My new iPad was delivered bright and early Saturday morning -- part of the nationwide synchronized rollout of Apple's latest device -- and the UPS delivery lady seemed almost as happy about it as I was. "This is better than payday!" she told me. "Everybody is so excited to be getting these."
In the two days since the delivery, I've found a lot to love about the iPad, but for Book Case readers I want to concentrate on my reaction to the iPad as a reader and booklover. I'll frame my reactions with comparisons to the Kindle, which has dominated the market for e-readers until this weekend.
The iPad is super-thin, beautifully designed, lightweight (1.5 pound) and easy to use. It looks and functions almost exactly like an iPhone or iPod touch, so if you're familiar with either of those devices you'll know what to expect. The screen is strikingly sharp, the colors gorgeous and the battery life amazing. The iPad arrived at my house fully charged and the battery was still going strong after an entire day of steady use. The glare on the screen is considerable, however, and because of its 7.5 inch width, holding it like a book can feel a bit clumsy at first.
The Kindle is lighter (10 oz.) than the iPad, uses e-ink rather than a backlit screen and has push button controls rather than a touch system. The screen display is black and white only (or, as some users have described it, gray on gray) -- a sharp contrast to the vivid colors of the iPad. Though the Kindle might have the edge in being easy on the eyes for hours of nonstop reading, in every other category, the iPad is a better designed, more functional device. And in addition to reading, the iPad allows users to access the Internet, read email, watch TV shows or movies, and run thousands of specially designed mini-programs (apps). Whether you consider that a plus, or an intrusion on your time for reading books, is up to you.
THE IPAD vs. KINDLE VERDICT: iPad wins this round
The iPad uses a new e-reader program called iBooks. I loved it almost from the first moment I tried it out while reading a beautifully illustrated edition of Winnie the Pooh (which comes free with every new iPad). Each page is clearly defined on the screen, whether you're using the iPad in landscape or portrait mode. And when the reader turns the page -- by dragging a finger across the page from right to left -- the page appears to curl from the edge and turn, exactly as it would on a real book. It's hard to say why this visual trick is so enticing for a booklover, but it works. Other nice features: tap on any word and you can instantly look it up at dictionary.com, bookmark it or search for it elsewhere in the text. And increasing the font size or style is one-click easy, a big help for older readers who aren't quite ready for large print books. The iPad is also especially well suited for children's books and is sure to be a hit with young readers. Children's books have been among the top ranked reading apps for the iPhone and that's likely to continue with the iPad.
VERDICT: iPad wins again
Apple has the goods -- a cool new e-reader and appealing software -- but at least for now, it does NOT have the books. Especially not a wide selection of books that would appeal to an eclectic reader like me. The very first book I wanted to buy was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which my book club is reading this month. Though I have a hard copy of the book on hand, I thought it would be interesting to compare the experience of reading the same book on the iPad and in traditional printed format. But, darn, Apple doesn't have this acclaimed book available in its iTunes store, because Random House hasn't reached a deal with Apple yet. What to do? I went back to the iTunes store and downloaded the brand new (free) Kindle app for the iPad, which enables me to read Amazon's Kindle books on my Apple device. Then I went to Amazon.com on my browser, found the book almost immediately and downloaded it to my iPad. Amazon has the shopping experience for books down to a science, while the iTunes store seems constrained, hard to browse and to search. The experience of reading Kindle books on an iPad isn't ideal -- for one thing you don't get the advantages of the iBooks software -- but for now it gives users the best of both worlds: the vast book selection of Amazon paired with Apple's sleek new device.
VERDICT: Amazon/Kindle, hands down
Which of these devices would be best for you depends on several factors, most notably whether you want a gadget only for reading books and periodicals or whether you'd prefer to have other capabilities.
Also, I have to admit that while I love my new iPad, I ultimately put it down and picked up a hard copy of The Book Thief to finish my reading. After several hours of reading on the iPad, I'll readily admit that I yearned to pick up an old-fashioned book and hold it in my hands, a posture that's so ingrained in a long-time reader it's probably been incorporated into our DNA. After all is said and done (and read), a book is still the most portable, most readable and most satisfying "reading device" of all.