Ereaders vs. Tablets: is there a difference anymore?

  • New Kindle Fire HD launched in Australia
  • Ereaders turning into smaller tablets
  • Where's the middle ground?

The twenty-tens will most likely be known for a rise in technology that manifested as much in type as it did in ability. Rather than the long line of new computers and laptops that arrived in the nineties and noughties, each boasting better specs and new functions, the tech industry over the last four years or so has been all about bringing out a range of devices to address different needs, rather than cramming it all into one.


This has resulted in the handful of portable electronics that we are all familiar with: laptops, notepads, smartphones, tablets, and, more recently, ereaders.


The ebook revolution has been slow but steady, and Australia has seized onto it eagerly. A study in 2012 found that Australia, along with the UK, the US, and India, was leading the rest of the world in ebook adoption rates, with more than 20 percent of respondents confirming that they’d bought an ebook recently. The most popular ebook remains Amazon’s Kindle, with its easy access to the biggest supplier of ebooks - Amazon - and now, Amazon have announced that they’ll be launching the eagerly anticipated Kindle Fire HD in Australia at last, only nine months after the rest of the world got it.


An Amazon press release said: “Today Amazon announced that Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HD 8.9” are now available to customers in over 170 countries and territories around the world for pre-order through Amazon.com, giving customers access to millions of apps, games, books, audiobooks and magazines, including more than 300,000 books that are exclusive to the Kindle Store.”


Fans of ereaders will be delighted - only, does that last description sound kind of familiar? Like, say, a tablet?


When ereaders first arrived on the market, they were a simple device that did one thing, and did that one thing really well: they allowed you to read ebooks. The ways in which they did this were clever and unobtrusive: the grey “electronic ink” screens that meant glare from direct sunlight wasn’t a problem and your eyes didn’t get tired; buttons on the side of the screen so that you didn’t get thumbprints all over the pages of your new books; easy to use bookmark and highlighting tools; incredible battery life (my Kindle will typically last up to three weeks of everyday usage without needing to be charged). The exact specs varied from model to model, but in general the idea was to keep it straightforward and user-friendly: an electronic library, and nothing else.


However, as manufacturers brought out new models the urge to expand the features available on ereaders grew, and with many new versions of old ereaders - notably the Kindle Fire HD - it may be hard to find what the distinguishing features as an ereader are. In fact, it’s just another new tablet.


This evolution in ereader devices isn’t actually a good thing. Part of what made ereaders great was that they did just the one task incredibly well - much like a book, in fact. The evolution into tablets means: less storage space, shorter battery life, harder on the eyes.


And it’s not necessary. Having an ereader doesn’t mean that you can’t have a tablet; they’re not mutually exclusive, even more so because of the price (ereaders are typically very cheap - Amazon’s original Kindle, without advertising, is only $90), and in fact they form great complements to each other. Or you might decide that your smartphone has all the apps, games, and internet access that you need, and you just don’t like reading on such a small screen - that’s when your ereader will come in useful.


“Classic” ereaders are still available. Let’s hope they don’t go out of style entirely with the new obsession with making things shinier. Sometimes something dull is nicer on the eyes.


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