Schools and classrooms were some of the earliest adopters of e-book technology, because they realized that electronic textbooks could benefit students in multiple ways. They tend to be dramatically cheaper than printed books, and the cost of textbooks can make the difference between an education that is too expensive and one that is comfortably affordable. E-books can be designed to work interactively, too, so that students can engage with them in various ways that make learning more effective and multidimensional. They are also lighter and take up less room – both in a student’s backpack and on the desk in the classroom, or in lecture halls that don’t have desks. All of these means that more students are carrying e-books and e-reader devices on campus, regardless of whether they are in grade school, high school, or at a community college or university. But what are some of the key considerations to think about when shopping for an e-reader that will be primarily used by a student? Here are three points that you may want to factor in to make that selection process easier.
#1 Price and Long-Term Value
The amount you pay for an excellent new e-reader such as the Kindle – which is offered in a wide variety of models – will be a good investment. But you don’t necessarily need a top-of-the-line model like the pricey Kindle Oasis if you are primarily reading for school or college. You can, of course, buy used e-readers very inexpensively, but the downside is that you don’t know how long they’ll last – especially do-or-die components like the battery. That all depends upon how many hours they have already be used, and how they were cared-for or maintained. In the interest of longevity, it is best to buy a new product – although a reliable hand-me-down from a sibling or parent may be the exception to this rule. If it still has a lot of life in it that can be a really practical way to get your money’s worth.
On the low end of the new-gadget spectrum there is the budget-priced Kindle Fire’s cheapest model, and it comes with other bells and whistles beyond e-reading capability. You can use a Fire to send email, play games, browse the Web, or watch your favorite movie. But before you succumb to those features, keep in mind that they may just serve to distract you from what you really need your e-reader for as a student – reading your homework assignments. For most students the Amazon Fire gadgets are not the ideal solution, not just because they offer digital distraction potential but also because they don’t provide the most ideal viewing surface for a person who is reading many hours per day. That leads us to the next consideration – ease of use.
#2 Ease of Use/Functionality
If your eyes get tired and strained from reading, that will effectively end your study session – and make learning a lot less fun. You have to protect your eye health, and that should be a primary consideration when choosing an e-reader, especially one for school where the amount of reading can be enormous. For that reason, always give an e-reader a test drive before you buy it. Look for one that has a great screen visibility in different kinds of lighting, and one that is illuminated in a way that doesn’t create a glare. The Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Kobo Aura are examples of e-readers that are rated highly for their visual quality and lighting. The ink should look realistic and the words on the page should be very easy to read – and easy on your eyes. If not, keep shopping until you find the best possible reader experience for your money.
Students may be accustomed to writing margin notes and highlighting passages in their textbooks, but the cool thing about e-books is that with most of them, and on most e-reader devices, you can do that plus a lot more, without permanently marking-up your book. When shopping for an e-reader check out the features and ask questions if you aren’t sure what it is capable of doing. Most let you copy and past material, bookmark pages, highlight text, change the font, and do instant text searches. Plus, unlike printed books, the typical e-reading device will also provide you with online remote access to libraries all over the world.
#3 E-Readers vs. Tablets
As long as you are downsizing from traditional textbooks, you are going to shed a lot of weight that you will no longer have to tote around on your back from class to class or across campus. Because e-readers are small, with displays that are typically around 6-inches across, they are also the lightweight option. Most of them will feel about the same in your hand as a paperback book – and not those gigantic soft-cover textbooks either. We’re talking a weight that is more like a pocket-sized paperback.
When you consider the smallness and extra capability of a tablet computer, though, they are also an attractive solution that you should think about before you buy. Evaluate your budget, and also how you need to use the device. If you are mostly using it for reading and don’t need computer features like the ability to run software or print documents, stick with an e-reader. But if you plan to carry around a laptop computer, perhaps a tablet can provide you computer capability and functionality in a gadget that is not much bigger than an e-reader. A tablet will probably cost more than an e-reader. In fact, it may cost a lot more. On the other hand, you might be able to pick up a good, reliable tablet for a fraction of the price of a full-fledged laptop. You may also be able to use a full-sized keyboard via a USB connection, if you don’t like the idea of doing a lot of typing on a little tablet.
With the tablet option you can run document-creation software, surf the Internet to do your research, and also run other kinds of software while enjoying email, video, and movie-watching features that the standard e-reader won’t have. Will it run fast enough and have enough memory to make it powerful and capable enough to replace your laptop? That’s a question you’ll need to answer in order to make the right decision. Do remember, though, that both laptops and tablets are inferior to dedicated e-readers when it comes to the look and illumination of the letters on the page. With that in mind, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, you may still want two different devices – a dedicated e-reader plus a computer, whether it’s a tablet, a notebook, a laptop, or a desktop model.