The Kindle

Amazon pulled a fast one on me. A while back they sent me this email which said roughly "Hey Amazon Prime subscriber! You buy a lot of books. Look, we'll send you a Kindle for a month to try it out. If you don't like it, send it back and we'll refund up to $50 worth of Kindle purchases. If you do like keep it and we'll charge you in a month." So of course I shook my fist at the heavens and used the Kirk-voice to yell "AMAZONNNN!!". Then clicked the linky thing to get my hands on a Kindle.

I've read several books on the thing, transferred a bunch of back issues of Jim Baen's Universe, and then switched a couple of my SF magazines (Asimov's and Analog). I like it quite a bit overall. I read Neal Stephenson's Anathem on it as my first book so that was a nice long piece of text for testing. Several things struck me about it during that first book. First, having the ability to search the text for Stephenson's made up words was great. Second, it was a lot easier to carry the Kindle around than one of Stephenson's doorstops. Third, the electronic ink screen is fantastic. I found the flashes when the page turns (the display has to cycle so the whole screen goes black, then the new page draws) distracting for the first couple of hours but it became one of those things that I just mentally edit out and now I don't notice it anymore.

For some reason I really thought the Kindle was larger than it is. In my head I firmly thought it was about a legal pad in dimensions. I think that's because the little carrying case looks like a legal pad to me and Amazon never has any scale elements in pictures. I took a picture of it next to a paperback and a hardback book to show a better idea of scale.


At the end of my trial month I would have said something like "Well, I really like it, but it's really pricy. I can just barely justify it and I'm a serious book lover." But then I got all sick and found the real killer app for the Kindle. There was I was, feeling too crappy to do anything but lay in bed, not tired enough to sleep and feeling sorry for myself. But wait, I have a Kindle! I can buy brand-new, only-in-hardback fiction over the wireless store and have a new book practically instantly! I bought both Saturn's Children by Charles Stross and Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi and killed a couple of yucky days, happily alternating between reading and napping.

It's cheaper than buying hardbacks, I'm no longer filling a bookshelf with big-ass hardbacks that I don't really want after the initial read, and the text is searchable, clippable and generalyl all digitally fantastic.

Now of course, the store only works in the US, but that doesn't bother me. You can convert PDF files and drop them on the Kindle via the USB cable, and it's native format is actually Mobipocket format so in my case I had .mobi files I used to use on my Palm Treo (You can download stuff from Baen in mobi format for example.)

You can overwhelm the PDF converter. Wizards now distributes Dragon and Dungeon magazines in PDF format. They are fairly graphic-heavy and are laid out in landscape with multiple text columns and sidebars. The PDF converter mangles these. The text isn't flowed from the columns properly so the columns get all jumbled in going to the Kindle. (If you do a text select in Preview the same thing happens, so I think the text isn't really flowed properly in the files themselves and that's what the converter picks up on.

I haven't messed with the MP3 player or the web browser. The screen is monochrome, so I'm a little dubious about a digital subscription to something like Discover or Scientific American where you need to read complex graphics. (On the other hand, maybe Wired would be much improved if you took away the neon colors and silly fonts ....) Flipping pages is slow because of the graphics refresh and if there's a graphic on the page there's a noticeable hiccup in page turning. Some of the books seem to be poorly proofread. I bought The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on it (let's face it - my 20+ year old paperback copy is going to fall apart some year) and there are many passages where two words are runtogether. (See what I did there?) The library is oddly inconsistent - although you can get Hitchhiker's and some of Adams's other books like The Meaning of Liff none of the other Hitchhiker's books or either of the Dirk Gently books are available.

Something is weird about public domain books. I tried to get The Wizard of Oz and there are literally dozens of copies of it on the store, often things like all 15 Wizard of Oz books in a single file for only $0.99, but they look like they are all crappy conversions of the Project Gutenberg texts with no real Table of Contents. I'd rather pay a buck or two a book and know that I'm getting something that's had some quality control applied. I suppose I could convert the Gutenberg texts myself but this is the point: I'd rather pay to have somebody do a good job. On the other hand, look at what I'm bitching about. I can put all 15 books of the Oz series on a device the rough size of a paperback book with a long multi-hour battery life, search 'em digitally, read them on a screen that comes damn close to paper (for text anyway) and I'm complaining about table of contents and chapter stops. If you love reading, this thing is from the future. It does have a bit of that iPhone-like "Gee whiz" feeling when I grab it and casually search for that HHTTG quote I want, or check wirelessly to see if there's a new issue of Analog.

So I ended up getting my Christmas present early. It's expensive for what it does, but I sure enjoy reading on the Kindle.