We compare the two best-known e-book readers: the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad.

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 can
drag pages with neat animation effects.

Display options are surprisingly minimal. You can change the font and size of text and adjust the brightness of the display, but that’s about it. Hold the iPad vertically and you get one page; rotate it on its side to get two pages side by side. A lock button prevents the display from switching if you want to use it while reclining.

Books can be purchased from the iBookStore or added to iTunes. Supporting only one format is something of a shortfall compared to other e-book readers, although you can use a program such as Stanza to convert most file formats to ePub, while other iPad apps such as Good Reader can display just about any file.

Books are stored on a virtual bookshelf, which is nicer than the grey menus of other e-book readers. Clicking the Store button takes you to the iBookStore, which includes 30,000 free books from Project Gutenberg. Apple makes it easier and more fun to buy digital books with the iPad than with any other device.

verdict: The iPad does many things well and has ultra-desirable design on its side, but you won’t be able to stash it in a pocket. The Kindle, meanwhile, is a very slim, lightweight device that fulfils a single task without fuss. As such, the two aren’t mutually exclusive – a conclusion Amazon and Apple presumably reached in offering Kindle software for the iPhone and iPad.

See all e-book readers reviews

See also: Where to buy e-books, or get them for free

See also: Group test: what's the best e-Book reader