Kindle hardware vs Kindle app: What's the better reading experience?

When Amazon announced that it would be selling it's latest iteration of the Kindle for $139 (for the WiFi version) I decided the time had come to take the plunge. Mine arrived on Friday and I was anxious to put it to the test. Specifically I was interested in comparing reading books on the hardware Kindle to reading them on the Kindle app for the iPad. Turns out the two devices are in some ways diametrically opposed and in some ways very similar. So here's what I found. First though, a bit of perspective. I've been using the iPad to read e-books for months. It was my first e-reader (aside the odd bit of reading done on a phone or, going way back, a Palm Pilot) and I'm used to it, so there may be a bit of bias in this post that you'll want to keep in mind. Months of the iPad vs two days of the Kindle isn't a completely fair comparison. Also, I'm not going into questions about DRM here. I'm assuming the reader is interested in reading Kindle books.

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Let's start with the hardware. This is where the two devices are least alike. The iPad has that big 9.7" LCD screen, backlit, while the Kindle's E-Ink screen is only 6". The argument for E-Ink is that your eyes will get tired after reading off an LCD screen for very long. Whether or not this is true depends on the individual; I personally don't have a problem reading off an LCD display for hours on end (I do it every day) but I know people for whom this is absolutely an issue. Environment also factors into which screen is better for you. The iPad screen completely washes out in sunlight. If you've got a backyard hammock where you like to relax and read, then the iPad probably isn't for you (ditto for beach readers). On the other hand if you like the idea of lounging on the balcony on a cool summer evening, you'll need to carry a light to use the Kindle while the iPad provides it's own illumination. Screen size factors in mostly for those of us with poor eyesight. I like to bump the font size up quite a bit. On the Kindle this can really cut down on the amount of text that can be displayed on a page. Suddenly it feels like you're reading on a phone again with frequent page turns. If you've got good eyes (or good glasses) then screen size probably won't be an issue. The Kindle's display isn't touch sensitive and in a lot of ways this makes the device feel a little retro. There's a 4-way directional pad that you use to move a selection-cursor around the screen, with a central action button to act on whatever is selected. The physical keyboard takes up a lot of space considering it's something you're not going to use very often. There are page forward/page backwards buttons on both edges of the device; this felt a little weird to me. My natural inclination was to hit the big button on the left side of the Kindle in order to flip back a page, but that button is a page forward button. The smaller back buttons are above the forward buttons on either side. The iPad, of course, is all based on touch. Selecting an option is a tap away. Flipping pages is done via taps or swipes on either side of the display. Tap the right side, or swipe right to left, to go forward. Tap the left side, or swipe left to right, to go back. It feels very intuitive. The flip side, of course, is that the iPad weighs significantly more than the Kindle, and the screen gets all smudged up. It's very common for me to have a lint-free cloth at hand when I'm reading on the iPad. I always clean the screen before I start to read.

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