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I’m e-Reading on Wider Screens Now – How About You?

IMG_20160728_141603.jpgNate asked me to write a short piece on what devices I’m currently using for e-reading. As it happens, there is one I’ve been using a lot lately, and what that device is—and why—might surprise you.

The thing is, I haven’t been doing a whole lot of reading lately. Much of my reading has been concerned with going through RSS feeds looking for articles on subjects that interest me, or that I might cover for TeleRead. And while I’ve been able to do that on my Nexus 6 smartphone on account of having it in my pocket most places, lately I haven’t been out to that many places on account of keeping expenses down while I look for a new job. And I find it’s simplest to do a lot of that reading in bed.

So my choice for bedtime RSS reading has been—the Teclast Kindow hybrid Android/Windows tablet I reviewed for TeleRead a few weeks back. I honestly didn’t expect that—it runs an older version of Android, after all, and its battery life is crazy short. But the Android RSS app I use, Press, runs just fine on it, and I only need it for short periods at a time—the rest of the time I can plug it back in and let it charge up for the next time.

I think the main reason I prefer to use it for bedtime reading tasks rather than my Nexus 7 or Fire tablet comes down to the screen shape. Most small name-brand Android tablets and phones these days are optimized for viewing video media, which generally means 1.78:1 widescreen. Hence, when reading in portrait mode, the screen is downright skinny. Not that this hampers legibility—we’ve been reading narrow columns in magazines for decades, after all—but I think that when you’re used to a wider page shape, the narrower one just has a feeling of wrongness on a subconscious level.

Of course, for wider screen shape, I could go with my iPad Mini 2 instead—it’s got almost exactly the same size and shape as the Kindow, better battery life, and a higher-resolution Retina Display to boot. But the Kindow’s screen looks good enough to me, and the iPad doesn’t have the Android apps I prefer to use; even the new iteration of Reeder, the RSS reader I used to use back in my iPod Touch days, feels awkward and unwieldy after having gotten used to Press on Android. And if I should decide I want to check my email or dash off a quick message to someone in Hangouts while I’m reading, the differences in how the apps work and the problems I have with Apple’s on-screen keyboards make that annoying. (I wonder what it would be like using a Pixel C in bed, though?) Another important factor for reading in bed is that Android devices run the blue-light-reducing app Twilight, which is a lot more adjustable than iOS’s “Night Shift” mode.

IMG_20160728_141002.jpgBut what about reading e-books? Off and on, I’ve been trying to work my way through a Kindle e-book about the history of the Internet, and have largely been doing that on my Kindle Paperwhite because it has a great screen for reading and fewer distractions.

But I could see using either the Kindow or the iPad for reading on a larger display, with a wide-page form factor. I’ve never had the sort of eyestrain troubles with LCD some readers find, and the Kindle e-reading app is available to sync my reading location across all three. And for reading generic EPUB, they’ve all got good enough displays and good enough e-reading applications that I could be comfortable on any of them—Marvin for iOS, Freda for the Kindow’s seldom-used Windows 10 partition, and Google Play Books, eReader Prestigio, or a whole host of others for Android.

Before using the Kindow and iPad, I honestly wouldn’t have expected my e-reader preference would come down to screen size and shape. If you’d asked me, I would have pooh-poohed the idea that a phone or tablet with the narrow-portrait form factor might not be as good an e-reader. Words wrap, don’t they?

My Nexus 6 has the highest-resolution screen of any device, mobile or desktop, that I own, so you’d think it would be my best overall choice. But resolution isn’t everything. After using these wider tablets for a while, I’m simply struck by how much more natural it feels to read a page in this shape—whether that’s of an RSS feed and news articles, or an e-book.

What about you? If given the choice between different devices, would screen form factor be a major issue in your decision? And have you had experience reading from those different form factors to help you make up your mind?

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Francis Tay July 30, 2016 um 10:14 am

Hey. Just saw you posting, quite impress by your clear standing. Well, I am using a BOOX MAX now some pdf file reading. It really blow my mind away. So much I can do now with this eReader. Maybe you can consider reviewing it at your side.

DavidW July 30, 2016 um 10:34 am

On smaller devices (8 inch or under) screen width is very important to me. I do prefer the 4:3 found on eink readers to the 16:9 of my phone.

But I do contest that 4:3 is natural. A standard hardcover is 9.3×6.2 which yields an aspect ratio of 1.5. A premium mass market paperback is 7.6×4.2 yielding an aspect ratio of 1.8. And that format has overwhelmed the standard pocket book which is not produced as much anymore (but that has an aspect ratio of 1.6).

That suggests that 4:3 is not natural. Except for pdfs, but who in their right mind uses a 6 inch screen to view a pdf?

Obviously 16:9 is a bit too narrow, while 4:3 is a bit too wide. If anything 16:10 is probably the best aspect ratio to get closest on average to all paper sizes.

That is also what makes Macbooks feel slightly bigger than their size. They use 16:10 instead of 16:9 aspect ratio. Very important for screen real estate on small monitors.

Chris Meadows July 30, 2016 um 4:24 pm

I’m not sure I would agree with you in your assessment of hardcover book shapes. It seems to me I have plenty of such books in my shelf that are shaped more like my Kindow than my Nexus 6 or 7. (Though I’m not at home right now, so can’t compare them on the spur of the moment.) Anyway, it does feel like a more natural reading environment, regardless of the reason.

Incidentally, it turns out that the Kindow makes a great portable writing machine, too.

DavidW July 30, 2016 um 11:18 pm

Yes I got that your post was a thinly veiled attempt to advertise a tablet. But why couldn’t you just use your own blog do that?

Nate Hoffelder July 30, 2016 um 1:02 pm

I’m mainly reading the loaner basic Kindle I got from Amazon. I used to read more articles on tablets, but a technical snafu got me out of the habit, and I never picked it up again.

poiboy July 31, 2016 um 3:12 pm

if i’m going to read on a tablet.. my go-to is my ipad mini 2. but i love e-ink for reading at night.. so its my faithful voyage.

Al the Great and Powerful July 31, 2016 um 5:45 pm

I prefer to read on my Nexus 6 phone for sheer convenience (the Nexus 7 doesn’t fit in my pocket nearly as well), or on my 27″ pc monitor for widescreen appeal. On tablet/phone I prefer to read with Moon+ Reader (I prefer the control setup), but I do also read with the Kindle app. On the PC I’ll read with Kindle, Acrobat, the Calibre reader, whatever fits the book format.

No, I do not care about form factor in ereading…

Allen Goforth October 25, 2016 um 7:12 am

Phone,tablet, anything I am reading on I prefer a wider screen, even if I am not reading a PDF.

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