One great perk of having so many friends who are writers: I often get to read a book in “uncorrected proof” before publication. Books I might have downloaded on my iPad I read in a paper version! I love the heft and bulk of a softcover or hardcover book. I love flipping pages. I take pains picking out bookmarks from my nightstand drawer — the one that just feels right for the book at hand.
But I also love reading on my iPad. It’s much easier to carry around. I can download a book at the exact moment I want it and not bother with a bookstore, physical or online. (I also love bookstores, but I guess that’s another blog.) With my iPad, I can adjust the size of the type so I can read without my glasses. I can also take notes in margins, highlight, even cut and paste favorite sentences into emails. The advent of the e-reader means that I probably won’t run out of bookshelf space before I die, something I wasn’t so sure of two years ago.
There are lots of reasons people over 50 should use e-readers or tablets. The main problem is not knowing which one to buy.
Dedicated E-reader. These small-size devices (the screen is generally about 6-inches diagonally) do one thing: enable you to download books through an Internet connection and read them. The e-ink versions can often be used outside because there isn’t screen glare. Their batteries last a long time. They are also cheap.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite ($119)
Note: Even though Barnes and Noble is shutting down their large Nook operation sometime in 2014, they will continue to make these two versions and continue to supply books.
On a 7 to 9-inch tablet, you can do more than read books. The more expensive ones have a high-resolution color displays, and you can download games, movies, and various apps (depending on which brand you get).
Nook HD and HD Plus ($129, $149). Right now these are deeply discounted because Barnes and Noble is selling off their stock. They’re pretty good, and cheap.
Google Nexus 7 ($199-$299)
Rumor has it that the new one will be out any day! These tablets have great resolution and battery life. Remember, though, that the LCD backlit screen means it’s not easy to use outside.
Amazon Kindle Fire ($159-$399) The pricier ones offer more memory and more features.
Samsung Galaxy ($299-$499) People love their Samsungs, but it is said that they aren’t updated often enough.
iPad Mini ($329-529) One great thing about any Apple product is Apple’s customer service, both over the phone and in the store.
Note: Tablets in this category are perfect for storing maps and guidebooks you may want to use on your vacation. Though too large to fit in a pocket, they’re light enough to slip in and out of a purse or carry-all.
The larger tablets are kind of like almost-laptops. I know people who run their businesses off of 12-inch tablets. Lighter than a laptop, they have good battery life as well. With a full-size tablet, you’ve gone way beyond the e-reader to a pretty powerful computer. You can even buy a blue-tooth connectable keyboard for easy typing.
iPad With Retina Display (from $499-$799)
This is truly a breathtaking device, and the iTunes store is full of great apps.
Microsoft Surface Pro (from $999)
This is basically a laptop disguised as a tablet. All I hear are complaints — except from people who do not like Apple products, and there are many who feel more comfortable with the Windows environment.
Note: Tablets make great “second screens” while you watch TV.
A few things to keep in mind:
Don’t buy more than you need. If you just want to read books, then stick with a dedicated e-reader. It’s cheap and easy to carry around.
Tablets have more features than e-readers. The high-end tablets can cost nearly as much as a laptop, so decide how much memory you need. If you take a lot of pictures or plan to download movies, you may want 32 gigabytes instead of 16. Books take up almost no memory.
Size matters. My iPad 2 is a great carry-around almost-computer, which I use for reading books. It’s too large, however, to fit in my purse, and I am always tempted to buy a smaller reader.
Think about whether you need 3 or 4G as well as Wifi. I didn’t really want 3G on my iPad, but that was the only model the Apple Store had in stock when I made my purchase. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been grateful for the 3G, however: Internet access isn’t universal. Having 3G means I can still get on the Internet, as long as I have phone reception. Keep in mind, though, that 3 or 4G adds to the initial cost and day-to-day charges as well. Each month I pay $39 to Verizon for my iPad 3G.