Which Tablets Are Best For E-Textbooks?

As another school year begins and students start their back-to-school errands and activities, one of the questions on their mind is whether or not to get traditional bound textbooks, or to go digital—to follow the new trend of purchasing or renting “e-textbooks” on a tablet or e-reader.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of e-textbooks, and which tablets are best if a student chooses to go the digital route?  Let’s explore these questions.


One advantage of the e-textbook, obviously, is space—if all your textbooks are located on one small, easily transportable and storable e-reader, your bookbag or satchel won’t be loaded down with multiple heavy textbooks.  Especially if you’re living off-campus and have a decent walk to your classes each day, this can save you quite the strain on your shoulders and back.

Another advantage is that e-textbooks offer a rental service.  Instead of having to purchase costly textbooks outright, you can rent the books from the publisher for the duration of your semester.  Not only is this cheaper, it also avoids the lines and hassle of the book buyback process at the end of each semester.


One of the primary disadvantages of the e-textbook format is that many textbooks aren’t available as e-textbooks.  This means that if you drop several hundred dollars on a nice tablet or e-reader, you may still find that only a couple of your textbooks are actually available for purchase or to rent.

E-textbook formatting can also be a rather dicey affair—many students complain that the e-textbooks they’ve purchased or rented, because of all the graphics and pictures in the texts, are actually very difficult to comfortably read and study.  It can be quite a pain to have to page back and forth to see all of a figure or to read only one small paragraph at a time.

Another disadvantage is that highlighting and marking off relevant or test-worthy selections in an e-textbook is difficult compared to doing so in a traditionally bound textbook.  Accessing these sections is simply not a smooth process when one goes back to read them and cram for an exam.

What Tablets Or E-Readers Are Best

If one does decide to go digital, however, there are some tablets which are better than others.  One of the primary e-readers on the market, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, actually doesn’t offer e-textbooks at all, surprisingly.  This automatically removes one of the biggest tablets from the discussion.

Amazon’s Kindle does, and Amazon offers many thousands of textbooks in digital format for their devices, both for purchase and for rental.  Given the nature of e-textbooks, though, and given the formatting issues discussed above, it would be best to purchase the slightly more expensive Kindle Fire (which has a full-color display and a much larger screen), rather than the regular Kindle or Kindle Touch.

Perhaps even better than the Kindle Fire, however, is the iPad.  The iPad can also be used to download rented or purchased Amazon e-textbooks, but the screen is much larger than that of the Kindle Fire.  Ultimately, the larger the screen, the lesser the formatting problems discussed above, and this makes the iPad—although indeed a great deal more expensive than most of the other options—the best choice for those looking to go as digital as possible this semester when it comes to purchasing or renting their textbooks.

Tarin Marken has her Masters in computer science and loved using e-textbooks. She wrote this on behalf of justcolleges.com, where you can make your education matter.