The popularity of Kindles and other eReaders took a nosedive once tablets went mainstream. And that’s a shame. While I don’t blame anyone for reading a book on their iPad, you bookworms would have a much better experience on an eReader. I’m talking about reduced eyestrain, fewer distractions, and a months-long battery life.
An eReader Is Easier on the Eyes
Focusing on any nearby object for an extended period is bad for your eyes. It doesn’t matter if that object is a book, a tablet, a smartphone, or an eReader—they can all contribute to eyestrain and headaches with excessive use. We spoke with optometrists, and hey, they confirmed this fact.
So, eyestrain is a natural result of reading for extended periods. The only way to avoid this eyestrain, aside from taking regular breaks, is to read on a medium that doesn’t bother your eyes too much.
It just happens that eReaders use E Ink displays, which mimic the look of paper. These screens don’t need a bright backlight, they have a non-reflective matte finish, and they’re easy to read in direct sunlight. In other words, E Ink is practically the opposite of the LCD technology that’s used in most tablets.
Now, some people believe that LCD screens contribute to eyestrain because they have a bright backlight. That’s only partially true. Using a really bright screen in a dark room will obviously give you a headache, but readability seems to be the key factor here. Optometrists agree that using an LCD in direct sunlight (where it’s hard to see) forces you to squint and strain. Screen glare can also reduce readability, and contrast that’s too intense (or too dull) can make text difficult to read.
An E Ink display eliminates some of these problems. Not only do eReaders work perfectly in direct sunlight, but they have glare-free matte screens, and they’re tuned to a very comfortable contrast ratio. Simply put, eReaders should give you less eyestrain than a regular tablet.
If you’re concerned about eyestrain, I suggest using a large eReader, cranking up the font size, and keeping it a comfortable distance from your face. Doctors also recommend following a 20/20/20 Rule for extended sessions with a computer or tablet—every 20 minutes, look at something that’s about 20 feet away for 20 seconds or more.
Tablets Are Distracting and Have a Short Battery Life
Reading eBooks on a tablet requires a very focused mind. A single bout of absentmindedness can send you totally off course—one minute you’re reading, and before you know it, you’re watching YouTube, playing a game, or blindly scrolling through Twitter.
An eReader doesn’t offer these distractions. There are no games, social media apps, or streaming services. When you use a Kindle, you’re limited to reading, buying, or listening to books and magazines.
Other brands of eReader, like the BOOX or , are a bit more fully-featured. Both have web browsers, and since BOOX runs on Android, it can technically download any old app. But the limitations of E Ink mean that distracting apps and games are still off the table.
There’s another big thing that eReaders have over tablets—a long battery life. In my opinion, this is the biggest benefit of E Ink displays. They don’t require a backlight and only refresh to show new content. A Kindle should last over a month on a charge, while your tablet may last just a few days.
eReaders Offer Plenty of Extra Features
An eReader lets you get into books without any distractions. But to be clear, eReaders aren’t overly simple. They offer some very powerful features to help you maximize your reading time (or even perform your job).
The Kindle is a pretty clear-cut example of an eReader’s capabilities. You can tap any word in an eBook for a definition, highlight sections of a book, take notes (and export them to your email), or even set bookmarks.
Kindles also double as audiobooks, and notably, Kindle actually lets you read and listen to a book at the same time. You can even read a few chapters of a book, switch to audio mode in the car, and then go back to reading the book when you have time to settle down at home.
Other eReaders, including the BOOX Nova Air, Kobo Elipsa, and Remarkable 2, double as “writing tablets.” They come with a stylus for note taking, drawing, or drafting out work ideas. You can take things a step further on these eReaders by connecting a wireless keyboard over Bluetooth.
And of course, Android-based eReaders like the BOOX Air can technically download whatever app you want. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a handy feature, but it opens the door to deep customization and experimentation.
The Drawbacks of Using an eReader
Most people agree that eReaders are better equipped for ebooks than regular tablets. Still, some people may want to stick with their tablet, and that’s understandable. For all their perks, eReaders have some downsides.
Obviously, eReaders cost money, and some of the larger models cost a few hundred bucks. Spending that money on something that’s only good for reading is a luxury, especially when iPads and laptops cost just a little bit extra.
And while eReaders are easy on the eyes, E Ink displays still feel very dated. They refresh slowly and aren’t great for images, which may be a no-go if you want to read magazines, scans of old books, comics, or children’s picture books. (Color is part of the problem. Yeah, color E Ink exists, but it’s rare, overpriced, and a bit janky.)
The biggest problem, of course, is that eReaders tend to be locked to their respective book store. Amazon is the most restrictive—if you already own a collection of eBooks, you have to jump through some serious hoops to get that content on your Kindle.
Other brands, such as Kobo, have a much simpler (though still wonky) import process. But Apple’s iPad lets you import content to the Books app straight from the file system, which is super convenient, as you can download books from the iPad’s browser, transfer them through iCloud, or exchange them with a friend over AirDrop (don’t exchange eBooks unless they’re royalty free, by the way).
Should You Buy an eReader?
If you’re a bookworm, an eReader will offer you a more enjoyable and comfortable reading experience than an iPad or Fire Tablet. Not only will you get less eyestrain, but you’ll spend less time getting distracted and more time reading.
Of course, eReaders cost money. If you’re looking for something small, you’re in luck, because small and refurbished Kindles often run for under $100. I’ve even purchased older Kindles on Woot for around $40 because they make great gifts.
But if you want a flashy new eReader with a big screen, you’ll have to cough up $200 or more. And that’s a problem, because that money may be better spent somewhere else—it’s your call.