‘You’ll Hurt Your Eyes Reading’

Reading & Writing

ku-xlarge ‘I’ll hurt yours in a minute,’ was Tony Hancock’s succinct reply when told this by Hattie Jacques. But e-reading has been suggested as causing new levels of eye strain for all of us. Since starting to read on an iPad, I’ve experiences serious eyestrain problems which don’t improve even when I turn the light to a low level.

Now a new report has revealed that E-ink screens are easier to read in sunlight and are less likely to cause eyestrain than the LCD displays commonly used in tablets – but that many consumers are unwilling to buy the device that best suits them, or both devices. For me, iPads function best as a multi-purpose browsing tool, rather like a magazine, to be enjoyed in short bursts.

An e-reader is for serious readers. The Kindle Paperwhite is the best of the bunch, with its adjustable backlighting, but it a few flaws: The lighting isn’t even, the interface is far from perfect (try nipping to footnotes and back) and the case is prone to chipping. But the pros outweigh the cons: It’s easy to find and buy books, or get free ones, its Amazon site is simple to navigate and it’s a joy to hold.


Against this the new Kobo Aura has the first completely flat screen, and some models are unbelievably cute and feel good in your hand. The massive drawback for us in the United Kingdom is its connection to the appalling WH Smith website, which, like its shops, makes Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar seem like an orderly shopping experience. They also hide their free content away so that it takes you forever to find it.

An e-reader without a good website is useless. So while everyone’s weighing the hardware and stroking its silky sides, they ignore the bigger issue of its connection to booksellers. I spent two hours attempting to download a handful of carefully selected editions from WH Smith onto Kobo and finally gave up. I found the same ones through Amazon on Kindle in seconds.

The global market in dedicated e-readers peaked in 2011 with 23 million devices sold. Sales have since declined to the point that only 16 million such machines are forecast to be bought this year, with the number expected to fall to 10 million in 2017. It seems e-readers will become a niche market for heavy users, just as DVDs remain a niche market for serious film fans.

Instead, casual readers are using tablets – but if they’re heavy readers like me, they’ll find themselves suffering more blurred vision, having more eye tests and buying more pairs of glasses than ever before.

12 comments on “‘You’ll Hurt Your Eyes Reading’”

  1. m says:

    Thanks for the warning. I have a Sony Reader but end up reading on the ipad or computer because they have the kindle app. I do feel it when I’ve been reading too long without a break. I use Calibre to convert formats to get Kindle books to be epuds for the reader. Don’t know if it works for the Kobo though. I’ve seen Kobos here mostly in larger independent bookstores.

  2. Wayne says:

    Thank you Chris, You could have posted this a few days ago, BEFORE I bought an ipad. If I had read this I would have got a different device…. I do however like the kindle interface on the ipad and the larger screen its better than the ibooks app preloaded onto the ipad. The kindle store is by far the best shop front for buying ebooks. The Free books are not hidden away and I have redescovered a whole world of classic fiction..

  3. Dennis says:

    I’ve had a kindle for a while and I like it! I prefer reading on that to reading on the tablet.
    You can also browse the web on some Kindles. It’s not good, but if you want to read something from Project Gutenberg it will download the appropriately formatted document straight to the Kindle for you!

  4. Alison says:

    I still read a huge number of books, but I admit to absolutely loving my Kindle, and in fact it’s rescued me this time in that the book I’m reading has font the size of a gnat, and for somebody with my eyesight it’s just impossible to read, so by getting the Kindle version I was able to comfortably both up the font size and space the lines more comfortably so that I’m able to read it. For things like that (and for travelling) the Kindle remains number 1. And the Amazon site is so easy to negotiate and you have access to such a vast library of books. It’s not something I would willingly give up, no matter how much I patronise my local library.

  5. Peter Lee says:

    I’m one of those strange people who has a Kindle and loves it, but read just as many “book” books as I read electronic ones. The Kindle is invaluable for travelling – I’ve just returned from a holiday where I read 12 books in two weeks, and the thought of lugging that many paperbacks around as I used to is grim – but back at home I prefer to read on paper. I’d love it if when I bought a book from Amazon they either bundled the Kindle edition with the book for free, as they now do with MP3s when you buy most CDs, or offered the Kindle edition for say an extra pound or two, as there are lots of authors, Mr Fowler included, whose books I buy as soon as they come out and then collect on my bookcases, but am nervous about taking them on my commute as I don’t want to damage them, so this kind of bundle would be a dream come true for me.

    On holiday I saw numerous people trying to read on iPads round the pool, many complaining they were too heavy or impossible to read in the sun due to reflections (I was in southern Greece – quite sunny there at this time of the year) but the Kindle was great – easy to hold in one hand, non-reflective, and I could stick it in my pocket when I went for a wander. As for the Kobo the hardware looks nice, but as you said in the original post the WH Smith website kills it stone dead – I’ve got friends who bought Kobos thinking they could use the Amazon website to buy books, discovered they couldn’t after the purchase and have since stopped using them. A little pre-purchase research doesn’t hurt.

  6. John H says:

    The Nook Simple Touch was available for an absurdly low £30 for a little while – and I managed to get one. I experienced a couple of glitches trying to get library books to load on it (Adobe Digital Editions strikes me like Adobe Reader, as a clumsy bit of software) but everything seems to work now and, at that sort of price, it’s hard to go wrong.

  7. Admin says:

    Sorry Wayne – tragically I’m not blessed with the power of second sight or I would have stopped you. One other thing; you can add the cost of rhinoplasty after falling asleep and dropping your iPad on the bridge of your nose, as I did.

  8. Iain says:

    Kindles and other e-ink readers are much better for long reads than tablets – that’s why I have both.

    I have just one word for anyone who reads e-books:


    This is free software that is a little clunky but is a great management tool for e-books. For example, you can convert from epub (Nook format) to Kindle format, you can access Project Gutenberg, Smashwords and other e-book sellers through it, you can manage your library, you can download websites and newspapers formatted for e-books and a lot more.

    I’m not associated with it in any way (I believe it’s just one guy programming it) but I contend it’s essential for anyone wanting more flexibility with e-books. Just the ability to convert from one format to another alone is worth the download.

    Here’s the URL – http://calibre-ebook.com/

    Yes, the interface is ugly but I think everyone with an e-reader needs a copy of it. It should be included with every e-reader purchase.

    It’s one of the very few applications that I’m actually evangelical about.

    Sorry for the rant.

  9. Iain says:

    oh bugger, just realised someone mentioned it up thread. Carry on.

  10. Wayne says:

    Ouch, Admin! Something to be careful of.

    Also as others have said I already have doubts on the weight of the ipad if reading for a while. I guess what will eventually happen is I will end up with both e-ink and tablet. When funds allow !!!

  11. ediFanoB says:

    I use a Sony PRS-T01 without backlight and I’m happy with my device. I’m independent from bookstores because I use CALIBRE, which Ian mentioned above.
    It is the perfect tool to manage the reader AND to convert books into my preferred format epub.
    Despite that I still buy and read real books. But I do not want to miss my reader.

    I do not need an internet connection while I’m reading. And to be honest when I want to buy a book I want to do it on a bigger screen.

  12. Donna says:

    Yes! Another dreamer of the day when you’ll be able get a ebook version free with the paper version. Given that you can already buy the audiobook paired with an e book, it seems a no brainer. Until then, I’ll have to swap between carefully reading treasured hardbacks, and carrying cheap paperbacks for the bus. I enjoyed Plastic but have yet to work out where to put it on the bookshelves – not with the B&M hardbacks. Probably with the earlier paperbacks. Fitting as I recall reading the first chapter of Plastic on an early incarnation of this website – may have even been on dial up.

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