Why iPad owners need a Kindle, too

When I first opened Winnie-the-Pooh on my iPad’s iBooks app, my first thought was: “Oh, man. The Amazon Kindle is in trouble.” My second thought was to sell my Kindle. This impulse was strengthened after I installed the Kindle app on my iPad, which gave me access to all of my Kindle books.

But now that I’ve used an iPad for a month and a half, I’ve come to realize that I still want, need and love my Kindle.

In a nutshell, the e-book reading on the iPad is generally great. But the list of things the iPad does badly is identical to the list of things the Kindle does well. And vice versa.

Here are 13 reasons why I think every reader who owns an iPad also needs a Kindle:

1. Reading in the sun.

Most active readers enjoy reading in bright light or even direct sunlight. The iPad is unreadable in direct sunlight, but the Kindle works best in the sun.

2. Overheating.

For a tablet computer, one of the iPad’s many charms is that it’s totally silent. It has no fan. However, in direct sunlight, in a hot car or in hot weather, an iPad can overheat and shut down. The Kindle is more heat-friendly.

3. Security.

The iPad is a tempting target for thieves. If you’re going to do some reading at, say, the beach, the Kindle is vastly superior, not only because of the way it performs in sunlight and heat, but also because it’s less likely to be stolen. If you intend to tuck your reading device under a towel and take a dip in the water, well, you’re just not going to do that with your shiny new iPad, are you?

4. Reading before sleep.

It turns out that reading on or using any device with a back-lit screen can interfere with the quality of your sleep. The iPad has a very bright screen (Apple wisely built a screen dimmer slider bar right into the iBook interface). But the Kindle screen is passive, meaning that it merely reflects light. So if you’re like a lot of people who read in bed before sleep, reading on a Kindle will probably help you sleep better.

5. Battery life.

The iPad is famous for long battery life. I personally get about 12 hours of active use. But the Kindle battery lasts two weeks! If you’re traveling, camping or flying from Idaho to India, or if you find yourself in any situation where you’re going to be away from an electrical outlet for more than 12 hours, you can do your reading on a Kindle and save your iPad’s battery for other things.

6. Book availability.

If you’re a serious reader, you’re going to need an Amazon Kindle account anyway. This isn’t a strong argument in favor of owning Kindle hardware, since you can read Kindle books on the iPad app. But you can’t get by with the iBooks store alone. Since I bought my iPad, none of the non-classic books I’ve tried to purchase have been available on iBooks—but they have been available on Amazon.

7. Magazine availability.

The iPad is a uniquely compelling platform for magazines. But for now, the Kindle platform has a far better selection. Kindle offers what I think are the three best magazines: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Economist. It also offers U.S. News & World Report, Foreign Affairs, The Nation, MIT’s Technology Review, BusinessWeek, Forbes, The New England Journal of Medicine, Reason, The New Republic, and a bunch more. Note that you can’t get Kindle magazines in your Kindle iPad app. You must use a Kindle.

8. Weight.

The iPad weighs about a pound and a half. That’s a little on the heavy side for long reading sessions where you’re holding up the device. The Kindle, on the other hand, weighs only 10.2 ounces.

9. Multiple users.

I’ll tell you what every iPad owner already knows: Everyone wants to “borrow” your iPad (especially kids). So forget about using it to do some reading when you have family or friends around. Nobody will leave you alone. If you have both devices, you can hand over your iPad and read on your Kindle.

10. Peace.

The iPad is still a huge novelty. When I’m using it at Starbucks or some other public place, I’m constantly interrupted by people who want to check it out and hear what I think about it (I’ve calculated the average to be one interruption every 15 minutes). If you’re just there to read, nobody will interrupt you if you’re using a Kindle.

11. Multitasking.

There are a surprising number of situations where two devices are better than one. If you’re a writer of any kind, it’s nice to have source material on the Kindle as you write on the iPad. If you’re watching TV on the iPad, you can also skim a newspaper on the Kindle. If you’re a fan (sports, movies—whatever), it’s great to watch something on TV (World Series, Oscars, etc.) and look up trivia and facts on Wikipedia or the Internet in general or in your own book collection with the Kindle—without interrupting the show.

12. Auto-reader.

The Kindle has a computer voice that reads books, magazines and newspapers to you. Some people find it annoying. But some of us find it quite usable. If I’m in the middle of a great book and have to do something around the house, I’ll just plug my Kindle into the speaker system and let the computer voice read to me.

13. Free mobile broadband.

If the only reason you want mobile broadband for your iPad is to buy and download books, magazines and newspapers, then you’ll save a bundle by buying a Kindle. (Traveling executives, for example, don’t need to download TV shows while on business trips, but they do need to grab reading material in the taxi on the way to the airport.) The mobile broadband version of the iPad, the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, costs an extra $130, plus at least $15 per month for the connectivity. The Kindle costs $259, but comes with free mobile broadband. So you’ll save a lot of money by buying the Wi-Fi-only iPad, plus a Kindle.

If I had to choose between an iPad and a Kindle, there is no question that I’d choose an iPad. But I don’t have to choose. I can have it all. And I recommend that all serious readers who buy an iPad do the same.

[Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Read his blog,The Raw Feed.]

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