Three kinds of Kindle


Kobo, Kindle, Nook… we are familiar with the names, but the whole concept of ereaders is still confusing and other people may be using the words differently from the way you use them.

If a friend tells you they read a book “on Kindle” there are at least three different possibilities: they may have read it on an ereader, which may be a Kindle, a Kobo or other brand; they may have read it on a Kindle Fire tablet; or they may have read it on a computer, tablet or smartphone using the Kindle app.

To understand the differences, let’s start by clarifying the main differences between an ereader device and a tablet. (Note that the following explanation is a slight simplification.) The first thing to understand is that a tablet is really a handheld computer.

Like a traditional computer, a tablet has a full colour screen. This screen is almost always higher resolution than a traditional desktop monitor, so the images may seem clearer with brighter, crisper colours

The programmes the tablet runs are known as apps. There are social media apps, organisational apps (email, calendars, diaries…), productivity, functional and information apps (maps, clocks, calculators, dictionaries, encyclopaedias…) and apps that let you listen to the radio or watch films, videos or TV programmes.

And then there are ereader apps designed to let you read digital books. There are a whole host of these – Bluefire Reader, Overdrive, Bookari – as well as ones with names that sound like device names – Kindle, Nook, Kobo – and you may have a number of them installed on the same tablet. In other words, you might have the Kindle app installed on your phone or tablet alongside Nook, Bluefire Reader and Aldiko.

What’s more, in addition to tablets such as the Nexus and iPad, which are less blatantly connected to digital reading, there are others which use the same, or very similar, names to ereader apps: Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, Kobo Arc.

An ereader, on the other hand, is a device dedicated to reading digital books. Where you might have an app called Amazon Kindle, Nook or Kobo on your tablet, you have a device which is itself called a Kindle, a Nook, or a Kobo reader. Basically, the ereader is a single-function device. (Although there is usually a secondary function that allows you to shop for and download new books to read on the device.)

We are all very used to multifunction electronic gadgets and it might seem strange to have something so modern which is apparently so limited. But the second big difference between a tablet and an ereader is the screen: while the tablet usually has an LCD display, an ereader has a gray-scale screen that mimics ink on paper. This e-ink screen reflects ambient light just as a page does, which puts far less strain on the eyes than reading from a computer – or tablet – screen.

This means that you can’t read from an ereader without a source of light – sunshine, a bedside lamp, or an in-built back light. Of course, you couldn’t read a book in the dark, either, so maybe this isn’t too surprising.

So, a tablet allows you to do lots of things, one of which is to use an ereader app, while both that app and a dedicated ereader device will provide an interface that allows you to access the content of a digital publication; this is usually an ePub or a mobi file – mobi is the Amazon Kindle proprietary format for ebooks – although it might be a pdf or other computer file format.

As more people get used to the different technological terminology, mix-ups will probably become less common. But for the moment, when you’re talking about ebooks and ereaders, it might just be worth checking to make sure that you and whoever is listening are on the same page – or scrolling through at the same rate!

Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.
― Stephen Fry