E-Readers Not as Comfortable as Paper Books, Survey Finds

A survey of e-reading devices like the Apple iPad and Amazon's Kindle 2 suggests some consumers are not yet ready to make the leap from paper books to digital texts, citing the weight of the devices, slower reading speeds and less-than-crisp text displays.

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."