With a summer full of beach reading (hopefully) ahead of us, we're faced with the technological dilemma of the season: How venture outside without ruining our fragile, not-amenable-to-the-elements e-reading gadgets. We (as in a third of Americans) bought our Kindles, Nooks, and iPads — at least in part — to do all the leisure reading these devices theoretically enable. And since much of that reading happens during the summer months, as soon as we plant ourselves on sandy expanses with nothing to do but dive into a good book, we encounter a technical difficulty: that it's actually pretty hard to e-read outside, especially on the beach. With all that sun, sand and water, the beach is a treacherous place for an expensive, delicate piece of hardware. So what to do? The Atlantic Wire spoke with the Internet's finest tech experts and gadget nerds for their advice on e-reading outside like a pro.
Your Best Bet Is a Kindle Paperwhite
Almost all of our tech gurus mentioned a Kindle as their e-reading gadget of choice, with more than a couple raving about Amazon's most recent upgrade to the popular e-reader. "I do almost all my book-reading on Kindle Paperwhite, which I find to be the best reading device ever invented," Slate's Farhad Manjoo told us. "I think it's the best e-reader," added Wired's Mat Honan, who uses a "regular Kindle" while his wife reads in luxury with the Paperwhite. You can read all the rave reviews for it here, but this Kindle Paperwhite user can tell you from her own experience that the touch screen, the device's lightweight feel, and the backlight make for an elegant reading experience. Reading on the Paperwhite is like, well, sleeping in a fancy hotel with the softest, highest-thread-count sheets and a million pillows. It's just that lovely.
Any E-Reader Will Do, Too
Even those who haven't upgraded to that loveliest of Kindles suggested using a Kindle device, rather than an iPad (or, really, anything else). Have you ever tried reading outside in the sun on a computer, phone, or tablet screen? "It's an exercise in frustration," says Valleywag's Sam Biddle. "It'd be like staring in a mirror." He's right: The glare doesn't relent. A Kindle, though, doesn't have that problem. "The e-ink screen is great in bright sunshine," says Honan. Presumably, other e-ink devices — a Kobo or Nook — work fine, too. Kindle, however, turned out to be the e-reader of choice for tech dorks — it has a better book selection. It should be noted, in all fairness, that Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is practically the same as the Amazon backlit Kindle. Some people even like B&N's hardware better.
Beyond the physical benefits, however, an e-reader is a more practical device to take to the beach than a tablet. At $79 for either the Kindle or the Nook, it's not as precious as a $400 iPad — and who needs all those apps and Internet access on the beach? "E-ink feels appropriately slow; it does not light you up like an LCD," said The New Yorker's Matt Buchanan. "And, there is no Twitter app begging for your attention between every chapter." Plus, if it gets stolen or accidentally dropped in the ocean or rained on, you frankly haven't lost anything too expensive or central to your lifestyle. "A Kindle has a lot less sensitive personal information on it, like an email account, your Dropbox files, or a banking app, than a smartphone or tablet likely will," adds Honan, who knows what it's like to have all of his personal information suddenly usurped.
Beware of Glare — and Know How to Fix It
For those who do not happen to have a Kindle, there are some remedies for the glare issue on tablets or smartphones to avoid disasters like the one pictured above. Shade helps, as does turning up your phone's brightness all the way. Amazon, for example, sells anti-Glare screens. However, be warned that they don't get great reviews. Gizmodo's Adam Clark Estes, a former Atlantic Wire writer and a dedicated iPad and iPhone outside reader, wears polarized sunglasses. "It's also kinda trippy," he notes. Sounds promising.
Don't Hate on the Ziploc Trick
As many of us have learned the hard way, a single drop of water can ruin electronics. Rather than recommend a fancy waterproof tablet like Sony's Xperia Tablet Z, more than one of our tech savvy gadget-heads stood by the decidedly low-tech Ziploc bag trick. "This is totally inelegant, but I still find nothing beats the Kindle-in-the-Ziplock method," Honan told The Wire. Seriously: He puts his Kindle in a plastic waterproof casing before heading anywhere near a body of water. "The ziplock baggie will keep your screen safe from sunscreen and saltwater," he added. The Atlantic's Becca Rosen recommended a similar method for bath readers; meanwhile, Biddle, who is "terrified of sand," puts his iPhone in a little baggie, too. And then there's Manjoo, whose theory of gadgetry is, "I'm not keeping any of my gadgets for the long haul so I think protecting them is too much work." That strikes us as somewhat extreme.
Embrace the Old Fashioned Book
Look, if you're trying to have a relaxing beach experience, worrying about ruining your prized tech products won't help the cause. "Leave all of your shit that requires a battery at home," suggests Biddle. "Even the best-designed gadget requires you to baby it a little bit." And who wants to do that while lounging on the beach? Not The New York Times's Jenna Wortham, who opts for a very old school reading device: a paper book. "If I leave my book at the beach or someone's melting drink drips on it, it just adds character to it, rather than ruin it and raise the stress levels unnecessarily," she told The Atlantic Wire.
And that's the thing: These outdoor summertime activities should take us way from the stresses of our everyday lives. Worrying about the state of your reading material should not take up any brain space while you're nursing your seventh Corona out on the Rockaways. If you're going to spend the entire day clenching even the cheapest of e-readers, why bother? Don't. Bring disposable pieces of paper bound by adhesive. They're called books.
Insets via Amazon, Flickr/JCBURNS, Flickr/nicolasnova
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.