Still having some time left in this summer break I started a little side project: I will try to find the best device for reading PDFs – especially scientific papers. Why? Because I don’t want to print out every paper I may (or may not, in the end) read for ecological and economical reasons.

(This post will be updated with my latest results from time to time.)

I’ll try to narrow down the slippery word best from above:

  1. The device must be so light and thin that it’s easy to hold in one hand for an extended period of time (let’s say 30 minutes)
  2. The price shall not exceed 300 Euros
  3. A 2-column PDF must be comfortably to read, i.e. no excessive zooming & scrolling

These requirements may need to be modified during my endavour but currently these are the most important ones I identified until now.

The contenders

Additionally I identified these four categories of devices that apply for the job:

Actually, I own a 3rd generation Amazon Kindle e-reader for 3 years now. I use this a lot especially on vacation so I don’t have to carry heavy tomes like “The Swarm” or “Daemon” and “Freedom™” with me. The Kindle (I’m talking about the E-Ink version here) really is a great device for reading e-books, be it at home with artifical light or even on the beach with heavy sunlight. It is very robust and survives laying in the sand easily.

Reaching for the holy grail

When it comes to reading PDFs on the Kindle you have two options: Transfer the PDF as is and view it in its original format or convert it to an e-book format. Amazon can handle the latter for you. Both options have problems of their own, though. For reading the PDF as is the display is too small, especially when it comes to 2-column layouts (which is common for scientific papers). You have to zoom in and scroll around which is really unpleasant without a touchscreen and interrupts the flow of reading. So an e-reader doesn’t satisfy requirement no. 3.

A laptop would be the natural choice since I also do own one. Problem is, it obviously doesn’t satisfy requirement no. 1. Also, I’m owner of a smartphone equipped with a 4.8 inch screen. Using the Kindle Android app from Amazon this device does make reading 2-column PDFs surprisingly comfortable but still not so comfortable that I’d like to spend some hours reading on the phone. Still, I’ll try different PDF readers which can perhaps add to the pleasure.

What I’m betting big on is the tablet category. I will examine some tablets in the next weeks or so, ranging from 7 inch devices to 10 inch devices. I especially expect the 10 inch category to deliver the comfort I try to achieve – perhaps being able to display a 2-column PDF in full width (portrait mode) without the text getting too small.

Update: A winner is nigh

After having played around with (Android) smartphones and tablets and tested some PDF viewer applications there seems to be a clear winner in this quest: the 10 inch tablet. I can view 2-column PDFs on it with their full width and actually read them quite comfortably. I’ve only been reading for one or two hours, yet, so an update of this post with a long-term evaluation will follow in the next days. The 7 inch tablet does not offer a huge benefit over the smartphone so this out of the race, too.

I’m currently testing the available range of PDF reader software on the 10 inch tablet and will update this post with my evaluation of these, too.

Stay tuned…

Photo of a smartphone, a 7'' and a 10'' tablet