comparing the Kindle to the iPad is like comparing apples (pun intended) to oranges.  If, like me, you are buying an e-book reader then the Kindle should be compared to Barnes and Noble’s Nook e-book reader, Sony’s PRS e-book reader and similar e-readers.  A good place to start comparing is online at www.findebookreaders.com.  I did not really consider the iPad because of price and because I can do almost everything and more on my MacBook that I can do on an iPad.

It is no wonder that the Kindle e-book reader is the most wished-for, most-gifted and highest five-star rated product ever on Amazon.com.

Now back to my reading.

Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government in Jackson. Contact him at phil@philhardwick.com.


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