Reading is the pastime of the frequent flier as a good way to stay entertained on long flights, unexpected delays, or the usual layovers. It’s been a while since Amazon released its wireless reading device, the Kindle and I decided to test whether its the ultimate way to read at 30,000 feet.

The contender is an iPod Touch that has been jailbroken, (something you’ll need to do if you want to read eBooks).

Up against both are classical books, made of nothing but paper and ink. Here’s how each fared.

Aspect: Size

  • Winner: iPod Touch – The iPod Touch comes in at 4.2 ounces about 4.3 inches high, 2.4 inches wide and .31 inches thick. The Kindle doesn’t fit into most pockets at 7.5 inches tall and 5.3 inches wide at 10.3 ounces. Books vary, but are almost all heavier and bigger.
  • Best For: Travelers who are short on space, trying to avoid luggage fees, or sticking to a single carry-on.

Aspect: Security Lines

  • Winner: Books (except controversial ones) – Books won’t make X-ray machines beep, get TSA officials riled up, or have wires associated with them. Carrying books can help you get through security faster. The more electronics you travel with the greater the likelihood you’ll be held up, stopped, or searched.
  • Best For: Business travelers who tend to take day trips, people who end up late at the airport, and the impatient. Never travel with books that may be offensive in the countries you are visiting (especially in conservative societies); in these cases, it’s better to have a Kindle or iPod Touch to obscure what you are reading.
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Aspect: Power

  • Winner: Books – Electronics that need power require extra cables, conversion hacks, or laptops (that may be confiscated by the TSA). Books don’t require electricity or the accessories that go along with them.
  • Best For: Adventure and vacation travelers who go on trips to leave their gadgets behind, not bring them along. Books also can’t be used to check emails, waste time on Myspace, or be destroyed by sand at the beach.

Aspect: Functionality

  • Winner: iPod Touch – Sorry Kindle, but a jailbroken iPod Touch can also be used to play NES games, check emails, and listen to music – not just read books.
  • Best For: Cheap travelers who cut costs by paying less on fares but end up having to wait at airports for long layovers.

Aspect: Readability

  • Winner: Kindle – Although books with decent fonts can be easily read, the Kindle can download more than 115,000 titles. Finding eBooks for the iPod Touch is difficult and there aren’t many options (not to mention that the text is tiny).
  • Best For: Those who intend to read more than 3 hours on a flight. High altitudes constrict blood vessels combines with sitting for prolonged periods of time causes strain on your eyes. Reading small text or under poor light can cause headaches that will only add to the discomfort caused by jet lag and dehydration.
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Aspect: Connectivity

  • Winner: Books – The iPod Touch requires access to a wireless network which can be dangerous and hard to find and the Kindle connects over EVDO which is easily accessible in the US, but not really anywhere else.
  • Best For: Non-technical travelers and those who want to relax as much as possible. Fiddling with wireless networks, configuring WEP, and signing up to hotspots can easily make you lose track of the reason you’re traveling in the first place.

The Ultimate Winner: Books – They may be heavy and a one-trick pony, but they’ll get you through security lines quickly, can be used without electricity, and don’t cost much. You can protect your privacy by making a book cover. Don’t worry about weight, unless you’re going to be gone for a few weeks – once you calculate the amount of time you’ll be reading you’re likely to find that it’s only a book or twos worth.

[photo by: dionhinchcliffe]