The short answer: The standalone e-book reader isn't dead. The iPad is fine as an e-book device, but advantages in price, portability, and some performance attributes make the Kindle the better e-books choice for most people.
That's the upshot of our head-to-head comparison for e-book reading of the iPad, $499 and up, and the Kindle, $260, which has scored very well in our tests of e-book readers. See our Amazon Kindle vs. Apple iPad faceoff video (at right) on the Consumer Reports channel on YouTube.
Here's how the two devices stack up for reading e-books:
Cooler navigation. In Apple's iBooks app, your library is represented by images of the actual book covers displayed on the image of a bookshelf. Once you select a book, turning pages is easy and innovative. We were wowed by the iPad's virtual page turns; there’s a virtual curl to the page and near-perfect rendition of the actual type on its underside as it curls away. You can even control the speed of the turn, from fast (very fast-speedier even than the Kindle) to slow.
A bright color screen. Though color isn't critical to reading most books, it's nice to have for covers and color illustrations, which the iPad's superb screen renders beautifully. Also, where the Kindle's E Ink screen (which lacks color, like practically all such screens at the moment) relies on ambient light, the iPad's backlit LCD screen allows you to read the device in the dark.
Easy access to multiple bookstores. Perhaps surprisingly, given its usual resistance to allowing competitors onto its devices, Apple has allowed e-book apps from Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and others onto the iPad (though most are as yet only in iPhone versions that require enlargement to fill the iPad's screen). One possible reason Apple allowed the competition on: Because iBooks has far fewer titles than Kindle and B&N, at least for now, and they didn't want a limited library to irritate iPad owners.
With a Kindle, getting an e-book from anywhere but the Kindle Store into your library involves connecting the device to a computer via USB cord and converting the title to the Kindle format.
The most readable type. The iPad's type is decent enough, but it doesn't match the Kindle's for crispness. Also, the field behind the iPad's type has a blue hue that's a bit harsher on the eyes than the brown-green tinge of the Kindle's.
Smaller size and weight. The Kindle's 6-inch screen equals or approaches the size of pages on many paperbacks, and allows the device to be easily carried in a handbag. By contrast, the iPad (and the super-sized Kindle DX, $489) have 10-inch screens that offer more real estate than most readers really need, arguably, and require a briefcase or sizeable bag to be easily carried. And the iPad weighs 24 ounces, compared to about 10 ounces for the 6-inch Kindle. (Note: Despite their differing screen sizes, both devices allow type size to be varied.)
A lower price. The Kindle costs $259, including unlimited 3G access to buy books wherever and whenever you want. The iPad starts at $499, and a model with 3G access will cost you at least $629, plus monthly (though optional) 3G charges of $15 or $30 to take advantage of that capability.
The bottom line
The iPad is vastly more versatile than the Kindle, with a growing range of apps, including those for interactive magazines and newspapers, to exploit its almost unlimited possibilities. If e-book reading will be just one of a number of activities you plan to do regularly on your new device, and your budget runs to $500 or more, consider an iPad.
If, on the other hand, you want only a device for reading e-books, the Kindle is smaller, a little easier on the eyes, and a whole lot easier on your wallet. For now at least, it's the better choice for most e-bookworms.