Monday, March 28, 2011

Bought an Amazon Kindle

Up until my mid-20s I could have been classed as a "compulsive reader." Even through college, I devoured fiction and non-fiction books (mostly sci fi, fantasy, and history) constantly.  As a kid, when bored I was known to pull out a random volume of the Worldbook Encyclopedia and get lost for a couple hours.  (Yes, I was a nerd.)  Then, I went to law school and had very little time for recreational reading.  Simultaneously, I got hooked on online fora -- first via FidoNet, then the Internet.  Thus, my book reading became very intermittent.

When I left my job as a field engineer for an office job back in 2004 I started commuting via train.  Rather than getting back to reading books I got myself an MP3 player (Creative Labs, IIRC), and then in 2005, a 60 GB iPod.  I've been rotting my brain with rock and roll ever since.

Last Friday my iPod locked up solid.  It wouldn't mount as a disk on my Mac and I had to let the charge run down.  In the interim, I loaded up the SD card on my Droid with a bunch of music so I have something to listen to.  I currently have the iPod connected to my Mac and hopefully it'll work OK after charging.

But I've been wanting to get back into reading more and took this as a motivator to do so.  This being the 21st Century, I decided on getting an e-reader, and currently the standard to judge them by is Amazon's Kindle.  On Saturday, I picked up a 3rd generation WiFi-only Kindle at BJ's Wholesale Club.  I went with a WiFi-only unit since I have WiFi at home and at work, and it also allows you to access AT&T WiFi hotspots for free.  So I didn't feel the need to get one with 3G.

The Kindle came with a quickstart guide and a charging cable. The charging cable can be plugged into a computer's USB port for either power or transferring files, and also includes an A/C-to-USB adapter. Unfortunately, it does not use a standard micro-USB cable.  See below. A spare charger is $20.

I also bought Amazon's leather case with a built-in LED reading light that gets its power from the Kindle. With the case on the device feels more like a book and seems well protected.

I. Am. In. Love.  While I'd briefly considered getting a tablet, the Kindle has some advantages.  First, at $139 it's a lot cheaper than an iPad or Xoom.  So far, the reviews of Android-based tablets have been mostly meh.  Second, with wireless turned off, a fully-charged Kindle should not need recharging for nearly a month.  Third, and to me most important, the Kindle's "e-ink" display is perfect for reading text.  I probably spent about 20 hours over the weekend reading books on the Kindle and I had no eyestrain.  There's no way that I could say that if I'd been using a tablet with a backlit screen.

One of my favorite publishers -- Baen Books -- has been especially good about embracing e-readers and providing content for free via http://www.webscriptions.net and http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/.  I downloaded several of John Ringo's novels via the latter over the weekend and so far have blown through Into the Looking Glass and Vorpal Blade, and I'm now about halfway thorugh Manxome Foe.  (Links are to the paperback versions since they aren't currently available through Amazon's Kindle store. Go to the Baen sites for e-book versions.) But don't worry, I'll be buying some e-books to support Baen's authors once I get through the free stuff.

You can buy Kindle books from Amazon right on the device but so far I've used my Mac to browse the Kindle bookstore.  If you have One-Click enabled for your Amazon account and you have the device connected to WiFi, you get your book within a minute or two.  This morning I purchased Finland's War of Choice: The Untidy Coalition of a Democracy and a Dictatorship in World War II.  (The Winter War and Contiuation War have been of interest to me for a long time.)

The Kindle's UI is simple and very good.  Reading a book on the device is much like reading a "real" book.  Instead of physically turning a page you just press the right or left arrow key.  If you turn the Kindle off it comes right back to where you left off, when you power it back on, no need for a bookmark. You can set book marks and make annotations.  There's also the ability to access a dictionary from within a book you're reading.

The Kindle also supports MP3 format files so you can listen to music while you read, or listen to audiobooks. It includes a WebKit-based browser, but having a grayscale-only screen, browsing pages with any kind of images is going to be a less than optimal experience.

E-book files tend to be small and Amazon claims that it'll hold up to 3500 of them.  The ability to carry around a library in a package which will fit into a large pocket is remarkable.

I can't recommend the Kindle highly enough.

Edit 3/29/11:

I am apparently a moron. Because the micro-USB port on the Kindle is rectangular instead of a trapezoid like normal micro-USB ports, I needed to rotate the plug but didn't notice that.  It will in fact use a regular micro-USB cable. {sigh}

3 comments:

Tony said...

That all sounds simply wonderful. But what about Amazon removing already paid-for content from Kindles without the permission of the owners?

bcl said...

I did the same thing last October. My recreational reading had been dropping off over the years and now I can't go anywhere without my Kindle. Amazon also has a number of free books available so check their free RSS feed regularly for deals.

I also installed the screensaver hack from http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/Kindle_Screen_Saver_Hack_for_all_2.x_and_3.x_Kindles so that I can drop in grayscale images of my favorite authors.

Paul said...

Dave, thanks much for mention the Baen books website - I just got a Kindle this past weekend (50th b'day gift from SWMBO), and I downloaded a bunch of nice SF for zip. Good site, I will also be buying some of the books in various series that came out after I got married and had kids (i.e. when I no longer had time to read them). I also downloaded some books from the Gutenberg project, as well as the free stuff at Amazon (most of which comes from Gutenberg).

Something for new Kindle owners to be aware of: The second time I plugged it into the wall to recharge, the yellow light stayed on after an overnight charge. It should fully charge from dead in 3 hours. Solution: don't just power down with the switch at the bottom, use the menu to restart the machine. It charges up right away.

I'd also be curious about Tony's comment - CAN Amazon just take back content that you've paid for?