Kindle vs. Kindle

I'm a big fan of the Kindle Fire. It's the iPad's equal in every meaningful measure, plus it sports a more convenient form factor. Check out my review and this week's iPad/tablet face off.

But there's one thing I won't use it for: reading. Chances are, you won't want to either. So if you're thinking about getting one to use as an eReader, allow me a few words to talk you out of it.

The Kindle Fire has an excellent IPS LCD screen with a wide viewing angle. Though it's let down by terribly poor internal scaling, it still looks really good. For watching movies or surfing the web, it works great.

The problem is, it's too bright. In my recent face off with the other tablets, the Fire had the highest, lowest brightness. Which is to say, with the brightness control set at its minimum, the Fire was the brightest of any major tablet. It's nearly three times brighter than the iPad at its lowest, and over ten times brighter than the Samsung. This is especially noticeable when you're using the Fire at night. I tend to surf the web while I'm watching TV, and in a dark room the Fire borders on painful to look at, even at its lowest setting.

Watching a TV or movie on the Fire in a dark room isn't as big of a deal because you can hold it out away from you. But if you're trying to read something - email, a web page, a book - you're naturally going to hold it closer to your face. Holding a bright LCD close to your eyes in a dark room is a receipt for eyestrain, eye pain, and overall annoyance. Like watching an episode of Jersey Shore.

I'm a big fan of print books. There's a tactile nature to reading for me that just can't be replaced by a digital device, no matter how cool it is. That said, I see the benefit of the Kindle. Certain books are a pain to lug around, and keeping it all on something small enough to fit in your pocket is genuinely cool. 

While I would advise against using a Fire to read on, I think other eReaders are awesome.

Certain eReaders. If you're looking for something to do a lot of reading on, I strongly advise against anything with an LCD screen. This includes the Nook Color, and even the iPad.

I have the cheapest regular Kindle without "Special Offers" (advertising). Even though I still prefer paper, it's a pleasing reading experience thanks to one thing: eInk.

eInk - or the more generic "electronic paper" - displays work very differently from other display technologies: They're reflective, not emissive. LCDs shoot their own light into your eyeballs. eInk displays reflect the ambient light. It's far easier on the eyes, more like looking at real paper, and therefore more natural too read on.

For a more technical explanation, I recommend the Wikipedia article.

I speak of the Kindle as I own one, but the other electronic paper readers will work almost identically. In the same amount of light you'd be able to read a book in, the e-paper screens are easy to read.

The irony is, the fact that the Fire's screen lights up makes it harder to read in a dark room than the e-paper Kindle. Sure it's easier to see, in a dark room, but it's more annoying to look at. I read without my glasses on, with the book/eReader close to my face. Checking email on my phone in the morning causes enough eye strain. I couldn't imagine forcing myself to read a book on the same technology.

Just food for thought.