Monday, February 28, 2011

Me and My Kindle 3: The first month

I treated myself to a Kindle in December, and I started using just over a month ago. I’ve decided that it’s the future of book-reading, and if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you why.

First things first - I'm talking about the Kindle 3G here. The choice of Wi-Fi-only for $139 or the worldwide 3G model for an extra $50 was made for me by the experiences I’ve had of struggling to kill a few hours in various airports around the world. Buying a few hours of Wi-Fi access would cost $50 alone, so I was obligated to buy it.

Why It's Great:

Being able to buy a book at any time is fantastic - often I'll be listening to a podcast with a very interesting person flogging a book. Regardless of where I am, I can download a free sample to the Kindle, and if it makes the cut, I can purchase the whole thing in a few seconds.

This thing reads me bedtime stories. One night my eyes were too sore to focus on reading, but I wanted to get Flim-Flam finished by the end of the week, so I lay back in bed and had it read me a few chapters in a serviceable monotone. (Sadly, some publishers choose to disable this handy feature.)

The (official) case I have has a built in light powered from the Kindle itself, so I can read in the dark. This beats a 'real' book and booklight combo, which I've always found unwieldy. This thing gives good light coverage and doesn't disturb bedmates. At $60, it's quite expensive, but I think the quality and convenience is just about worth it.
Your intrepid blogger, handmodelling in the dark
'Kindle' isn't just an e-book reader - the mobile phone and computer applications are almost as much of an attraction as the device itself. Reading the books on the device is wonderful, but the ability to pick up reading from the last read page on my phone or Mac and have the highlights and notes transfer over might prompt the same revelation in you as it did in me: this is much better than the dead-tree system of old.
Speaking of notes, I could rarely bring myself to besmirch my printed books, but now I've a load of highlighted passages and statistics in my favorite books, available from any device the Kindle app runs on. Neat.
Also, turning real pages sucks. Pressing a button to make new text appear is so much easier. You like watching the 'read' side of the book grow as you near the final pages? Fear not, the % Complete at the bottom of the screen will soothe your soul.
What's not so great:
Luddites try to ruin this for me. A few people (intelligent, charming, progressive people) tut when they hear I'm using the Kindle. Words like 'Orwellian' are used ambiguously, possibly to describe the fuzzy ownership rights of the books (and Amazon did make a major screw up before when they 'recalled' 1984 from users' virtual bookshelves). To address this simply: the Kindle is not a locked down system. It's very easy to find copies of books not available on the Kindle store and read them on the device. When you pirate books (and I have pirated copies of books I own for the sake of science), you lose many of the conveniences that 'owning' the book bestows, but it makes me feel safe that my device won't be worthless if Amazon ever decides to abuse its users (which isn't good for business, so I don't see it happening). Give me a better reason to hate eBook Readers.
Some reasons to hate it:
It's an electronic device, so you have to charge it. I can still taste the disappointment of going to bed expecting to read until I fell asleep, only to find an empty battery logo when I picked up my Kindle. It felt like somebody had taken my new favorite book and whited out all the pages.

It's an electronic device, so I won't be able to read on it during take off and landing.

The Kindle for Mac app in action. Good when I'm waiting for a process to finish and I've a few minutes to kill

The audio playback is terrible. Just because a feature is labelled 'experimental' doesn't justify it being utterly wretched. With no graphical user interface, users have to press memorized keyboard shortcuts to play and skip songs. Want to pause a podcast and finish it later? Tough shit, it won't remember where you were. Want to skip ahead a few seconds at at time until you find your spot again? Tough shit, that feature doesn't exist. This effort is so offensive I think I'd be happier without it.

It's an electronic, internet-connected device, but Amazon stubbornly refuse to (significantly) update the software, instead making users upgrade to the latest model to avail of new features. This particularly stings when considering the commendable work that Barnes & Noble have done with their Nook.

This thing doesn't do colour, which is a shame, but not terribly important for my reading preferences. If I come across a diagram that warrants the hassle, I can view it on my phone or computer's Kindle app.

This thing doesn't do RSS feeds, which is unforgivable. You can subscribe to magazines and newspapers for a fee, but years of internet use have taught me not to pay for what I can obtain for free. There are some hacks and workarounds out there that I'm going to look into, so updated impressions will follow down the line.

Also, you can't share the books. Some publishers let you 'loan' your license to someone for two weeks, but you can only do this once per book. For two weeks. On very few books. What a load of cock. I'm optimistic that market forces will force Amazon/publishers to reconsider.

So how long will this device last?

It's hard to say what it would take for this particular Kindle model to be made obsolete. It doesn't need to compete in any arms races in terms of specs, since displaying text expediently is about the only thing users expect this to do, and it already does this very well (I reckon the virtual page-turn takes about as long as a real one). Even if Amazon released one with a more traditional tablet design, replete with multimedia features, the Kindle 3 would still be relevant as a reading device with no extraneous distractions.

My experiences with my Kindle over the past month have made me believe that eBook readers are here to stay, and I can foresee continuing to use it every day until the battery craps out or I forget to take it out of the seat-pocket on an aeroplane. There's a lot that I haven't touched on - in two weeks I'll be going on a trip with this thing, so I'll get a chance to use it in a less controlled environment, and if there's anything worth reporting, you'll see it here. In the meantime, I would recommend this to everybody who likes to read and is willing to spend money on their hobby. My dear ladyfriend gives herself a hernia with all the tomes she piles into her backpack when she's travelling, so this device might spare her some back trouble (and spare her from buying me any more massage books on the Kindle store).


Fin said...

The font change in the middle third of this post disturbed me greatly.

Sully said...

It disturbed me too. Let that be a lesson to you, don't start writing on Google Docs, then copy/paste everything across to Blogger and expect it to behave. I fixed the first and third thirds, but not the second for some reason.

Donncha said...

I have the Kindle app for my Android phone and I have much the same experience. I love it! Bonus points too for not needing a bedside lamp and waking my wife when I read at night!

Diarmuid O'Sullivan said...

You should consider a career in hand-modelling. The pic is cool!

If I were buying one I would definitely go with 3g version.