Turn your old iPad into a dedicated e-reader

Editors Note: If youre planning to replace your old iPad with a shiny, new third-generation iPad, you dont necessarily have to sell your old tablet or give it away. This is the latest in a series of articles in which we look at ways to give your old iPad a new purpose. In this installment, we focus on converting your old iPad into a dedicated e-reader.

Turning an iPad into a one-trick e-reading pony may seem counter-intuitive. After all, your iPad can take on lots of tasks from surfing the Web to marshaling an army of angry birds. Why limit yourself to just one task, even if that task is as pleasurable as sitting down with a good book?

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Because, try as you might, you simply cant ignore the other tantalizing distractions your iPad has to offer, and stripping those out will help you lose yourself in a good read. Because youve upgraded to a newer model, and youre not ready to recycle that old iPad just yet. And if you happen to use an original iPad because your devices future is about to get a lot more limited. iOS 6 will introduce a lot of new features when it arrives this falland your original iPad wont be able to handle any of them, as the forthcoming iOS update wont run on your first-generation tablet.

Heres the good news: You dont have to do anything fancy to convert an old iPad into a dedicated e-reader. But if you take some time to better customize your older iPad, you can take it from a merely capable e-reading device to a top-notch one.

Is it worth it?

You can buy a dedicated e-reader like Amazons Kindle for as little as $79. Does it make sense to use your original iPad, for which you paid at least $500 as an e-reader? Obviously, one argument in the old iPads favor is the fact that you own it already.

But a Kindle or similar e-Ink reader does sport some advantages of its own: Such a device is considerably lighterless than half a pound, versus almost a pound and a halfmaking it easier to hold one-handed. And some users find that the e-Ink screen is easier on the eyes for extended reading jags when compared to the iPads LCD screen.

The thriftier among us may balk at plunking down the better part of a Benjamin on a new e-reader when they already have a serviceable tablet from Apple. And while some elements of the reading experience may be superior on a Kindle or Nook, the iPad certainly offers some advantages of its own, like its speed, color display, and support for multitouch.

Configuring the iPad

Any iPad, of course, can function as an e-reader. But if your goal is to make the iPad a dedicated reader, there are some settings you ought to consider tweakingmostly to minimize distractions. A Kindle wont pop up alerts or try to capture your attention; with a little effort, your iPad wont either.

Well talk about which apps you will want on your e-reading iPad shortly, but first lets talk about which apps you probably wont need: Any others. If this iPad is to function successfully as an e-reader, it cant hurt to remove Angry Birds, Words With Friends, or Facebook. If youre hesitant to remove perfectly good apps that you just might want at some unspecified time in the future, at least consider combining all those apps into an iOS folder: That folder icon is far less tempting to tap on than, say, the silhouetted linksman gracing the icon of Super Stickman Golf.

Once youve removed or hidden away potential app distractions, make sure that even the apps youre not ready (or, in the case of iOSs built-in apps, not able) to part with wont distract you, either. Head over to the Settings app and tap on Notifications. iOS 5 lacks a global switch for turning off notifications, so its a good thing you deleted a bunch of apps one paragraph agonow you have less work on the Notifications settings screen.

To prevent your iPads other apps from interrupting reading time, tap on each in turn, and set the Alert Style to None for every single app. Now, any apps that update in the background wont splash a banner or alert across the screen when they do so.

Your other option would be to enable Airplane mode whenever youre readingalso from the Settings appwhich would prevent your iPad from accessing the Internet. Its a fine, battery saving choice, but then you have to remember to turn Airplane mode off again when you want to download more books.

While youre in Settings, also consider removing any email or calendar accounts still saved in the Mail, Contacts, Calendars section; if this iPad is for reading, theres no sense letting those apps gobble up extra bandwidth and battery. And if you havent already, under General, ensure that the Side Switch is set to Lock Rotation and not Mute; youll need the former option far more often if you move around as you read.

Which apps you need

Put bluntly: Get the apps you need to read the content you want. If youd like your dedicated e-reading iPad for books, grab Amazons Kindle app and Apples iBooks app. There are plenty of other e-reading apps; unless you already own books for another platform (like Kobo or Nook), theres no need to pursue those.

Devoted Kindle readers may also want to install the Kindle Cloud Reader Web app; it integrates the Kindle bookstore directly, which the App Store app isnt allowed to do. Alternatively, you could stick with the iOS app and simply install the iPad Kindle Store Web app instead.

You may want to read content from other sources, for which you should of course download the right app. If you plan to use your e-reading iPad to read long-form content you encounter around the Web, youll want an app like Instapaper ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ), Pocket ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ), or Readability. And if you envision using this iPad to discover Web content youd like to read, consider installing apps like Zite ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) or Flipboard ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ), apps that assemble content from assorted sources you define into reading-optimized, magazine-style layouts. (If youre looking for more choices, Macworld looked at the options for personalized news apps a w file back.)

Should you wish to use your iPad for true magazine reading, navigate the App Stores Newsstand section to find your favorite publications. Newsstand-compatible publications will appear in the Newsstand folder on your iPad, and the latest issues download automatically behind-the-scenes on the device. You can also consider subscription to all-you-can read plans like the one offered by newcomer Next Issue, or the Newsstand alternative Zinio.


The iPads backlight provides sufficient lighting; as a result, you wont need to spring for a lamp or book light as you might with another companys e-reader. If youre reading in the dark, say before sleep beckons, you can dial down your iPads brightness nearly all the wayand potentially choose the nighttime reading mode for the app youre usingand still see just fine without blinding your retinas.

One accessory that might come in handy is some sort of lap stand, should your arms get tired long before your eyes. Weve previously recommended the Rain Design iRest Lap Stand ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ); another very good option (and one that can also work as a laptop lap desk) is the Prop n Go.

Both stands can prop up your iPad in either orientation, and can angle the tablet so that you neednt hold it up yourself. Theyre great on tabletops, or laps while seated, or on torsos in bed.

Lex Friedman is a Macworld staff writer.

This story, "Turn your old iPad into a dedicated e-reader" was originally published by Macworld.

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