Do you already have a tablet and do you think that therefore you do not need an eBook reader? Are you hesitating between giving a tablet or an eBook reader as a gift? Although you can read eBooks on a tablet too, tablets and eBook readers are a completely different kind of device. If you are a voracious reader, you will love the eBook reader. We tell you why.
In this article we explain:
- eBooks, eBook readers, tablets? Let's make things clear
- How a tablet screen works
- Electronic ink: how the eBook reader screen works
- Why do tablet, smartphone and computer screens provoke eye strain?
- Long life to the battery
- Tablet versus eBook reader
- Are you one of those that think printed books cannot be replaced?
- For reading or for looking up information?
- An eBook reader is a great help for those who are learning a language
- How easy is it to buy eBooks?
- The case of Amazon Kindle
eBooks, eBook readers, tablets? Let's make things clear
When we talk about an “eBook”, pure and simple, we refer to books published in digital format. They are files with a specific format (.epub, .mobi, .azw, etc.) which includes the book contents (texts, images, table of content, etc.).
An eBook can be read, that is to say, can be viewed, in your computer, your smartphone, your tablet and, of course, in your eBook reader. And here is where the misunderstanding starts. As a tablet has a physical form factor similar to an eBook reader and it can open eBooks too, many users are asking themselves why they may need an eBook reader if they already have a tablet.
When we say “eBook reader” we are talking about a device specially designed and made for reading eBooks. And the primary difference is its screen technology. EBook readers have screens which form the images with what is called electronic ink, which is as comfortable as reading on paper. On the other hand, tablets have screens as in smartphones and computers, and reading a novel for several hours will be much more exhausting for your eyesight.
In the rest of this article we explain more in depth the features that make an eBook reader so special, and why people who enjoy reading are very fond of them.
If you have a relative or friend who is a voracious reader, give them an eBook reader as a gift, you cannot go wrong.
How a tablet screen works
In order to understand why eBook reader screens are much more comfortable on your eyes, first let's see how a tablet screen works.
Hardware keeps evolving and there are different screen technologies, whose names are surely familiar to you because you are used to seeing them on tablet and smartphone advertisements: LCD, TFT, OLED, AMOLED, Super AMOLED, … But they are all based on the same principle as regards comparison with eBook readers:
The screen is split into small tiny dots, which are called pixels, and every pixel, in turn, is divided into three little dots with the three primary colors: red, green and blue. By applying more or less electricity to each of those dots, we get each pixel to emit more or less light, controlling its brightness and its colour, and in this way the images are created on the screen.
What is important to emphasize is that it is necessary to emit light in order to form the image. And this is the reason why you can hardly see what is on your tablet or smartphone screen when you are outside on a sunny day. The ambient light is much brighter than the light that the screen can emit and you can barely see its contents. However, if you move into a corner in the shade, where the ambient light is much lower, you will be able to see the screen perfectly.
Besides, in order to get vivid colours and better contrast, many screens have a bright cover or glass which provoke more reflections, resulting in discomfort while reading.
Electronic ink: how the eBook reader screen works
Pick up one of your printed books. Why can you see it? The ambient light strikes the paper. The white paper reflects the light whereas the parts covered with ink (pigments) absorb the light. This way, the reflected light and the absence of reflected light which reach your eyes make you see what is on the paper.
EBook reader screens work in a similar way. Instead of emitting light as tablets do, it is the ambient light which lights up the screen, composed of microcapsules with white pigment and black pigment particles inside. Depending on the content which has to be shown, each of those microcapsules is polarised, making its white pigment or its black pigment face up. The white dots will reflect the light, as on the paper, whereas the black dots will absorb the light, as the printed ink does.
Therefore, to your eyes, the way you see the image on an eBook reader is the same as in a printed book, even on a sunny day. The difference is that with electronic ink where to activate and deactivate dots of “ink” can be controlled.
Although this technology is ideal for reading books, it has limitations which prevent it being used in tablets. For example, to change the contents on the screen requires some time. To move onto the next page of an eBook is not a problem, but it is not fast enough to play videos and animations. Besides, at the moment of writing this article, electronic ink screens are only in black and white. Even though the first colour electronic ink screens have been released into the market, they are not very common and they cannot reproduce colours as the tablet screens do.
Why do tablet, smartphone and computer screens provoke eye strain?
Using smartphones, tablets, computers and TVs continuously cause a variety of symptoms, which end up in eye strain.
Usually, the tasks we do with computers, tablets and smartphones require us to stare at the screen and, as a result, we blink less frequently, provoking dry eye symptom. You may notice discomfort, irritation or your eyes getting red. Blinking is the natural way for the eye to be lubricated and nourished.
The screen reflections are another common cause of eye fatigue. In order to get vivid colours and better contrast, most of the screens have a bright cover or glass. Unfortunately, they are very reflective and depending on the ambient light conditions and what is around, you may have to stare at screen contents harder.
But one of the main causes of eye strain is the screen brightness. As we told you previously, the tablet, smartphone, computer and TV screens need to emit light to form the image. The problem is that, to see the images on the screen clearly, they will be brighter than the ambient light. In addition to this, the screens do not cover our entire field of vision and our eyes have to adapt themselves to two different conditions: the high brightness of the screen and lower ambient light. This ends up exhausting the muscles in the eye and it is the primary cause of our feeling of tired eyes and headaches. The basic recommendation is to try to keep a proper and uniform ambient light, and not to raise the screen brightness more than is really needed.
EBook reader screens are free of the last problem, because they do not emit light and are as comfortable as reading on paper. Besides, you can enlarge the font size as you want, so you will not have to stare at the screen so hard.
Long life to the battery
Another very practical advantage as a consequence of the technology used in eBook reader screens is the battery life.
In smartphones, tablets and computers, it is necessary to keep a power supply to maintain an image on the screen, and if that power is missing, the screen will be black, that is to say, completely switched off.
However, in eBook readers the screen only consumes battery when it needs to change its contents, but a power supply is not needed while the same image is kept. That is, while you are reading an eBook, you can be reading the same page for minutes and the screen will only consume battery when you move onto the next page and the contents to show are changed.
As a result, with a full charge of the battery you will be able to use your eBook reader and read books for several weeks. In contrast, a charge of a battery in a tablet will last a few hours only in use.
In fact, the eBook reader battery lasts so long that once you get used to it you may forget to charge it. If you are going on a trip, remember to give it a full charge, so you will not need to take the charger with you nor worry about the battery.
Tablet versus eBook reader
For your convenience we collect the advantages and disadvantages comparing the tablet with the eBook reader, so you can see it at a glance.
Are you one of those that think printed books cannot be replaced?
Once you have tried the eBook reader screen and you have got convinced that it is as comfortable as reading on paper, you will be able to enjoy the advantages that eBooks have over printed books:
EBooks are cheaper than printed books
EBooks are cheaper than printed books. Although we must declare that some publishers are not applying a price difference as we could expect, in spite of the fact that they are saving printing and delivering costs. Anyway, it is usual to find books in eBook format at prices below 50 % of the printed version price. With a good eBook reader for under 80 €, just by buying a few books you will have paid it off.Besides, there are many classic books which, due to their age, have become Public Domain. The good news is that you can download them in eBook format for free. The main eBook shops will allow you to do it.
Lightweight and versatile
Having eBook reader models lighter than 200 grammes, they are lighter than many printed books and you can load hundreds of books at once. So you only need to take the eBook reader with you when you go for a walk or on a trip, and read what you really want at any moment, instead of carrying only a couple of books selected beforehand.
With an eBook you can change the font size
For those of you who enjoy reading but have to wear glasses, it will make you happy to discover that you can enlarge the font size as you want. In this way, depending on your eyesight, the ambient light, or how tired you are, you will be able to read in a more comfortable way by changing to a larger font size.
For reading or for looking up information?
EBook readers are specially comfortable for reading novels, informative books, etc., but which you are going to read sequentially. Even though you can move easily between different parts of the book, or through the table of contents, browsing content is not as agile as in tablets.
For reference books, where you will need to continuously move from one part to another inside the text and look up information frequently, the tablet is handier. And it is the same for books which are more based on illustrations than on text.
To mention that you will be able to read the eBooks that you buy both in your eBook reader and in your tablet. In the case of the tablets, you will only need to download the corresponding app, which is usually free.
An eBook reader is a great help for those who are learning a language
If you are learning a language, you already know that reading books in that language will help you to acquire more vocabulary and to learn more sophisticated grammatical structures. But it is tedious to interrupt the reading every time you need to look a word up in the dictionary.
EBook readers usually come with dictionaries. In the case of the Amazon Kindle, with its instant definition look up function you only need to place the cursor on a word (or touch it) and the definition will be shown on the screen, without having to interrupt your reading and spend time looking the word up.
In addition, depending on the models, some eBook readers include a Text-to-Speech feature. That is, they can read the text aloud, which will help you to learn pronunciation. You will be able to listen to the book while you read it.
How easy is it to buy eBooks?
Well, so you already have an eBook reader... ¿and now what? The fact that looking for and buying new books can be done easily is very important. Many eBook readers are just that, devices. Then you will have to look for eBook online shops where to buy new eBooks on your own, to download and transfer them to your eBook reader (basically by connecting a USB cable to your computer and copying the file, in a similar way as you do with a pendrive).
But there are cases where looking for and buying eBooks is specially simple, in fact so simple that you will not even need to use a computer at all.
The case of Amazon Kindle
Probably you already know Amazon and that they are the largest online shop in the world. Amazon was born twenty years ago as an online shop for printed books. Along all these years they have steadily grown becoming the most important e-commerce company in the world, and selling almost everything.
In 2007, Amazon released their first eBook reader, the Amazon Kindle first generation, although it was only available in US.
It was not until 2009 when the international version of the Amazon Kindle appeared. Nowadays, it is considered by many to be the best eBook reader.
Apart from its screen quality and many other features, the main difference that you will find as an¡ user is how easy looking for and buying eBooks is. Without needing to use a computer, you can connect to the Amazon eBook store directly from your Kindle through Wifi or 3G, to download for free the first chapter of any eBook that you are interested in and to start to read it. If you like it, you can buy it, directly from your Kindle, and enjoy reading it.
All this, together with lower prices and many offers and promotions, has made the eBook market to be dominated by Amazon. So much so that some competitors in disadvantage have abandoned the market, as is the case of Sony, who closed their Reader Store in US and Canada in March of the current year, redirecting their users to Kobo.
One last clarification: do not confuse the Amazon Kindle (pure and simple) with Amazon Kindle Fire (note the “Fire” in the name). The former is the eBook reader, whereas the latter is the tablet. Although you can read eBooks in both of them, at this point we hope to have convinced you that, for reading books in the traditional way, just forget about tablets and stay with the eBook reader.
Finally, if you do not have an Amazon Kindle yet, you can buy eBooks and read them on your tablet, your smartphone or your computer anyway, by downloading the free Kindle reader app. Or you can read books directly on your web browser with the Kindle Cloud Reader, without needing to install anything.
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