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Jumping on the E-reader/Tablet Bandwagon

by Beverly S. Krueger

Note: If you find this article useful and plan to purchase a Kindle or tablet, please use our links below to purchase a Kindle or visit our Tablet section to purchase tablets and tablet accessories, including an unlocked Motorola Xoom. We also have accessories available in our Kindle Accessories section.

As the happy owner of both a Kindle 2 and a Motorola Xoom Tablet, let me share why I have both and the way each functions, so you can make a decision about which will work best for you. The latest Kindles come in a variety of configurations all the way from bare bones and very affordable to the Kindle Fire, which is more of a tablet and most expensive. The Xoom is just one of a number of tablets now available based on the Android platform.

The Kindle 2 that I have comes with the E-ink system, 3G wireless, a keyboard, and other standard Kindle features. I love the E-ink screen. It is not a backlit screen like your computer monitor, so you cannot read it in the dark without a light. An inexpensive book light solves that problem. You can read on your Kindle for the same length of time you can read a regular book because it doesn’t strain your eyes as backlit screens do. The 3G wireless allows me to download books from Amazon anywhere I go. It doesn’t require piggy backing through your phone or other wireless network. I’ve been able to use it even in locations far off the beaten path. The keyboard consists of tiny round buttons, which are fine for using to enter search items at Amazon, but I wouldn’t write much of any length on them.

You can search the Amazon Kindle store using your Kindle and have the books you purchase downloaded immediately, or you can search using your desktop and use the cord that comes with your Kindle to transfer books from your computer to your Kindle. I prefer to search on my desktop because Amazon doesn’t do a terrific job of letting you sort categories on the Kindle itself. It’s much easier to use your desktop. You’ll find that you do this any way to get free books from non-Amazon sources and other items on to your Kindle. You can even put .txt files on your Kindle. I’ve done this with the scriptures that I am praying for my children.

The Kindle allows you to change the text size of any book. This is a big plus for me, since my eyesight isn’t the best. I can also see using the feature with younger readers, or if you want to make your own reading pages that focus on your child’s reading problems. The screen size on the Kindle is an ideal length for learning to speed read as well. For children who have trouble with color or pictures distracting their reading, the Kindle provides a low stimulation means of reading. You’ll find that many classics are available for free or very little at Amazon. The Kindle allows you to read other formats as well, so you can download from Project Gutenberg or other free e-book websites.

With the wireless turned off, a Kindle charge will last a long time. They do suggest you charge it regularly and not allow it to drain before doing so. It can be easy to forget to charge it, because it does keep going such a long time. The cord that comes with the Kindle has both a USB and a regular electrical outlet connection. The end that attaches to your Kindle is a micro USB connector. The cable that came with my Kindle 2 began to fall apart almost immediately. Fortunately, the cable for my smart phone is the same, and I use that now. Newer Kindles should come with a better cable, since Amazon knows about this problem. If you find yourself needing to replace the cable, you can get a similar cable inexpensively. You don’t need to purchase the Amazon replacement cable.

Another feature I use occasionally when I need hands-free-reading, is the text to voice feature. The voice is pretty robotic and does make a mash of names and some words, but you won’t have trouble understanding it and following the story. I use it to read in the bathtub. You might use it for read aloud time when you’ve lost your voice or have a sore throat, no putting off the next chapter of an exciting book.

A Kindle offers some other features such as web browsing, but even when I tried doing this to access the Overdrive Kindle books from our local library, I found it to be too cumbersome and switched to my desktop.

I got my Kindle 2 first, and I have used it a great deal. I recently got a Motorola Xoom tablet, but still use my Kindle for reading. Both get a workout depending on what I’m doing. If you’ve seen a droid smart phone and the apps that are available to it, you’ve seen what is also available for an android-based tablet. The primary competition for android tablets is the Apple I-pad. It costs more and has some limitations that my Xoom does not have. For example, my tablet will do Flash. I’m not an I-pad expert, so you’ll need to compare its specs for yourself.

I love my Xoom’s touch screen capability. I’d been using a touch screen on my smart phone, so it wasn’t completely new to me. You do have to be careful not to accidentally touch the screen at the wrong time or you may start loading a different web page or something similar. New users find this a problem, but you get past this quickly. It’s so much nicer than one of those touch pads on a laptop.

My Xoom tablet comes with a version of the Google Chrome browser. I use it all the time. It can connect via any wireless connection available to you. I use it at home on my lap while watching television connected to our home wireless. It connects automatically to any wireless connection that you set up or that is open to it. When no wireless connection is available, it uses Verizon 3G like my smart phone, but it does require an additional monthly fee to do this. The Xoom is not a phone, so you can’t add it on as another phone to an existing account. When we purchased the tablet, we were told that they would upgrade us to 4G when that became available. We’ll have to send the tablet in to do that. It hasn’t happened yet.

Because of the breadth of apps available to the tablet, you may find yourself using it for all kinds of things like tracking what you eat, shopping on eBay, or reading e-books with the Kindle book app. A tablet will cost more than a Kindle, but it does so much more. If eyestrain or over stimulation by a color screen is not an issue, you may want to save up and buy a tablet rather than a Kindle. If you have younger children, having picture books available in color will be a bonus.

The camera on the Xoom takes excellent pictures and videos. It’s very easy to take pictures because the entire screen acts as a viewfinder. It actually has dual cameras, so you can take pictures from the front or the back of the Xoom. The click that sounds as you press the on-screen picture taking button is slightly ahead of the actual picture. Enough so, that you sometimes don’t get the picture you wanted because you move or your subjects move when they hear it. You’ll need to adjust yourself to a longer than expected delay.

The Xoom is larger and heavier than an e-reader. With the cover I purchased for it that doubles as a stand, it is about the size of a larger day planner. Its carrying weight is about that of a hardback book making it much lighter than a laptop. It doesn’t come with a keyboard, but one can be purchased to attach to it. The onscreen touch screen keyboard is easy to use, but you won’t be typing on it like a keyboard. I find myself typing with one or two fingers. You can type on it, though, so if you find yourself out and about and needing to take notes, you’ll be able to accomplish that without too much difficulty. I use the Cadre Bible apps, which allow you to enter notes.

I use my Xoom for three main purposes and lots of little things. I read the news and my favorite blogs on it via the web browser, I use it to shop online especially at eBay, and I use it to Facebook. Just yesterday, I found an app to help me upload large groups of pictures to Facebook. I graduated my last homeschooler last May, but I can see many ways that the Xoom would have enhanced my homeschooling because of its portability and Internet access. Google services such as Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Calendar are designed to work very well with the Xoom. Everything you sign up for at your local support group can be immediately added to your calendar. Stay connected with other homeschoolers or curriculum shop while the kids are at soccer practice.  I would have loved to have this during AAU basketball practices.

If you have the funds, I’d advise you to purchase both an e-reader and a tablet. Kindle is not the only e-reader available. Jean Hall has written an article describing her experiences with a Nook. (Read it here.) The next generation of Kindles now available come with distinct features. They also come at two different price points. The less expensive price point includes ads on your Kindle. They are found on your home screen (where you select the book you wish to read) and as the wallpaper that appears when your Kindle is turned off. Pictures of famous authors and other literary things appear on my Kindle 2, and I assume something similar would act as wallpaper for the non-ad serving Kindles. If you’re interested in a Kindle, please read the accompanying chart to help you sort out the features available on different models.

The very latest Kindle, the Kindle Fire, is a different kind of beast. It’s not an e-reader with e-ink technology, and it’s not really a full feature tablet. It does more closely resemble a tablet, though. It comes with a backlit color touch screen. The browser, called Amazon Silk, was built just for the Kindle Fire. It is android based and claims to speed up browsing by taking some of the things your tablet would do and sending them on the Amazon cloud servers to handle. You can read a complete explanation of this at Amazon. At this writing, no one really knows if this makes browsing significantly faster as claimed. Despite this, some feel the Kindle Fire runs a little doggy. Page turns not quite as smooth as could be desired and so on. This may be due to the fact the onboard RAM is only half the size of typical tablets. Storage is also extremely limited on the Fire compared to other tablets. There is no camera or microphone. It also does not come with 3G wireless only Wi-Fi. Amazon’s 3G wireless is available on other Kindle models that are for the most part limited to downloading and shopping from Amazon. I pay for 3G on my Xoom. Amazon hasn’t worked out how to make that service available for the Fire. You’ll need to use your Fire at a wireless hotspot or connected to your own wireless network. Read more about the Fire at Amazon.

When you add in the Larger screen, 64 MB of storage, 3G wireless capability, dual cameras…If I didn’t already own a Xoom, I’d be asking for one for Christmas this year. I love mine that much, and if I could choose only one device, I’d choose a Xoom.

Kindle $79/$109.00

This is the economy Kindle. It has less storage, is slightly smaller, the battery doesn’t run as long, and it has no keyboard (touch screen or keypad.) A five-way controller is used to maneuver through all the screens and handle searching the Kindle store at Amazon. The Kindle 2 I have has a different type of five-way controller in addition to the keypad. It’s easy to use and presents no problem with the majority of the Kindle functions. Using it to search Amazon would be tedious, but just as doable as searching for television programs on Dish or Direct TV using their gridded letter table. If you’re on a tight budget this is the Kindle for you. It uses Wi-Fi to download and search Amazon. Pages are turned using buttons along its sides.

More Info: Kindle, Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display - includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers

Kindle Touch $99/$139 – Kindle Touch 3G $149/$189

The Kindle Touch has a touch screen, so there is no five-way controller or keypad. An onscreen keypad is used and pages are changed by touching the screen. It comes with Wi-Fi or 3G wireless. The screen is bigger since it can use the space dedicated to the five-way controller or keypad on other Kindle models. It weighs about 1.5 ounces more than the Kindle. The battery lasts longer and the storage space is larger.

More Info: Kindle Touch, Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display - includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers or Kindle Touch 3G, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display - includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers

Kindle Keyboard $139 - Kindle Keyboard 3G $139/$189

The Kindle Keyboard comes with the alphanumeric keypad and the five-way controller. This is the Kindle most like a Kindle 2. Pages are turned using buttons along its sides. It has the same battery life and storage capacity as the Kindle Touch. It’s slightly larger than the Touch and an ounce heavier. It comes with Wi-Fi or 3G wireless.

More Info:Kindle Keyboard, Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display - includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers or Kindle Keyboard 3G, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display - includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers

Kindle DX $379.00

This model of Kindle has been out for a while now. It is much larger and weighs more. The screen is 9.7” on the diagonal as opposed to 6” for other Kindles. It has a keypad and the older version of the five-way controller. Storage capacity and battery life are the same as the Kindle Touch. Pages are turned using buttons along its sides. It comes with 3G but not Wi-Fi.

More Info: Kindle DX

Kindle Fire $199.00

The Kindle Fire has a color 7” touch screen. Its battery life is 7.5 to 8 hours. It has 8GB of storage although only 6.4 GB are available to the user. It’s 14.6 ounces and comes with Wi-Fi only. The Fire uses the Amazon Silk browser. It has 512MB of RAM.

More Info: Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi

Motorola Xoom - Prices Vary

The Xoom has a 10.1” HD color touch screen, a dual core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 64 GB storage, a 5MP camera, and 2MP web cam. Battery life is approximately 10 hours, although my experience is much shorter when browsing, just several hours. It integrates with Google Mobile services including Gmail and Google Maps. GPS allows you to locate where you are and get directions including spoken navigation to where you want to go.

In verifying prices for the Xoom, I had a bit of a problem. Motorola seemingly dropped the price from $499 to $199. When I went on their website to make sure that this was valid, I discovered that you could purchase a Xoom for $199.99 with plan. Without a plan, it was $669.99. However, when you continued on with your purchase of the tablet with plan, after entering your required zip code, the price jumped to $499.99. The activation fee was waived, but you still had to make your monthly payments to the carrier. That $300 price bump didn’t really give you anything. I called the company, speaking to a shift manager, and was told that $499.99 was the price. I told her that I felt the $199.99 price should be removed from the site because it wasn’t the real price.

You can get a Xoom for much cheaper at Verizon. There the tablet is $299.00, and you are allowed to select the level of monthly access you want. Since I don’t stream movies, my plan is for 2 GB for $30 a month. I never go over that, and only get to 75% used when traveling. You still have to pay the $35 activation fee.

There are other tablets available at your local Best Buy or Walmart. T-Mobile is offering the G-Slate for a similar prices as Verizon is for the Xoom. Contact your cell phone provider to determine if the tablet you are considering can be used with their service.

More Info from Motorola, Verizon, T-Mobile

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