Did you know that you need a booklight to read a Kindle, or most other dedicated eBook reader devices, in a dark room? If not, that’s something to consider when evaluating your hardware options for reading eBooks. Personally, I like a backlit screen, and wonder how I would adapt to a low-contrast eInk device.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve put off buying a Kindle or Sony Reader. The flip side is that eInk screens are readable in bright sunlight. That’s a big factor for some people, but not so much for me. Summers are hot and humid where I live and time spent frolicking in the outdoors with the bugs and blazing sun is practically zero. Vamp-pale mosquito magnets do not loll around in the sun reading eBooks!
People who have eInk devices say they’re easy on the eyes and provide a great reading experience. I’m not convinced of that, but I do buy nearly all my books from Amazon and the new Kindles are now priced low enough to make getting one a no-brainer.
Enter Apple’s iPad, which has a full-color IPS (In-plane switching) LCD display with a wide viewing area. If it weren’t comparatively expensive, I would have already glommed onto one. The iPad is supposed to be reasonably good in a bright environment, too.
Perhaps the biggest question is whether prevention of eyestrain or other problems is demonstrably lessened by chosing one type of device over another. I love my computer monitor and LCD screens in general. There is some discomfort involved in reading a book from a computer screen, but it’s from sitting in a straight chair for long periods of time, not the screen.
I stumbled upon the following NY Times article (linked below) and saw a lot of opinions, but none that led me to believe I had to choose one device over another for fear of eyestrain. Without a doubt, many people prefer the soft look of eInk over an LCD screen, and others have spent careers staring at computer screens with nary a complaint.
Bits: Do E-Readers Cause Eye Strain? By NICK BILTON, Published: February 12, 2010, says:
Despite what your mother might have told you, doctors say that looking at an electronic screen doesn’t hurt the eyes. Ergonomics and lighting play a much bigger role in eye strain.
I think that soon, most avid readers will have several devices to read their eBooks, and will select the device du jour based on their current environment or purpose. The big decision, then, is where to buy books and choose one or two preferred formats.
Formats are still problematic, although ePub seem to be emerging as a widely-accepted standard. Adobe Digital Books and Sony Reader titles are in ePub format. Amazon has a proprietary filetype based on the MobiPocket format. Many technical and business books are published as Adobe PDF files, which look spectacular on a big screen. eReaders vary in their ability to display PDF files without serious reflow problems. Maybe, in the end, several formats will "win" for popular uses. After all, we still listen to radio, watch TV, go to movies, and do all three on our computers. Who knows what we’ll be using five or ten years down the road?