Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Can you Kindle it?

Warning:  Picture and geek heavy!  If this is too long for you, scroll down to the bottom for summary (of sorts).  This is my first review, so bear with me!

If I didn't tell you otherwise, you would swear this was a piece of paper.  That smooth, neutral cream-grey base, the words printed on top.

Of course, it isn't!  This is what words look like on the Kindle, E Ink from the future.  And this is the E-reader's greatest strength.  

Since I got my Kindle last week, I've been dying to take it out and give it a, well, a read, but reading for school and other work created a slight delay.  However, lots of people have been asking me questions, from what a Kindle is, to whether it's really as good as the powers that be say, so I thought I would give it a detailed review, particularly for people who may be considering buying it.


This is a Kindle.  It's an E reader developed by Amazon, similar to other E-readers like the Kobo.  It is six inches in length, and here it is compared to the size of one of my moleskine Cahiers (the largest sized one).  It's really thin (as thin or thinner than my mobile phone) weighs less than a small gnome.

It has a battery life of ONE MONTH.  Yeah.  Seriously.  The magic of not needing light or to do other jiggery pokery.  And in between reading, if you leave it alone for ten minutes, it goes to sleep, leaving a screen saver.  You also have the option of turning it off entirely.

Oh, and it comes in black and white.

How it works:  

 The magic of the Kindle is that it's not backlit like a computer or iPad or even mobile phone screen.  You can work by the light of your computer if the room lights are off, but with the Kindle you need a light source, just like reading a book. 

So E Ink looks like words on paper (almost, paper is white and the Kindle's background is a very very very light grey) and when you press a button, the ink briefly "rearranges" itself into the new words.  It is as if there are little pixies living in the machine that hold up flashcards to make a whole picture.  The Kindle:  Like pixieland National Day Parade, if you will.


For the purpose of this review, I decided to use a copy of Roald Dahl's the BFG.  (Can everyone remember what an OUTSTANDING book that was?  I started reading it and four chapters in I was laughing out loud, hard.  The parts where the BFG tells Sophie "Your head is full of squashed flies" and "Your parents must be jipping and skumping around the house" got me especially.  For one, that is the way Mel Fitz and I talk to each other.  If you're reading this, your head is full of squashed flies, Smelly!)

These two buttons on the sides are to turn the pages backwards and forwards.

Here is what the page looks like as it's turning.  It does a quick flash to black as the E ink arranges, but from the way the words overlap, you can tell it happens really quickly.  Someone said it's quicker than the actual turning of a page and I have to agree.  The black screen is annoying, but it happens so fast you soon stop noticing.
I've been told repeatedly that the Kindle is not for viewing images and I agree that if you need to look at lots of PDFs or graphic novels, the iPad is a better bet and the Kindle is mainly for words.  

BUT.  For what it is, the quality of the Kindle is really not that bad when it comes to drawings.  I mean you can clearly see that this is a close up shot of Quentin Blake's rendering of Sophie in bed, right down to the streak of moonlight falling on her face.  Colour me pleasantly surprised!

Here is another of the BFG's cavern.

Also on the subject of graphics, the Kindle does a really cool thing when it goes to sleep.  (Forgive the shine in the following few pictures, this was before I had peeled off the shiny plastic on top)

Yep.  It has innumerable cool little screen savers.  Not too shabby!

Another useful feature is the ability to change the style and size of the font when you read (great for people like me who like my fonts sans serif sometimes).  So far, we've been viewing it at the font I like to read, I guess the equivalent of a 12 point on a word processing document.

For example, here is the font at a size on the larger end of the scale.  It's about five to seven words a line, absolutely huge.  The spacing is also gigantic - about 1.5 line spacing.  You'd barely get two paragraphs in the screen like this, but it's good for the long-sighted.

Here it is with a slightly smaller font, about six to eight words per line, and I also squished the line spacing down for demonstration.  Cool huh?

The last interesting thing is the keyboard.  (Note the monitor on top of it which tells me I have read seven per cent of the book)

It's Qwerty, and you can actually choose to stop at points in the story and enter your own notes about the text if you like.  I did kinda faff around with this, but to be frank, I couldn't give a flying rat's ass.  I don't really need to enter notes into the device and if I really did, I would rather write them down in a seperate notebook anyway.  So some people may care about this, but I'm going to blow right past it.  WHATEVS. 

The only useful thing for me is that you can use it to type product names in the Amazon Kindle store, which I'll get to in a minute.

Here is my Kindle's home screen.  They programmed it at Amazon so that when it came to me it would say "Shuli's Kindle"!!

As you can see, I can categorise my books, which I have so far in Free Books and Weird Fiction.  The titles below are those I haven't catalogued.  The Kindle also came with the dictionary, which you can use to look up books. 

As you can see, if I press the right arrow on the book The BFG, I get the whole list of options.  I can go to the beginning of the book, go to the last page read (like a bookmark) or go to a specific page number.

Since the screen is smooth, there is the tiny issue of glare.  Tiny because they have resolved it much more from earlier models.  If you put a lamp directly behind you, or above the screen, you will get glare, example below.

You can see it happening at the top, and yes, that is annoying, but it really didn't bother me any other time because it's so easily remedied by changing the angle slight.  In fact, you can see I didn't get glare in any of the other pictures.

How you buy books: 

This is the thing most people seem concerned about.  So let me break it down for you. 

You can get two types Kindles.  One with 3G and Wi-Fi, and one with Wi-Fi only, but no 3G.  The Wi-Fi only Kindle is cheaper (109pounds) than the one with both 3G and Wi-Fi (149pounds) but that means you can only access the Amazon store on the Kindle when there is a Wi-Fi network.  If you are mostly at home, that's fine.

If you want to buy books from anywhere, the one with 3G is your man.  The real beauty of this is the 3G payment is ONE TIME ONLY.  There are no data charge bills sent to you afterwards, unlike, say, the iPhone.  (So I got this one!)

There is a third way to buy books, and if you are Singaporean, you are going to have to use this.  You buy the books and put them on your computer, and then you just transfer them to the Kindle using the USB cable, much like you would songs from iTunes.  This is because the Kindle Whispernet or whatever network from Amazon doesn't operate in Singapore.

On the one hand, yes this is a bit of a pain.  On the other, you do it with iTunes, don't you, and it doesn't take that long.  I tried it from my Mac today, and it worked like a charm.  So yes, the Kindle will work in Singapore, but the WAY you buy books will be affected.



-  In case you cannot tell, it's extremely user-friendly.  I am the least techno-savvy person and I started using it correctly the moment it arrived.

-  Very light, thin and E Ink magic!!  No backlight.  This, to me, is a massive benefit compared to the iPad.

-  Can store up to 3,500 books.  Just process that in your head for a minute.  Yep.  I thought so.  All your book are in ONE PLACE.  If you get bored, just pick another, and another, and another...

-  Page turning function is easy to use.  You can go to the last page read, like a bookmark which the device remembers for you.

- The font (upgraded from the previous model) is crisp, clear and easy to use.  You can customise it to your liking.

-  It doesn't deal TOO badly with pictures or diagrams.

-  If you get the 3G (and you live in the US or UK) you can buy books anywhere at anytime.

-  Kindle books are always cheaper than real books.  The BFG on Kindle cost me about 5pounds.  This is about 1.50pounds cheaper than ordering the real book off Amazon AND it arrived instantaneously.

-  The library of free books.  Kindle has over 500 free books (I checked) and most of them are classics, so you get lots of read without paying.  For example, I have, for free, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Mill on the Floss, The Fall of the House of Usher, Treasure Island, Dracula, Alice in Wonderland, Tristram Shandy and so on.  Fun for hours!

-  You can sync it with five other devices.  My neighbour Afua has done this, so she can read her Kindle books on her laptop, on her iPad and on her mobile phone.


-  You obviously can't flip quickly through pages going back and forth at will like in a real book.

-  The number of Kindle books you can get is limited right now.  The library of Kindle books numbers about 700,000 at present and this will cover most of your favourites like Twilight, Da Vinci Code, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo kind of stuff.  HOWEVER.  Lots of books have yet to be converted and make agreements with Amazon.  Harry Potter.  Little House on the Prairie.  Golden Compass.  That kind of stuff. 

So I strongly urge you to go online to the Kindle store before buying it and checking what books you can and cannot get.  For me, some of the books for class reading are too obscure, but I did manage to get the books that were recommended to me in my genre, so it's all good.  For example, a lot of Neil Gaiman is available on Kindle.  Graphic novels are coming too, the sixth Scott Pilgrim is available.  So it's good for collecting the works of one author or a series.

The good news is, this is probably only a matter of time - more books are being converted to Kindle books every day.

-  If you live in Singapore, buying one is going to be a hassle.  And it will come up to come ridiculous price with V Post shipping.  I recommend that you get a friend overseas to get it for you, and bring it when they come and see you.  Also, since you don't need the 3G, it'll only be 109pounds, which is pretty good if you ask me.  You can buy 15 free books and cover the cost price already.

- The lack of 3G in Singapore may be a bit frustrating to some.

-  It is not a real book.  At the end of the day, I bought this because I'm studying overseas and there is NO WAY I could ship all the books recommended to me home.  Also, I will be spending a lot of my time on trains, planes and buses, so this is a great and not heavy way to combine my books in one place.  But, it is not a book.  It doesn't smell nice, there is no pretty spine or cover, and the pages don't bear the marks of time.  It will not fill up your bookshelf. 

Conclusion (at bloody last):

Here's my two cents.  I love the Kindle.  I honestly didn't think I would, because I'm a huge skeptic, but so far, I love it.  I have managed to find a significant amount of books, and even if not all the ones I want, it is cutting my tree-killing and weight load by AT LEAST 50 per cent.

I don't love it more than books AT ALL, but that's okay, because in the situation that I am now, it's much more practical and nature-friendly.  It's also a great book substitute for when you just cannot have that many books with you.  And if you're in class, and the teacher goes "look this and this up", you can buy the book on the spot instead of going to bookstores a 30 minute bus ride away.

So if you need to cut down on taking up shelf-space, paper, weight in your bag, baggage weight on planes and trains and ships or just squeezing a large part of your bookshelf into one device, the Kindle is for you.  It will never be the same as an actual book or takeover your use of actual books, ever, but it sure is a good complement.

PS  I hope this was helpful especially to those people who were considering it and don't know the first thing about it.  If you did like it and want more reviews on reading/writing type stuff like notebooks or pens or websites or whatever, let me know!  :)


candy apples said...

Nice review!! I admire people who can read books on the Kindle, Ipad, or even online. I can't do it! haha. Even when I'm researching things for school work, I have to print it out once :P haha


Kim said...

i totally wanna burn my sony e-reader right now.


Just Ruthie said...

been wanting that for some time now. Told my bf to get it for me for Christmas to which his reply was "all you read are blogs. what you gonna do with that" *grumble*

The Higgenbottom said...

brilliant review! thank you. i'm absolutely salivating for a kindle

Shoe said...

@ Candy Apples - Thanks! Yeah it is a hard thing to get used to, nothing ever replaces the way things look on paper!

@ Kim - Hey! I didn't know Sony did an E-Reader, it must be pretty cool too, I'm sure... how does it work?

@ Ruthie - Awww hahahah tell him you will be inspired to read more books with one! And he can share it too!!

@ The Higgenbottom - Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad it helped! Yeah if you're really wanting one, the Kindle the a good buy :D

beckles said...

According to my Kindle wielding co-worker, Whispernet works in Australia too.

Lumin got a Kobo just the other day. Still waiting for her review of that one.

See my problem is I'd rather write on the bus than read...however, the novelty of qwerty and Microsoft Word on my phone is wearing thin on my thumbs. Imagine writing a whole book with just your thumbs O_O

Shoe said...

I don't think the Kindle is great for writing, just because the keypad doesn't exactly work like a keyboard and that makes it slightly unwieldy.

Hmmm how to write on the bus?? I already get tired typing messages on my Qwerty phone! I usually just use a pen and notebook :P

PS You would not believe how many times I had to write "unwieldy" to get it right.

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