Ask LH: Is E-Ink Really Better For My Eyes Than My Tablet?

Dear Lifehacker, I've heard that tablets with bright screens can cause eyestrain and other problems. Am I better off getting an e-ink device like the Kindle? Thanks, Troubled by Tablets

Dear Troubled,

The common belief goes like this: because tablet screens are backlit and emit blue light, they cause greater eye fatigue than e-ink, which isn't backlit and is designed to look like a piece of paper rather than a screen. Anecdotally, I've always believed this to be true. However, all the research I could find on e-ink devices suggests that they don't offer any eyestrain benefits over LCDs. The New York Times explains:

Today's screens are definitely less tiring to look at than older displays, which refreshed the image much less frequently, causing a flicker. Carl Taussig, director of Hewlett-Packard‘s Information Surfaces Lab, said the 120 Hz refresh rate typical of modern screens is much quicker than our eyes can even see.

"The new LCDs don't affect your eyes," Mr. Taussig said. "Today's screens update every eight milliseconds, whereas the human eye is moving at a speed between 10 and 30 milliseconds."

So the research says "no" — e-ink isn't inherently better for your eyes. However, each type of screen does have its own advantages and disadvantages. Some examples:

  • Tablets such as the iPad are much harder to read in bright light, and their screens can produce a lot of glare. E-ink screens, on the other hand, work fantastically in bright light.
  • E-ink has a low contrast ratio that is difficult to read in low light. Tablets, being backlit, are much easier to read in darker locations.
  • If you're reading a tablet in the dark — particularly at night — the blue light can cause insomnia and other problems. In that case, a paper book might be best — it's easier to read than e-ink in low light, and doesn't come with the problems of a tablet.

Everyone's needs are different, and you select to pick the type of screen that fits your needs. If you're looking for an ereader to accompany you to the beach, you'll definitely want to go e-ink. If you're looking to read inside and during the daytime, a tablet may be better. And, no matter what you're reading on, take a break every 20 minutes or so if your eyes are feeling tired. That's going to be a much bigger cause of eyestrain than the type of screen you're using.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    There are other benefits to using E-Ink devices too. They last a hell of a lot longer on battery than anything else, and if you buy a small one (I use a Kindle Touch) they are very light to hold, thus easier to handle than even a book.

      Oh and you can put hundreds or even thousands of books in the one device!!

        Isn't that a moot point? e-ink devices are hardly the only ones that can store thousands of books.

          Right, so I should have reiterated the points made in the OP about the screen readability too then.?

            You've lost me now. Were you saying e-ink devices can have hundreds or thousands of books, or that both e-ink and LCD devices can?

              Perhaps I should have wrote
              "Oh and you can put hundreds or even thousands of books in the one device just like tablets and phones" ?
              Would that be easier for you to comprehend..?

                Dude chill. Your first post made sense. The second one I just found funny. 'They also hold books!' I mean, no s&^$ sherlock! :D

                  There are very few of your comments that can be interpreted as anything but trolling...

    Who ever said it had anything to do with refresh rate?
    LCD/OLED screens are still backlit!
    Do you read whilst looking at a torch? And in the unlikely event that you do, is it more or less comfortable on your eyes than reading with the light over your shoulder and reflecting off the page?

    Personally, I can't justify buying an e-ink device and I actually do read on my phone's SAMOLED, but I invert the colours so I read white text (or grey in dim environments, and a dim red/brown in dark environments) over a black background, therefore minimising the "looking into a torch" effect.

      "looking into a torch" is hyperbole - what screen do you look at that has the brightness of a torch?

    Agreed, reading on these devices is like looking at a torch. It's no competition, though you can do more with a tablet and you can't get colour e-ink... I'd rather gouge my eyes out than read a whole book on a tablet, it's "paper then e-ink then audio book" for me.

      I agree that reading on e-ink is much nicer than reading on a backlit screen. However, I've found reading on a tablet to be comfortable even so. And it solves the great "wife wanting to sleep and being kept awake by the bedside light" problem - I've now read a bunch of books on the tablet cos most of my reading is at night and you don't need a light to read when the backlight's there.

    I don't care for the e-ink "flash". It reminds me of those old 3270 mainframe terminals -- you'd hit enter and then flash, flash, redisplay.

    another research that just goes against what can be proven at home?
    I read ebook all the time and my eyes are just fine .... few hours on a tablet and I want a break ... case and point

      do you understand how research works? anecdotes does not equal proof.

    I have no problems reading on a tablet personally, no more than I do reading/writing text on a monitor all day long at work.

      The tablet devices tend to be heavier and brighter. Its probably more of a problem when you expect to do it over prolonged periods of time. The tablets tend to be heavier than the readers for one, and the screen brightness can be quite jarring under certain circumstances and constraints. But i prefer the tablet as well, personally.

      do you think that might be because your monitor at work is also a backlit LCD!?!?! It's not about comparing an lcd to a lcd its about e-ink vs lcd

    If you want to read for any length of time, it must be an e-book for less eye strain. Just like with a paper book, if its low light or dark, turn a light on - that's what they are for. I can read my Kindle for hours without any eye strain at all.

    Well my eyes certainly tell me that the e-ink is a hellova lot easier on them than a backlit lcd/led screen.

    if i spend a few hours reading on a kindle i get next to no eyestrain, yet on a phone or tablet after an hour or so my eyes feel really dry and uncomfortable.

    To me e-ink Kindle etc. are exactly like a book.
    Read in the day or at night with a lamp on or a book light...

    It is an e-book, I prefer no back light, plus boy are they light as!

    I have to say that screens do hurt your eyes and I have bought a pair of Gunnar Glasses that stop my eyes from getting tired. I know quite a few people who have been high computer users and developed eye problems as a result. It's the glare of the screens that get you and a lot of people have their screens on a high brightness setting which doesn't help. So if you are finding that your eyes get tired while on the computer, I will recommend getting a pair of anti glare glasses

    on a related note, I recommend flux to all you late night computer users. It tints the monitors colour to suit the time of day, thus not causing common problems people have with computing late at night. Just google Flux.
    You'll thank me.

    I just dim the brightness, and when i get bored of reading i throw on a movie. How does a movie look in e-ink? You would have excellent contrast. but to each to their own.

    I used to read ebooks on my PDA back in the day. Got an ereader (e-ink - it annoys me no end when backlit devices are advertised as "eReaders") so that I wasn't staring directly into light for an hour at bedtime - I still have trouble sleeping, but I think it's made a difference.
    Kinda depends on what you're reading though.. Novels: ereader all the way, and would only read on my tablet or phone if I were desperate. Technical books or magazines: I'd rather use my tablet.

    "Anecdotally, I’ve always believed [...]. However, all the research I could find [...]"

    ... and then you link to an article with MORE anecdotal quotes, and NO evidence of any research...

    Journalism = fail.

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