Comparing the Kindle and iPad

Every since the iPad was released I’ve been getting asked if I’m going to throw my Kindle away and replace it with Apple’s new device. My answer is always no which almost always causes the asking person to inquire why I’m not replacing my Kindle. Well simply put the iPad doesn’t do as good of a job as my Kindle at the one task I bought it for, reading books. So here is a comparison of the two devices as it relates to being e-readers.

Screen Technology

This is the most crucial element in this discussion for me. The iPad has a very nice looking screen. Unlike the Kindle the iPad’s screen is full color and higher resolution. Actually the fact it’s full color is generally the reason I hear from people who say I should dump the Kindle.

On the other hand the Kindle has an e-ink display. It’s a unique display for several reasons. First of all it doesn’t use a back light as LCDs do meaning you don’t get a harsh glow from it at the price of requiring lighting to read in the dark. The second difference between an LCD and e-ink display is the fact e-ink displays only use power when they are changing on screen elements. So long as nothing on the screen changes an e-ink display will not consume power meaning devices using these displays can have amazing battery life. And finally the third major difference is an e-ink display works in direct sunlight. You can read your Kindle on your deck, at the beach, or anywhere else bright sunlight can prevent a LCD from being usable.

Of course these advantages come at a cost. As previously mentioned e-ink displays are gray scale online while LCDs have full color. Additionally the refresh rates of e-ink displays is pretty bloody slow. While you can watch a fast paced action movie on the iPad you can’t even play Tetris reasonably well on the Kindle screen. The slow refresh rate can also make navigating the display laggy.

But it comes down to function. The Kindle is meant, at least for me, to read books. Any additional features are secondary and barley of note. The e-ink display excels at emulating paper meaning reading on the Kindle is as close to reading a real book as you’re going to get today in an electronic device. I absolutely love e-ink displays and would really love to have a cell phone with such a display (to crank up the battery life).

Battery Life

There is no question here the Kindle wins. Once again this shouldn’t be surprising since the Kindle’s screen only uses power when it’s refreshing and the device itself uses very little power otherwise unless the wireless connection is on. I believe Apple rates the iPad’s battery life at roughly 10 hours. I’ve gotten a solid three weeks out of my Kindle with the wireless turned off. With the wireless turned on all the time the battery life still hovers around one and a half weeks. Generally this isn’t a big deal as I recharge most of my devices every night (with the exception of the Kindle). But it’s nice knowing if I have a full day of flights ahead of me I’ll have the battery life to make it.

The other reason the Kindle has such great battery life is because the hardware inside is clocked down a lot. This restricts what capabilities the Kindle has which is perfectly fine for a dedicated device which the Kindle is. The iPad on the other hand has some wicked hardware for a mobile device. You can play games, watch movies, listen to music, and pretty much anything else you would want to do. The iPad is a generic device meaning it has the capabilities to do more but at the cost of not being designable (and thus tuned to) to a specific task. 10 hours is still a pretty respectable amount of battery life for what is essentially a netbook sans keyboard.

Form Factor

Here again the Kindle wins for what it does. The Kindle’s (standard not the DX) form factor is very close to that of a real book. It’s thin and very light. The iPad on the other hand is larger and heavier meaning is doesn’t keep the form factor of a real book. Once again this is a trade-off between size and capabilities. The iPad has a larger screen and needs a larger battery. The Kindle on the other hand only needs a screen large enough to display a comfortable amount of text and a much smaller battery since it draws less power.


Both devices are wireless capable. The Kindle is able to use cellular data connections (which Amazon calls Whispernet) while the iPad can use either Wi-Fi or, in specific models, AT&T’s 3G network. The nice part about the Kindle is the cost of the wireless data is incorporated into the price of the device and books your download. You never have to pay a monthly subscription for access to the cellular network the Kindle uses while you have to pay up to $30.00 a month for the iPad’s 3G capabilities.

With that said I wouldn’t mind having the ability to use Wi-Fi on the Kindle. Everywhere I go has pretty good 3G coverage but there are a lot of places without. For those locations your only option is to purchase Kindle books on a laptop and transfer them over to the Kindle using a USB cable (included with the Kindle). I hope someday a Wi-Fi card is put into a future Kindle model.

But once again we see the difference between a dedicated device and a general purpose device. The Kindle uses the wireless connection to download books, firmware upgrades, and browse web pages (in a very limited manner via the Kindle’s built-in web browser which isn’t very good). The iPad can use it’s wireless network for everything from browsing web pages to streaming video. Thus the Kindle uses very little bandwidth meaning Amazon can soak up the cost. Still having the ability to download books at almost any time without needing to attach it to another computer is great. Being able to do said task without an additional monthly charge is amazing.


Overall I feel the Kindle is a better e-reader than the iPad for the above stated reasons. With that said the Kindle is also designed specifically for reading meaning the entire device can be tailored as such. The big difference between a dedicated device and a general purpose device comes down to having a master of one trade or a jack of all trades. A jack of all trades can do most things decently but oftentimes is limited in some manner from being perfect on most of those trades. A master of one trade can be designed entirely around that trade making it much better at doing the job.

The iPad will net you move features but it’s not a dreadfully good e-reader in my opinion. I read a lot so it’s worth lugging around an additional device to read on. But I can’t really use it to replace any tasks I do on a laptop. Either way my Kindle isn’t going away anytime soon.

One thought on “Comparing the Kindle and iPad”

  1. I agree with your assessment entirely. I was considering a Kindle and a netbook when the iPad was announced. For weeks after, I wasn’t interested in the iPad. Then I realized that I could get two in one, with some definite compromises.

    So I got an iPad and I’m very happy with it almost two months later. I actually like it better than I thought I would.

    But if I had gotten the Kindle, I’d be happy with it, too. Most of the books I’ve bought are from Amazon.

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