Over the past few weeks, several faculty have asked me whether they should ask Santa for an iPad 2 or a Kindle Fire this Christmas. To begin with, I should confess to those of you who don’t know me, that I will always be an inveterate Apple fan, come what may – my heart belongs to Apple. That being said, I can also say with all honesty, that I love technology and I am certainly for competition in the market to promote greater levels of excellence from hardware and software producers.
When the first Kindle came out, I was fascinated by the emergence of ebooks. The thought of being able to have a vast and portable collection of reading material with me wherever I went greatly appealed to me. At the time, I had already begun reading ebooks on my small iPhone screen with the iPhone Kindle app, and although not an optimal experience because of the lack of screen real estate, I certainly enjoyed the convenience of being able to read during intermittent periods of free time. I also loved the fact that whenever someone told me about a good book they were reading, I could immediately download it from Amazon or put it on my Amazon wish list for future download. No longer did I have to venture out to a bookstore and search for a good book to read. (Did I mention that I hate to shop?) Finally, I loved having the backlight on the iPhone to read in bed at night. No more hassling with small book lights and power cords – Yay!
Two years ago (around Christmas time when Santa’s elves in my household were asking what I might like for Christmas), I began comparatively researching the iPad vs. Kindle for ebook reading. The iPad had not been released yet but there were rumors floating around of how wonderful it would be and how it would offer much more than just an ebook experience (which it does). At that time, I checked out a Kindle DX from Kennedy Library for a couple of weeks as a part of their pilot checkout program. Perhaps you aren’t aware that Cal Poly Polycard holders can check out a Kindle DX (the earlier generation Kindle) at the PolyConnect Service Desk. Check out is for 7 days (with the possibility of two 7-day renewals) and it comes to you loaded with 324 book titles – many of them from the NY Times Bestsellers list. If you want to get an idea of whether you would enjoy the ebook experience on such a device, you might want to take the opportunity to give the Kindle DX a test run.
My experience reading ebooks on the Kindle DX was pleasant but I was disappointed that it didn’t offer a backlight of any kind for reading in the dark. Many users extol the virtues of the Kindle’s E-ink Pearl Technology, and although granted, it is easy on the eyes, I didn’t find it preferable to reading on the backlit screen of my iPhone except for the larger size of screen real estate the Kindle DX offered.
Needless to say, I asked Santa for an iPad and later upgraded to an iPad 2. I LOVE MY iPAD! You will hardly ever see me without it – anywhere. I can surf the web, read my email, check my calendar, read ebooks with iBooks or the Kindle app, listen to music and podcasts, keep in touch with friends on Facebook, watch all sorts of multimedia from Netflix to iTunes to Hulu to YouTube to Lynda.com, create documents with Pages and convert them to PDF or Word documents, create spreadsheets with Numbers for the iPad, create and display PowerPoint-like slideshow presentations with Keynote, read PDFs and annotate them (even adding digital signatures to PDF forms) with iAnnotate, take notes at meetings with NoteShelf or Penultimate, use GarageBand to record my musical inspirations or create podcasts, use it as a remote device for presentations so I can walk around the room while I teach, watch slideshow displays of my photos hooked up to an LCD display or HDMI TV, and whenever I want to do some serious typing, I can hook up my Bluetooth wireless computer keyboard and type away. The battery life is great (around 8-10 hours depending upon whether you’re watching a movie or reading). A Mobile Me .Mac account for $99 a year (similar to the new iCloud account that Apple now offers for free) allowed me to sync all my devices and keep them all up-to-date with each other. What’s more, I have at my disposal over 500,000 (yes, I said 500,00!) apps to download from the iTunes app store (thousands for free) covering any topic I can think of to enhance my eclectic interests. Granted, the iPad hasn’t been a total replacement for my Mac laptop, but I find myself needing to travel with my laptop a lot less and that is a wonderful treat. If you wish to try out an iPad for a few days, Kennedy Library also provides the opportunity for you to test drive an iPad 2 for 72 hours, so consider giving it a try before you make any final decision on whether a Kindle or an iPad is the right choice for you.
Although I have only played with a Kindle Fire in the store, I was quite impressed with it compared to other tablets/ereaders I have experimented with. At 7.5” height by 4.7” wide, the Kindle Fire is considerably smaller than the iPad’s screen real estate (9.5” X 7.31”), but the Kindle Fire clocks in at several ounces lighter in weight than the iPad 2. Amazon has taken great care to make this device more than just an ereader. The Kindle Fire can browse the web, read and send email, listen to music, access thousands of books, videos, and music files, and play games. The Kindle Fire takes a hit when reading ebooks outside (just like the iPad), since it doesn’t use Kindle’s patented E-ink Pearl Technology like the earlier Kindles do, but if you don’t plan to read outside a lot, you probably won’t find that factor to be a deal-breaker. The Kindle Fire’s 1024 X 600 resolution display is definitely impressive within its 7 inch frame.
So why the $300 price difference between the two? The main reason the Kindle Fire is so cheap is that Amazon is using it to compete with Apple in the content consumption wars of their customers. By interweaving a media storefront into the device (similar to Apple’s iTunes), Amazon is hoping to garner some of the huge market share for videos, music, books, and apps where Apple has previously taken the lead. Many reviewers say that the shopping experience on the Kindle Fire is far more integrated than it is on the iPad.
So… the bottom line is that the iPad was everything I thought it should be and MORE but it does come with a hefty price tag with the iPad’s cheapest 16GB Wi-Fi version selling for $499 whereas the Kindle Fire with 8GBs of disk space will only set you back $199. If you have the money, I believe that the iPad is your best bet; however, the Kindle Fire certainly is an honorable runner-up.
Apple has taken great pains to design not only the hardware in an artistic, compact design that only Apple can deliver, but has also provided intuitive and useful software to power it. I doubt that Amazon will ever be able to match the sheer volume of content that Apple iTunes can offer. The Kindle Fire lacks the iPad’s addition of a video & still camera and a microphone (tools that I often need, especially for video conferencing and podcasting). Also, there’s a lot of things I can do on my iPad when I don’t have the benefit of a WI-FI connection, especially with useful tools like Read it Later, which allows you to save web pages and blogs and read them offline anywhere. (Note: I don’t have the 3G model iPad that always keeps you connected as long as you’re near a satellite.) In comparison, the Kindle Fire doesn’t offer much for the user to do in the offline experience.
Frankly, you can’t really compare the two – the iPad can do a whole lot more than the Kindle Fire can. The two devices have been designed for different types of consumers and savvy customers will recognize that fact. However, for consumers who wish to buy a tablet for sheer entertainment rather than the additional productivity inherent in the iPad, the Kindle Fire is definitely worth a look. There’s no question that the Kindle Fire is a viable entertainment tablet option for its price.
~ Dr. Luanne Fose (The Tweed Geek)