From the time when it was little more than supposition the Apple iPad has been one of the most rumored and hyped about gadgets ever. After the official introduction of the iPad by Steve Jobs on January 27, 2010, one of the constant themes in the media coverage has been about how the iPad will make dedicated ereaders obsolete.Now that the iPad has been out for a while and we have been able to use it we can make some more informed judgments as to what its strengths and weaknesses are. Here I will look at the iPad in terms of how well it performs as an ereader.First of all, the display of the iPad is gorgeous. The color LCD display is beautiful, the touchscreen is very responsive, and the iPad is quite fast. These features make the iPad not only very good for watching video, viewing photos, browsing the Internet, gaming and other such activities; they also make it very well suited to reading magazines, newspapers, comics and illustrated books.Magazines and newspapers also benefit from the interactive approach that is possible on a device such as the iPad. Being able to tap a hyperlink to reach more in-depth reading about a story or to access additional illustrations is well suited to reading periodicals.Reading PDF documents on the iPad with an app such as GoodReader also works very well. Panning and zooming with your fingers on the multitouch display is very quick and works well. Unfortunately, while the iPad is very good for viewing PDF documents, most of the apps are not capable of editing or making annotations. Generally speaking, I have found the iPad to be best suited for viewing content and less well suited to creating and editing content.But what about reading ordinary books that are mostly if not entirely text? The aspect of reading books on the iPad that I like best is the access it gives you to eBooks from different sources. Besides iBooks, which is the reading app from Apple and which seems mainly oriented to those who prefer titles from the bestsellers lists, there are also the Kindle for iPad app, an app from Kobo Books and a Wattpad reading app. An app should also be forthcoming soon from Barnes and Noble. This gives you access to the Kindle Store as well as to eBooks with DRM supported by Adobe Digital Editions.The Kindle for iPad app is good as it not only gives you access to the best eBook provider (currently with over 500,000 titles), but will also sync your last read page with your Kindle ereader or the Kindle apps for other devices. This is also the only eBook reading app at the moment that lets you take notes on your reading.While the iPad does work very well for reading illustrated books and magazines, there are some drawbacks to using it for reading regular books that are all or mostly text. First of all, at one and a half pounds, the iPad weighs considerably more than most ereaders. This fact makes it less portable and less comfortable to use in some situations. Holding the iPad with only one hand does not work very well. If you commute by public transit, it will be harder to use an iPad on a crowded train or subway car.Most ereaders with e-ink screens have a battery life measured in thousands of page turns and usually need to be recharged every ten days to two weeks. The iPad battery lasts ten to twelve hours.The iPad is pretty much unreadable outdoors in the sunshine. In a shady location outdoors the screen is readable, though you will probably find yourself tilting the screen to find the most glare-free position. There have as well been early reports of the iPad overheating when used in sunshine. Dedicated ereaders with e-ink screens are perfectly readable outdoors in sunlight or shade – if you do a lot of your reading at the beach a Kindle would definitely be a better choice than the iPad!Some of the dedicated ereaders such as the Kindle have a free 3G connection you can use to browse and purchase eBooks and then download your selections directly to your ereader within a few seconds. With the iPad Wi-Fi obviously you will need to be able to connect with a wireless network. With the 3G version of the iPad (which starts at over $600) you will need to pay a monthly fee for the connection.Only iBooks (which only has 60,000 titles to start) will let you purchase eBooks from within the app. If you are using the Kindle for iPad or another ereader app you will be dropped into a browser to shop the app’s eBook store rather than from within the app itself. When finished shopping you will have to restart the reading app. This can be less convenient and involves more steps than buying books on the Kindle. This is not a big issue for me, but some users do complain about it.There are lots and lots of things to do on the iPad. This is a good thing… but it also means that there are always lots of things to distract you from your reading.In my case the worst thing about using the iPad as an ereader is the backlit screen. I can stare into my computer monitor up to 12 or more hours a day – browsing the Internet, working with documents, playing games and the other things most of us use our computers for and usually I do not suffer from eyestrain. However, I have never enjoyed reading more than a few pages of an eBook at a time on an LCD monitor. Reading a book is different than browsing the Internet or working with documents because books are made up of long unbroken blocks of text.I find that the iPad does cause eyestrain for me when reading books. Turning down the brightness level helps but it does not solve the problem, at least for me. Most of the reading apps on the iPad include a “Night Mode” feature that gives you a light colored text on dark background (as opposed to the conventional black text on white background) that does help reduce eyestrain in my case. Still, I have both dedicated ereaders and an iPad and I usually prefer to read books on the e-ink screens of the ereaders, which are no more tiring on your eyes than reading paper. I usually use the iPad for reading books that are unavailable on my particular ereaders. There are also occasions when the backlit screen can be advantageous when reading in a dark environment.For casual readers who usually only read for no more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time the iPad will probably be fine, but if you typically read for longer periods at a sitting it may be uncomfortable for you. How much eyestrain reading long blocks of text on a backlit screen causes will vary from person to person, but for most people reading a book for an hour or two on an LCD screen is probably going to be an unpleasant experience.While the iPad is a wonderful gadget and has many uses, when it comes to reading eBooks I think that it will probably work best for occasional or casual readers. If you read a lot you will probably find that it is not as good as a dedicated ereader for reading eBooks.

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