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«Netbook, eReader, or iPad? – that is the question Keryn Pratt University of Otago College of Education Dunedin, New Zealand Email: ...»

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Pratt, K. (2010). Netbook, eReader, or iPad? - that is the question. Computers in New Zealand Schools:

Learning, Teaching, Technology, 22(2).

Netbook, eReader, or iPad? – that is the question

Keryn Pratt

University of Otago College of Education

Dunedin, New Zealand

Email: keryn.pratt@otago.ac.nz


Recently it seems as fast as you can buy new technology, newer technology hits the news –

particularly when you live in New Zealand and new technology can take some time to be available. While netbooks have been available for some time in New Zealand, eBook readers are only recently appearing (with the Kindle being released at the end of August), while iPads have just been released. So what are these devices, what do they do, and which, if any, should you buy? Like so many technology questions, the answer is simple – it depends on what you want to do – and how much you want to spend.

Figure 1: The iPad, Eee and Kindle Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, Teaching, Technology, 22(2) Pratt 2010 At a glance The eReader: The Kindle The Kindle is an eReader. At their simplest, eReaders are devices or software that allow you to read books electronically – on a dedicated device, such as a Kindle (Amazon), Kobo, or Nook, or on your laptop, smartphone or iPad. eReaders vary in terms of whether they have a backlit screen (like your computer) or use E Ink (which looks more like reading newsprint). They also vary in the degree to which you can take notes or highlight text.

Currently, the format of the books you download differs depending on the eReader, or eReader application, you own.

The Kindle is Amazon’s eReader. It is available from Amazon and is due to be released in New Zealand in late August. It currently retails at between US$139 and US$489, depending on the model you choose. The base models have a 6” display, and can hold at least 1,500 books, while the larger DX model has a 9.7” display and holds up to 3,500 books. All models have adjustable font size, allow for the image to be rotated from portrait to landscape, and use E Ink. A Kindle takes around two hours to charge, with the battery charge lasting between one and two weeks depending on how much it is used, and whether wireless is on or off.

Figure 2. The Kindle with its index, and showing the font sizes available Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, Teaching, Technology, 22(2) 2 Pratt 2010 eBooks are purchased from Amazon, from their website, by browsing the store and downloading chosen books wirelessly, or, on some models, by doing this via a cellular network (3G).

The wireless and 3G service is free in countries where the Kindle is sold, but can incur a US$2 surcharge outside of these areas. New release hardback books mostly cost between US$9.99 and $12.99, with most other books US$7.99 or less. Free Kindle software is available for computers, iPhones, Blackberrys and iPads, which means you can read Kindle eBooks on these devices, as well as on the Kindle itself.

The Netbook: The Eee

A netbook is a small laptop with cutdown features. Manufacturers have often named their range of netbooks, hence the ASUS Eee, Acer’s Aspire One, or Dell’s Mini. Netbooks vary in size (generally from around 5” to around 10”) and in features, but generally have no CDRom or DVD drive, and fewer ports than a laptop. They have longer battery life (around eight hours) but have a smaller capacity. They are generally slower, although this depends on whether you run full versions of software such as Windows and Microsoft Office, or less memory intense versions, such as Linux and OpenOffice.

Figure 3: The Eee

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The Eee 1005HA is one of ASUS’s range of netbooks. It has 160GB of hard drive space and a 10.1” screen. The battery lasts up to 8.5 hours, depending on how it is used. When purchasing, you can choose between a Linux or Windows operating system. The model I have used has Windows 7 installed. It came with a 60-day trial version of Microsoft Office, and we have subsequently installed a licensed version.

The iPad

The Apple iPad can be described as either a large iPhone, or a version of a tablet computer.

It’s 24 cm x 19 cm, with most of this being screen. The screen is a touch screen, which rotates automatically to the direction in which you are holding it. There is a home button and an on/off switch, but you use your finger for all commands other than this. The structure and function of the iPad is very similar to the iPhone, so actions using your fingers such as swiping (to move pages up, down or sideways), pinching in and out (to zoom in and out) are used. Typing is done via a virtual keyboard.

Figure 4: The virtual keyboard on the iPad

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There are two models of iPad. One has wireless internet capability (wifi), while the other, more expensive model, has this capability as well as the ability to connect to a cellular network (3G). Each model comes with one of three sizes of memory: 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. The battery lasts around 8–10 hours. The price varies with the model, with costs ranging from $799 - $1349, depending on model and hard drive size.

Built-in applications include email, calendar and contacts applications, as well as iTunes, notes, maps and Safari (web browser). It also comes with built-in photo software. You can purchase Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentation) applications for NZ$13.99 each. iBooks, Apple’s eReader software, can be downloaded for free. This can be used to read books purchased from the iBooks store, as well as any books in the epub format, which is the most common non-device based format. Additional applications can be bought from the inside the iTunes store and generally range in price from NZ $1–$15.

So what do they do, and are they any good?

The Kindle As an avid reader, I had considered an eReader when I first heard of them, as it would solve the problem of running out of space to store all my books. I didn’t think, however, that anything electronic could ever replace the joy I got from reading a book. I was wrong.

While it took me about one month to get used to reading the E Ink, and to get to the same speed as reading hard copy books, now I would not give it up. I bought my Kindle at the start of a three-month stay in the United States, and at the end of my time had 70 books on it. This highlights one of the advantages of an eReader, as I could never have taken that many books with me. I could, of course, have used libraries or second hand stores, but I reread books on a regular basis – those on my Kindle were read three times while I was away – meaning the Kindle was perfect.

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Figure 5: A comparison of the Kindle with the number of books I read while away My Kindle went everywhere with me, and I read it everywhere from bus stops to airports to sitting on a sunny beach. I found I really liked the E Ink, and did not get the sore eyes and headache I get from reading from a backlit screen for any length of time. No backlighting also meant I was able to read my Kindle anyplace I could read a book, including in direct sunlight – and I did. The charge lasted long enough that I could not tell you how long it lasts – all I know is that I am surprised when I need to recharge it, and cannot usually remember when I last did so.

Having said this, there are downsides to the Kindle. While the E Ink makes reading from it a pleasure to me, it also means it is black and white, and you need light to read it. The pages take a small amount of time to change, it takes a second to respond to some commands, and the note-taking and highlighting features are very clumsy. Being able to change the font size, and the number of words on a line, mean that it uses location numbers rather than page numbers. While this means that you can be sure you are at the same place irrespective of the font size, these bear no relation to page or chapter numbers in the actual

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book. This is a problem if you wish to describe the location of a particular event or sentence to someone not using a Kindle, such as when you are quoting.

The range of books is generally good – as long as you want recent popular novels, or preout-of-copyright books. It is much harder to find work-related books and, while you can upload your own PDF documents to it, you cannot change their font size. Having books on my Kindle also means it is difficult to lend them to others. Lending a book on my Kindle involves lending them the whole device, along with all the books on it. When you pay for a book you can download it to devices other than your Kindle, but there is a limit to the number of devices. One feature that can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your perception, is that no one can tell what you are reading from the cover. How you perceive this depends on what you are reading, and whether you like discussing your reading choice with those around you.

The Eee

I have to confess that I am not entirely enamoured of netbooks in general. While they are certainly smaller and more portable than my 15” MacBook Pro, I find the portability does not compensate for the features I tend to use that are not available. I am used to working on multiple screens and frequently have multiple windows open at one time – something that is not possible on a 10” netbook screen. I also frequently use CD-ROMs and DVDs when I am away, either to watch movies or to play games, neither of which I can do on a netbook.

Having said this, I can certainly see their advantages for people who use computers solely for work purposes. The Eee is half the size of my laptop, and as such is much more portable. Even the charger is smaller and more portable than that of my laptop. The keyboard, while smaller, has the standard layout, and I found I became used to the small size very quickly. Whether this is the case for someone with larger hands is less clear – my hands are small enough that I use a laptop-sized mouse as standard. The Eee I used has Windows installed, along with the Microsoft Office suite. This means that there was no

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learning curve associated with the programmes, and all files were compatible with my laptop. There is also plenty of hard drive space, and it has wireless access built in.

iPad I was lucky enough to be in the United States when the iPad was released, and was ordered to bring one home for my husband. I bought it a week before I left, but have rarely been able to use it since, as it almost never leaves his side. While he is a fan, I chose not to buy one for myself – not because I don’t think it is a useful tool, but because I couldn’t justify the price for the functionality I would gain from it.

It is small and portable, although I would call it shoulder-bag sized rather than the handbagsize of the Kindle. The battery life is good, and the startup speed is instant. It uses the same operating system as the iPhone and iPod Touch, and like the iPhone connects either through a 3G network (a type of network that allows data to be transferred using cellphone technology) or, if you buy the more expensive model, a wireless network. While it does not have the Microsoft Office suite of applications, it does have equivalent programmes, and files created in these can be easily converted. It does not have an optical drive, however the applications available include games and you can purchase or hire movies to watch, which go some way to compensating for this.

While initially I was clumsy when using the onscreen keyboard, I quickly became proficient, particularly with the screen in landscape view. The touch screen is largely intuitive and easy to use. The screen is very crisp and clear, but despite the ‘fingerprint resistant’ coating on the screen, it quickly became covered in smudged fingerprints.

Watching a movie was enjoyable, as long as I kept it out of the sunlight, as glare was a major problem. The backlit screen meant that I needed to be careful how long I spent staring at it, but this is a problem generic to this type of screen, rather than related to the iPad in particular.

Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, Teaching, Technology, 22(2) 8 Pratt 2010 Where the iPad truly shines, though, is in the range of applications available for it, at relatively low prices. Most of the applications developed for the iPhone work on the iPad, while more are being developed that take advantage of the large screen size of the iPad.

The range of applications can also be a problem, however, as all available applications are displayed on the opening screen (which you can scroll sideways through to see any that do not fit on one screen). This can make it difficult to find the application for which you are looking – although this is due to be solved through a free software upgrade due shortly.

There are also difficulties in multitasking, as you can only have one application showing at once, although again this will be resolved in the coming upgrade. If you are used to having multiple windows open at once, this takes some getting used to. Applications available for the iPad can only be purchased via Apple’s iTunes store. It is a ‘locked down’ device, which means that software from third parties cannot be installed.

Figure 6. iPad showing the home page, which shows the first page of applications There are too many applications to discuss here, but one I will touch on is iBooks, the eReader application.

This combines replicating the look and action of a traditional book with, in some case, multimedia elements. The pages on the screen look like those of a book,

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and you can see either one page or facing pages at once. Turning a page involves using a flicking motion with your finger, in the bottom right hand corner (think of the motion you would use if you had a book flat on your desk, and were turning the page from this corner).

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