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Easily the best known of the e-book readers here, despite being tricky to get hold of in the UK (you must place an international order at amazon.co.uk), the Kindle has proved a major hit. Its distinctive white toughened-plastic casing and keyboard design has been emulated by at least one other e-book reader manufacturer and, while not exactly iconic, it's certainly a striking-looking device.
At 9mm thick and weighing only 289g, the Kindle can be slipped into a bag without weighing you down. This isn't a claim you could make for the iPad, but these devices address different needs. If you simply want to replicate the experience of reading a book while carrying a well-stocked library, the Kindle is the device you'll choose. If you want a seriously desirable gadget that lets you leave the laptop at home and does a great job of displaying text and graphics, the iPad will get your vote.
Another reason you might choose the Kindle over the iPad is that you can take it out in bright sunshine and be fairly confident that light reflections won't prevent you being able to read what's onscreen. You'll want a protective case to keep the Kindle safe from scratches, but you're less likely to worry that it'll get damaged if you sling it in a backpack along with a beach towel or your gym kit.
The Kindle has a 6in (600x800) display that can discern 16 levels of grey, compared to the iPad's 9.7in full-colour screen and 1024x768 resolution. The Kindle is plastic, whereas the iPad has a glass front and metal surround. We liked the Kindle's qwerty navigation keys, which are reassuringly firm and large enough to accurately enter text. Most times, though, we simply wanted to jump through chapters or down menu lists, so found these buttons fairly redundant.
The Kindle comes with 2GB of internal storage for your ePub, PDF, text, .doc, (non-DRM) Mobi and AZW documents, while Jpeg, bitmap and GIF images can all be displayed. Text files need to be converted to Kindle-friendly ones, which is a pain and best managed by emailing them to yourself. It's about time this issue was fixed.
You need to plug the Kindle into a PC or laptop to load books and photos on to it, since there's no SD Card slot. You can also download books straight to the device via an iTunes-style media manager.
Audible books and MP3 tracks can be played, but not music or audiobooks bought via iTunes. There's also a text-to-speech feature and the ability to fast-forward through passages.
The iPad has different format issues. It can play anything from your music collection but few text file formats. To view others - and its display allows you to enjoy graphic novels and comics in incredible, vibrant detail - you'll need to download dedicated readers from the App Store. Even the iBooks for iPad reader, which allows you to view ePub documents and purchase DRM-protected books,is supplied as a separate free download.
The iPad runs a 1GHz processor and has a battery life of only around 10hrs. But it also offers an engaging way to interact with books: tapping the side of the screen flips the page or you candrag pages with neat animation effects.