iBooks full review
The iPad is many things to many people. It's a netbook alternative, a handheld revolution, and a magical touch screen device that represents the future of computing.
It's also a e-book reader, or is it? Well not completely, and there's some confusion over the status of electronic books on the iPad.
First the facts: the iPad is a large touch screen device sporting a 9.7in multi touch backlit glossy LED display. It houses a powerful (given the device) 1GHz processor developed by Apple and runs software akin to the iPhone.
This places the device at odds with all the other electronic readers on the market. All other electronic readers are variations on a theme centred on electronic ink displays. This type of display - found on Amazon's Kindle - displays greyscale text and flashes the whole screen to move text around. The text is easy on the eyes and battery life is measured in page turns (typically thousands) rather than hours.
Then there's the iPad. With its large 9.7in glossy LED display it couldn't be more different. While bigger is - as a rule - better it's worth noting here that there are trade-offs: battery life is around 10 hours and you've no hope of fitting an iPad into your pocket. The device is also heavier than other e-book readers, typically requiring two-handed operation.
There's also some discussion surrounding the nature of LED versus e-ink displays. Typically most people consider e-ink to be easier on the eyes because it has no backlight, although this means it can't be used in low light it does mean that there is no light shining at you. We're not completely sold on this argument. As people who stare at electronic screens all day, every day, we're quite happy with the concept of reading a whole book on an LED screen. Still, it's also undeniable that e-ink has a more paper-like quality and because of that using a device like a Kindle feels more like getting away from work and escaping into a book than the iPad does.
Reading a electronic book in iBooks on the iPad.
But the flip side is that the large full-colour display gives the iPad functionality that no other e-reader could dream of. The full colour display means that images look superb and you can use separate apps to read PDF files (it's particularly good for text books and computer manuals that other e-readers struggle with) and it's a revolution for comics and graphic novels.
And of course the iPad is more, much more, than just an e-reader. It's a web browser, email client, YouTube player, games machine and so on. But is all this functionality a good thing in a book replacement? Let's put it this way: when was the last time a really good book pinged to let you know you had email?