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iPad vs Kindle vs Netbooks vs Books: What’s Best for Students?

posted by Mark on March 10th, 2010

iPad vs Kindle vs Netbooks vs Books: What's Best for Students?With the introduction of Apple’s iPad in January, questions abounded regarding its potential impact on digital education. Could the iPad revolutionize how students learn? With textbook publishers jumping on board to develop iPad-compatible versions of their books even before the product was available for sale, the Apple product seemed to take the lead in next-generation educational technology. But what about Amazon.com’s popular book reader the Kindle, or the recent glut of affordable, stripped down laptop computers dubbed “netbooks”? Can any of them compete with good old-fashioned books? Here’s a rundown of what each has to offer.

Criteria Kindle iPad Netbooks Textbooks
Price $269/$489 (DX) $499/$829 loaded $250 to $700 $700-$1,100/year (but often resold)
Weight 10.2 oz./18.9 oz. (DX) 24 oz. Generally 2 to 3.5 lbs. Generally 12 oz. to 4 lbs.
Display 6 in./9.7 in. (DX), black and white 9.7 in., color Generally 7 to 12 in., color Whatever size the book is
Storage 2 GB / 4 GB (DX) 16 GB, 32 GB or 64 GB Generally 150 to 250 GB One book
Battery Life 7 days 10 hours 2 to 15 hours NA
Connectivity 3G wireless included 3G wireless for $130 plus $15 or $30 per month All have wireless networking; some come with 3G wireless for a monthly fee NA
Keyboard Built-in physical keyboard Touch-screen keyboard (peripheral keyboard costs extra) Built-in physical keyboard NA
Functionality Just a reader with note taking function Multi-function Multi-function Just a book
Multitasking? Only one book at a time One program at a time Yes Whatever you can do while reading

Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages. The Kindle is light, has a long battery life and doesn’t charge extra for 3G wireless connectivity, but it’s only in black and white, is very limited in what it can do, and recent trials by students using it as a study tool proved disappointing. Netbooks are in color, have larger screens, storage and functionality, but they’re bulkier and can be more expensive. The iPad splits the difference, featuring the Kindle’s smaller size but with a color screen and expanded functionality closer to netbooks. However, the fully-loaded iPad is the most expensive of the three technologies, and it still lacks the ability to multitask (details on this limitation won’t be known until the iPad’s release, but imagine not being able to listen to music or read an e-book while surfing the web).

For all the advancements in technology, however, good old-fashioned books still have the upper hand in widespread acceptance, thanks to: 1) tradition, 2) lack of a learning curve, 3) ease of note taking, and 4) the tactile nature of flipping through a book. For many people, reading an e-book on a digital display is no replacement for an actual printed text, but even for those who enjoy using readers like the Kindle, the experience of trying to study — with the requisite note taking — is markedly different. The Kindle enjoys wide recreational use, but it has a large mountain to climb to become widely accepted as a study tool that could replace textbooks.

The iPad might face similar hurdles. Thanks to its multiple functionality (not to be confused with multitasking), it will no doubt be popular as an entertainment device for surfing the web, playing games and listening to music, but from an educational standpoint, these functions might serve to distract students from their scholastic pursuits. Furthermore, while some might view the iPad’s touch screen as an advantage, when trying to take notes, it might prove unwieldy.

Indeed, accurate, affordable pen-based handwriting recognition capability might be the major hurdle for many students unwilling to convert to any form of book replacement technology. Neither the Kindle nor the iPad features such functionality, and because of the cost, it’s rare in the budget-conscious netbooks.

Time will tell, but despite their bulk and cost, hardcopy textbooks appear here to stay. For now.

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