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Which is Better: Reading on a Small Screen or Large?

What’s your preferred screen size?

Thanks to intense competition in consumer electronics, we have a vast selection of screen sizes to read on. The ereader industry (which at this point is the Kindle, plus or minus a percentage point) has largely standardized on the 6″ to 7″ screen size. But there are a few ereaders with larger screens, and thanks to the rise of tablets the potential screen size for a reading device now ranges from pocketable to table-top (literally).

So what size screen do you like to read on?

I used to spend a lot of time reading on my 4″ smartphone, but I am finding it to be too small. Between the short lines of text and frequent page flips, it’s just not a pleasant experience. I can’t get engrossed in a book, and I find myself longing for the larger screen of my tablet.

How about you? Does the size of the screen impact your enjoyment of a book?

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Dan Robinson August 7, 2018 um 6:39 pm

The best ereader size for me is the 6 inch screen that was in my Kindle Keyboard. The screen in my Voyage is also 6 inches but it feels smaller.

Fbone August 7, 2018 um 7:45 pm

IPad Air. I like the two column landscape setting.

george zunic August 7, 2018 um 8:47 pm

read on a kindle paperwhite at home; it is easy to hold in one hand. when out of the house, read on a 5.2″ smartphone using the kindle app. both size screens are large enough.

Angela Korra’ti August 7, 2018 um 9:36 pm

I definitely prefer a larger-than-smartphone-sized screen. I have read on my phones, across the various iPhones I’ve had, and all of them are too small for me to really find optimal for a good reading experience. I’ll only read on my phone if I have no other way of reading on something.

I’ve also read on iPads, but unless the iPad is propped up by a foldable cover so I don’t actually have to hold it while I’m reading, I find that suboptimal as well. The screen size is great for book purposes. But the form factor of the device is not comfortable for my hands for holding and reading.

All of these were factors in my choosing to go back to e-ink. I’m finding the screen size on the Oasis I have just about exactly right.

Claudia August 7, 2018 um 10:10 pm

I sometimes use Kindle on my phone, but the 5.3″ screen is too small, it’s nowhere near as easy on the eyes as an e-ink display, and it’s not an immersive experience due to the constant distractions of emails and phone calls. I much prefer the 6″ e-ink display of my e-reader, which I almost exclusively use to read novels.

(I still buy reference books, like cookbooks and travel guides, in paperback format. If I were forced to buy them in digital format, I’d use my 8.4″ tablet to read those.)

Harmon August 7, 2018 um 10:56 pm

You asked about screen size, so I will not address things like weight, or type of screen, although those things make a difference in reading preferences, I think. But "screen size" itself is a moveable feast.

For example, I have a Kindle Oasis2 and a Sony 950, both of which have 7 inch screens. But the Oasis2 is roughly 5.5 x 4.25, while the 950 is roughly 6 x 3.75. The Oasis2 has more screen, by about one square inch. My Sony T1 & my Kindle Oasis1 have identical screen sizes, but different form factors for the casing, so that there’s an optical illusion that the Oasis1 has a wider screen. The same illusion, to a lesser degree, exists between my wife’s Paperwhite & my Oasis 1. For completion’s sake, I used to have a little Sony with a 3.5 inch screen, and a Kindle KDX, both sadly departed.

I don’t like reading on tablets because they strain my eyes after a while. But I’ve read on an iPad, an iPad mini, & my iPhone 8 plus, so I’ve covered the bases, I think, screensize-wise.

From a screen size perspective, the Oasis 2 is the clear winner for me. Obviously, it has more real estate than the smaller ereaders, but I think that there might be a more important, albeit subtler, reason for my preference. I grew up reading the small American paperbacks, like the Pocket Books, Aces, & Dells, and it appears to me that the Oasis 2, although configured a little wider and a little shorter, will basically display one page of those paper books in whatever font the paper book uses. So I think there’s a kind of psychological fit for me on the Oasis. It shows me (1) the number of words that I expect to see on a page, (2) in a size I expect them to be. It’s as if I am somehow taking in the entire page, while focusing on part of it.

Going down to the 6 inch screen, I either have to have a smaller font, or fewer words. Going up to an 8 inch screen, like the iPad mini, and I either get too large a font, or too many words.

Now, all of this is based on the assumption that I am reading the kind of ebooks that are usually published as paperbacks. But even when I’m reading books that usually are published as hardbacks, the Oasis2 is still my favorite. I think that, at least for me, Amazon has found the sweet spot in the 7 inch screen. In fact, when my son recently borrowed both my Oases' to evaluate before buying his next Kindle, I made him return one of them to me before he planned to, because I was suffering from "KWS (Kindle Withdrawal Syndrome). He gave me back the Oasis1, & wound up getting an Oasis2 for himself.

As an aside, I think that the content one is reading does make a difference. I read magazines & pdfs on my iPad Pro. They just don’t make visual sense to me on the Oasis2. Back when I was using my Sony 950, I found that it was the ideal screen to read newspaper and magazine articles on – the ones that come with two or more columns in paper form.

tired August 8, 2018 um 8:37 am

Seven inch. Smaller sizes feel too cramped and larger sizes become too heavy. And I can also fit a seven inch ereader in my pocket. I can’t fit an 8 inch ereader in my pocket.

Mary August 8, 2018 um 8:41 am

The Oasis 2 without a cover. But that said, I love the two-column reading on the iPad, if it is propped up and I don’t have to hold it. And I use the black background on the iPad which does not seem to cause eye strain.

Xavier Basora August 8, 2018 um 9:23 am

I read with Galaxy tab A 2016 version. I use the reading mode and it’s comfortable to read

DaveMich August 8, 2018 um 10:46 am

I would like to point out one thing that affects the suitability of reading on a phone. The kindle app for most phones has an obscure setting that allows you to use the volume control buttons to page forward and backward within a book. Turning this on means you can hold the phone in a variety of ways that put the buttons under your fingers, such that a slight squeeze pages the book forward.

This done, reading on a phone (for me) comes in second only to reading on my voyage. For both of them an important point is the weight of the device. I have larger tablets that I have tried to read on but holding them over time is tiresome.

Steve H. August 8, 2018 um 10:46 am

For me large is best for reading. Of course many other factors go into an e-reader purchasing decision- portability, pocketability, page turn buttons etc.
Having once owned a Kindle DX 9.7″ reader that I vastly preferred to the Kindle Keyboard 6″ makes a decision to buy anything up to ten inches an easy one for me. 13″ seems too large. The difference between the 7″Oasis 2 and the 6″ Paperwhite/Voyage is enough that my old Voyage mainly sits in a drawer. If Amazon puts out a larger unit with page turn buttons I will buy it.

Carmen Webster Buxton August 8, 2018 um 11:08 am

It depends on where and what I am reading. I read novels in bed every night for anywhere from one to three hours. For that I want a device I can hold in one hand, which in my case is a kindle Voyage. For scanning news headlines and reading news stories, I like a tablet or a PC.

Scott August 8, 2018 um 11:20 am

If my Kobo mini were front lit, it would be my go to reader. Instead I hardly use it.

Ana August 8, 2018 um 11:24 am

When at home, I read novels on a Kobo Aura One, I’ve found it light-weight and the perfect size for me, specially as presbyopia attacks and text size increases. From my experience with tablets, I think the 10″ readers would be more clunkier, in bed when I read laying on my side until I fall asleep (literally) that size would end up on the floor almost every night.
When I’m out and about I prefer compact readers, I can read on my phone, but if I’m all day out I might end up without battery, or if I’m outside in the sun it’s not comfortable to read on it, so I’m missing my old Kobo Mini (5″) and the slightly bigger Kobo Aura (first edition, 6″), looking for a cheap replacement in ebay, but I can’t find them cheap enough for now. The phone can be a bit of trouble when I have to page forward quite frecuently, but once I’m into the story it doesn’t bother me so much.

Barney August 8, 2018 um 11:43 am

For me it’s all about text size, not screen size. I’ve always read ebooks on a phone, the smaller and lighter the better. The "small screen" problem is solved by enlarging the text to any size you want, which leads to your "frequent page flipping" problem. The solution for that is Auto page turning, which only a couple of ereading apps have. It drives me INSANE that auto page turning isn’t a standard feature on all ereading software.

Unless I’m mistaken only two apps have auto page turning, QuickReader for IOS and the Moon Plus reader for Android. The apps simply pause for a set amount of time before flipping the page for you. (Marvin has something they call "Karaoke", which flashes a set number of words on the screen at a time, as does the Velocireader app. I don’t like that method, for many reasons.)

If people out there know of any other phone apps that have Auto Page Turning, please mention them here! Note that I’m not talking about Auto Scrolling, in which the text crawls down the screen like the end credits of movies. That makes me dizzy.

Tom S August 8, 2018 um 12:35 pm

For long-form reading, smaller is better. I read about 50/50 with iPhone and Kindle. Tablets are better for other forms of reading: technical, reference, magazines, comics.

Tom Wood August 8, 2018 um 12:54 pm

Hi Nate – This subject dovetails with the question I posed to you at Robin’s Meetup this past weekend. For the other commentors here, I’d like to ask your opinion as well.

For fiction, is there anything that a publisher/writer could do to present the text/story differently than what is currently being done for print, that would make it better for a digital reading device? Is there a better way to tell the story that somehow works better on a screen? I’m not sure there is anything that could/should be done differently, but I’m curious if someone has a suggestion.

To answer the original question – I read on an old Kindle keyboard (K3), my phone, and on my PC. So it’s a wide variation of screen sizes. I prefer my Kindle the most.

Tom S August 8, 2018 um 1:05 pm

On iOS you can use iBooks with Speak Screen, and mute the speaker. You can adjust the speed over a wide range (though it does not offer visual feedback on what that rate is) and it will highlight words and turn pages. Speak Screen works with the Kindle app as well but it does not highlight words, so you would not be able to stay in sync with page turns without sound. Kindle supports word highlighting with ‘immersion reading’ (audiobook) but speed adjustment is not fine-grained enough to set reading speed for visual-only use. There are also some Spritz-powered apps that use RSVP (rapid sequential visual presentation) one word at a time, but it sounds like that would not work for you.

On Android Spritz can serve as text to speech engine so anything that supports TTS can use that instead. The Kindle app for Android has its own RSVP built in, and I like to use that occasionally. It takes some getting used to, and hope they bring it over to iOS so I can use it more.

Hrafn August 9, 2018 um 2:03 am

I started off on a 5″ eReader, moved to 6″ and don’t really need anything larger for unadulterated text.

I do however use my 10.5″ tablet for pdfs.

Vikarti Anatra August 9, 2018 um 3:17 am

I prefer large display if I can (10.1″ Nexus 10 on stand, with attached keyboard, with Bookari or 11″ (I don’t have other notebooks at this time) MacBook Air on stand)/’Real' 24" display with Bookfusion (thanks to Bookfusion’s support for web browsers)).
When I’m not at home/work, I mostly use devices with with 8″/7.8″ displays (Galaxy Tab Active/BOYUE Likebook Plus) because they are portable enough to carry and can be used with one hand.

John Stanton August 11, 2018 um 1:22 pm

My Paperwhite is best for reading. I listen to audiobooks on the Overdrive app.
Sony and Kobo were great, but both companies stopped supporting my readers so I never bought another from them.

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