Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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April 13, 2010 • eBooks, Reviews

Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs

PDF. ePub. Kindle. iBooks. eBooks. Nook. eInk. Web Browser. Laptop. Audiobooks. For over 10 years, I have been trying to move to an all-electronic workflow for reading and consuming books, especially technical books. It started when I was a consultant traveling in planes to a variety of locations all over the US and internationally. Even when I was working locally, I had a 3+ hour commute daily for a number of years.

One of the first things I did was switch to listening to audiobooks (via Audible) for my long daily commute via car. It not only kept me more alert, but I was able to read 3-4 unabridged books a month while I drove. But I also had to carry around a work and a personal computer on the plane. With that plus a week’s worth of clothes and other project support files, it didn’t leave much room for printed books. I was often reading 4-5 different books or using them as references at any given time. I also wanted to take them back and forth with me, since I would be working often when I was back home, several states away.

Something had to be done. I was sick of buying multiple copies of large, expensive technical books (often for $40 – $50 each, and over 500 pages each) to keep at the client location and home, and I couldn’t schlep them back and forth all the time. Plus, technology books quickly become obsolete as technology advances. I had a huge library of books sitting at my house taking up space that I no longer read.

So, one of my first big moves was to start looking for books in PDF or some other electronic format. One of the first technology publishing companies to make books available in electronic format was O’Reilly. They had a set of excellent CD Bookshelf series that were a set of books in HTML format on CDs. O’Reilly then pioneered Safari Books Online, which was the bulk of their books (and now many other publishers) online in HTML format. You could also download PDF chapters of books as well, in addition to full-text searching. But I wanted to be able to take books with me, but in electronic format as well. Sometimes I didn’t have an outside Internet connection at client sites.

Along came the Pragmatic Programmers who started printing new books in PDF format without DRM. O’Reilly quickly joined in, and other tech publishers, including Manning, now support PDF, ePub, and Mobipocket format. Now I can read most of my books on a variety of eBook devices. Having ePub and Mobipocket formats allow me to read technical eBooks on small eBook devices such as the Kindle, Nook, or Sony Readers. However, some publishers only have books in PDF format. PDFs are essentially “images” in that they mimic a printed page. Sure, some devices have experimental reflow support to allow you to view the text content on smaller devices, but it’s still a suboptimal experience.

So last year, when Amazon announced the Kindle DX, I thought it would be a perfect solution for me. The ability to read eBooks and PDF files natively had me hoping that it would be the only eReader I would need. In practice, however, the PDF reading experience was not very good. PDF files have margins (for printing) and the book content itself was too small. When the iPad was announced, I immediately knew that it could solve an issue that is extremely important to me: being able to read technical eBooks and PDF files.

If at all possible, I read my tech books in ePub format. This allows me to use a variety of reading devices, but also change font sizes and even fonts, depending on the device. I was delighted to see that the iBooks app natively supported ePub books from one’s personal library in addition to the books available in the iBookstore. Simply import the ePub files into iTunes and they show up under the Books section of iTunes and you manage it like any other iTunes content. You can choose to put all or selected ePub books on your iPad.

Here are just two pages of my list of ePub books (from O’Reilly and the Pragmatic Programmers) in the iBooks application:

So how do the actual books look in the iBooks application? GREAT. I see full color, can resize text, quickly jump anywhere in a book from the table of contents, and even add bookmarks. Unlike a regular book I would read for pleasure, with tech books, I often have to quickly skim to find what I’m looking for. With an eInk screen, this isn’t possible due to the delay in page turning. In the iBooks app, however, I can quickly skim pages visually and find exactly what I want by turning pages as quick as I want. The iBooks application is beautiful, stable, and a seamless reading experience. Bookmarks show up as a highlighted section of a page:

(The highlighted title is because this page has been bookmarked)

So for my ePub books, I’m in love with iBooks and it will be my go to device for reading those books. Now what about PDF files? The iPad has a large enough screen that PDF files are very readable. As I mentioned in How To View PDF Files on an iPad, GoodReader allows me to view PDFs natively on the iPad:

It’s sort of hard to just show you a screenshot of what a PDF looks like full-screen with no frame of reference. So how about a side-by-side shot? The following images are of Painting the Web, by Shelley Powers, published by O’Reilly Media.

(A printed version of Painting the Web, next to the PDF version in GoodReader on the iPad)

So you can see that from a printed book perspective, the PDF on the iPad looks great. It has very good color and is approximately the same size. For reference, I have a standard letter size piece of paper (8.5″ x 11″) under the iPad.

How about in comparison to an actual printed PDF? Since a letter-sized page is larger than the physical printed book from O’Reilly, what does that look like?

The two photos above show you the printed book next to the ePub version in iBooks. The iPad is excellent for technical books, in ePub format on the iBook application or in PDF format in GoodReader. Both types are equally readable and I don’t feel that the screen is cramped compared to a printed book or printed document on letter-sized paper.

The following two images show Painting the Web in GoodReader in PDF format with and without navigation controls and the third image shows it in ePub format in the iBooks application.

Conclusion

All I can say is that reading technical books and other eBooks on the iPad FAR exceeded my expectations. I can read all of my books (PDF or ePub) easily and the size is just perfect for it. Page turns are fast and responsive, and once I’m in a book (which I can get to quickly), the interface totally melts away and  all I see is the content. I hope that this gives others enough of an idea of what books look like on the iPad and how excellent the experience can be.

I have a few additional images of a variety of books in the iBooks application, as well as in GoodReader, along with all other images in the review.

74 Responses to " Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs "

  1. davisesq212 says:

    RT @geardiary: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/9SG2JF

  2. My latest @geardiarysite post: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs – http://bit.ly/9fIoAP

  3. McGeneral says:

    gbmiii [ff] – Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://ow.ly/173NPQ

  4. topsy_top20k says:

    Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://goo.gl/fb/PhnLG

  5. gbmiii [ff] – Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://ow.ly/173NPR

  6. Bruce Keener says:

    RT @geardiary: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/9SG2JF … a really super article by @trhall

  7. RT @keener: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/9SG2JF … a really super article by @trhall

  8. Bruce Keener says:

    Thomas, what a fantastic review my friend. You know what a book hound I am and I have been wondering how good the iPad would be as an ebook reader. Thanks for showing me that it would suit all of my needs far better than I expected.

    Great article.

    • Thomas R. Hall says:

      @Bruce Keener – Thanks! In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words. I think you would find the iPad very suitable for consuming content!

  9. #Tech Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs …: O'Reilly quickly joined in, and other te… http://bit.ly/91z2SO

  10. Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/bhAxuU via http://topicfire.com/Gadget

  11. geardiary: Books on iPad: Comparing Printed Page to ePub and PDFs – http://bit.ly/9MWd7t

  12. Amazing writeup! Thank you Thomas!! :-))

  13. Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/c2rFzp

  14. lee hyo sik(???) says:

    ???????? !RT @Premist: ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk /via @cookins

  15. Randy Murray says:

    RT @geardiary: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/9SG2JF

  16. mk0506 says:

    ?? ?? ?? RT @cookins: ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  17. ??(joone) says:

    ???? RT @Premist ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk /via @cookins

  18. RT ? ???? ?? @Premist ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk /via @cookins

  19. ??? KraZYeom says:

    ????? ????? RT @_2c: RT ? ???? @Premist ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk /via @cookins

  20. RT @GearDiarySite: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://goo.gl/fb/PhnLG

  21. ?? says:

    ?? ??????? ??? ??? ???…..RT@Premist ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  22. Eric Huh says:

    ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk /via @cookins /via @Premist ????!! ? ????? ????.

  23. RT @death2life2: ?? ??????? ??? ??? ???…..RT@Premist ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  24. twin says:

    RT @cookins: ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  25. twin says:

    ??????(?) ? ?? ?? ?? ????.. RT @cookins ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  26. @OReillyMedia @TimOreilly Lots of your books showcased in my eBook/iPad article: http://bit.ly/9fIoAP Hope you don't mind! Love your stuff.

  27. TongHyun Kim says:

    ??? ?? ???. IT????? ipad ???? ????? ?? RT http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk /via @cookins

  28. Bruce Wang says:

    RT @crowdy: ??? ?? ???. IT????? ipad ???? ????? ?? RT http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk /via @cookins

  29. techobsessed says:

    Once DRM goes away I may buy more eBooks, but for now the printed word is transferrable to other owners, still decently prices and easily accessible at tens of thousands of bookstores.

    • Thomas R. Hall says:

      The eBooks I’ve mentioned here by O’Reilly and Pragmatic Programmers don’t have DRM, which is great. Agree with you, though, on the eBook market in general. The move to electronic media makes sense for me. It isn’t right for everyone.

  30. allennoren says:

    Fantastic write-up, Thomas. Thanks for taking the time to do it. I’ll be sharing it with my colleagues at O’Reilly. I too much prefer the iPad reading experience and will gladly forfeit the eink display for the added usability and web experience. I have a question for you, though. Many people have told me they prefer reading our ebooks on their workstation because of the ability to cut and paste code into a working window. The iPad is still a step away from most developers workspace, and I’m curious what you have to say about that.

    Thanks. –Allen

    • Thomas R. Hall says:

      I can understand the copy/paste example situation. I think it depends on the person. I like the O’Reilly examples download site, where I can download all samples in a zip file. I use that sometimes when I want to copy code to test out. Also, though, I copy code via Safari Books Online or via the PDF on my desktop if needed. I store all of my books in ePub and PDF format on Dropbox so I have access everywhere. But I also love Bookworm to keep my ePub books viewable online in HTML format. Easy copy and paste and printing sections is easy as well. Hope that helps. Let me know if you have more questions. Thanks!

  31. ???? e?? ??TV?? ??? ???? ???.. RT @cookins: ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  32. RT @geardiary: RT @keener: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/9SG2JF … a really super article by @trhall

  33. internet says:

    Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs …: I had a huge library of books sitting at my ho… http://bit.ly/91z2SO

  34. Thomas Meinike says:

    »Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs« – http://bit.ly/beSOgK

  35. Mina Choi says:

    RT @cookins: ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  36. Outlier says:

    RT @flowerfor: RT @cookins: ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  37. ???? says:

    RT @SOCIOV: RT @flowerfor: RT @cookins: ? ?? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ?? ?. http://twitpic.com/1fejz6 ? ?? ??? ???: http://bit.ly/9zoqqk

  38. Interesting read – Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/8XArIO by @trhall

  39. Comparison of my book Painting the Web, in print and on the iPad http://bit.ly/9qzkBK — iPad candy. via @simonstl

  40. Norman Walsh says:

    Carrying a library like that around on a tablet is very appealing. But I think I can wait for the competition. http://bit.ly/9qzkBK

  41. Adam Witwer says:

    Close look at reading EPUB/PDF on the iPad (using books from O'Reilly and Pragmatic) http://bit.ly/aKOdwj (via @allennoren). Nice details.

  42. dino says:

    RT @geardiary: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/9SG2JF

  43. carijansen says:

    Nice user-experience review by Thomas Hall: Books on iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub & PDFs. http://bit.ly/beSOgK

  44. Jason Wilson says:

    Comparing books (print) to books (iPad). Good post by @trhall http://bit.ly/beSOgK

  45. Garrett Hart says:

    RT @GearDiarySite: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://goo.gl/fb/PhnLG

  46. @pragdave Included some Prag book screenshots in article comparing printed books to iPad. Keep up the great content! http://bit.ly/9fIoAP

  47. Dongsheng Cai says:

    RT @number5: RT @yining: ??????????ipad???????? http://tinyurl.com/y56u9hb

  48. Mac Slocum says:

    iPad's speed allows for book skimming. E-Ink lag can't handle that. Interesting point by @trhall http://bit.ly/cXGvCO #ipad #ipadorm

  49. Ray says:

    RT @yining: ??????????ipad???????? http://tinyurl.com/y56u9hb

  50. RT @adamwitwer: Close look at reading EPUB/PDF on the iPad (using books from O'Reilly and Pragmatic) http://bit.ly/aKOdwj (via @allennor …

  51. ?? says:

    Bookmarked: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs | Gear Diary http://bit.ly/91z2SO

  52. f Marlon L G says:

    Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/beSOgK

  53. LBSources says:

    Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs: http://tinyurl.com/y56u9hb

  54. Great Article on Reading on an iPad says:

    […] For those of you who love to read, and have wondered about the reading experience on an iPad, you need to check out Thomas R. Hall’s superb Gear Diary article entitled Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs. […]

  55. Diana Passy says:

    Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs – http://bit.ly/bOp8Ho (com fotos p/ comparação)

  56. John Bond says:

    Geek reading on the iPad. This guy gives the run-down… read on.

    http://bit.ly/bghdn6

  57. Paul Chester says:

    RT @bostonmerlin – Geek reading on the iPad. This guy gives the run-down… read on. http://bit.ly/bghdn6

  58. Andre Luckow says:

    Thinking about getting an iPad as eReader: http://bit.ly/dh3qH5 – really looks like a great device for this purpose.

  59. so_white says:

    http://tinyurl.com/y56u9hb
    Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs | Gear Diary

  60. Justin Wilson says:

    RT @geardiary: Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs http://bit.ly/9SG2JF

  61. train_boy says:

    http://tinyurl.com/y56u9hb
    Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs | Gear Diary
    (WWW.GEARDIARY.COM)

  62. Ozgur Akan says:

    Reading books on iPad is an important question for a kindle dx user who is ready for a betrayal http://bit.ly/b335Kp

  63. Books on the iPad: Comparing the Printed Page to ePub and PDFs #Apple iPad #Books and eBooks http://bit.ly/9SG2JF

  64. hollowmn says:

    Great info!
    I do not own an iPad. I do have a Kindle.
    On PC monitor/laptop … to reduce eye strain I change the default white page background to grey ( ditto strategy with my web browser. I’m a web designer, and for all the sites/pages I publ., my default page background hue is also grey). The Amazon Kindle uses the grey-page strategy, too.
    Can you possibly post images of your iPad with a grey page background.  Thx!

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