eBook Readers Vs Tablet PCs, Which Is The Best Device To Go For?

By Andrew Downs  | Submitted On January 04, 2013

Tablets - History 

They started gaining popularity in the days of XP with devices like the HP TC1000 tablet PC, these where bigger, heavy devices than the tablets you tend to see today and where more a kin to a laptop computer. Improvements in mobile and smart phone technology, battery technology, and the new wave of full featured mobile operating systems which are tailored to being used on smaller touch screens, means devices have got smaller, lighter, faster and battery life has increased massively. The cost of such devices has come down as well, while an early XP tablet would have easily cost a figure heading for £1000 or more for a good one, today you can one with a good specification, albeit of a lesser known or unknown brand, for under £100.

eBook readers - History 

The modern eBook reader first came about after the invention of electronic paper. Around 2004 Sony where the first to implement the new type of display in a small hand held device which mimicked a book. It was however after Amazon launched their own version in 2007 that popularity really grew.

Tablets - The Advantages 

Tablet PCs certainly have may advantages over eBook readers, for a start the full colour LCD screen means that they can display colour pictures and moving images, they have a full featured operating system, web browsers, email clients, wireless networking and some even 3g. They can be used like mini computers, for most things that a computer can do. OK you are not going to play the latest console game on one or run a 3d animation studio like Pixar, but for general home use ie the internet, email, Facebook and messaging they are fine, and much more portable than your PC. On most of them you can install new programs, including eBook reader software so they also have this base covered.

Tablets - The Disadvantages 

The main downside of the tablet is also its main plus, the screen. An LCD screen requires a lot of power to run. Firstly it has to be lit from behind so you can see what is on the screen, this is done with small fluorescent tube type lamps or LEDs. Secondly the screen is continually being updated, about 50 times a second or more, even if the image is not changing. So while allowing for colour pictures and moving videos, it also drains your battery. The other problem with the back light system is that as soon as the ambient light around it gets bright, you can no longer read the screen. Devices with such screens, including laptop PCs and mobile phones can be a pain to read outside on a sunny day. The screen causes another problem, all be it normally indiscernible, this constantly updating picture causes flicker, this can lead to eye strain or nauseous feelings after looking at a screen for a period of time, so a 3 hour reading or gaming session might be out of the question for some.

eBook Readers - The Advantages 

The key to this type of device is the screen. It is illuminated by reflecting outside light instead of being lit from behind by a fluorescent tube style light or LEDs, this means the brighter the surroundings the brighter the screen, so unlike a traditional LCD screen even on a bright sunny day the eInk screen is still very clear. It also does not refresh like a normal LCD display, its image stays static until what it is displaying is changed instead of being updated 50 or 100 times per second, even on a still image. This means the nauseous feelings or eye strain often associated with looking an a screen for too long are normally not felt with an eInk display. The screen also has another clever trick, where as if you cut power to a normal screen it goes off entirely, an eInk screen takes no power to keep the image on the screen, the only time power is required is when the image changes. The lack of back light, the fact the image is not continually being updated and the fact the screen only requires power when the image is changing means the batteries in them often last weeks between charges, not hours.

eBooks - The Down Side 

Again, the positive is also the negative. The eInk screen used in such devices is unable to display colour, just 16 shades of grey. And the low refresh rate means that they are not suitable for displaying anything other that a static image, even scrolling through a web page can be painful on one. eBook readers do have one other downside, although many are based on an Android tablet, the operating system is not available to the user, so you can not add new programs etc.

The Verdict 

If you want something flexible that can do a bit of everything and is in may ways a small highly mobile computer, than a tablet is probably for you, though you must remember that the screens can be hard or impossible to read in bright light and the battery will only last a few hours (though this is often much better than a laptop PC). On the other hand if the only function you are after is reading, and you want something you can read even in bright sunlight, that is easier on the eyes and should give your more than enough battery for two weeks of reading while relaxing by the pool on holiday, you will be hard pushed to beat a dedicated eBook reader.