Back To School: Tablet or eReader For My Student?

Yup, it’s that time of year again . . . Back To School.  Parents are gathering supplies and getting ready for that first day (if it hasn’t already come like here in Florida).  And this year, students may have something different in the backpacks . . . a tablet or ereader.  Many are still trying to figure out if they are necessary and which one is best for students.  Tablets and eReaders are getting a lot of buzz in all levels of the educational field and rightfully so.  Both offer a wide range of benefits for students today.  So which one is the better way to go?  Good question, and that’s what we are going to take a look at.  Let’s first look at the differences:


An ereader such as a Kindle or Nook, can best be likened to a MP3 player.  An MP3 player is designed to be great at carrying and listening to a lot of music with you in a small device.  The same is true for an ereader, only it’s about books in digital form.  Typically they have what is called an eInk® display which looks more like regular paper when reading.  The selections of books available for these devices are pretty large (heralded to be in the millions) and growing everyday.

eReaders do have benefits for students since there are books other than their textbooks they often need to read.  It saves the trip to the bookstore and prices for the books can be slightly cheaper.  If your school or local library loans ebooks, most of the ereaders on the market today (except for Amazon’s Kindle right now) will work with those systems.  Students can then borrow ebooks right from the comfort of their home (computer and internet required).

The drawback is that ereaders are limited.  They are designed to be good for reading and that’s all they do.  Some have included web browsers due to consumer demand, but an eInk® display is not suited for web browsing and quite honestly it’s a horrible experience.


Tablets such as the iPad (Apple), XOOM (Motorola), Eee Pad (Asus), Iconia Tab (Acer), Galaxy (Samsung), Nookcolor (Barnes and Noble), plus others coming out.  Tablets can be best likened more to a laptop.  Instead of software you install, they have “apps” which are targeted style programs and there are a ton of educational apps out there.  Apps selection is very important with tablets, because that’s where the real power in them lies.  Like ereaders, you can get and read ebooks through various apps.  Rather than being locked into one seller (as you are on an ereader) you can get ebooks from multiple sources such as Amazon (Kindle app), Barnes and Noble (Nook app), Google Books (my favorite by the way), and others.

In my opinion, tablets are the better option for students today whether you send it with them to school or have one in the house for younger students.  The iPad has a better educational app selection for education for all ages.  The other tablets typically use the Android operating system and the education apps are getting there but still tend to lag behind Apple’s iPad selection in most cases.  Barnes and Noble’s Nookcolor (an Andoird operating system) is marketed as a tablet and rivals the others in price, but is much more limited in functionality.  Because the company highly customized the operating system and seeks to block out competing ebook sellers.  So the app selection is very limited.

Tablets are often in a 10″ display size which is much more comfortable to use and allow students not only internet access, but a lot of tools all in one place for classes.  Get an active touch stylus and hand write notes, calculator apps, calendars for planning, email, write papers with word processing apps, so forth and so on.  Little ones also get huge benefits to help them in school with interactive classic storybooks like Dr. Suess (Oceanhouse Media), flash cards apps, learning games, so forth and so on.  For Catholic students, there are great Catholic apps available too such as iBreviary.

If your library loans ebooks, you can even still do this with tablets.  In fact, it’s easier on most.  Unlike ereaders that have to be hooked up to a computer for borrowing ebooks, tablets have an app to download directly over a wifi connection.


Whether it’s ereaders or tablets, etextbooks aren’t really there yet.  They are getting there and definitely one to keep an eye on as huge strides are being made on that front.  My opinion is that ereaders with eInk displays are not the way to go with textbooks as the display type really lacks for the complexity of a textbook format.  But as this area of publishing emerges . . . tablets will be the better way to go.

All in all

If you’re wondering which one to get for your student . . . I’m going to say a tablet.  iPads are great, but I am personally a bigger fan of the Android OS since it is far easier to use and get started with (turn on and sign into your Google account and your good to go).  iPads are a bit more cumbersome to set up initially and must be connected to a computer with iTunes to get going.  Likewise, you will definitely want to occassionally plug the iPad into your computer and back it up.  Android devices typically handle almost everything in “the cloud”.

Getting a tablet for your student also allows them the opportunity to better prepare for their future by having hands-on access to using the tools they will need to know how to use later on.  This is one of the biggest hurdles for many people today.  They just haven’t had real exposure or real direction using the tech tools properly.

So does your student have an ereader or tablet?  How are they using it for school?

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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • Info

    Personally I think that comparing ereaders and tablets is like comparing apple and fruitsalat. An Ereader is made for just one purpose but does it extremely well, a tablet is an allrounder which simply has some weaknesses when it comes to longer term reading on it.
    When you look at what kind of reviews the Kindle DX for example gets ( ), it becomes quite obvious that that kind of screen resolution is simply not possible with backlit screens.

  • Albert_Maruggi

    I have to go tablet, and not just any tablet, iPad of any version.  I watched my 14 year old read this summer on an iPad, jump to dictionary word meanings with the double tap.  That increase in vocabulary alone is worth the price of any digital reading device.  The web experience is much richer on the iPad and so pursuing an idea using the web or even YouTube was impressive.  

    Fact is students don’t live by work alone.  Can she take a break with a favorite game app? yes.  Can she check the family and school calendar on Google, yes.  All these other functions make up for a ereader that has resolution benefits in direct sunlight.  

    thanks Brad

  • Jared Dees

    Brad, great summary and discussion starter. I’m glad you posted this. You are clearly very knowledgeable about the topic.

    I’ll address the eTextbook issue. The way I see it, the only future for digital textbooks is on a tablet. Schools are ditching 1:1 laptop programs for 1:1 tablet programs (specifically iPads).

    For now, when textbooks are converted to e-books, the images have to be stripped out. If they are kept in, they look a little odd and out of context. As HTML5 and ePub3 become mainstream and supported by tables, publishers can start to get creative in the eReader ecosystem. Until then, eTextbooks will only be PDFs, Apps, or products created for eTextbook App Readers.

    It is an exciting time, but as you point out the options are increasing and causing challenges for students, parents, teachers, and publishers.