by Tom McNamara / April 23, 2018
While Amazon has grown far beyond its roots as a humble Internet bookstore , it's never forgotten where it came from, and you can now get millions of its titles right on your phone via its Kindle app (or on its Kindle e-reader devices). It's so far ahead of the competition that the question isn't which e-reader app you use, but whether you choose the Kindle app or a Kindle device. Let's compare the two platforms to see how the app compares to the company's dedicated reading gadget.
Easier on the eyes than an e-reader, in the right circumstances: While the e-ink of an e-reader customarily strains the eye much less than the LCD or OLED screen of a phone or tablet, there is one recent exception: phones and tablets that can use a "night shift" or "night mode" setting to change the color temperature of a display to something warmer.
There's a growing body of evidence indicating that LEDs emitting cooler blue light (like those in Kindle devices) can interfere with your sleep patterns if viewed for an extended period of time before you go to bed. All Apple devices running iOS 9.3 or later have this mode. Android devices have this, too, but it's not universal, especially if you're stuck on an older version.
Night modes are not to be confused with the True Tone feature available on some Apple devices, which will dynamically make the display's color palette look cooler or warmer depending on your environment.
Better for magazines and comic books: The color issue also comes into play when dealing with image-heavy media. Kindle devices have essentially black-and-white displays, which doesn't work well with magazines, comic books, or newspapers. For images to even look as sharp as they do on your average iOS or Android gadget, you also need a recent Kindle device with a 300 ppi (pixels per inch) screen. Almost all tablets that can use the Kindle app will be a better choice here than a Kindle device.
Better performance and display size options: If you've ever used an e-reader before, you know how sluggish it can feel. Navigating its menu can be frustrating when it takes a second or two to respond to every tap or swipe. This is one of the trade-offs made for the low battery consumption of e-ink -- a Kindle device can go weeks in between charges, if you leave Wi-Fi off -- but it does impact your experience. The Kindle app, meanwhile, is only as slow as your device, and even a five-year old phone or tablet should be smoother than the fastest Kindle device on the market.
Plus, you can get tablets that have bigger screens than anything available from the Kindle line, which currently maxes out at 7 inches diagonal with a price tag of at least $270. You can buy a 9.7-inch iPad for $330 -- which also gets you access to about 1.6 million apps including games, streaming services, productivity, shopping, and iMessage -- and it's periodically discounted to around $275. Android users can get a range of good tablets from Samsung, Asus, and Amazon itself.
Better audiobook support: Only the most recent generation of Kindle devices has support for audio playback, and even then, it's Bluetooth-only. If you want to listen to an audiobook in the car, good luck getting that to work. Granted, Amazon's audiobooks are technically located in a separate app called Audible, but the two systems integrate pretty smoothly, and the company offers two free audiobooks for anyone who signs up for the subscription.
Moderate battery drain: There's a reason why phone and tablet displays are off when not in use: They're the biggest hit to your battery. Over the course of the day, with most Android devices, you'll be fortunate to get more than six hours of "screen-on time" before you need to recharge. iPhones and iPads tend to fare better, but the difference depends a lot on your usage habits. So if you're an avid reader and carrying an extra gadget isn't a hassle, a Kindle device might be a better choice. While you'll regularly find articles about extending phone battery life, you rarely need guidance for a Kindle beyond "put it in airplane mode."
On the bright side, recent phones can recharge much faster than a Kindle, so you can get back to reading more quickly.
Potentially less secure: There's been a lot of controversy lately about the privacy of your personal information, and growing concerns about the security of our Internet-enabled devices. In this environment, a Kindle device can be a safer bet, thanks to the relative simplicity of its Linux-based operating system, and the ability to put it in airplane mode for days or weeks at a time, sealed off from the dangers of the Internet. The only time you really need to go online with a Kindle is to download your purchases. You won't find malicious apps on this platform, and there are no known viruses or other malware that can target it.
Reading with a Kindle device instead of the Kindle app won't make your phone or tablet any more secure, of course, but if you're going to be spending hours with a digital device, it might as well be a more secure one that can stay offline.
More distractions than an e-reader: Getting into a book requires disconnecting yourself from your environment a little bit, which can be difficult if your reading method issues a regular stream of notifications popping up on your screen. Text messages, emails, news alerts, and app content updates can conspire to prevent you from focusing your attention on any given task for an extended period of time. You'll still get notifications if your phone is nearby, but it's a lot easier to manage their flow when they're not popping up in front of what you're trying to read.
For most people, the Kindle app will be a more practical day-to-day choice than carrying around an extra device dedicated to reading, and phones and tablets whose displays have color temperature adjustment options may be better for night reading.