/ 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?

Buffalogirl says:
13 October 2017

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.

Steve says:
8 December 2012

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: