Nearly three years ago I bought one of the first Sony e-ink devices and soon become a convert to electronic books. Since then I have read only one or two paper books and have no plans to buy printed books in the future. I have stripped out my home library, especially of reference books, and have delighted in the way e-books have encouraged minimalism. My physical books are going the way of CDs, DVDs and, even, ancient video cassettes. One area of life’s clutter is being cleared for good, and not before time.
First there was the Sony, the iRex and a few other very expensive devices. Only the most dedicated or the most gadget friendly could justify the expenditure and we all had to put up with a convoluted and difficult book buying process. Getting book purchases ported to the Sony demands a computer connection and a fair degree of computer knowledge. It isn’t for the faint hearted – and still isn’t if you choose a Sony or one of the dozens of similar devices.
This year, though, the situation has changed dramatically. The Apple iPad has led the move towards backlit LCD reading while hundreds of new e-ink readers have flooded the market. The cost of devices, particularly of the lower-end e-ink readers, has plummeted. Whereas last year it was normal to pay £300 or £350 for an electronic reading device, we are now down as low as £100; and I should not be surprised if we see £50 by the end of the year and give-away (in connection with a book-buying subscription) by next year.
The standard bearer of the e-ink brigade is the Amazon Kindle, simply because it is as good, if not better, than most and makes book buying extremely simple. For the first time, with the Kindle 3, you can buy books without needing a computer in the middle.
After my early experiences and frustrations of the Sony system, I have become a firm advocate of the Apple's backlit screen and have delighted in the complete freedom the Apple give to buy books from all sources and to add as many free books as you want. While I download free books into several iPad applications, including Stanza and Apple’s own iBooks, I tend to buy all my stuff from Amazon and use the Kindle application (iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Mac and PC) to read. I particularly like the way the Kindle Whispersync ensures that all your devices are kept up to date.
This review compares the latest third-generation Kindle 3G with alternative reading offerings from Apple. The iPad is a given, but I’ve also included the iPhone 4 because, contrary to popular prejudice, the little phone makes a superb e-reader. All iPhone comments also relate to the iPod touch which offers the same experience but without 3G.
Format and Screen
Format, size and weight in particular, is crucial to ease of reading. The device needs to be comfortable in the hands for long periods; it needs to be easy to hold when lying down in bed. Ideally, also, it should be suitable for reading at a restaurant table without upsetting the condiments or annoying other diners. Above all, the screen needs to be readable in a wide range of lighting conditions.
At 8.7 ounces the new Kindle 3G is a lightweight among book readers. It is comfortable to hold and has an ideal screen size of 6 inches diagonal. Amazon claim the device is lighter than a paperback and I would agree with that. It’s also easier to hold than a paperback and doesn’t suffer from having both left and righthand pages. I suspect most people prefer reading the righthand page of a book and the good news is that the Kindle has only righthand pages. The new pearl screen is claimed to have 50 percent higher contrast than the earlier e-ink screens and wouldn't quibble with this. Text is extremely clear and attractive and is easy on the eye. A big selling point for e-ink screens is that they can be read more easily in bright sunlight. Since they have no inbuilt lighting, it’s a case of the more ambient light the better, just as with a normal book. What Amazon do not say, however, is that the screen can be reflective under artificial lighting and difficult to read in poor light. Indeed, there are probably more occasions when the Kindle screen is difficult to read than there are instances of problems with reflection on backlit LCD screens.
The Apple iPad, which has turned the e-book market on its head this year, is big. At 1.6 lbs (3G model) and with its 9.7in screen, it is a veritable monster and falls down seriously on handleability from a book-reading perspective. However, the bright LCD screen is a crowning glory. There have been many conflicting opinions as to the long-term comfort of reading on LCD and e-ink screens and there are many prejudices one way and the other. It’s significant, though, that many of the critics have not tried reading on an iPad or backlit device. True, there are some occasions (in bright sunlight for instance) when reflection gets in the way, but there are many other instances where the inbuilt illumination is a life saver and actually enhances reading comfort. Critics shouldn’t forget that the screen brightness on the Apple devices can be adjusted for different conditions (nor that a non-reflective screen cover can be applied easily and cheaply if really desired).
Now for the mini reader, the Apple iPhone 4. The new high-resolution retina display is wonderful and offers a sharpness and colour rendering that is hard to believe. It looks more like a high-resolution colour print than a computer screen. It suffers less from bright sunlight reflection than the iPad, not just because of the brighter, higher-resolution screen but because the angle of view can be adjusted much more easily on such a small device. A slight hand movement one way or the other can overcome most reflections.
The iPhone, though, makes a virtue of its minimal size. We often hear photographers saying that the best camera is the one you have in our pocket. The same applies to book readers. The iPhone 4 is superb because it is always in your pocket. With the iPad or the Kindle you must make a conscious decision to take it with you every day. If you do take one of these larger devices you are almost obliged to carry a bag. Yet the iPhone is in your pocket, you can read everywhere.
For comparison purposes I set the Kindle to the second smallest font and the larger line spacing. This offers a format similar to that achieved on the iPhone or iPad when the Kindle application is set to the second smallest font. With these settings you see 170 words per page on the Kindle, 110 on the iPhone and a whopping 290 on the iPad. I used the same book and approximate location on all three devices. In this test, the surprise is that the iPhone, despite the tiny screen, offers 65% of the viewing area of the Kindle. The only downside in reading terms, as is obvious, is the extra page turns you need on the smaller screen.
I have no quibbles with the iPad (or iPhone) screen and find reading is comfortable on the eyes most of the time. Unless you spend most of your life on the beach in glaring sunshine, you will have cause to thank Apple for the backlighting. For me, reading in bright sunshine is relatively uncommon. On the other hand, I do read in many locations (such as cafes and restaurants) where ambient lighting is too low to give a good reading experience without backlighting. This is where the Apple devices (and all backlit LCD readers) win.
Below: iPad screen. Menus and navigation buttons appear by tapping the screen
For every occasion when glare is perceived to be a problem for the glass-screen devices, there are half a dozen times when the Kindle’s lack of backlighting is a problem. You need good ambient lighting to enjoy reading on the Kindle; with the iPad or iPhone you can read anywhere, even in the dark. In the past few weeks I have got out the Kindle on many occasions only to find that the lighting isn’t adequate and have had to go back to one of the Apple devices.
The Kindle, with its new Pearl display is sharp and very clear and is very easy on the eye in ideal, well-lit conditions. Like the Kindle applications on the LCD devices, the Kindle gives a wide range of font sizes, with the larger being excellent for people with poor eyesight. This feature is shared with the applications for the other devices, although the Kindle device also offers a small range of font styles.
There is no clear winner in readability between the two types of screen. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and I would hesitate to say that e-ink is best or that backlighting is best. However, backlit screens are more versatile most of the time because you can read irrespective of lighting conditions. The Kindle definitely needs good ambient lighting if you are to enjoy the experience.
Left: The iPhone screen showing the same location as on the iPad (above). The iPad has a much bigger screen so you see more and need fewer page turns. The Kindle, with its 6-in screen, is somewhere between the two. The only practical difference in reading experience is the number of page turns needed
Both the iPhone and the Kindle are easy to hold and it is possible to read for long periods without any problems. The iPhone has the advantage that it can be propped up on a table (with a suitable flip case) and offers the perfect reading companion when sitting in restaurants or cafes. It is always in your pocket, so you can pick up where you left off and read wherever you are.
The Kindle is almost as handleable as the iPhone and, of course, it offers the near-ideal page size. It is also very light and easy to hold in any conditions. Like the iPad, though, it is difficult to prop up if you want to read no-hands.
Finally we come to the iPad. Despite the excellence of the screen (though it isn’t as sharp as the retina display on the iPhone) and the easy navigation, I am afraid that it is just too big to be constant companion. At 1.5 pounds it is a strain to hold up for long. It is so big and heavy that you are likely to end up leaving it at home most of the time, which rather defeats the object. If Apple were to introduce a 7in iPad anytime soon I would take a completely different view and would recommend it wholeheartedly.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon made great capital out of the new Kindle’s lack of a touch screen. He pointed out, rightly I think, that touch overlays reduce contrast and, of course, lead to messy finger prints on the screen. But half an hour with a Kindle and an iPad or iPhone will convince you that a touchscreen is infinitely better for navigation, even for simple page turns. The Kindle relies on a five-way navigator for moving around the screen (when selecting words or phrases for highlighting, note taking or dictionary definition) and it is cumbersome and counterintuitive. Think television remote control and you won't be far off.
Above all, the non-touch screen is the only reason the Kindle has a physical keyboard. It takes up a big chunk of the front of the device and is always there as a distraction. With touchscreen devices such as the iPad and iPhone, the screen occupies almost the full frontal area and the virtual keyboard appears only when required. Let’s face it, you won’t be typing your novel on the Kindle and a good virtual keyboard is therefore a better solution for handling occasional annotations to books.
Selecting text on the Kindle is like going back in time after you’ve been used to poking your finger at an Apple screen. Simply looking up a dictionary reference is a labour: Down so many lines, across so many words, select. With touch-screen devices such as Apple’s you just prod the word and up comes the definition. With the Amazon, there’s a definite disincentive to look up a word; with the iPad or iPhone it’s a positive pleasure and you therefore do it more often.
Page turning on the Kindle is an improvement on earlier models. There are back and forward buttons on either side of the device (mainly to help left-handers but it is also a convenience for anyone) and the keys now depress outwards instead of inwards as on the earlier models. It works really well and there is now less chance of inadvertent page turning.
Refresh rate on the new Pearl display is much faster than on previous models and there is now no distracting delay when pages turn. Page turns are slick and, although not quite as fast as on the Apple devices, are perfectly acceptable.
I like Amazon’s solution for pagination by using a percentage and “location”. In a typical book there can be anything from 12,000 to 19,000 locations which allows a fine degree of tuning. Anyone who has used an electronic book reader soon realises that page numbers are redundant. What with screen size on various devices and a wide selection of font sizes (even line spacing on the Kindle) it is impossible to keep meaningful page numbers. Some competitors display virtual page numbers which become specific to the device and settings and are totally useless when moving to another format. Kindle is consistent across all platforms and even without Whispersync it easy to dial up a location and carry on reading.
The physical keyboard is the achilles heel of the Kindle. It is an ever-present annoyance and, worse, leads to erratic navigational behaviour. As with all physical keyboards you need to guard against pressings keys in error. The Kindle suffers dreadfully from phantom key pressings. The “back” button is placed dangerously at the bottom left-hand corner and it is all too easy (especially when the Kindle is attached to the leather cover) to press “back” and return to a previous section. Worse, there is a tendency to select the end of the book with unpredictable effects on Whispersync. Only this week I was halfway through Ken Follet’s Fall of Giants when I opened the Kindle and found I had been rushed to the last page–location 19,990. Worse, the Kindle had told Whispersync that I’d finished reading the book. This meant that Whispersync couldn’t be persuaded to work. It said I’d finished and finished it stayed. My trusty iPhone told me I was actually at location 14,500 and I was able to find this on the Kindle and “Go to” the correct location. Unfortunately, the keyboard lacks a number row so I was reduced to selecting the digits manually from a large display of symbols and digits. Frankly, this keyboard is worse than useless.
So while the physical keyboard and non-touch screen might be considered the best solution by Amazon, I remain unconvinced and believe that all e-readers will eventually adopt touch technology. I’m sure the Kindle 4 will have a touch screen and Jeff B will have an instant conversion to the virtues of touch technology, finger prints and all.
Both the iPad and iPhone offer much slicker and easier navigation than the Kindle. Highlighting words or sections by touch is much more intuitive and affective than on the Kindle and page turns are quicker and easier to initiate (by a swift tap at the edge of the screen or by a swiping motion). Page turns are also animated, which many readers find attractive. You can turn off this feature if it annoys you.
My conclusion is that the Amazon Kindle is let down by the manual navigation when highlighting and selecting text and by the uncertainty caused by phantom key pressings. After using a touch device (in which I include the latest Sony readers), the Kindle feels old fashioned and cumbersome. For the few occasions on which you need a keyboard on a book reader, give me Apple’s virtual board any day.
The Kindle, like the latest generation Sony readers, has the ability to organise books into collections. If you are going to store the maximum 3,500 books on the Kindle (!) you won’t want them all in one list. It makes sense to have a main section for books to read, a collection for reference books (including the Kindle operating guide) and another collection for books you’ve read. You can also archive any books by deleting them from the Kindle and returning them to Amazon’s Whispersync cloud. If you need them again you simply download them. This is all very sensible and useful, although the navigation to select and move books is clunky and slow (see above).
Neither the iPad nor the iPhone Kindle applications appear to support collections at the moment. You have just two options – to keep all your books in one list (which can be sorted by title, author or most-recent, or to archive finished items to the cloud. This doesn’t matter too much with the iPhone but it is a problem for the iPad. If you intend to use your iPad as your main reading device, the lack of collections is a big disadvantage.
Although not unique, Amazon’s Whispersync, which keeps all your devices in tune, is by far the most useful system there is. Given that you can read on your Kindle and on Kindle apps for a wide range of devices (including PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, iPod touches, Android phones and tablets and BlackBerrys) there is nothing to touch the system. If you can afford it, you can buy all three of the review devices and read on all of them as the fancy takes you. It’s a bit like having a camera with interchangeable lenses. On paper it is the perfect solution and in practice it works.
In the past I’ve had little to complain of in the way Whispersync works between the iPad and iPhone. Most times I found both devices in exactly the right spot. With the Kindle, however, there are some inconsistencies. When you open the Kindle synchronisation doesn’t always take place automatically and it is sometimes necessary to manually initiate sync. Occasionally, also, this does not produce the right result and has to be repeated until you get to the place you left on the phone or iPad. Charitably, I assume this is a teething problem and should be fixed soon.
There is a more serious problem with the Kindle reader itself, as mentioned in the Navigation section above. Inadvertent key presses can wreak havoc and you can easily lose your place with the current location moving backward, forwards or even to the end. Sadly, too, when this happens the unwanted location is signalled to Whispersync and all is lost.
All Kindle applications and the Kindle reader permit a wide range of functions useful for research, including bookmarks, annotations, dictionary definitions and word search. The Kindle has a few other features (which are all available on iPad or iPhone as general features, not specifically part of the book applications) including audio reproduction of MP3 files. As a bonus, the Kindle offers a text-to-speech facility which works rather well considering all the pitfalls. Proper names are often mangled, the voice is a sort of strangled Dalek with an American accent and sentences tend to run together with punctuation overlooked. Still, it is relatively easy to follow and I can imagine occasions when you might want to continue listening to your book – while driving, for instance.
I tend to use my book readers as replacement books and seldom use the additional features other than the odd dictionary lookup or highlight. Highlights are especially useful as a means of reminding yourself about interesting comments or paragraphs or, maybe, to prompt you to further research. With the Kindle system all highlights, comments and notes are synchronised across all your devices via Whispersync.
All three of these devices offer both wifi and 3G connectivity (both the review Kindle and iPad have built-in 3G in addition to wifi and the iPhone has 3G and wifi as standard). So you can browse book stores and buy quickly wherever you are. Book files are very small, so download times are almost instantaneous with wifi and not much longer with 3G.
Both the iPhone and iPad demand you have a 3G data contract which, typically, will cost at least £15 per month.
The Kindle 3G, however, has the enormous advantage of built-in 3G. There is no removable SIM card, just a free connection for the life of the device. Even more wonderful, it offers worldwide coverage in more than 100 countries. I cannot begin to think how much this costs Amazon. You can imagine the initial conversation with Vodafone or whoever they use: “We have this new device and we want to offer free 3G coverage for the life of the product. Oh….and we want coverage to be worldwide. How much?”
Given that international roaming costs for your iPhone or iPad data contract are likely to be exorbitant – up to £6 a megabyte – you certainly don’t want to be doing much browsing or downloading of books when you are in Outer Mongolia with your Apple device. With the Kindle, though, you can browse and buy to your heart’s content. All for free.
My guess is that every penny of the £40 price difference between the wifi Kindle and the 3G model is paid over to a cellular company. Why should we worry? The deal is a real bargain and I would recommend buying the Kindle 3G simply to get this free coverage when travelling. It is especially valuable when you find the new Kindle includes an experimental web browser with access to a number of useful sites such as Google and BBC News. It won’t win any prizes in the browser stakes because it is slow and doesn’t render as well as you expect on a modern portable device. But what does it matter when you can get the news anywhere in the world at absolutely no cost?
Amazon have a winner here and I firmly believe the Kindle reader will sell on 3G connectivity alone. It is certainly the main reason I bought mine.
Battery life and charging
You don’t need me to tell you that the Kindle wins hands down on battery life. E-ink screens use power only when you turn the page or refresh the display. The rest of the time the display is live and static, using no power. When at rest the Kindle continues to display a selection of about a dozen “screen savers” with no reduction of battery life. As a result, one charge can last much longer than on the backlit devices where power is used constantly, not just at page-turn time. Amazon claim a battery life of up to a month. I get a maximum of six days with wireless turned on. Obviously with wireless off, life can be much longer (but not, I suspect, a month). However, turning off wireless completely defeats the objective and loses most of the benefits of Whispersync. If you use more than one reading device you need to keep wireless turned on all the time.
The iPad offers up to ten hours of life, depending on usage and the iPhone about a day, again depending on what you are doing. Some activities, such as watching movies (which, of course, you can’t do on the Kindle) take more power than simply reading a book.
All three devices are charged via a USB cable and can use a standard iPhone charger. The Kindle comes with a charger plug that is remarkably similar to Apple’s offering (at least here in the UK). The USB cable can also connect to a computer for charging, a facility common to all three devices. The USB cable for the Kindle has a Micro-B connector while both the iPhone and iPad use Apple’s standard dock connector.
My habit is to charge my Apple devices every night so I start the day with a full battery. With the Kindle, on the other hand, I have been led down a false path and constantly forget how many days I have been reading without charge. As a result I have been caught out no fewer than four times in one month with a flat battery and I have realised it’s necessary to set up a charging schedule. Perhaps once every three or four days is a good plan to err on the safe side. On balance, long battery life is a mixed blessing. If you are in the habit of spending nights in tents with no access to a power socket, the long battery life of the Kindle could be attractive. In the real world, though, I am totally happy charging my devices every night.
Whenever I have been let down by the Kindle I have been able to continue reading the book on my iPhone. Enough said.
The common thread between all three devices is the Kindle Store. You can buy and read your books on any of the three platforms, changing from one to the other as you go. Read a chapter or two on the iPad in bed, then pick up your Kindle and take it with you the following day. Your current page and any notes and comments are synchronised. If you want to travel light and can’t be bothered taking your Kindle, you can continue reading through the day on your iPhone.
Both the iPad and the iPhone are full members of the Kindle Club, but they do have the further advantage that you can buy (or download free) books from almost any source, including Apple’s own iBookStore, Barnes & Noble and the many free Gutenberg sites. Of course you need to use different reading applications but that is no problem. The iBooks application, in particular, is prettier and slicker than Amazon’s Kindle application.
The Kindle Store is probably the largest repository of current and paid-for literature in the world. American readers have access to over 670,000 books, including 107 of 111 New York Times best sellers, plus audiobooks, periodicals and blogs. In addition, the store offers over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books, including major classics from Austen, Dickens, the Brontes and so on. A major benefit is that you can download a sample of most books so you can start reading the first couple of chapters. If you don’t like it, nothing lost. If you get hooked and want to read further you can buy the book with one click. This is a big improvement on scanning dust covers on physical books in the store. Note that samples are specific to the device you choose to download to and do not sync to your other devices. You can, of course, download another free sample on any device.
Buying books on from the Kindle store is easy on any of these devices. You will probably have lodged your credit card details with Amazon, so all you need so is browse the store, select a book and decide whether to take the sample or buy the full book.
While you are stuck with the Kindle Store if you own only a Kindle reader (which is no great hardship in my view) you do have much greater freedom with the iPad and iPhone. The main alternative commercial sites are Barnes & Noble and Apple’s iBookStore, but there are many applications (such as Stanza) which encourage you to browse for free books.
In my case I buy most of my books through the Kindle store because there is a wide choice, the prices seem competitive and I can read these books on any of my devices. I have recently done a survey of local high-street book stores and compared prices on specific books, taking into account retailers’ discounts. On average, Kindle download prices are 45 percent cheaper than high-street prices here in the UK. The same printed books bought from Amazon are about eight percent more expensive than the Kindle versions (plus delivery costs, of course, which should not be overlooked).
As I said at the outset, the Kindle reader is not a direct competitor of the iPhone and iPad. The two Apple devices are small computers and offer so much more than the ability to read books. The fact that they do offer an excellent book reader experience is more of a bonus on top of all the other things they do well.
The Kindle is the cheapest solution here and will suit buyers who want a simple book reader with few frills and (currently) no applications to do other wonderful things. At £109 (including taxes and delivery) for the wifi-only version and £149 for the wifi/3G model, it is something of a bargain. I would strongly recommend you spend the extra for the 3G model because of the sheer convenience of being able to browse and buy books anywhere in the world (not to mention the advantage of maintaining Whispersync between your devices more easily).
The iPad is a fully-fledged tablet computer with book reading as just one of its many tricks. It costs from £429. The iPhone 4 costs from £499 but is much cheaper if you sign up to a contract. Neither of these devices can be compared directly with the Kindle because they are much more than book readers.
There is no clear winner here. Since I own all three devices I feel able to offer an objective assessment without being biased towards one in particular. I use all three to read the same books and am quite used to their differences, their advantages and disadvantages.
Adherents of e-ink technology will obviously go for the Kindle above the two Apple devices. I can understand the argument that the screens of the Apple devices are reflective and can be distracting in strong sunlight; but then the non-backlit screen of the Kindle is comfortable to read only in good ambient lighting just as with a paper book. For every occasion where you find the Apple screens reflective, there are many more times when you will be thankful for the brightness (adjustable of course) of the LCD. The fact that Amazon has to offer a leather case with a built-in reading light speaks volumes.
The Kindle is also the obvious choice if you want a simple device that does nothing (at the moment, but plans are afoot) than allow you to read books or listen to podcasts and audio books. It is the nearest thing in look and feel to a paperback and I am sure most people will be very happy with it. The price is absolutely right, especially for the wifi device. Above all, the Kindle does not require a computer to function. It is a self-contained book-buying and reading device; it’s all you really need for maintaining your library. The keyboard is a pain and navigation is out of the Ark; but you can get used to it.
The Apple devices offer so much more that neither should be seen as a direct competitor. I am a great believer in the backlit LCD screen – especially in Apple’s new retina display on the iPhone 4 – that I would recommend it over e-ink. In most average conditions, it is a positive advantage to have the light coming from behind the text rather than having to rely on an outside light source. Only in extreme sunlit conditions might you have a sneaking feeling that e-ink would be better.
If you need a smartphone or a tablet computer, then you will enjoy the reading experience and probably not feel the need for a Kindle. The iPad is actually the least successful book reader here simply because of its size and weight but if you already carry one around for other purposes, then book reading is a valuable addition to the repertoire.
The important thing to remember is that your Kindle library can be read on almost any modern portable device and, no doubt, on most future devices. So your investment is protected whether you go for the Kindle, the iPad or the iPhone. If I were you, though, I’d give the phone a try before you get out your credit card for one of the others.
If pressed for a decision, I have to say that the best all-round device for book reading from this bunch must be the iPhone (or iPhone touch). You can use it everywhere, it is always in your pocket and it enables you to buy and read books from a wide variety of sources and in all known formats – not just books from the Kindle store.
Any smartphone owner interested in a book reader should first download the free Kindle application and buy a few books. Try reading for a few weeks and see how you get on. If you really find the small screen too restrictive or uncomfortable, go out and buy a Kindle for longer reading sessions. With these two devices you can have the best of all worlds – a book-like experience on the Kindle in good lighting conditions and a very effective micro reader for carrying around in your pocket all day. If you buy books from the Kindle store both these devices will be in sync and you can swop from one to the other as the fancy takes you.
The iPad has been lauded as a great book reading device. The screen is exceptionally clear and reading is stress free. I especially like the two-page landscape mode of iBooks (which is not offered in the Kindle application, by the way). However it is badly let down by its size and weight. In the hands it feels like a very heavy hardback book while the Kindle is more like a lightweight paperback. For this reason, and not at all for any perceived shortcomings in screen glare, I cannot recommend the iPad solely as a book reader. If it had a 7in screen with overall dimensions and weight to match, it would be my first choice. But, and this is a very big caveat, the iPad is much more than a book reader. If you have the money and you want a great portable media device you will love the iPad. You will also enjoy it as a book reader and will overlook the size/weight limitations because of its greatness in other respects.
The Kindle is a brilliant implementation of the e-ink reader at an unbeatable price. The 3G version with its free worldwide data connection is a bargain. Reading in good lighting conditions is restful and feels natural. However, it suffers from the need for good, strong lighting which is not always available. In poor light it is just as uncomfortable to read as any newspaper or book. The Kindle is badly let down by its combination of non-touch screen and physical keyboard. The future lies with touch screens and virtual keyboards and Amazon's old-fashioned user interface is frustrating, slow and disappointing after experiencing the joys of finger navigation on the iPad and iPhone. I have little doubt that the next Kindle will have a touch screen. Meanwhile, the Kindle is a very good e-reader with the backing of Amazon and the Kindle store. With the 3G connection you are never far from being able to choose and buy a book. For this feature alone I would recommend the Kindle, particularly for people who have no need for a more fully featured tablet computer.
20 October 2010: The latest iPad Kindle application has added two-page to view in landscape mode, similar to the iBooks app. This makes a great improvement and is a much preferable way of reading on the bigger screen. In addition to the book title, which appears over the right-hand column, you see the author's name above the left panel. All other functions are accessible by tapping the screen, exactly the same as with the portrait mode. In the font settings you can choose whether to have two-column or one-column view when in landscape.