iPad as E-Reader: Glaring Problems, Promising Apps

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Like a lot of other e-book lovers, I have waited patiently for the release of the Apple iPad, wondering how iBooks and the slate-as-e-reader experience would compare to dedicated devices such as the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. Now that I've spent a few hours with the iPad and test-driven the three e-book apps that were available on launch day, I'm loving my Kindle more than ever.

The iPad's free iBooks and the Kindle App downloads offer some compelling options for e-book enjoyment, to be sure. But the device's horrifically glare-prone screen and weighty industrial design serve to underscore the benefits of dedicated E-Ink devices.

Oww, My Eyes!

Since picking up my Amazon Kindle a couple of years ago, I've longed for a color e-reader that could do justice to photos, charts, and illustrations. And as expected, the iPad's 9.7-inch IPS LED display doesn't disappoint on that front. Color imagery looks beautiful on the page. Unfortunately, the touch screen is so highly reflective that it kicks up a vicious glare in a well-lit room, and practically doubles as a mirror in full sunlight. As much as I love gazing at my own handsome mug, I'm quite sure I didn't need to spend $499 for the privilege.

In low light, on the other hand, the iPad screen looks gorgeous, offering a clear, backlit view of the page that's easy on the eyes from a wide range of angles. Though fellow PCWorld editor Melissa Perenson complained of a slight flicker in the display, I didn't notice it at all while reading from the device.

What I did notice was a serious problem with the iPad's light sensor: It doesn't seem to work very well at all. Moving from bright sunlight to a darkened room triggered no apparent change in the brightness of the screen, despite my having enabled the Auto-Brightness setting. (I confirmed this problem on a second iPad.) Worse yet, when I used the in-app brightness controls in iBooks, the iBooks settings altered the brightness for the desktop and other apps. It would seem that Apple has some patching to do here, and we can only hope to see the problem corrected soon.


The downside of the iPad's slick aluminum-and-glass design is that it bumps the slate's weight up to a fairly hefty 1.5 pounds. That doesn't sound like much when you compare it to a 3-pound netbook, but the difference is huge in comparison to dedicated e-readers like the 10.2-ounce Kindle or the 12.1-ounce Nook. Even the larger Kindle DX weighs in at a relatively light 1.2 pounds.

Reading on the iPad from a sitting or lying-down position is fairly comfortable, because you can rest it against a leg or a sofa cushion. But if you're accustomed to holding a book up to your face while standing in a packed commuter train, the iPad will give you more of a workout than you might have bargained for.

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