Tablets vs. e-book readers: Which one is for you?

Trivia question: Name two tech products that might look the same but are far from it? If you answered “e-book reader” and “touchscreen tablet,” you’d be right!

You’re finally ready to buy one for yourself or a loved one, but the big question remains: Which one?

Today, tablets are a much hotter category than e-book readers (e-readers) largely because tablets can do so much more, despite the similarity in appearance.

Still, e-readers are a valid option, if it fits your needs and budget.

Here, a quick primer to help you decide which one is for you:

A woman reading from an E-reader on a shays lounge.

The Skinny on E-Readers

As the name suggests, e-readers are ideal for people who simply like to read. They’re designed primarily for downloading electronic books, magazines and newspapers from a wireless store. When reading, simply tap or swipe the page to flip through the “pages.” You can change the font size and style and tap a word to look up a definition (or in some cases, make annotations). Most e-book readers let you borrow books for free from your local library.


E-readers are usually smaller and lighter than tablets, which make them more portable and easier on your wrists while holding, and they have a non-glare screen that makes it better to read in bright sunlight (not so easy to do on a backlit tablet).

Some are even waterproof, making them ideal to read in a bubble bath or by the pool or beach. They’re also more affordable than tablets, starting at about $79 for an entry-level model from a brand name like Kindle or Kobo.

E-readers also have a battery that lasts between one and two months, on average, compared to 10 hours at most for tablets.


E-readers are ideal for reading e-books but not much else. That’s fine for those who only want to read on them, but the lack of power and the limited functions (like no video playback) and no (or few) apps means the experience is, well, limited.

A black and white screen is ideal for books and newspapers, but there’s an obvious trade-off when reading magazines without colour. Finally, e-book readers typically have screens that measure five  to seven inches, but some people prefer reading on larger tablets (typically seven to 10 inches).

Woman using a tablet on top of a picnic table pressing the screen with her pointing finger.
Photo: Pixabay

The Skinny on Tablets

Touchscreen tablets – like the mega-popular iPad, as well as Android, Kindle Fire and Windows models – are also thin and light devices. Use your fingertips to tap, swipe and pinch through content on the screen, which typically ranges from seven to 12 inches.

Tablets have a colour and usually glossy screen and are built not just for reading e-books but also checking email, browsing the web, playing games, listening to music and watching video. Tablets usually have one or two cameras and offer access to thousands of downloadable apps, many of which are free.

All tablets have Wi-Fi, and some can even take a SIM card for cellular connectivity.


Tablets are a computer – just like your laptop – but they rely on touch instead of mice and keyboards. You can do almost everything on a tablet you would on a more conventional laptop or desktop, including document creation, video chats, shopping online and reviewing calendar appointments. In fact, tablets can do things your other computer probably can’t, such as shoot HD video and help you navigate city streets using GPS.

Tablets are very versatile devices that also boast large and colourful screens, and they support countless apps at both the App Store (iPad) and Google Play (Android). Tablets have free apps for all the major e-book companies as well, including Kindle, Kobo and others. Some tablets include support for stylus pens.


Tablets can cost four to five times as much as an e-reader. For example, the Kindle Paperwhite costs $139, while the 10-inch iPad starts at $429 (or $299 for the 10-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab A). Sure, there are less expensive Android tablets, too, such as the eight-inch $188 ASUS ZenPad 8 but because a tablet can do so much more than an e-reader with more power and speed and a beautiful colour screen, you need to pay for these added luxuries. Tablets are also usually a bit heavier and bigger than dedicated e-readers. For bookworms, tablets have screens that are ideal for indoors but not so much outside because of their backlit screens, which are not glare-free.

Read between the lines

Whether you go with an e-reader or tablet boils down to what you want to do with the device, where you’re going to use it and what your budget is.

If all you want is a portable and affordable e-reader, there’s no need to buy a pricier tablet with all the bells and whistles you won’t use.

On the other hand, if you’d like a thin, lightweight, touchscreen device to carry with you – one that is larger, has a colour screen and does a lot more than a basic e-reader – then a tablet is what you should invest in.