/ Technology

E-readers vs tablets – the tale of two technologies

A stack of rainbow-coloured books propping up an ebook reader

I used to be sceptical about reading on any kind of digital device, whether it be a computer, ebook reader, tablet or laptop. Which paper-free reading option is the most enjoyable?

When I had to read through long essays at uni, I always preferred to print them rather than stare at the screen. I found I picked up more mistakes that way.

But when I joined the Tech team at Which? I realised the debate had moved on. It wasn’t just digital devices vs traditional paper. The current question is whether you need an ebook reader or whether it’s best to invest in a tablet,which is more versatile.

So I decided to do my own test. I took home the basic Amazon Kindle and the new Apple iPad for the weekend to see how I got on using both for reading. I slowly converted from a paper lover to the joys of the e-ink screen, but couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the tablet reading experience.

The tale of a tiring tablet

Some argue that you can read just as easily on a tablet using an ebook reader app, such as the Kindle or Apple iBooks apps. And it’s true these devices provide a means of reading in a very similar way to ebooks.

But for me it’s a horrible experience that doesn’t get anywhere near the standard of an e-reader. The glare from the screen tires my eyes quickly, invariably leaving me with a headache. And if you’ve been using your tablet to surf the internet all day, it’s likely to run out of battery just when your book gets exciting.

Plus, tablets readily serve up a huge array of distractions. Settling down to find out what happens when Pi arrived on the island in ’Life of Pi‘, I was distracted by a Facebook notification and drawn into my cyber social life for 20 minutes – losing precious reading time. This is perhaps more of a criticism of my attention span than the fault of my tablet. Nonetheless, if I had been using an e-reader I would have plunged straight into my book without procrastinating.

Shedding light on the subject

E-readers have the advantage of the e-ink screen. It reflects light in the way that a normal page would, rather than giving out light like a tablet. This is much kinder on the eyes. And now you can get illuminated versions, with lights round the edge that mean you can continue reading after lights out. Thanks to their matte screen it’s also easy to read outside, even on a really sunny day. So if you want to relax by the pool with a good read, the e-reader wins here.

In terms of an e-reader’s battery life we’re talking a matter of weeks and even months, not hours. It clearly wins hands down against the tablet. And best of all, the most basic (but still decent) e-reader comes in at under £70. By comparison the best entry level tablet will set you back about £200.

So, if you’re an avid reader like me, I’d stick to the real thing or else buy an e-reader. Nothing else comes close to simulating the book experience.


I’m not sure that being interrupted by a Facebook notification is a valid criticism of a tablet. Can these not be disabled?

Just set the tablet to flight mode if you don’t want to be interrupted.

The chief problem for quick readers is the small screen size. I have bought an Onyx Boox from Germany and that is a great pleasure to read.

A screen size of the Pad but with e-ink and multiple book formats. It can incidentally play music and browse very slowly but that is not important. I found recently a friend , a keen reader, with severe eye problems could actually read on the Boox as we could enlarge a variety of fonts to 24 point [or more].

Because it is impossible to find them in the UK or mentioned in the media the market is served from Holland and Germany which helps to add to the expense. I feel if more people were aware of the size being available they would reap the benefits of mass-market though inevitably the .screen being over three times larger it will always be more costly.

However you only have one set of eyes and buying the best reading lights and the best e-reader is peanuts compared to further ruining my old eyes.

Stephen says:
9 December 2012

How well does the Onyx Boox work with pdfs? I have a lot of material in pdf format (often two column) which would not fit well on a small screen. In original format it is supposed to be read as A4 or Letter size. It is not great reading it on a conventionally orientated computer screen either as you have to scroll up and down to get to the next column and often lose your place. If I want to seriously read an article it usually ends up printed.

Stephen. – Its absolutely fine for PDF’s and one of the reasons to buy it. I read a serious amount of pdf documents from financial, medical to WW2 official histories [ where maps become more legible]. I checked through and two blocks of print on a single page are very legibly reproduced.

It is worth pointing out that for some reason not everything that claims to be a pdf can be read and I very occasionally have one that my main computer can read but the Boox not – but that is normally when I have used Open Office to output something in pdf. format.

I am very very happy with the Boox. It came on our last holiday and by making pdf’s on the Wikipedia articles on the places we were visiting we had a very full extensive guidebook held lightly in our hands.

Which have just released an article stating that many e-readers gave poor reliability.

I am not a keen reader, I prefer to oisten to music. I wouldn’t be moved from my iPad as it has so many other uses. I use it at work every day. E-ink is excellent in the sun though.

William France says:
9 December 2012

I was not interested in e-readers, however, I was given a Kindle for Christmas last year. Since then I have not looked at a paper book.

It is small enough to fit in my jacket pocket and I can carry what would be a weighty volume easily.
The experience is so like reading a book that for a couple of months after I started using it, I turned the Kindle over to read the next page!

Using my wife’s tablet is not the same at all the same. It is too big for a pocket and heavier. I als find the back-lit screen more tiring. It has many valuable features but e-books are distinctly a compromise.

Kati says:
9 December 2012

I prefer books , always books

William France says:
9 December 2012

I have to agree that books have no real substitute. But, I live in France and browsing a bookshop is a treat even a luxury. I have not seen an English book in a bookshop here other than tourist guides. Though I have not looked too closely. The e-books can be downloaded easily and don’t necessitate a trip back to the UK. I could of course order them mail order, but now I can carry practically a library into a doctor’s waiting room, old magazines in French don’t really interest me.

Read this article and additional comments with interest as I’ve been considering buying my wife a Kindle Reader for Xmas. Views here have confirmed what I had already suspected, i.e. that there’s no substitute for the look and feel of ‘real book’. There’s more to it than just words / text – what about the artwork that goes into the book cover. Also how do you lend a friend a book that you’ve really enjoyed – without lending them your reader! There are some things in life that technology really can’t improve upon.
PS: By the way I’m not a luddite and I work in IT.
PPS: I’ll buy her some books instead.

Li Jun Li says:
10 March 2013

I’m considering writing an ebook aimed at University students As they are computer saavy and impoverished I think if I publish my student recipe book in e format, it will be pirated at shared (I don’t know if ebboks are encrypted?) With a hardcopy paperback can’t give it away freely

Li Jun Li

Li Jun Li says:
10 March 2013

I’m considering writing an ebook aimed at University students As they are computer saavy and impoverished I think if I publish my student recipe book in e format, it will be pirated at shared (I don’t know if ebooks are encrypted?) With a hardcopy paperback they can’t give it away freely

Paddy Murphy says:
5 February 2013

In practical bed reading terms an E Reader should be light and easily holdable in one hand for a long period. A maximum 200/220 gram 7 inch E reader would be my objective. Have a 395 gram Samsung Galaxy. Much too heavy as an E Reader. Borrowed brothers 210 gram Kindle 6 inch screen. Good, but would like that marginal extra 1 inch length. Maybe one readable type style less for more on one page.

For people considering buying an e-reader the speed that they read and the size of font that is comfortable IMO should be important. Using my standard size Sony e-reader it was a case of perpetually paging on as the screen-size was insufficiently large.

Going to a full-size e-reader has been a great pleasure and I really do think that Which? has done its readers a disservice by not mentioning the full-size e-readers as an option. One would hope that Which? could manage to give a full overview of what the options are in this area.

I am feeling totaly lost re kindle or similar. I read a lot, and my children have moved to kindle while my wife and I have stayed ‘old fashioned’ and continue to read the paper versions which we share.
I am beginning to consider Kindle or similar but want to incorporate a working tablet so that when away from home can read emails and search the financial sites I use on the webb. I dont download this so i do not want a large capacity, I will not be downloading films or music. I believe that once I have the tablet my wife will also want similar.Taking the kindle range what do I need , do i need the 16/32 kb or can I get away with something like the paperwhite?

Chris Gordon says:
12 November 2013

I have a Sony e-reader but find the 6″ screen size too small. I read a lot and am concerned about the eye strain from using a tablet to read. I’ve never seen a larger e-reader though would like one. I’m also thinking of getting an IPad mini tablet but not sure why it would be like as a reader in longer term.

Perhaps “Which’ could also assess tablets for their usefulness as e-readers and how far they can be adjusted to prevent eye strain from the backlighting..and review any larger e-readers.

I have had two of the large screen e-readers, a Boox M75 AFAIR which unfortunately I sat on!! I now have a Pocketbook Pro 912 which has a 9.5″ screen [measured in the traditional diagonal.]
We also have a Kobo and a defunct Sony e-reader with the irreplaceable battery.

The Pocketbook comes pre-loaded with many novels and dictionaries in many many languages …. including Welsh!! The Chess programme is evilly good and I suspect the Suduko will appeal to some, and a couple of other games.

Does the normal tricks of reading to you, playing music and can even browse but not very quickly. Of course unlike many readers it can read all the main formats such as epub, docs, txt, rtf, pdf, mobi, html, fb2, and display jpgs.

Particularly useful is all the formats means there is an incredible range to read and I have many a good book from Gutenberg. There are also a lot of interesting pdf.’s from the Web even the Which accounts. : ) I will have it with me at the AGM next week if anyone wants to see it.

So it costs around £200 through Amazon; so more than the Which? best buys which if you read the spec have 6mm screens. Somehow I hoped that would have been corrected by now ……

Paper-white screens are expensive and so I expect to pay more for a bigger reader -and it is only £30 odd more expensive than the most expensive Kindle. I work on the theory I will only have one set of eyes and as a bigger reader is less stressful I am going with that.

So why don’t Which? mention to its subscribers that there are other, and larger e-readers? OK so I have had to buy them from the EU but that does not mean that they should be kept a secret does it? If anything even more reason to test them as it is not as easy to see them in the flesh.