Torn between an iPad, tablet or e-reader? Here's how to know which one is right for you

·4 min read

Remember the "Sesame Street" song that that went, "One of these things is not like the others?"

While Ernie and Bert weren’t comparing tech toys, they might as well have been.

At first blush, an e-book reader (“e-reader,” for short) and a tablet (such an iPad) look awfully similar.

After all, they’re both thin, rectangular-shaped slates, held in your hands, and used to consume content at home or on the go.

Blurring the lines even further is the introduction of stylus pens that can be used with popular tablets, such as Apple Pencil (from $99) for iPad (from $329), and announced last week, the Kobo Elipsa ($399), which includes a stylus and cover, and thus fusing a 10.3-inch e-reader with a digital notebook (more below).

Once you dig a little deeper, though, there are few significant differences between these popular types of touchscreen devices, and so those looking to purchase one for themselves (or say, as a Father’s Day gift) should understand these distinctions ahead of time.

The following is a primer on the key differences between e-readers and tablets.


The Kobo Aura H2O is billed as the world's first waterproof ebook reader, making it ideal for people who like to read at the pool or beach.
The Kobo Aura H2O is billed as the world's first waterproof ebook reader, making it ideal for people who like to read at the pool or beach.

As the name suggests, e-readers are designed primarily for downloading and reading electronic books (ebooks).

When reading, simply tap or swipe the page to flip through the “pages” (some e-readers have buttons, too). You can change the font size and style and tap a word to look up a definition (or in some cases, make annotations).

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

In other words, e-readers are more ideal for a beach or by the pool – and yes, many are waterproof, too.

Generally speaking, e-readers are more affordable than tablets, starting at about $89 for an entry-level model from a brand name like Kindle or Kobo. E-readers batteries last weeks, on average, compared to 10 hours at most for tablets.


Touchscreen tablets are also thin and light devices, be they the no. 1-selling tablet, Apple’s iPad, or models powered by Android, Kindle, and Windows.

Use your fingertips to tap, swipe and pinch through content on the screen. Tablets have a color 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.

Yep, tablets are really just a flat computer, but they rely on touch instead of a mouse and keyboards, although Bluetooth does make their use possible. In fact, tablets can do things even your computer probably can’t, such as shoot high-quality video with its one or two cameras and can help you navigate city streets using GPS.

There are more than a million apps for tablets, downloaded from various online app stores, wirelessly, including free apps for all the major ebook players, too, including Kindle and Kobo.

All tablets have Wi-Fi and some offer cellular connectivity – if you're willing to pay for it.

The downsides: Tablets are also usually a bit heavier and bigger than dedicated e-readers, they’re not easy to use outside in sunlight, and battery life is measured in hours rather than weeks.

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The newest contender: Kobo Elipsa

Been reading more since the start of the pandemic? You’re not alone.

Book reading is up 73%, year over year – March 2020 to 2021 versus March 2019 to 2020 – according to research by Lucid, conducted on behalf of Kobo, in April 2021. For this study, 1,000 Americans were polled about reading habits.

What’s more, 70% of respondents cited reading as a way to “de-stress” during the pandemic, and with 91% of those surveyed believing reading improves overall wellness.

For those who want more than a basic e-reader, the just-announced Kobo Elipsa ($399) combines an e-reader, bookstore, and notebook, in one device.

Kobo Elipsa ($399), available June 24, combines an e-reader, bookstore, and notebook, in one device.
Kobo Elipsa ($399), available June 24, combines an e-reader, bookstore, and notebook, in one device.

Included is a stylus to highlight text in books, annotate PDFs, jot down to-do lists and flesh out million-dollar ideas. You can choose from a range of notebook backgrounds, with lined, square and blank page templates, and with the option to import and export documents.

Kobo Elipsa features a 10.3-inch glare-free screen, adjustable brightness levels, 32 gigabytes of storage, and a bundled SleepCover to protect the screen (or prop it up).

Aside from buying books via the integrated Kobo Bookstore, built-in OverDrive support means you can freely borrow books, too, from your library (availability dependent on country; valid library card required).

Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tips of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: iPad vs. e-reader? Here's how to know which is right for you

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