There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. If you mostly want to read books, and cost is your main consideration, a $199 e-reader beats a $499 tablet. At the other end of the spectrum, if you're not worried about price, and what you really love is downloading music and apps and watching videos, a tablet clearly is a better choice. But if you're somewhere in the middle, here are some other factors to consider:
- How it feels when you hold it. If you like holding a book in one hand while you're standing on the commuter train, e-readers are better, because they're at least a few ounces lighter than tablets [source: Shanklin]. For example, a Kindle Fire weighs in at just 14.6 ounces (4.1 hectograms), while the iPad is a more substantial 1.33 pounds (6 hectograms) [sources: Amazon.com, Apple.com]. By comparison, a mass-market paperback of Stephen King's 1999 bestseller "Bag of Bones" weighs in at about 12.2 ounces (3.4 hectograms), and David McCullough's recent nonfiction book "The Greater Journey" weighs 2.3 pounds (10.4 hectograms) [source: Amazon.com].
- How the screen looks to you. Some reviewers have complained that the Kindle Fire has too much screen glare, but the iPad isn't immune from such complaints, either [source: Tsukayama, Carmody]. The iPad has slightly higher resolution, at 1024 by 768 pixels, than its Amazon competitor, at 1024 by 600 pixels, but the difference isn't that noticeable [source: Shanklin]. It really comes down to personal preference. Nothing beats actually trying out the device in the store, or, in the case of the Kindle Fire, borrowing one from a friend who's already taken the plunge.
- How many different things you want to use it for. E-readers are fairly limited in terms of bells and whistles -- they're really meant for consuming books. With a tablet like the iPad, you get a microphone and a camera for recording video and shooting pictures, and plenty of ports for plugging in after-market gadgets [source: Apple.com]. Also, a tablet's greater storage space means that you can install apps to your heart's content. Remember, too, that there are a lot more apps available for tablets than for e-readers. For example, Amazon offers about 10,000 apps, which is less than a tenth of the 140,000 available for the iPad [source: Topolsky, Apple.com].
- Where you'll be using it. As Bloomberg Businessweek technology writer Kevin C. Tofel notes, if you're not traveling as much these days and do most of your reading and video watching at home, you can make do with the WiFi capabilities of an e-reader like the Kindle Fire [source: Tofel]. But if you're interested in watching streaming videos from Netflix on train rides or under a tree in the park, you'll want a tablet with 3G connection (or 4G, as it becomes available).