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August 2011
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What To Consider About A Kindle For College

It’s that time of year again and students new and old are heading back to college for the fall.  Now, more than ever, having an eReader just makes sense for anybody serious about their education.  That said, with so many options on the market it can be hard to choose.  Kindle or Nook?  eReader or Tablet?  Skip it all and just get a laptop, since there are eReading apps anyway?  When trying to decide, there are a few factors that are really important.

First, determine what your eBook needs will be.  Students new to college can expect significant introductory coursework.  This often means older, more widely read works of literature and basic textbooks.  Generally this means extended reading of the literature and textbooks only pulled out to work through assignments.  For that combination, I recommend an eReader like the Kindle or Nook combined with a PC app for textbook reading (They’re only going to be opened for a few minutes at a time anyway).  As always, check the list of required texts to make sure this is feasible before buying.  This combination has the added advantage of paying for itself in savings very quickly since a Kindle will only cost you $114 and many commonly used books can be found for free.

In terms of more advanced students, the individual needs will determine whether use of an eReader is feasible.  Many technical texts require both extended study and full color diagrams to make sense.  The current monochrome limitations of the Kindle would make it less than useful for this.  If the program in question requires extensive illustrated textbook reference, you probably don’t need one.  If you will be spending much time using academic text references like JSTOR, or focusing on purely text-based studies, the Kindle makes perfect sense.

Assuming you have an idea what kind of product you need, the next step is choosing the particular model.  Availability is not really a concern with the Amazon Kindle always including free shipping and the Barnes & Noble Nook available in all of their local stores and many of the college book stores they service.  For the most part, this is a matter of personal preference.  Both devices accomplish everything you would expect from a reading device and neither has a clear advantage over the other.  For a hands-on comparison, many Best Buy stores will have both devices side by side.

I do not recommend using nothing but a laptop PC if the goal is to focus on eBooks.  Extended reading on LCD screens can be uncomfortable at best, and the potential for distraction is far higher than on an eReader.

Similarly, there are no circumstances under which I would consider an iPad a valid substitute for either a laptop or an eReader.  In terms of reading, they fall short due to the short battery life and a back-lit display that can be hard on the eyes during long study sessions.  In classes, the potential for distraction is far higher than on something like a Kindle, which has led to many instructors being uncomfortable even having the devices present in the classroom.  They also certainly do not manage to work as well as a laptop for composition or presentation preparation.  Students will be forced to perform necessary tasks elsewhere.

Whatever the needs, make sure to keep in mind both the Kindle eText rental service and public domain titles available through the Kindle Store (or just Project Gutenberg) for free.  Making use of eBooks will save you money, if you are careful, even accounting for the costs of the reading device.

5 comments to What To Consider About A Kindle For College

  • Great article. Should be read by college students (at least those who can read).

  • Karen

    As a college prof, I’m not sure I agree that intro courses will often use older editions or textbooks that are available for free. It will happen within the next few years, I think, as printed texts price themselves out of the market. For now, though, beginning college students who settle for a different edition or an entirely different text because it’s available as an E-Book will find themselves at a disadvantage.
    Most of the texts I use for literature and writing courses are NOT [yet] available as E-books. A resourceful student can find versions of some of the literary works I teach, but will have significant extra work tracking down this material in reliable editions, and won’t then have access to the background materials I assign.
    It’s true that classic texts (literature, history, maybe religious studies, political science) will be available in free or cheap e-texts. Students, be warned that your science and math texts, literature anthologies, and specialized texts will be new editions – don’t try to substitute older texts or similar texts; you’ll cheat yourself. The good news, until e-texts catch up with demand, is that textbook rental programs are on the rise, and that’s one way to save money so you can pay for your Kindle.

  • matthew

    Karen,

    By older, I was specifically talking about out of copyright texts such as those often used as part of the accepted classical cannon of literature at many schools. Textbooks in general are not quite ready for the eReader itself, but I’ve found that in general it is easier to find the most recent version of one than an old one, so I don’t know that many students will run into that short of attempting to pirate the books. I definitely agree with the textbook rental services, of course. While eventually eBooks might replace college texts entirely, we aren’t there yet.

  • Tony

    I am a college student currently deciding whether or not to buy an eReader. I have only one class this semester that has electronic versions of the required textbooks. When comparing the savings from buying only those two electronic books for this once class, a basic Kindle would pay for itself. One of my concerns is that color will be necessary with the subjects I am studying and diagram laced text I am putting on the eBook. My current solution is to assume that if there is one more textbook I can get electronically in a future semester, the cost to upgrade to the Kindle Fire (now rather than later) would be included in the future savings. A point I wish you mentioned was something about the Kindle’s web browser and its ability to display pdf files. These two factors will significantly influence my decision and as I assume it would effect the decisions of others like me.

  • matthew

    Tony,
    The Kindle eReader does an ok job with PDFs in general, but is hardly ideal for them. It really does rely on the ability to reflow text using a format like MOBI for the best experience. As far as internet browsing I wouldn’t consider it a major factor. The only real way it is useful now that they have started restricting 3G access tends to be in purchasing new books while you’re on the road or something. If those are your major concerns, the Fire is a FAR superior choice even given the slightly inferior pleasure reading experience.

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