Reading on an iPad: My Experiences

Photo by Chirantan Patnaik
A couple of weeks ago I became the happy owner of an iPad. One of the many ways to use an iPad is for reading. Electronic books, web pages, PDF files, Word documents, you name it. It is all possible with the help of a couple of apps. In this blog post I will discuss my experiences I had with reading on an iPad. I will focus on reading bigger documents like e-books and PDF files.

The apps I have been using the last few weeks for reading are iBooks (which is installed on your iPad as a default app), Kindle for iPad and GoodReader for iPad. I’ve been using the first two for reading e-books and GoodReader for reading PDF documents and Word documents.

iBooks and Kindle for iPad give you about the same reading experience. iBooks is the prettiest app though with the virtual bookcase and page-turn animations. Both apps let you set the font size and change the background of the page to sepia. Kindle for iPad has an extra option to use a white font on a black background which can be more pleasant in a low-light environment. (This option is not my preference though, but your mileage may vary.)

Having the option to set a font size is great when reading an e-book. Finally I am not stuck with the font size as you would be with the old-fashioned printed edition of a book. An other great advantage is having the option to lookup a word in the dictionary. As a non-native speaker of the English language this is very helpful for me when reading English books. At the moment of this writing the dictionary is only available for English and Japanese.

Using Goodreader for iPad for reading PDF and Word documents is quite effective. You can use iTunes to transfer your documents to your iPad, but it is also possible to open documents that are attached to emails or transfer files via WiFi. For longer reading sessions the reading experience is less comfortable than with e-books as described in the previous paragraphs. One disadvantages is that you do not have the option to set the backgound to sepia like in iBooks and the Kindle app. You can lower the contrast level but only to one default setting which is a bit too dark for my taste.

An other downside of using GoodReader for iPad is that the layout of the pages is fixed. You are stuck with the layout of the pages as they were published by the author or book publisher. If a PDF document uses a small font then reading will be less comfortable. There are two ways to work around this. The first one is to read the document in landscape mode and zoom in so the page width is about the same as the iPad screen. You will have to scroll around the page by swiping the screen. The other option you have is to crop out the white margins of a page which will make the font size slightly bigger and the document easier to read. Results will vary with each document and, as I said earlier, with long reading sessions this is less comfortable when reading for a longer period of time.

Reading on an iPad has a few disadvantages too. Reading outdoors is not really an option with the iPad screen. It is only usable when you find a spot in the shade. Actually this is not an issue for me since I am using my iPad 99.9 percent of the time indoors anyway.

Reading at daytime can sometimes be annoying with the reflective screen. Turning up the contrast level can solve this a bit but not fully. On the other hand, reading during the evenings in a sparsely lit room can be tiring for the eyes if you read for an hour or more. Turning down the contrast of the screen and using the sepia screen setting (if available) helps a bit but it’s still not ideal for long reading sessions. Turning on a reading light in your vicinity can also help but you may have to adjust your reading spot or reading position to prevent reflection of the light in the iPad screen.

Final words: The iPad is a great device with a lot of possibilities. Reading e-books and documents is only one of them. Reading for an extended period of time like 60 minutes or more is more tiring than reading an old-fashioned printed book. If you are a voracious reader then you may want to stick with your dead-tree versions of your favorite books or check out an e-reader based on electronic ink like the Kindle.

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