The Tablet Versus the E-reader

These day, tablets and e-readers are looking more and more alike. In fact, to a novice, it may be difficult to tell them apart (aside from the big difference in price tags). But they have some important differences, some of which may affect which device turns out to be best for you:

  • Screen size: The Kindle Fire and other e-readers usually have 7-inch (17.78-centimeter) screens, about the size of an old-fashioned mass-market paperback. Tablets, in contrast, come in a range of sizes, but many of the most popular ones, such as the iPad, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the Toshiba Thrive and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, have 10-inch (25.4-centimeter) screens. That's roughly the size of some print magazines [source: BestBuy].
  • Software: The iPad has the same operating system as Apple's iPhone, iOS, while other 10-inch tablets usually run Google's Android Honeycomb OS, which is a tablet-specific variation of the Android OS developed initially for phones. Both Apple and Google have extensive online stores containing many thousands of apps, and allow you a lot of choices, such as an alternative browser to the one pre-installed on your phone. The Kindle Fire, in contrast, runs a special proprietary version of Android owned by Amazon, with fewer features and fewer available apps [source: Isaac].
  • Storage: The Kindle Fire has 8 gigabytes of storage space, which Amazon claims is enough to fit a library of 6,000 books [source: Amazon.com]. But that number is a little suspect, since it assumes an average size of 786 kilobytes for an eBook; the bestselling authorized biography of Steve Jobs, with its fancy graphics and photos, takes up 4,491 kilobytes. Nevertheless, 8 GB is plenty of space, if you're primarily a reader. If you're interested in downloading songs or movies, you might fill that space up pretty quickly, however. On the other hand, most 10-inch (25.4-centimeter) tablets generally come with 16 GB of storage space, enough to fit nearly 20,000 books on the device, and the iPad can have up to 64 GB (those 64 gigs will set you back either $699 or $899, depending on whether you get 3G connectivity also) [source: BestBuy, Apple.com]. The Nook ships with 8 GB of storage, but you have the option of expanding to up to 32 GB by buying an additional memory card [source: Barnes & Noble].
  • Connectivity: Both the Kindle Fire and the Nook access the Internet via a WiFi connection [source: Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble]. The iPad and other tablets have WiFi chips, too, but you often also have the option of paying more to get a mobile Internet connection as well [source: BestBuy, Apple.com]. Count on spending at least an additional $20 to $25 a month for that connection [source: Chartier].

Now that you know a little bit about these devices' features, let's dig into how you can make the best decision for your needs.