It’s hardly a shock to discover that people are able to read a printed book quicker than on a reading device. But surprisingly one study suggests the difference isn’t that large, and there may be little difference in enjoyment either.
The Nielsen Norman Group, headed by usability expert Jakob Nielsen, carried out a test where participants read short stories on an iPad, a Kindle 2, a PC monitor, and a traditional book. They were told they would have a comprehension test afterwards, a tactic designed to make sure they read the stories in their entirety and paid attention.
It’s worth noting there were only 24 participants, which leaves room for statistical error, particularly if (as might be assumed) there is any significant difference in the way people of different ages approach electronic text displays. The testing panel consisted of people with at least high school literacy and a keen interest in reading.
The testing found that reading on the iPad was 6.2% slower than from the book, while reading on the Kindle was 10.7% slower. The NNG report says that puts the two devices close enough to one another that there’s no real reason to choose one over the other for reading speed. The group didn’t release speed results for the PC monitor.
The participants also gave a rating from 1 to 7 for how satisfied they were with each reading format. Surprisingly, the iPad (5.8) and Kindle (5.7) just squeaked by the book (5.6). That said, it’s certainly possible people were unconsciously judging each method in relation to their preconceptions, giving higher scores to the e-readers because they performed better than expected, whereas there was no surprise about how it felt to read a book. Participants did say they felt more relaxed with the printed book.
Reading on a PC screen only scored 3.6. The report says participants noted this was because it reminded them of being at work, though it may also be that sitting at a computer desk with a fixed-position monitor is less comfortable than reading a handheld text (whether printed or electronic).