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Which is better Kindle or Paperback? 70 factors to consider

Like many book lovers, I continue to debate this question with myself. Here’s my attempt at finding a balanced answer.

As a whole, the advantages of the Kindle are in portability, speed of finding & buying books, custom font sizes and reduced environmental impact. Paperbacks excel at appreciating book designs, feeling, smelling, and personalizing books. Paperbacks are also better with tables, charts and illustrations.

In this 2-part article, we will discuss 70+ factors highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of the Kindle vs. paperback books. I’ve organized them into over a dozen categories, including gray areas that are more about personal preferences.

Exhibit A. Kindle and paperback. And a puzzle about the highlighted text above from Sherlock Holmes. Clues are marked in this post with {!} 

I intentionally refrained from including a running tally of scores. As I believe these factors have very different degrees of importance to each of us. 

Suppose I said that the paperback wins on 40 factors to the Kindle's 30. Well, if those 40 factors don't really matter to you, then such a score is, at best, irrelevant.

Another way to analyze these criteria is to keep asking, “Is this really important to me?”. As Sherlock Holmes says in Exhibit A: “Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth”. 

Carrying Books

1 - All around portability

Kindle:

The Kindle can hold thousands of books. So you will always have your library with you. The light weight makes it convenient to carry wherever you go, indoors or out. And if you need to look-up a book on a whim, they are all readily available.

Paperback:

Sometimes having too many options causes inaction. With paperbacks, you have to decide which book will be with you for a given time. This way, you'll cherish this book very deeply.

Winner:

Kindle. The portability makes for a lot more reading opportunities.

This reminds me of the question: which is the best camera for me?

Answer: Most often, it is the one that you will have with you. The most expensive DSLR cameras won’t return more value than the iPhone, if it’s mostly sitting on the shelf accumulating dust.

2 - Packing for travel

Kindle:

Packing multiple books is a quick way to exceed baggage allowances, and the book’s rigid rectangular form isn’t the easiest to fit into compartments evenly. 

Upon arrival at your destination, a luggage loaded with many books becomes more difficult to handle. Especially if you need to navigate planes, trains, and buses. Aside from being heavier, the center of gravity tends to be uneven. With the Kindle, you don’t have to worry about luggage space or weight.

And what if you need to move houses altogether? There is no need to spend a lot of time packing boxes and boxes of books.

Paperback:

Unlike the Kindle, physical books can go into airplane check-in luggage and won’t cause any delays with X-ray machines. And no need to set them to airplane mode on take-off or landing.

Winner:

The Kindle makes it a lot easier to travel.

With Kindles, no need to worry about luggage space or weight

3 - Casual short trips and errands

Kindle:

When going on quick trips to the supermarket or the bank, etc., no need to spend time thinking about which book to bring. You can bring them all. Long lines become less frustrating when you have the Kindle with you.

Paperback:

You can leave a book in your car or bag, so you will always have something to read. The book can even become part of your routine for these short trips.

Winner:

The Kindle makes for an excellent companion when running errands.

4 - Weight on the wrists

Kindle:

Weighs less than most paperbacks. The Kindle makes it easier to read and turn pages with one hand. Wrists feels less cramped than when reading heavy books. 

Paperback:

Some like the “gravitas” that comes with the heavier weight. 

Winner:

Wrists less tired, can read more. I’ll go with the Kindle on this one.

5 - Holding while lying down or standing up.

Kindle:

The light weight and ease of holding with one hand allows for easy reading in various positions. Including reading while standing and reclining in the bed or sofa. 

No risk of dust (and dust mites?) or other particles from old paperbacks going into your bed. And if you fall asleep and the Kindle falls on you, it won’t be as painful 🙂

Paperback:

If the intention to read in bed is to fall asleep, then the paperback could be slightly more effective due to the complete absence of blue light (more on this below).

Winner:

Kindle. The agility and ease of holding with one hand opens up a lot more reading opportunities.

Reading books

6 - Illustrations, tables and charts

Kindle:

The Kindle itself isn’t designed for illustrations, tables, and charts. There is a zoom function, although it’s a bit slow. Also, most ebooks would allow you to sync to your computer and peruse them on the larger screen.

Paperback:

Paperbacks would show those illustrations exactly as the publishers intended. It is much easier to read; the size is just right and can come in color.

Winner:

The paperback simply does a better job at this. For more details, see this article about the Kindle showing pictures.

Diagrams, charts and tables are better shown in paperbacks than in the Kindle.

7 - Flipping pages back and forth

Kindle:

The Kindle offers bookmarks, and a quick GO TO option. It can quickly show the table of contents without leaving your current page. As well as a list of your highlights.

Paperback:

It’s still easier to stick one finger on one page and another finger on another page and then flip back and forth. Flipping through the Kindle bookmarks is very slow in comparison to this. It’s also easier to recall more or less how far along in the book you want to go back to.

Winner:

I’d go with paperbacks for the unbeatable finger flipping method.

8 - Font size customization

Kindle:

Font sizes, font styles and boldness can easily be adjusted. Also can be saved as a theme to quickly switch between settings later.

Paperback:

Some books are printed with unique fonts that look great on print. The Kindle can only display fonts pre-loaded on the device.

Winner:

The ability to adjust the font size wins it for the Kindle. It affects most other aspects of the reading experience, including fatigue, comprehension, and whether you need eyeglasses.

{!}

9 - Margins, alignment and line-spacing

Kindle:

These layout options can easily be adjusted and saved as a theme. Like font sizes, it can have a significant impact on the entire reading experience.

Paperback:

Some books are printed with unique layouts similar to magazines. These layouts are better read in print. Also, some people like that you can easily write on the margins of paperbacks.

Winner:

Kindle takes this one for ease of customization.

10 - Visual on progress

Kindle:

There are progress indicators showing percentage of completion for both the entire book and individual chapters. This can also be hidden if you prefer not to see how close the ending is, setting yourself up for a bit of a surprise.

Paperback:

You can physically see how far along you are with the book. There is a tangible sense of progress, as you see the remaining pages become thinner and thinner.

Winner:

This one is largely dependent on personal preferences. 

11 - Reading in dim light

Kindle:

Has its own adjustable front lights, making reading in not so bright conditions possible. Very useful if you are mobile and do not control the lighting situation. The Kindle also has a sleek-looking dark-mode.

Paperback:
Obviously no built-in lighting, so you’d need a steady external light source. 


Winner:

Kindle for versatility.

Kindle on dark mode

12 - Blue light

Kindle:

Still has some blue light, but much less than tablets and mobiles. Light is directed to the text, not to your eyes. But if you really are concerned about this, some options include reducing the front-light brightness while using an external light source. You can also try stick-on filters and non-prescription computer glasses. 

Paperback:

No artificial light, therefore no blue light.

Winner:

If the goal is complete elimination of blue light, then paperback wins.

13 - Dictionary and pronunciation guides

Kindle:

Can lookup words instantly. Won't slow down your reading pace too much. You also have the option to choose from different dictionaries. The convenience could also encourage more frequent dictionary lookups, therefore learning more vocabulary.

Paperback:

You’d need to refer to a separate dictionary, which would be much slower. However, in doing so, you would get to know your dictionary very well.

Winner:

Kindle wins because of convenience.

{!}

14 - Foreign words

Kindle:

Can quickly look up translations of common foreign words. 

Paperback:

You’d need a special dictionary or use the computer.

Winner:

Kindle takes this again due to convenience.

15 - Highlights

Kindle:

With the Kindle you can highlight as many lines as you wish without the reluctance that you might damage the book or run out of highlighter ink 🙂  

Then you can easily consolidate and review all of those highlights. You can quickly jump back and forth, as well as print them. And there is no risk of losing them, as they will be saved in your account online. 

Paperback:

For the paperback, highlighting could be a very intimate way to personalize the book. You can also highlight vertically across lines if you wish.

Winner:

The Kindle makes highlighting more efficient. 

16 - Notes

Kindle:

With the Kindle, you can quickly add text notes without writing on the actual books. As with highlights, it’s easy to consolidate, find and jump between notes. 

The notes are  automatically backed up in the cloud and synchronized across devices. Allowing you to organize them on your computer.

Paperback:

Writing on the actual books personalizes it. You can annotate on the margins, underline passages, even draw little diagrams. 

Winner:

For most books, the Kindle provides more value in note taking. Please see this article for more about copy pasting notes.

17 - Find words inside a book

Kindle:

You can search the entire book easily. Or you can search just your notes and highlights. Jumping between search results is painless, and you can quickly go back to your starting point. Previous searches are saved for easy reference.

Paperback:

The paperback doesn't have any clear advantages here.

Winner:

Kindle. There is no “find” equivalent with paperbacks.

18 - Find words across all books

Kindle:

The Kindle enables you to search for words across your entire library. Very useful If you forgot which book had that particular word or phrase. You can even use it to check unread books for mentions of a specific word.

Paperback:

The paperback doesn't have any clear advantages here.

Winner:

Kindle. For more info, please see this article about searching in the Kindle.

{!}

19 - X-Ray and index feature

Kindle:

The Kindle’s X-Ray feature Gives you an index of key people, characters, terms and images in the book. You can see how many times a particular character was mentioned  with a nice little timeline graphic. This provides another way to find passages if you do not recall specific words but do remember which characters are involved.

Paperback:

Many books come with indexes at the back. You can easily flip back and forth using your fingers.

Winner:

Kindle. For the additional information provided by the X-ray tool.

20 - See Popular Highlights

Kindle:

There is an option to mark lines that were commonly highlighted by other readers. This could give you hints about what many people are paying attention to. It could be quite useful if you are new to the subject matter. 

But if you think this is a distraction, you can easily turn it off. 

Paperback:

There is no equivalent to the paperback.

Winner:

I’d say this is largely personal preference.

21 - Fixed text and spatial memory

Kindle:

There is no fixed placement of text on pages because you can change the layout, fonts, and orientation of the screen. But using themes can help somewhat in providing consistency.

Paperback:

With paperbacks, each word will always be at the same spot, on the same page. Some say this aids recollection because we can associate the word to its location on the page.

Winner:

Paperbacks due to consistency of word placements.

22 - Citing a specific page

Kindle:

Because there is no fixed placement of text, you would have to use chapters or other contextual headings to cite locations.

Paperback:

With paperbacks you can cite the page directly, making it much easier for others to locate.

Winner:

Paperbacks are easier for everyone to cite and locate pages.

23 - Reading multiple books at a time

Kindle:

There is no added weight to carry, regardless of many books you read at the same time. 

Easier to tackle multiple long books by reading one chapter at a time. Without the Kindle, you probably wouldn't be lugging around those heavy books with you otherwise.

Paperback:

Can give you tangible reminders of the books that you have yet to complete.

Winner:

The convenience of the Kindle enables you to read more books. 

24 - Cross-referencing multiple books at a time

Kindle:

You can have different books open on different devices. Even open different sections of the same book. For example, your Kindle can be on Chapter 1, while your tablet can display the Appendix of the same book.

Paperback:

Can have multiple books physically open in front of you. Books won’t turn to screensaver every few minutes. Very easy to turn your gaze from one book to another.

Winner:

Paperback is more efficient here. Specially for books with tables and charts.

25 - Intimidation due to size 

Kindle:

A heavy tome in ebook format looks much less intimidating. And therefore it’s more likely that we can get started reading and completing it. 

Paperback:

Finishing a particularly thick volume can add to the sense of accomplishment. For some, this challenge could be a motivator.

Winner:

The number of words is the same, so the reading challenge is there for both. But the Kindle makes it a little less daunting. 

26 - Organizing books

Kindle:

The Kindle makes it easy to find titles, organize by collections, group by series, sort by dates, etc. You can also use the Amazon website to organize books using the much larger computer screen. 

No need to spend time DIY’ing your bookshelves when one section becomes full (those shelves can’t expand by themselves). With the Kindle, you have virtually unlimited shelves that are self-adjusting.

Paperback:

With paperbacks, it could be amusing to constantly tend to the shelves of your personal library. Perhaps even implement your own mini Dewey decimal system.

Winner:

Kindle. For convenience and time savings. I’d rather spend that time reading than constantly organizing. 

27 - Audiobooks

Kindle:

The Kindle can easily switch between reading or listening to an audiobook version. These audiobooks are professionally produced and complement the reading experience very well.

Aside from switching to audiobooks, there’s also a text-to-speech option that does a good job of dictating any text. More importantly, it enables our visually challenged friends to hear the books.

Paperback:

Lucky for you if you’re still a kid. Your parents or guardians would likely enjoy reading books to you. And both of you would cherish those memories —and those books— later. 

For the rest of us no-longer-kids, perhaps it’s our turn to read to others, family or not?

Winner:

The Kindle opens up a whole new immersive experience with audio. And as for parents reading to kids, that can be done using the Kindle too. Though less sentimental, it can give more choices to the one being read to.

For more details, please see this article about listening to Audiobooks using the Kindle.

Feeling and personalizing books

28 - Texture of reading books

Kindle:

The Kindle screen has a slight grainy texture to somewhat mimic the feel of paper. The surface is smooth but is a little grainy. It feels like the pages of a high-quality hardcover book. 

Unlike paper, there is no risk of fingerprints affecting the pages, no papercuts, no accumulation of dust or other particles.

Paperback:

Paper remains the gold standard. And with paperbacks, you have that distinct tactile impression to accompany the reading experience.

Winner:

For the sensory feel of paper, nothing beats the Paperback.

For more details, please see this article about feeling the Kindle as paper.

Observing a fake-paper-kindle. Paperback wins paws down.

29 - Sound of reading books

Kindle:

The Kindle doesn’t have that cozy page-turning sound, but it can offer much more in audio features. Foremost of which is switching between reading and listening to the audiobook version. There is also that Text-to-speech feature for dictation.

Paperback:

There is something quite comforting in hearing the gentle rustling of the page. Perhaps signaling a cozy memory or a subtle progression in reading. The crinkling sound can also help build up emotions as you are turning the pages.

Winner:

Paperback for the natural rustling sound.

30 - Smell of reading books

Kindle:

The Kindle has no-scent of its own, but this isn’t too bad specially for those who are hypersensitive to airborne particles springing from old books.

You could also experiment with “Paperback colognes” to try to get that bookish scent. Click here for more details about smelling the Kindle.

Paperback:

Many people love the scent of books. The distinct vanilla-like fragrance reminds us of people, places, and even emotions. We can’t help it. The olfactory bulb which processes the sense of smell, also plays a role in emotion, memory and learning.

Winner:

The paperback, effortlessly fragrant.

31 - Taste of reading books

Kindle:

With the waterproof nature of modern Kindles, we can enjoy our favorite beverages or snacks without fear of spillage or crumbs. 

Paperback:

Some people like to occasionally lick their fingers when turning pages. I suppose this helps in quickly progressing through the book, while incidentally feeding taste data to the brain.

Winner:

I’d say this is largely personal preference.

32 - Emotional attachment

Kindle:

Though the books aren’t physically present, the Kindle’s portability allows these books to be a much more consistent and readily available companion. And the consistency can create associations with memories and feelings.

With the Kindle, there is no attachment to the physical book, so there is zero reluctance in wearing the books down by constantly re-reading them. Hence, making them even more visible by your side.

Paperback:

The combination of sensory impressions, book design, and actual physical presence creates a much more tangible object to which we can associate memories and feelings to.

Many people relate to some books like old friends. 

Winner:

By its very nature, emotions are very much of personal preference.

One option is to get both the Kindle and paperback editions for your most liked books. 

33 - Scribbling

Kindle:

You can highlight and make notes without risk of damaging the books. There is no hesitation in marking the pages permanently. As a result, one might be highlighting and taking more notes as they would otherwise do.

Paperback:

You can easily scribble on margins, encircle or underline words, draw shapes and arrows. Writing by hand is way faster than using the Kindle’s clunky on-screen keyboard. 

You can also write personal dedications on the front and back pages.

Winner:

With the paperback, you can scribble faster and with more flexibility.
You can even put upright smiling faces (not just sideways like this --> : )

In Part II, we’ll cover other criteria such as finding & acquiring books, book cover design, reading outdoors, durability & maintenance, environmental impact and many more.

Posted By
Ian
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