Tablet computers: distraction or enhanced digital reading experience?

I find that attempting to work on my laptop is a challenge to my focusing skills under normal circumstances. Work colleagues are always sending intriguing links that, of course, lead to other links and further discussion and the occasional “oh yes, I saw this other day that I wanted to share … let me find it again” which in turn leads to other tangential distractions. I am the poster child for the digitally distracted.

At the risk of dating myself, I remember when the HP iPaQ was released. I was rabid to get one, and when I did, one of the first things I did was explore eBooks. In those days, eBooks were limited to a form of PDF especially created and compressed for viewing on a compact device. I am not even sure the concept of an ePUB or a Mobipocket file format was a reality yet. Well, maybe Mobipocket was, but not ePUB and it certainly wasn’t as mainstream as it is now. To get back to the point, I remember this experience because it was the first true geek gadget experience of my life and the one thing has stuck with me about that experience was that there was always too much to do and explore on the iPaQ than I had time for. Hence, my reading was always interrupted by the need to pay attention to something else about the device.

The Kindle was the first device I had ever seen that I thought could truly replace the real book for me. And not because I had to read electronic books, but because when I travelled, my luggage was always 10 or so pounds heavier than it needed to be due to the dozen or so books that I had to have with me. (When I say I am a voracious reader, I am not kidding!) The electronic eReader was a wondrous discovery for me – now I could take my whole library with me and not have to choose before a trip what I will be reading while I was gone. And, a device that offers up little distraction other the pull of the other books I could be reading. What a blessing for this distraction poster-child!

Enter the Apple iPad. Another wondrous invention – but not for me as a reader, but for me as someone who would like to have their computer with them everywhere they go and was loathe to lug around a 5 or 6 pound computer along with her Kindle, wallet, and smartphone. As a proud first generation Kindle adopter, I was already knee deep in Amazon books anyway, so I tried out the Kindle app on the iPad.

I will tell you this – the color and touch screen experience is a far cry from your e-Ink reader. It is a visual and tactile pleasure and is possibly the nearest thing to a real-book experience that you can find electronically. And then came the email notifications or the Facebook notifications. Or the calendar pop-ups and alarm bells and whistles associated with other apps that I had installed on my iPad, and they just totaled this distraction poster child’s resolve.

Conclusion: reading on a tablet-like computer is not something I can do. I either have to pick up a real book, or a distraction free device like an e-Ink reader. Apparently, I am not the only one. A New York Times article just this week seems to echo the same sentiments and goes on to hint that maybe publishers themselves are having the same reservations. Tablet computers just offer up too much distraction for a reader who struggles with focus to begin with; not to mention to tempt those who never had a problem in the first place. It all seems to circle the same drain – the idea that our lives have become a cacophony of social network updates, email messages, instant messages, and other distractions that just interfere with our quality of life.

If you have a tablet computer of any kind, do you read on it? How would you describe the experience? Better yet, do you have both a tablet computer and a dedicated e-Ink reader; if so, how would you describe the experience of both and which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook Fan Page.

  • saa95

    I have a pretty little Kobo and my shiny new iPad, and more often than not, I find myself reading on the tablet than the reader. This is mostly because of the backlit screen on the iPad, which allows me to read in the dark (something I love to do, because my mom hates it!). I do enjoy the Kobo, of course, but somehow, the weight and solid feel of the iPad is more like a real book than the extreme lightweight and rubbery feel of the reader.

    • http://fyrfli.net Camille

      The weight of the iPad representing that “real feel” of a book is a very positive aspect of tablet reading, too. I hadn’t thought of that. Plus with a tablet, you can download our Free-eBooks.net app from the iTunes store or the Android Market (now called Google Play).

      Although, I suspect most other tablets are a lot lighter than the iPad. :-)

      Thanks for writing in.

  • http://twitter.com/JoJoWazoo JoJoWazoo

    Back in 1998 or 1999 my husband bought me an E-book – E-reader. It was the best gift I had ever received up to that point in my life. There was nothing better than to plug my phone line into my e-book, dial up, find and download the e-books and read them! It had a back light which was fabulous since I read a lot in the wee hours of night. I didn’t have to keep a real light on to disturb my husband’s sleep.

    As the e-reader books became obsolete for some reason, I began downloading books to my laptop and reading them here. Today, I have a Motorola Xoom which is the best tool ever. While I prefer to work on my laptop, my Xoom is fantastic to take to the coffee shop, restaurant, poolside and to bed. I can download and ready anything in a matter of seconds in a wireless internet environment. Also, there are so many free e-books available these days. So, for over 10 years, I’ve loved the e-format for books. Of course, there’re still sometimes that I love to hold and read a real paper book too. I’ve also been reading newspapers online for several years.

  • Anne

    I have a Nextbook and I love it as I can carry around several translations of the Bible, various prayerbooks, a virtual Rosary, study books and the current novel I’m reading. I also have an Android tablet with keyboard and that gets used for notetaking, e.mail, word processing & etc. I could use it to read e.books, but I find the Nextbook to be just plain better at doing it and not so frustrating to use.

  • Mike

    I really dont understand how someone can not get tired reading on a backlit screen. Maybe I am older (68) but the e-ink screen is so much easier on the eyes. I have read for 4 hrs on my kindle and had to stop because my brain was tired, not my eyes, and I didnt have to look for a power outlet to charge a tablet. Ebooks are for reading, Tablets are like ducks. They dont fly well, they dont swim well, they dont walk well, but they do a lot of things(for those who have to have the latest gadgets). Ebooks only do ONE thing, but they do it well.

  • Clynnaltemus

    I have a Nook, a Color Nook, a Sony Galaxy, and an iPad2. I read books on all of them with no preference of one over the other. If I want to read laying down, I prefer the Galaxy because of its weight and size. It is easier to hold. I carry the Color Nook with me everywhere and read while waiting. You’d be amazed at the amount of time a person spends waiting. The iPad2 gets used when the others are on the chargers. I read on it more than using it as a computer because I have a 21″ Mac which I use for email and research because it has a printer attached.

    Am contemplating giving the original Nook to a friend of mine who reads all of the time and cannot afford to buy one.

  • Joelks

    As a matter of convenience and portability I purchased and used an original Kindle for about two years, then came my Fathers’ Day gift, a shiny new iPad first edition. I was overjoyed when Amazon released the Kindle app for iPad. Now with the various readers for iPad, such as Nook, Kindle, GoodReader, iBooks, Stanza, E Reader, and Free E-Books there is no need for anything other than my iPad. The volume and availability is fantastic. I can understand the eye strain problem some folks face, but turning the brightness down or inverting the screen makes the iPad a really enjoyable way to read. Lastly, being able to respond instantly like to this article or a little quick research when something comes up during my reading makes the iPad the ideal reader. If I had trouble focusing when using the iPad it would indeed be difficult to use the tablet. To each his or own, thanks for your thoughts and article.

  • Derrick Jay

    I have a laptop and a Kindle Fire. I only read on my Kindle and visit places on the net with it. Typing is a hassle better left to the laptop.

  • D Mcbenge

    I usually do my reading on my desktop computer because I can adjust the size of text. I would wear my glasses but they are a hassle to have on and keep clean. I purchased a 7″ tablet to take with me when I am away from home such as doctor’s offices or hospital so I can read what ever I wish. Magazines have the print too small and the eye strain is a problem. I usually leave my wifi off so I don’t have distractions from going any where else unless I choose to.

  • Moondream

    I have both an eReader, which I got first, and a 7″ tablet. I use the tablet all the time but keep backups of all my books on the eReader just in case. I love them both but use the tablet more because I can also download games to it. Both do much the same thing and I don’t find either distracting. My only complaint with both of them is that with pdf files the print is too small and can’t be enlarged enough for me to read them. I can only read them on my desktop computer which I find is a nuisance.

    • Someone

      Download Calibre – it’s FREE and converts books between any format

  • Theresa Krueger

    I love books and never thought I’d buy an ereader device. Then, with my Christmas money, I bought myself an Asus eePad. We already have PCs, net books and iTouchs. I like it more than I thought! I’m glad I can check my email and read message boards, along with browsing the web and reading books. I like returning the library books as soon as I’m finished with them. This week, I’m reading two ebooks, one ecookbook, plus I have four books with real pages. As much as I’m enjoying the tablet, I’m NOT taking it in a bubble bath!

  • J Covington

    I swore i would never make the e-reader plunge. I like a “real” book in my hands. Recently i purchased the Nook tablet and i am loving it! Granted, it is a far cry from a full blown tablet pc but the Nook tablet is perfect for my usage. I am still adjusting to the mobile versions of web sites and various apps but i am really enjoying the convenience of carrying my “books” in my purse and can still do email and surfing the net. The cost was a huge plus, as well.
    As for distraction, well, i just shut off the wireless after i finish downloading me e-books and i limit my distractions.

  • Rigby Taylor

    There’s no distraction on the i-pad if you turn off the wireless. I like it for the colour and illustrations and if I’m sitting inside. It is useless outside because of the reflections, and no good in bed as it’s too heavy. The Sony and kindle are perfect anywhere, inside and out, and especially in bed, and just slip in my pocket if I’m in town and have to wait anywhere. I need both sorts and love them deeply, not only for their portability, but because I now have access to thousands of out of print books some precious archival stuff, from Gutenberg and other sources, as well as contemporary books. And they aren’t using paper!

  • Alanson Hertzberg

    I have a Nook tablet, a Kindle Fire and many computers. I am a book lover but have learned to appreciate the tablet. I decided not to buy an e-ink reader because why would I buy a device that had computer capabilities but was so limited as a computer. I prefer the Nook over the Kindle, primarily because it has a memory card expansion slot. I read books on both and the only complaint I have is that even light weight devices begin to weigh too much when attempting to read them in bed. On the other hand I can read in bed with no other light on so it does not disturb my sleeping wife. Overall I think the reading experience on a tablet is not the same as reading a book, but is a useful alternative. As I am travelling through Europe right now, my Nook contains 10 books, eight of which I have read while on the trip. It is useful and takes less space.

  • Amazin2843

    I have a tablet and an e-reader. I prefer the readers because it’s smaller, the size of a paperback. It’s also lighter in weight so that I can read in bed without holding a heavy book. I’m an avid reader and can get books in seconds without running to the store. I love this. I can even borrow from my local library through wi-fi. This is the life!

  • W_n22

    I’ve read several novels on the iPad and find it useful for late-night reading.
    Like the fact that the screen is self-adjusting in terms of illumination.
    Not as convenient in terms of titles available on app store.

    • http://fyrfli.net Camille

      Thanks for writing in!

      Have you ever tried getting the Amazon, Nook, Kobo, or Google Play apps for the iPad? They would most certainly widen your choices in titles.

  • Mary Morgan

    I love my Toshiba Thrive and wouldn’t even think of getting a dedicated e-ink reader. Prior to my Thrive I was reading books on my phone, which again was just fine for me… I read a LOT and so love haven’t books with me everywhere I go. When I am reading something that I want to or must concentrate on I just ignore updates, or turn them off… that is easy to do, then just turn them back on when I’m finished with what I was concentrating on. Personally with all the great tablets out there and smart phones I don’t see why anyone would want an extra device to lug around that only has one function.

  • Nelki Lauret

    I have both an e-book reader and a tab. I got the Be-Book reader because I love to read in bed and thought I would be able to read without disturbing my partner. But, with a paper-white screen, I still need a reading light, which disturbs someone trying to go to sleep. I now own a tab (not an i-Pad, but a Galaxy Tab) and I absolutely LOVE it. For all the reasons you mention, but, in order to not be distracted while I am reading, I just turn off the WIFI, reduce the screen brightness, and can now read in bed without disturbing anyone! Fantastic! The only drawback is the fact that I cannot read the tab in full sunlight as I can my be-book. So, I just in the shade! For the time being, my Tab gets number one position for me!

  • Julietacollins

    The very fact that I am here writing this proves your point!

  • Someone

    I have a computer, an iPad, an iPod & an eReader. I use the computer for productivity (email, bookswork, etc), the iPod for audio books on the road, and the iPad for everything else. My $180 eReader sits on a shelf. I am also a voracious reader – and I have at least 50 books on my iPad at any given time. I prefer the iBook ap instead of the Kindle ap. I started with the epub ap because I do a lot of library books, and can’t return the Kindle (.mobi) books when I finish reading them, (have to wait til they expire in 2 – 3 weeks). I love it. My sister has an eReader that also does movies & videos, but not wi-fi or aps. She reads more now than she ever has. My mom has a tablet and uses it mainly for reading, but does play cards or slots when she gets tired of reading.