So, the Kindle. Having ummed and ahhed (I had to think how to write that expression – it doesn’t translate very well to print, does it?!) for a long time, I finally decided to go ahead and ask for one for birthday/Christmas. For those that don’t know, in my case those two events are only nine days apart, which comes in handy when asking for slightly more extravagant presents.
There’s actually some irony in this, as one of my reasons for waiting was because I was holding out for a touch-screen version. Amazon finally delivered, announcing both the Kindle 4 and the Kindle Touch last year. But when it came to it, I decided that I didn’t actually want a touch screen. It’s only asking for greasy fingerprints all over it, and actually pressing a button on the edge feels more like how I read a book (with a quick flick at the edge of a page) than stabbing or swiping at the middle of the page. The fact that that Amazon has not yet deigned to release the Touch in the UK had no bearing on my decision!
As it transpired, one of the presents I opened on my birthday was indeed a Kindle! So here are some of my thoughts on the device, the books, and the Amazon ecosystem.
I’m afraid I’m not going to bother posting pictures – the one at the top of this post should suffice. And if you’re after a detailed explanation of its operation, a quick Google will come up with more reviews than you can shake a stick at. From my point of view, I’ve now read three books, all of which have been relatively painless experiences. Turning the page is simple, and the refresh “flash” which I think has put many people off is actually no problem at all – you only lose the same amount of time as turning a physical page. There have been times I’ve hit the back button instead of the forward one, but that’s not been often, and is more down to me being careless than any deficiency with the Kindle.
The actual reading experience in terms of the screen is blissful – it’s less contrasty than most paper, and most screens, but that’s almost easier on the eyes, I think. It does take a while to get used to an electronic device that has no backlight, and I think I’ll invest in a small LED lamp in order to read in bed/the dark. Of course, that’s a problem it shares with traditional codices.
As for battery life, I got it almost a month ago and haven’t charged it since, despite reading three books, opening a couple of others, and buying a couple of items. While it technically only has half the battery life of the Kindle Keyboard and the Touch, I can’t see any circumstances in which I will have to worry.
Size wise it’s roughly the width and height of a paperback, but much thinner than most – approximately as thin as a standard pencil. It feels fairly sturdy in the hand, but I won’t be cramming it into a pocket as I have done with books in the past, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable chucking it carelessly into a bag if I’m going travelling. That said, with some form of cover (lovingly crafted by my wife) I don’t worry about it when it is in transit!
I have read Wuthering Heights, Do You Think You’re Clever, and Etymologicon, in that order. I paid a grand total of £1.98, which I’ll discuss in the next section. I’m considering starting to write mini-reviews on what I read, so I’ll leave that stuff for a later date and just talk about reading them. Reading a novel such as Wuthering Heights is very straightforward. It being a free copy of a classic I noticed at least one typo (‘hash’ in place of ‘harsh’) but I think that can be forgiven. The one thing I would have liked was a family tree at the beginning, which I know some physical copies include. I’m not sure whether a paid-for Kindle version would have included such niceties.
The other two books are different. Do You Think You’re Clever is a collection of Oxbridge interview questions. It strikes me as a “dip in and out of” book – reading one or two chapters when you have time to spare, and flicking through to find something interesting. This is hard to do with a Kindle, even though there is a hyper-linked table of contents available – it just feels a lot less natural. I ended up just reading it through chapter by chapter, which did have the benefit of ensuring I’d read every entry! The other problem, which is shared with Etymologicon, is that of footnotes. The Kindle doesn’t render pages in the way that a physical book does, meaning that a footnote or an endnote might not appear in a convenient place. It may just be on the next page, but it may be at the end of the chapter. Flicking through the pages to find it, and then flicking back to try and resume reading, is time consuming and uncomfortable. It may be that I am missing some function to take you to the footnote and then return you to your place, but until I find one it will be a frustration.
The Amazon Ecosystem:
Buying books on the Kindle is painless – dangerously so. Typing is not as easy as on the Keyboard or the Touch, but Amazon’s guesswork as to what you’re searching for cuts down on the time spent inputting text. Prices for books vary wildly. Amazon’s currently running a “12 days of Kindle” offer with hundreds of books for £0.99 or thereabouts, which is great, although only a couple of books have really caught my eye. They also have a “Daily Deal” which is also a £0.99 offer. Books are almost always cheaper then their print versions at list price, but once Amazon’s had its way with prices (i.e. lowering them) the difference is not always pronounced. Sometimes, in fact, the physical edition is cheaper, which is very frustrating. Part of this is probably due to the fact that VAT has to paid on ebooks but not on physical ones.
A standard paperback of the type I normally read (science fiction or fantasy) usually comes in at a couple of pounds cheaper on the Kindle. Over a period of time that would amount to a substantial difference, but at the moment I have no spending money, so I’m not buying anything unless it’s less than a couple of quid. Overall, if you would be buying books anyway, you will make a saving through a Kindle. For me, I probably actually spend more than I might otherwise, as I’m tempted by the lower prices! Sometimes, though, you find bargains. I just bought The Library: An Illustrated History for £2.35 compared to £12.74 and £25.49 for paperback and hardback respectively. (To embark on a tangent: The Library has lots of pictures in it. Pictures display fine on the Kindle, but are black and white, and scaled to fit the screen. While it’s the text I’m really interested in, I expect to read most of it on my computer so that I can enjoy the illustrations.)
What I just wrote in parentheses actually brings me on to my next point. I’m enjoying the fact that content is synced between the Kindle and the software on my two computers, so whenever I want to carry on reading I can just pick up where I left off! If I ever get a smart phone then I’ll add that to the system as well!
Right, I’ll sign off there. That’s a massive wall of text, so if anyone at all makes it this far I’m impressed! Have a gold star.
(Edited to add the pictures of book covers in order to break up the page!)