Amazon Kindle — Thoughts After a Month of Use

I was given a Kindle as a birthday gift last month and I was recently asked what I thought about it. Here’s (roughly) what I said.

I do love my Kindle.

1. My favourite time to use it is when I am travelling. It is perfect to slip in my big black overnight bag and pull out on the train or in the hotel. It means that I don’t have to pack a billion books, which considerably reduces the weight of my bags.

2. I can put PDFs on the Kindle, so that is good BUT I only tend to do that when I am travelling. Also, while I thought I could email PDFs to my Kindle for free, actually I can only email them to another email address where I can download them and then send them to my Kindle via USB. Which is useless because if they are on my computer, I will just upload them by USB and skip the steps of emailing them to myself and then downloading them back onto my computer. Not really sure what they were thinking about when they provided that “feature”. If I want to pay (something like $0.15 per megabyte), I can send PDFs wirelessly, but that seems a bit extravagant when I can just pull out my USB cable and upload them manually. The fact that they hobbled the device intentionally in order to make more money bothers me.

3. The screen is very easy on the eyes. Definitely better than looking at a computer or iPod Touch screen. I can read stuff before bed on the Kindle and not feel like I have gouged out my eyes with a spoon and put them back in again when I wake up in the morning. Reading before bed is the other main way I use it besides travelling.

4. I wish there was better integration with Evernote. I thought that I would be able to upload things to Evernote and have them appear automagically in my Kindle, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m not sure why Evernote is not supported as it would be a perfect match, but I suspect that Amazon would prefer not to let too many free applications take space away from all the books we should be buying. (Also, as with the weird PDF arrangement above, they would make you pay for the uploads, and since my Evernote account has almost 500 notes and I only really started using it actively a month ago, I would not like to see the bills at the end of each month.)

5. It is possible to download lots of free books, but finding really good free books that you really want to read is hard. Especially when I sometimes forget how to read and can only be enticed back into the fold with a REALLY GOOD BOOK.

6. After using my iPod Touch, I find the interface a bit “two thousand and late”. My iPod Touch made me get used to the idea of using my hands intuitively to interact with the pages — pinching and stretching two fingers to zoom out and in, swooshing my finger over the screen to turn the page, or just having the page scroll automatically based on one swoosh.

7. That said, my iPod screen is way too small for reading anything more than a very short blog article. I much prefer the Kindle when reading a novel.

8. I have a Kindle app on my iPod Touch which lets me open up a book to the last page that I have read, regardless of whether I read from the Kindle or the iPod last. Like.

9. I don’t think I will ever buy an actual fiction book in paper format again. I enjoy reading for pleasure on the Kindle and don’t think I will ever need to have a paper copy of a fiction book again. Even when my friends lend me books, I look up the book on my Kindle, download a sample, and give the book back.

10. I have started carrying a purse that could not double as a donkey pack for descending into the Grand Canyon, which means that the Kindle doesn’t fit inside. This has the unfortunate result of not letting me take the Kindle EVERYWHERE, which I would like to be able to do. I need to think about this some more. Do I keep carrying my “purse that an actual adult would own”, or do I go back to my donkey satchel so I can have my Kindle at my side at all times? The jury is still out on this one.

11. The fact that I can’t access the subscriptions and blogs that I like is really too bad. They could make a lot of money off of me if they would just let me have what I want. Amazon and Apple annoy me to no end with their “world with invisible boundaries so we can make more money” thinking. Just because I live in Japan doesn’t mean I only want (or should only be able to access) Japanese content.

12. The free samples are GREAT. Whenever anyone tells me about a book, I download a sample and start reading. If I like it, I download the rest, or I just keep the sample in my home folder as a reminder to download it when I finish the book I’m reading at the time.

13. I don’t use the “read-to-me” function. The automated voice sounds funny and I am spoiled because of my Audible account. I am used to being read to by professionals who use different accents/voices for different characters. That said, I can put my Audible content on the Kindle, so if I am in the mood to be read to instead of doing the reading myself, Kindle-chan obliges. (I tend to listen to Audible content in my car, though, so my old iPod nano tends to do this job for me.)

14. The battery life is good. I’m actually pretty surprised at how good it is. I thought that I would have to carry the cord around all the time for emergency charges, but I don’t really need to worry about it all that much. (I do still carry the cord as a security blanket when I travel just because it would be a very sad thing to run out of power in the middle of a trip.)

15. In terms of using it for research… not as much as I thought I would. This has less to do with the Kindle itself and more to do with the fact that sometimes you need to print out an article so you can make notes in the margins while you read. Both Kindle and Evernote fail in this regard. I can make notes when I am reading on the Kindle, but the interface is too clunky to make it a fun thing to do (this goes for the iPod Touch, too — neither were designed with my sausage fingers in mind). Also, the notes are stored separately from the document itself, which makes it a pain to go back and match what I wrote with what I was reading.

16. It says you might be able to use it for email, but I can’t seem to get that working here. Again, I don’t think they want people using the wireless except as a way to have Amazon books delivered to your account.

17. It is sturdier than I expected. My cat has sat/walked on the screen several times (I think she knows I don’t want her to by the big EEEEK I let out when I see her sitting on it — which makes her do it more) and it has had no effect. It feels like a well-made piece of equipment. It definitely needs a case, though. I bought a nice, simple one at a local store for about $15. They have all kinds of official ones on the Amazon site, but I couldn’t really tell if I would like them or not from the pictures, so I decided to check the local stationery shops for options. Japan rarely lets me down when I am looking for packaging, and this time was no exception.

I love my Kindle for “reading for pleasure”. It has helped to revitalize my interest in reading as a thing that I do in my leisure time, which is important at this moment in my thesis process, and will only become more important as my sanity dwindles. I love that I can download books immediately and not have to go to a bookstore and not find what I am looking for and then order from Amazon anyway. Saves time and money. I love bringing it on the train and on trips. I love how big the screen is and that it doesn’t hurt my eyes. I do wish that it was a more open platform that allowed for different uses than what it was originally conceived to do (a la iPhone/iPod apps), but for what it is designed to do, it does a good job.

As a last thought… I think it would be better to wait and see what people say about the unfortunately named iPad before taking the plunge in either direction. I can see how I would use the iPad for a lot more things (although maybe not that much more than what I already use my iPod Touch for…), but I am not sure whether I would use it to read fiction. Amazon really has got something going on with the “one billion shades of grey” thing. The whole “the Kindle disappears when I read” thing is true, at least for me. Staring at my iPod hurts my eyes, but staring at the Kindle doesn’t — and that makes all the difference when you are talking about reading for pleasure.