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Tablet Showdown: Who’s the best in e-Books and magazines?

Aside from multimedia and gaming, one of the most practical use of a tablet is to read digital books or magazines or even comics. With the big display, portability and internal storage, you can bring hundreds of books or magazines with you all the time.

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We take a look at four popular tablets we have in the market right now to see which one offers the best digital reading experience. We have the BlackBerry PlayBook, Apple iPad 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. We looked at them in terms of ease of use, display and clarity as well as handling.

BlackBerry PlayBook

RIM’s PlayBook is a 7-inch tablet running on QNX. It’s fast and powerful but the new tablet platform still has a long way to go when it comes to apps. It’s size is probably the sweet spot if you want a tablet that you can easily handle with one hand without straining it, like when reading a book.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a native reader on its own. You can download Kobo for free but it doesn’t support sideloading of e-Books you already have, you need to buy books from Kobo. Too bad because you can easily load files on the PlayBook without opening any application. There are a couple of e-Readers in the BlackBerry App World but they come with a price albeit minimal.

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As for magazines, the display size may not be ideal for reading your Cosmo magazine unless your comfortable pinching the screen to zoom in and out per page. Photos are displayed really well but text bleeds making it irritating to read.

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If you have a Kobo account or don’t mind paying for reader apps then the PlayBook would be a nice device for e-Books. It’s just like having a pocket novel with you everywhere you go.

Apple iPad 2

When Apple redesigned the original iPad, the slimness and lighter iPad 2 became a really nice device to read books and magazines. You still can’t hold it in one hand for prolonged periods but shafting a bit of weight and heft made it more portable than the first one.

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You can choose among a number of eBook or magazine readers from the App store and most of them are free. Favorite of mine is Stanza which accepts all sorts of e-Book format but if you want to keep it simple, the free iBooks app can handle both and should be enough for most people.

Transferring of e-Books require you to use iTunes. Just drag and drop your books (.epub format) and PDFs into your iPad and sync. Or you can place them in the cloud like Dropbox and download it or use an app (like iFile) to transfer files wirelessly.

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Among the devices tested, only the iPad displayed magazines full screen and iBooks also did some rendering to make the text appear smooth and easy to the eyes. All you need to do then is tap to flip through pages. Really easy!

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Slightly bigger than the iPad 2 but a bit lighter and slimmer, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks like an Android version of the iPad. What’s good with the Android iOS is that you don’t need an app just to transfer your books. You can plug it into any PC and access it like you would a USB storage device and just drag and drop your files.

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The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a native reader app that can accept .epub files and PDFs. e-Books look good on its 10.1-inch display and like most reader apps, you can change certain aspects like font size, style and background color.

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Due to its wide screen though, magazines aren’t displayed in full screen at 100%, there are empty spaces on both ends. In fact, it’s still hard to read at 100% zoom unlike the iPad and the text bleeds too like in the PlayBook. I also tested another reader called Aldiko and it showed the same display.

ASUS Eee Pad Transformer

Another 10-inch Android similar to the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The Eee Pad Transformer is relatively affordable but you will be sacrificing the slimness of the Tab. You would get a macho tablet with a wider form due to speakers on both sides. Something you probably won’t need when reading a book or a magazine. This makes the Transformer unwieldy for book lovers as compared to the others.

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The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer also has its own reader but it’s not as intuitively designed as the Tab. However, you can get a lot of free reader apps from the Market. The native reader on this tablet also supports .epub for books and PDFs for magazines.

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Just like it’s Samsung counterpart, the Transformer doesn’t display a magazine full screen at 100% zoom. And magazine text also bleeds. Books however are displayed properly with customizable settings although there’s still the issue of handling the tablet while reading.

Verdict

When it comes to tablets used as a reader for books and magazines, the iPad 2’s 9-inch display seems to be the sweet spot to display anything thrown at it properly. I also use it for comics by the way although you need to squint some times to read smaller text. Its slim form is just right and weight bearable for the readers out there.

There’s still a place for the BlackBerry PlayBook for those who value portability but they need to include a free reader app that can load books that you already own to attract the stingy ones out there. Since it’s not an ideal magazine reader device, it will be competing with the nooks and the Kindles and other portable e-book readers in the market.

For the ASUS and Samsung tablets, well I’d rather watch a movie or browse the net with these two. Not unless they can fix the display so that magazines are readable at 100%, or you’re only after photos from a magazine and not the articles. Hehehe.

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  • Griswold

    thanks for this post. really helpful indeed. i myself am planning to buy a tablet this christmas and i want something i can read my downloaded magazines with. i guess i will be settling for the ipad 2 then.

  • Sonny

    i agree 100%, lalo na kung maging retina display ang ipad

  • Zo

    great read! appreciate it very much!

  • sup-pixel rendering (displayed text) is discussed further by Rohan Shravan (CEO of Notion Ink) [Creator of the Adam tablet, another Android tablet]
    which could clarify why the iPad displays text better.

    http://notionink.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/hello-there/

    • cool read… thanks for pointing that out.

  • Arl

    Walang retina display ang ipad2, only iphone 4 lng… Rumor has it that next gen ipad will have retina display…

  • John

    “I also use it for comics by the way although you need to squint some times to read smaller text.”

    I read a few comics on my friend’s iPad 2 and the overall screen size is just too small. If you’re interested in just looking at the images, it might work fine but a comic (ie, graphic novel) includes a story and the iPad’s 9.7″ diagonal real estate doesn’t pass the comic book test at all. You need to be honest about this in your review because $500+ dollars is a lot to spend on a tablet that isn’t designed for comic books.

    Consider that since 1975, the standard comic book dimension has been 6 5/8″ x 10 1/4″ (which we could consider widescreen and NOT the 4:3 aspect ratio on the iPad). The dimensions give us a diagonal of about 12.20 inches.

    10.1″ (widescreen) is a better choice without the need to zoom in as often. Still… it’s not large enough.

    The best choices right now (for pure comic book reading) would be Tablets like the 11.6″ WeTab (running MeeGo), 11.6″ ExoPC (running Win7) or the very expensive but ideal 12.1 inch Asus Slate (running Win7). There are others I’ve read about but don’t recall now. These tablets would also be better suited at handling PDF files that include diagrams and drawings mixed with text.

    The WeTab seems to be the best cost-effective solution at about $400 if you can find it. ExoPC is next up at $700.

    For others who prefer eBooks (text only) and NOT comics, again… there are much better solutions than the iPad for any kind of extended reading.

    If your looking for a device that can be used handle the combination of books (text-only), comics (images with set-fonts) and PDFs (drawings, images and text all in one) – a 4:3 aspect ratio device at 9.7″ is the worse advice to offer. 10.1″ widescreen is a much better solution but still a compromise. This is what should be made clear to people who don’t own these devices.

    11.6″ and slightly higher are the only answers (and solutions) to this question.

    • thanks for the inputs John. if you check the PDF magazines on the 10-inchers, they don’t occupy the whole length of the display. there are unused space on the top and bottom of the screen.

      yeah ipad is small for comics. i read the whole civil war on the ipad and i had to squint or zoom in on some parts. it’s still portable though as opposed to lugging around 11-inch tablets.

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