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iPad, Kindle as readable as print... almost

Only a page width between them

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We've all done it: printed out material because it's easier to read on paper than on a computer screen. But are tablets and e-book readers changing this behaviour pattern? Early research suggests they might well be.

A study of 24 highly literate individuals' reading experience with books, the iPad, Amazon's Kindle and a PC carried out by US usability guru Jakob Nielsen found that while most people still read more quickly when they have a paper book in front of them, electronic media aren't far behind.

Nielsen's results found that reading a set text - a short story by Ernest Hemingway - on an iPad or Kindle took 6-11 per cent longer than it did on paper. Speed was cross-checked against comprehension to weed out those who scanned a story quickly but didn't really take it in.

Nielsen wouldn't state which of the two gadgets saw the faster reading experience. The last thing he wants is abuse from each device's respective fanbase, but more particularly, he found that "the difference between the two devices was not statistically significant because of the data's fairly high variability".

The upshot: "The difference would be so small that it wouldn't be a reason to buy one over the other."

But if the iPad and the Kindle aren't quite on the same ease-of-use level as a paper book, they're way ahead of the PC. While Nielsen doesn't provide relative PC reading speeds, he did ask participants to rate how much they enjoyed the experience on a scale of 1-7.

With seven as the best possible score, the PC scored, on average, 3.6, compared to 5.6 for the paper book, 5.7 for the Kindle and 5.8 for the iPad.

The last three are so close as to warrant picking winners, but it's clear that even if a work takes slightly longer to read and comprehend on, say, an iPad's screen over print, it's still way ahead of a monitor.

"Users felt that reading the printed book was more relaxing than using electronic devices," notes Nielsen. "And they felt uncomfortable with the PC because it reminded them of work."

Nielsen's write-up can be found here. ®

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