Nielsen On Reading Speed

Jakob Nielsen reports findings on a study comparing reading on a tablet, PC, and in a book. The study found that subjects read significantly faster from a book than on a tablet and also that they preferred reading on a tablet to reading on a PC.

Nielsen’s report appears to overlook potential biases in testing. All the subjects were familiar with codex books, which they have used for decades, but none had used Kindles or iPads for decades. Were the subjects accustomed to using an iPad or Kindle prior to the test? The report mentions that the PC text was administered in a typical “office” type setup whereas the tablet testing was done in a comfortable armchair. This alone is reason to prefer reading on a tablet; would preferences have been different if the PC testing had been done on a laptop with the subject relaxed on a sofa?

Although the study is already being widely reported as proof of the codex’s superiority to eBooks, the overall effect is trivial. Twenty four subjects read short stories by Ernest Hemingway on various devices. The mean reading time was 17.3min. iPads were about 6% slower and Kindles were about 10% slower — the difference among devices is not statistically significant but the different between electronic devices and print it. But the difference amounts to 84 sec/story. That means you might take an extra 20 minutes to read Hemingway”s 1927 collection, Men Without Women . If you want to read all 70 Collected Stories, including posthumous works and juvenilia, you’d better allow an extra ninety minutes.

What will be interesting, I think, is whether the new 300dpi display of the iPhone 4, once it becomes available for book-size devices, further improves reading speed.