I do two major kinds of reading on the road: books and papers. Any of the major devices seems to do reasonably well on books, though there is some variation in how extensive the available library is. For papers, what I really want is the ability to copy over my own PDFs and then mark them up on the device; my existing workflow was to print everything out, mark it up, and then transcribe from the marked up ms., so ideally I would want the same workflow on a device. I don't need any kind of OCR, just to be able to see my marks (which are mostly circles, strikeouts, etc. anyway) and transcribe them. Unfortunately, none of the major devices seem to have this kind of capability, and while there are some fringy devices that seem to (e.g., the iRex), they're expensive and I didn't want to deal with some device that nobody else had and that I couldn't try before I bought.1
This left three major options:
- An iPad
- The Kindle (either regular or DX)
- The Sony reader
I never even really considered the Sony reader. I do a lot of buying from Amazon and it just seemed convenient to have something integrated with an existing popular library. Also, I'd seen early Sonys and wasn't that impressed. This may have been a mistake, but that was my decision process.
This left iPad versus Kindle. I tried a friend's first generation Kindle on one trip and was pretty impressed with the battery life and general readability. The UI is pretty kludgy but eventually I got used to it. Obviously, the regular Kindle is nowhere near large enough to display a full page of text, but if I couldn't annotate onscreen I thought it might be worth sacrificing a full page view for size. Ultimately, though I tried a DX and was pretty impressed with its usability and concluded that there were lots of times I would want to read papers and only do light editing, if any, where the DX would work well. Ultimately, I bought one of the new Graphite DXs.
So, why didn't I buy an iPad? Obviously an iPad is a far more capable device, but I already have a Macbook Air, so if I want to play games or watch movies, Apple has already sold me a perfectly good general computing device which isn't annoyingly handcuffed to their App store, so that extra capability doesn't buy me a lot. The iPad also has a number of drawbacks. The screen is bright and clear but in terms of readability for a long book I prefer the matte unlit Kindle display (though of course the e-ink display lag is annoying). Also, the iPad is quite a bit heavier (about 4oz/20%) and the battery lifetime is significantly worse. I used my Kindle quite heavily over a week with the wireless on much of the time and only ran out of battery at the very end. This doesn't match what I hear about people's iPad experiences.
Finally, there's the issue of price: the Kindle DX is $389 and the bare bones iPad with 3G is $699, but then you have to pay for the data plan. By contrast, you can use the Kindle internationally for free; I had several books wirelessly delivered to me in Holland and didn't even think about the cost. This is a huge advantage for me, since it's precisely in settings where I don't want to pay hefty 3G roaming fees that I most want to be able to read for free. And of course you can use the Kindle as a free (bad) Web browser if you get desperate enough.
All in all, I'm reasonably happy with the Kindle (full review to come later) though I wouldn't have paid $600 for it. If a device that lets me mark up directly appears, I'd definitely seriously consider that (heck, if there is one now, I'm still within my 30 day return window) but in the meantime the Kindle seems like a reasonable compromise.
1. A friend of mine recently attempted to order an iRex and reports that it's more or less eternally back-ordered. After talking to me he decided on a DX.