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I am considering buying either an e-book reader or a full tablet. My main motivation is to read books and scientific papers and I really don't need all the extra stuff tablets can give me.

My only concerns are

  • whether e-book reader (that has pdf support) will handle many different layouts used in articles (how well will 2-column A4 page fit in an 800x600 e-ink display)
  • whether it will display math properly

Do you have any thoughts and (more preferably) experience about this?

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No, however what I sometimes do when a paper is available on Arxiv, is recompile it to an epub format. Some might complain that it is not as the author intended it, but it makes it way easier to read when I have long train journeys. – Gopi Jul 3 '12 at 14:24
The enTourage Edge seemed perfect for reading papers, but unfortunatly had technical and marketing problems and went away. – Raphael Sep 13 '12 at 8:07
Ebook readers are not considered a good choice at displaying PDF, however they had some progress recently. What you need is a reader with 10" display. Afaik. currently Onyx Boox M96 is one of the best readers by displaying PDF. – inf3rno Nov 19 '14 at 19:38
up vote 28 down vote accepted

No. Not sufficient. Kindle DX, an almost full-sized page, was not big enough. Refresh rates are not fast enough for flipping back and forth. Zooming interface is terrible. E readers are good for simple flow text, one page after the next. That is not how I read papers. Tablets do much better.

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from my limited experience, i agree that reading papers on e-ink display is not convenient especially because you need zoom often and if figures are involved it is a nightmare. e-ink display works well for text display, mostly. i would suggest ipad or something with similar screen. – mythealias Jul 1 '12 at 4:44
I do not agree. My PocketBook works well for reading pdf paper and even pdf or djvu books. Size is not a problem, reading is much better than an LCD screen. Granted, refresh rates are not fast but you just have to get used to a slightly different way of reading. – Dirk Jul 3 '12 at 8:10
It most likely depends on field of study. For me the Kindle DX is great (not perfect). But I am in mathematics, and except for the most computationally heavy and long papers, most scientific papers I read linearly one page after the next. The smaller page size of a typical journal PDF also makes it usually close to (and sometimes bigger than) physical sized. (Though on the other hand reading eMags or larger format journals like Science or Nature do not work too well.) – Willie Wong Jul 3 '12 at 13:18
Some ereaders detect column layout (which is often used in papers) and automatically move along in reading order. Aside from flipping back and forth, that provides a good experience. – Raphael Sep 13 '12 at 7:59
A Tablet will be more appropriate for your task. Have you seen the new Google Nexus 7 or Nexus 10? – ShadowWarrior Nov 2 '12 at 18:02

Although my experience in this field is limited, here are a few points I learnt :

The mode of learning should be active. You should scribble, underline, highlight, gnaw or circle or whatever to make sure you understand each and every point the author makes. One can't read papers like a fiction novel. It's not a spectator sport.

Any device which allows you to do the above is good.

On PC you can use xournal. It works really well on Linux flavours. On tablets, you have many options for markup. A somewhat related question regarding the review of papers was asked and gathered some interesting answers: Useful software resources for reviewing papers

Either way the point is to get involved. Personally, my productivity is highest on dead tree version but if that's not possible. I strongly prefer my tablet over the computer since distractions are lower. On my computer, any "instant glorification" distraction is one alt+tab away

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Can you mention some of the markup options for tablets. Seems that the Mendeley iPad app, for instance, doesn't allow commenting and such. – Artem Kaznatcheev Aug 5 '12 at 20:05
You could still use a device to "pre-read" the paper, i.e. find out whether it is worthy/in need of your close scrutiny. – Raphael Sep 13 '12 at 8:01
@Nunoxic did you mean instant gratification? – user13107 Nov 5 '12 at 2:24

I started reading scientific papers on my iPad and now I hardly print any papers at all. I use an application called PDF reader, which also allows one to annotate the pdfs, which is really useful for commenting on student papers. One can make comments using a pen or type them in. Apart from saving trees, it is very handy for collecting and carrying around hundreds of papers (that I'll never have time to read).

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I use one called iAnnotate, which allows highlighting and annotation - as you would expect from the name. – Roaring Fish Jul 2 '12 at 12:04
GoodReader user here. I like it because it lets me SFTP sync entire folders recursively (and bi-directionally) from my laptop. Plus the usual DropBox, etc. interfaces. Also, better UI than iAnnotate in my opinion (it follows Apple UI standards). – mankoff Jul 2 '12 at 12:48
What tools does the student have to have in order to read your annotations? In other words, what are annotation tools that allow the annotations to be read on all major platforms? – Raphael Sep 13 '12 at 8:00
@Raphael: Annotations are embedded in pdf, so in principle any pdf reader can read the annotations. – Dave Clarke Sep 13 '12 at 18:17
It would be nice if that were true. There is plenty of annotation software out there which implement their own island solution. I take it your software uses some (Adobe's?) standard, so that's fine. – Raphael Sep 13 '12 at 21:59

To answer the specific questions in the OP for the Kindle DX.

  • Size: if the original journal article is printed on B5 (which is also about the size of many textbooks in mathematics) or smaller, then the auto-zoomed display on the Kindle DX is more than sufficient. If the original article or book is two-column A4 with small font, it does not look so great. If the journal or magazine includes "navigational tools" in the PDF file, they become extraneous header and footers that make things even worse (American Scientist, I'm looking in your direction).
  • Maths and Graphs: so far everything displays well. This includes digital scans of old (1950s and 60s) mathematics articles, modern journal articles from Springer and Elsevier journals, arXiv downloads, as well as European Mathematical Society and Cambridge University Press eBooks.

For some caveats:

  • Bookmarks: yes. Use them plenty, since internal hyperlinking doesn't work. The reader does remember where you "left off" automatically.
  • Notes and highlights: no.
  • Page turning: slow, but is something I willingly put up with for the convenience. (It is lighter and cheaper than a netbook, and also lighter and more compact then deadwood format.)
  • Battery life: great, one charge lasts me usually several weeks. Of course, the main energy consumption in eInk is the page flips. So if your paper reading habit is lots of back and forth page flipping, you will use up your battery much faster.
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Afaik, the Kindle DX can detect column layout and jump around in reading order. – Raphael Sep 13 '12 at 8:03

While I still prefer to have a printed copy, I find that my Kindle Fire (which I bought for this particular purpose) works wonderfully. It's a little pricier than a standard kindle, but the touch screen allows you to zoom and scan on pdf pages with ease. It's far superior to reading the same paper on a laptop or desktop monitor.

It's also nice to be able to carry around so many papers without additional weight or bulk!

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How does it cope with equations or graphs? My experience with older kindles are that they completely mess up the fonts and alignment on equations and graphs. – Rafael S. Calsaverini Jul 1 '12 at 19:31
It works beautifully. The pdfs are rendered perfectly. I'm a math grad student, and my Kindle Fire has handled every paper I've ever thrown at it with ease. – Jeff Jul 2 '12 at 4:10

I would go with iPad too. My experience with trying to use an ereader was horrible. The page turns are far too slow for flipping backwards and forwards, but mainly the claimed advantage of eInk - it doesn't glow - became a problem when trying to research in the evening.

That, plus the iPad's ability to access Google or JSTOR or whatever on the same device, means that I now use the iPad exclusively. The Kindle might get dragged out to read a novel now and then, which is what it is designed for, but for documents? Never.

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Never say never; progress is inevitable, and eInk is easier on the eyes as well as battery. For example, my ereader easily worked through a one-week camping trip. – Raphael Sep 13 '12 at 8:04

I use a PocketBook 912 Pro (which is an ebook reader). The display is almost 10" and that is large enough (even too large for, e.g., SIAM papers, but zooming in persistent). Reading is great, reading outside in the sun is even better. The battery is great; I use it for more than a month now and I did not need to charge it (the small time I connected it by USB to upload paper was enough). The stylus allows you to highlight and scribble on papers. DJVU is supported.

Downsides: Paper turning is indeed slow (for me this is not too bad, it slows me down and helps to read more carefully). Taking notes is sometimes slow, erasing notes is very slow. Hyperlinks do not work in pdf documents as well as the table of contents (this is a software issue and I hope, it will be fixed some day).

My conclusion is that if you need a device for traveling which allows you to read something when you only have a few minutes (at a bus stop or so) but also to read a little longer, than an ebook reader is a good option. I use it both to read papers and books and found is especially convenient to referee papers.

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I second the recommendation. I have 902, and it is great. – Boris Bukh Jul 3 '12 at 14:39

The nook doesn't allow you to highlight things, make notes, or bookmarks. If you just read one paper at a time and leave it on it's fine, otherwise carry a piece of paper to remember the page you are on.

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There is software that will help to better format an academic PDF for a 6-inch reader screen. See the PDF forum (sticky entries):

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