E-Book Readers Could Be Better for Kids Than iPads

Unless you need to distract them, and fast

Key Takeaways

  • E-ink books are cheaper, simpler, can be used outdoors, and rarely need charging.
  • Early phone or tablet use might stifle simple reading.
  • Tablets are fantastic for learning and play, but need parental oversight.
two toddlers sitting on a sofa and using an iPad

Jelleke Vanooteghem / Unsplash

Computer tablets have become our electronic babysitters, but perhaps kids would be better off with a simpler e-book reader.

iPads are big versions of our phones, and just as distracting and compelling as our pocket brain drainers. An e-reader like the Kindle or Kobo is designed for one thing: reading. They may have a few old-fashioned games, and the Kindle has a web browser that’s so neglected it’s still labeled "experimental" 14 years after its debut, but e-readers are for e-books, and little else. Could they be the ideal way to introduce our kids to technology?

"Both e-ink readers and tablets have their own advantages," Alana Reyes, social media marketing assistant of Reedley International School, told Lifewire via email. "E-inks are better if you only opt to use something as an alternative for physical books. They have larger screens than phones, are lighter than tablets and iPads, and have less-harsh backlight. 

"However, with iPads you can do almost everything—chatting, e-mailing, playing games, exploring apps, taking photos and videos, and more."

E-Ink Advantages

When you put your kid in front of an iPad, they have access to the entire adult world of apps and the web. iOS is especially good at letting parents configure parental controls, and limiting kids’ screen time, but your kids are still watching TV, playing games, and begging you for more digital currency to buy virtual clothes/cards/etc. 

E-readers, on the other hand, are for reading books. If your kids are into reading, then that might be all they want or need. Some e-readers also have simple drawing apps that use the touch screen, although paper and crayons are probably better still.

"E-inks are better if you only opt to use something as an alternative for physical books."

E-ink has other advantages over tablets, too, which come from the screen tech itself.

"The LED/LCD displays on phones and tablets emit light, meaning when you’re using the device, it’s projecting bright light into your eyes. By contrast, e-ink is reflective just like paper, meaning it uses ambient light in the environment to display information," Paul Apen, chief business and operations officer of E Ink Corp., told Lifewire via email. "As we all know—and experienced firsthand over the last 18 months—staring at a light-emitting screen for long periods of time can affect eye health."

Reading on a Kindle is certainly more comfortable than reading on a phone or iPad screen, but e-ink is also readable outside in sunlight. Kids on phones have to stick to the shadows. Kids reading on paper or e-readers can sit where they like. 

boy sitting at a table and using a tablet

Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

E-readers also last weeks on a single battery charge, are almost all waterproof, and are way cheaper than iPads, so when your kids inevitably drop them, you can better afford a replacement.

They’re also more useful than you might first think.

"While you can certainly use [e-ink devices] for reading, they’re also great for note taking, drawing, document editing, and more," says Apen. "Those activities make up a large portion of why we use devices today—and ePaper makes for a distraction-free experience too. Then you can reserve using light-emitting tablets and phones for activities like watching videos and movies."

Balance

In the end, there’s a place for both kinds of gadgets, but one might argue that starting kids with the simpler e-reader gives them a chance to develop a love for reading, and the imagination it requires, The subtleties of a book might be crowded out by the more immediately appealing wares of the iPad.

A book, after all, is pretty boring to look at—just black text on a white page. But once those words catch you, you’re off into worlds far richer than anything found in a game or a movie, worlds constructed almost entirely from the reader’s imagination. 

On the other hand, when the kids are screaming and climbing over each other in the back of the car, a tablet showing Pocoyo or the zillionth rerun of Frozen might be the only answer.

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