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my first ebook (on a Kindle)

Books + Ideas, Technology — February 2011

I've just read my first ever ebook, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, using a borrowed Kindle 3 (thanks Sophia!).

As far as usability goes, I'm impressed. The Kindle is vastly better than my iPod Touch, with the e-ink display, the larger screen, and the button-to-page instead of the touch scrolling all significant advantages. It's also much better than reading on a fixed monitor, where I've never managed to read an entire book before. The effect is to make the device "disappear", leaving one to focus on the text.

There are even some advantages over printed books. A Kindle is lighter and more compact than a stack of books (or indeed a single textbook or sizeable novel). It sits flat on the table, which makes it easier to read while eating. And it can be easily operated one-handed (and no, there was nothing salacious in Sophia's collection, not even a copy of Fanny Hill).

One drawback over the iPod Touch is that the Kindle requires external light, so reading in bed with the lights out isn't feasible, or reading in a car in the dark. (Amazon sells a leather case with built-in light, which uses the Kindle battery, but it's rather expensive and must reduce the battery life drastically.)

Another drawback is that the Kindle is black and white and its screen is still only 800x600. This is not a problem with a novel, but I'm not convinced that reading The Elements of Statistical Learning on a Kindle would be so much fun, even if there were an ebook version rather than a PDF. I should probably try reading some non-technical non-fiction, though, to see how footnotes and suchlike work.

The DRM is not an issue if I only read free (speech) books, of which there are more than enough to keep me going. Sophia hadn't run amok downloading the universe, but she had two dozen or more ebooks I could happily have read. (One of these was a conversion to fixed-size page format, leading to the book title appearing in the middle of "pages".) And the simple expedient of not registering with Amazon makes it easy to stick to free books.

If I don't want the whole Amazon ecosystem and just want to read free ebooks, other devices are possible candidates. A look at this comparison table, however, suggests that the Kindle offers by far the best "bang for the buck". (Is Amazon subsidising the hardware to make money selling Kindle books?) The 3G might be worth paying the extra for, if only for emergency web access.

But one big question remains. How much would I actually use a Kindle? I think the answer is "not that much", unless perhaps when travelling. If we go back to Australia I might get one to provide reading material on the flight. And if travel guides work nicely on it - and I'm prepared to use DRMed guidebooks I can't pass on to other people - then it could be a replacement for the heavy and bulky Lonely Planet and Rough Guides I end up carting around. (And here the long battery life of the Kindle would really come into its own, as I wouldn't have to carry a charger on most trips.)


  1. I use my kindle with the jacket light every day. I probably use it for about half an hour a day, and I pretty much always use the light, plus I have the font size set a little bigger so am paging quite frequently. Even with that I only need to charge it about once every 3 weeks. I do keep the wireless off when not actively downloading as I gather that can be a drain on the battery.

    Comment by Carol — February 2011
  2. I would actually suggest the LED case is a must-have accessory. I originally bought mine without and was disappointed to scratch the screen a bit in the first weeks. I made a case but when I got to see a colleague's Kindle with the LED case I knew I had to have it. It's sensational! I can read anywhere, including in bed while Holly sleeps or next to the little boy when he's having trouble sleeping. It's awesome!

    Battery life effect is really minor. It's not a stupidly bright light, and it's an LED so I don't think the drain is even noticeable, and it's nothing compared to the drain from wireless being switched on. I don't mind so much and leave it on in day-to-day life but I'd turn it off when travelling if I didn't have ready access to power.

    I think I've said this before, but I love my Kindle. I'm reading more than ever, and really enjoying it.

    Comment by Simon Rumble — February 2011
  3. Ok, it sounds like the case with the light is worth having (though it also seems insanely expensive at £50). Looking at how I use the Touch, that's often in bed with the lights out or in the car in the dark.

    I might wait till the clone cases come out - or I'm visiting the US, where Kindle hardware is noticeably cheaper.

    Comment by danny — February 2011
  4. If I wait a bit, they may be giving Kindles away free...

    Comment by danny — February 2011
  5. You can read any longer text on the Web, bookmarking it with instapaper and then downloading it to your kindle.
    I am not a gadget freak, but Kindle is a very nice device.

    Comment by Michel Marques — April 2011

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