Retina Display iPad vs. e-ink Kindle: Which do I prefer for reading?

Can the new iPad's high-resolution display compete with e-ink? It's apples and oranges, so to speak.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A few months ago, I bought a Kindle . The cheap kind: $79, with "Special Offers." I bought it because I wanted to read more efficiently, and because the iPad 2's screen was giving me eye fatigue.

You'd think that with the new Retina Display iPad that my Kindle had been one-upped. Clearer, crisper text is exactly what I was hoping for on an iPad, and it did indeed come to pass. I upgraded to a third-generation iPad, although I did it mainly for storage space and to explore gaming with the new A5X graphics .

Yet, the new iPad hasn't been able to unseat my little old Kindle. Not entirely. In fact, I've been surprised to find that the Kindle has carved out a special place in my heart, and it's one that the iPad has a hard time filling.

As far as reading goes, the new iPad is undoubtedly superior over previous iPads...but I still don't regret buying my Kindle. Why? Because I still prefer my Kindle for long-form book reading. Here's why I prefer it as an e-reader:

The Kindle is lighter. One-handed reading on a subway is feasible; the iPad's a two-hander more than ever.

The Kindle's reflective screen is still easier to focus on. No matter how crisp the iPad's display is, I'm still staring at a lit screen. That takes its toll over time for me as far as eye strain goes. The reflective screen on a Kindle doesn't require any different focus than a piece of paper. I don't get that "video game glaze" after reading for an hour.

The Kindle's more casual. The dimensions of the smaller screen and the Kindle's lower price make it something I'm less careful of in public, in a good way. Books are fun to carry because you can knock them around and they're practically theftproof. Kindles more closely approximate this aesthetic.

The Kindle has superior battery life. And it's not even close. The new iPad lasts me about a solid day before I need recharging, while the Kindle is good for at least three weeks of real-world use, maybe more.

Text on the Kindle still feels equal to the new iPad in terms of clarity, despite a resolution advantage for the iPad. My 6-inch Kindle has a screen resolution of 600x800 pixels and 167 dpi (dots per inch). The third-gen iPad's resolution is 2,048x1,536 pixels with 264 dpi. Despite the difference in screen size, the iPad is still leaps and bounds ahead. Yet, I hardly ever notice my e-ink Kindle's resolution limitations like I did on my larger-screened iPad 2 (which had a lower 132 dpi). Would I need a "Retina Display" for my Kindle? I'm not sure. It certainly couldn't hurt, but the lower resolution on a smaller e-ink screen bothers me less.

So, what is the new iPad good for, reading-wise? Well, a lot.

The new iPad's better for e-books than any previous iPad. Regardless of my feelings about the Kindle, the new iPad is the best e-reader Apple's ever made. I can read long-form pieces far more naturally than before.

The iPad's superior for Web browsing and e-mail. There's plenty of reading involved in everyday Internet use, and the new iPad handles it all incredibly well.

The iPad's fantastic with PDFs. I use my iPad as a PDF reader and annotator continually, and there's no more concern with smaller text in a scan converted to PDF format. That's great for any official documents or for detailed manuscripts.

The iPad is better for magazines. Not all digital magazine publishers have gotten over the hump of Retina Display conversion, but reading an issue of the New Yorker or Wired is a better experience now than it was, and closer to a print experience.

I still love my iPad, but I love it like superslim laptop. I use it more than ever for writing, Web browsing, TV/movie watching, and larger-format magazine and newspaper reading (and for the occasional game ). And, yes, it's great that iPads can be used as e-readers. However, when I'm dead serious about reading on the go, I still take my Kindle. And I'm glad I have it. It's practically priced the same as the average iPad accessory. So, if that's how it works for me, I'm more than happy to use it that way.

Anyone else out there a double user?

 

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