Distraction-Free Reading on Tablets? Should You Buy One?

Tablets are the latest tech fad and for good reason. Compared with laptops, they’re more portable, they have longer battery life, and they’re easier to use and maintain. This makes for a superior experience for displaying a wide variety of content. I suspect that within a few years, tablets will be a general purpose computing appliance that is easier to use, maintain, and secure than traditional computers.

But are they good for distraction-free reading of the sort I talk about so much at FilterJoe? Should you spend $500 or more on a tablet for use as a dedicated reader? Or should you stick with a less expensive iPod Touch or Kindle for reading?

Bleeding Edge Technology

Many people are happy to read on iPhones, iPod Touches, and other phone models with great screens such as the Samsung Galaxy S. They’re portable. They’re fast. And they’re flexible.

Flexible as these pocket computers are, some people prefer a larger screen for reading. Some formats like PDFs or kid’s picture books involve compromises on smaller screens. Some people will never get used to reading 30-40 words per line that happens on an iPod Touch or a phone. And reading a book on one of these devices to your small child is not a great experience. I’ve tried.

So is it time to buy a tablet for use as a dedicated e-Book reader? Not yet.

Perhaps a better title for this post would have been, “Time for Readers to Buy Tablets? No! Don’t Buy Bleeding Edge Technology!”

The reader-friendly tablet category is new. It was started by Apple with the launch of the iPad in April, 2010. This is bleeding edge technology.

Avoid Buying Bleeding Edge Consumer Gadgets

There are several reasons to avoid buying any bleeding edge consumer gadget.

  • You pay a high price to be an early adopter. These $500-$800 devices will be $200-$400 within 3 years.
  • Early models are never as good as later models. Expect a combination of added features, better hardware, and refined software within 2-3 years.
  • Working through bugs and frequent software upgrades is a distracting waste of time. These issues mostly go away after several years of refinement.

The Garmin GPS navigator that I bought for my car for $140 in late 2009 was faster, lighter, simpler, and has had far fewer problems than the broken Garmin it replaced. The one that cost $440 in 2007. Argh!

There are also reasons to avoid buying a tablet at this time for those who primarily want a reading device:

  • The screen resolution of current tablets is less than half the resolution of screens found on many high end phones and the iPod Touch. This can be the difference between experiencing eye strain or not for some people. I’m one of them.
  • The iPad and many other tablets weigh more than most books, and are therefore less comfortable to hold for extended reading. Tablets will weigh less with each new generation.
  • Dedicated E-book readers such as the Kindle and the Nook cost less, weigh less, and are better focused on reading. The iPod Touch is also a better reading option with its high resolution display and much lower price.

Many People Will Buy Tablets

I don’t mean to knock the tablet category. Many people are happy with their tablets. I’d happily buy a version of the iPad at half the current weight, half the current price, and double the current pixel density. It would be a great device for reading material such as PDFs and picture books that are hard to squeeze onto smaller devices. It might become my main reading device for both work and home.

And who am I to argue with the success of tablets? These devices can do far more than e-book readers. Many people bought tablets in 2010 and many more will buy them in 2011. Reasons will vary from the practical (fits my needs) to fandom (It’s Apple. I have to try it!) to experimentation (It’s new. It’s all the rage. I have to try it!). For many people, $500 to $800 is not a big deal.

Early Adopters Spend More Time and Money

Tablets are winning many fans and I expect them to rapidly improve as reading devices. However, tablets are currently bleeding edge technology.

Early adopters of bleeding edge technology spend more time and money on their gadgets. Avoid distraction and extra expense by avoiding bleeding edge technology.

You may not care about a few hundred extra dollars or the extra time spent on your bleeding edge tablet. And you may find your tablet so useful for so many things besides reading that it’s a great value for you.

But if your primary use will be reading, then you’ll benefit from a lighter, lower cost tablet with a better display. Wait a year or two, and you’ll get it.

Author: Joe Golton

I’m a dad with a son who loves baseball. Professionally, I’ve been a software developer, investor, controller, and logistics manager. I now make my living from this blog, supplemented with occasional consulting gigs.

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