E-Readers Not as Comfortable as Paper Books, Survey Finds
Research firm the Nielsen Norman Group has added a twist to the
successful, if brief, history of electronic reading devices such as
Amazon's Kindle and the recently launched Apple iPad: After conducting
a survey of 24 Kindle 2 and iPad users, Jakob Nielson, co-founder and
principal of the Group, found readers took longer to get through texts
read on the e-readers than it did to read the same text in paper form.
The firm ran a within-subjects study, testing each user on all four reading conditions: printed book, PC, iPad and
Kindle. On each device, participants were asked to read a short story
by Ernest Hemingway. On average, the stories took 17 minutes and 20
seconds to read. However, books were determined to be more quickly
readable than the tablet iPad or the Kindle. The iPad measured at 6.2
percent lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle
measured at 10.7 percent slower than print.
"Thus, the only fair conclusion is that we can't say for sure which
device offers the fastest reading speed. In any case, the difference
would be so small that it wouldn't be a reason to buy one over the
other," Nielson noted. "But we can say that tablets still haven't
beaten the printed book: the difference between Kindle and the book was
significant at the p<.01 level, and the difference between iPad and
the book was marginally significant at p=.06."
After using each device, users were asked to rate their satisfaction on
a 1-7 scale, with seven being the best score. Survey results showed the
iPad, Kindle, and the printed book all scored fairly high at 5.8, 5.7
and 5.6, respectively. The PC, however, scored what Nielsen termed an
"abysmal" score of 3.6. Usability complaints regarding Apple's tablet
included comments that they disliked that the iPad was so heavy. The
Kindle was criticized for featuring less-crisp gray-on-gray letters.
Those surveyed also said they disliked the lack of true pagination and
preferred the way the iPad's iBook app indicated the amount of text
left in a chapter.
Overall, respondents said they felt more comfortable reading a traditional paper book than an e-reader, and felt most uncomfortable using a computer to read because it reminded them of work. "This study is promising for the future of e-readers and tablet computers. We can expect higher-quality screens in the future, as indicated by the recent release of the iPhone 4 with a 326 dpi display," Nielsen concluded. "But even the current generation is almost as good as print in formal performance metrics - and actually scores slightly higher in user satisfaction."