Thanks to the generosity of M. Anonymous, I have a Kindle 3rd generation. M. Anonymous donated the Kindle, and wondered in an email whether I would be a crusty old man and refuse to discover the delights of new technology.
I am approaching old, but I scorn crustiness. So I immediately bought the $139, 6″ Wi-Fi version. I did not opt to pay the extra $50 for the wireless 3G capabilities, which I felt an unnecessary accoutrement. M. Anonymous gave more than was required for the device, so I used the extra money to buy books for the Kindle.
The review will be divided into likes and dislikes. Today, the likes. Read the dislikes here.
- It is very pretty, light, slick, thin. I cannot think of how I would improve its looks. The black graphite is orders of magnitude more beautiful than the original white, cheesy, design. It’s small enough to fit inside large pockets. But don’t: you might sit on it. When the device automatically shuts itself off after a period of non-use, a picture of some famous author or literary event is shown. I found this charming.
- Free books! Many of which are available at Amazon itself (after searching, sort by price). Amazon appears to have linked to Project Gutenburg and have raided their top downloads. I have made great use of this feature, and except for three books which I paid for, all my books are free. I intend to keep it this way. To explain why, see the dislikes. It is not because of price, which unlike many, I do not find onerous (see this earlier analysis).
There are some unexpected sources for modern free books, many quite useful. Check out Archive.org, which has more books than will ever fit on your Kindle. I was thrilled to be able to find a copy of James Fitzjames Stephen’s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (the book in which Stephen flays J.S. Mill like a frog). My original copy has just as many notes as Stephen’s words; as such, it can never be replaced. But I like having an extra copy to cart around.
- The screen is a delight. It really does remain viewable in all but the most direct light. To be clear: a bright light behind you will wash out the screen. Then again, the sun hitting the pages of a real book will do the same thing. This is at most a minor annoyance with the Kindle.
- The fonts have no visible pixelation. There is no eye strain. The blinking to redraw the screen after a page change or cursor move ceases quickly to be an annoyance. Resizing fonts for mobi (native ebooks) is as easy as advertised, as is changing line spacing, words per line, or even the page orientation. However, see the dislikes for how the Kindle treats PDFs.
I keep the fonts on the smallest setting, the most words per line, and the default line spacing. Increasing the font makes for too frequent page changes.
- The Kindle operates as a thumb drive. I am running Ubuntu, and it as easy as plugging the provided USB cable into my laptop, and up pops the /media/Kindle directory. Surf to the /media/Kindle/documents and then just drag and drop (or issue a cp command) to transfer ebooks from your computer to the Kindle.
Make sure to properly “eject” the Kindle, or you might have permissions problems, which I did once after I just jerked the cord out. The documents directory became read only, even for the Kindle itself. Rebooting the device did not fix the problem. Resetting it—but not to the factory settings—-did. To reset, push and hold the power button for about 10 seconds, then let go. The speed of reboot and reset is, as far as I could tell, the same, so why they had to have two separate kinds of restart are a mystery.
- Calibre is essential to make a backup copy of your books. This is an open source project which all Kindle users should have. It maintains a catalog, can convert PDFs to mobi books, and even provides an emulated reader so that you can see how books might look on the Kindle. The emulator is not perfect, but it does a reasonable job. You cannot read a laptop in bed on your side. This is where the Kindle soars; for bed readers.
- The Wi-Fi feature has never had any difficulty. Speeds to and from Amazon, especially downloading a book, are fine. Buying a book is painless (until you get the credit card bill). I downloaded several free excerpts with ease. I was able to email myself two sizable PDF books with no difficulty. Once—just once!—I checked my email through an experimental web browser. The speed was adequate. Being able to check email is actually a dislike, and a major one. But I mention it because it is a possibility and not a painfully slow possibility (though it ought to be).
- Taking notes is not as bad an experience as I had feared. It’s not perfect, either. Symbols and numbers require several extra key punches, which then have to be reversed, as it were, to return to typing letters. It’s impossible to start typing a word with a capital letter until after the typing cursor is engaged: hitting any key does this. The keyboard is tiny and each key has to be tapped just so. Typing long notes is painful. But short ones are not too difficult. Since I spend a lot of time in the margins of books telling the authors just why they are wrong, this an overall detriment to me.
The Kindle does make it easy to find your notes: it creates a “Reference” collection, and sticks them all in a file called “My Clippings.” There, it places them one atop the next. This is fine for a small number of notes, but becomes difficult to parse once these grow. You cannot click on a note and go back to the book. You have to note the “location” (there are no page numbers for ebooks), and punch that in once you manually return to the book.
- Collections, i.e. folders, are simple to make, and each book can belong to many or none. Once a book is part of a collection, it disappears from the main page and appears inside the collection (each one). The number of books in each collection is noted. The order inside a collection was designed by an accountant, I’m guessing: last opened first, first opened last. Alphabetical would have been better; or a modified alphabetical, with, say, the top five last books ordered first. I already have over sixty novels and it’s slow to access the ones at the bottom.
Each book has to be entered into each collection manually, which takes several clicks to do. No big deal for a book or two, but a pain in the keister for many, such as you might have after a Project Gutenberg visit. There is a database file where Amazon stores each book’s metadata, and this is probably hackable. The hard part is that each book name is stored as some kind of hash. No doubt somebody out there has already figured this out. Calibre helps here.
- The battery does last for days and days, but I doubt it’ll go a month as advertised. Mine drained after about two weeks, but I was putting the thing through its paces fairly regularly, including some healthy wireless work. The charge is more than long enough for a common business trip, even one lasting a fortnight. This means no damn cords have to be carried along and forgotten at the hotel. This doesn’t seem much, but it is a tremendous benefit.
- The best experience is in reading novels, or other books which you are not studying. Reading a novel on the Kindle is no worse than reading a pocket paperback, and even better in some respects. Some Gutenberg entries have odd carriage return breaks, which is an annoyance because it breaks the flow of the words abruptly, but this is a minor problem.
Once the Kindle realizes you’ve fallen asleep, it does too. But hit the power switch, and you’re right on the page you nodded off to.
It is also good to have on hand the classics. I travel a lot (too much) and one of my most difficult problems has always been to decide which books to cart onto the airplane. The only excuse I have now for not having something to read is laziness.
Update A link to a site that was offering “free” books has been removed after one of the authors of those books discovered his own, which was not free! Sorry about that, all.