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Thoughts on the Kindle

Kindle on my table

Kindle on my table

My friends gave me a Kindle as a farewell gift as I left Singapore (thanks!), and it has been a lot of fun. As an avid reader, I’d thought long and hard about e-book readers, but with so many options and such new technology, never had the nerve to pick one up.

To sum it up, I’ll just say — next to my camera, it’s my favourite possession. And I certainly use it more often.

This is a bit of a surprise, even to myself. While I was pretty much thrilled at the idea of having a Kindle, I had my reservations and didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I am. Especially since all the downsides of the Kindle that I was worried about very much exist, and there are more that I didn’t know of. But the sheer pleasure of using it outweighs all of that. I’ll try and explain why.

The Kindle is one of the few gadgets that focuses your mind instead of distracting it. Jeff Bezos says the goal of the Kindle is to disappear in your hand while you read. And indeed, the Kindle does a remarkably good job of staying out of the way and letting you enjoy your book. The all-white design and the subtle buttons (I’ve got the non-DX 2nd edition Kindle) ensure that your focus stays on the screen. There are no LEDs of any kind. Most importantly, unlike almost all modern gadgets, it’s cool in your hand, even after hours of use. While the Kindle has built-in wireless and some web-browsing capability, all this is safely tucked away where it is hard to access. And thank God. The last thing you want in a book-reading experience is email popups!

I like the idea of (potentially) having a ton of books on one small device that’s still pleasurable to read. That vision’s still far though, a point which I’ll get to when I talk about the things I don’t like about the Kindle. For now, I’ll just say it’s useful to have multiple books with you without having to physically carry them around.

Also unlike most modern gadgets, the Kindle can last for more than a week without charge. Displaying a page takes no battery, only page-turns cost power. As long as you have wireless off, you can easily take the Kindle with you on vacation and forget about that charger. Also, on the couple of flights I’ve taken the Kindle on, nobody’s asked me to turn it off at takeoff.

Now, to move on to some of the things I wish were better.

E-Ink is nowhere close to paper. Read the Kindle right after reading an actual book and you realize that while the screen may be an amazing technical achievement, it’s far from achieving the stark contrast that black text on white paper can get. Though if you read the Kindle for a while you get used to it. Hopefully the technology will get better.

Many good books are not available. This was the biggest disappointment. I went looking for my usual favourites — Fountainhead (Ayn Rand), Illusions (Richard Bach), Revenge of the Sith (Matthew Stover), India: A History (John Keay), The Tamuli (David Eddings), Uncle Fred in the Springtime (Wodehouse). Nothing available for the Kindle. That’s quite annoying and it should really be Amazon’s first order of business to fix this. A number of good books are available though (Asimov, Douglas Adams for example).

The DRM sucks. It’s stupid that I can’t read books I paid for on my computer though I can read them on an iPhone. It’s scary that Amazon can pull books off my Kindle whenever it wants, without my knowledge. It’s bugging that even with the presence of such hefty DRM, I can’t do something as simple as lend a friend my copy of the book (shouldn’t it be easy enough to pull it off my account for the temporary period of the loan and add it to another person’s?).

You cannot organize your books on the Kindle. Did I hear a “What the…?” Yes, it’s true. The Kindle has a capacity to store (according to Amazon), 1500 books, but you cannot tag them or put them into folders. You can sort them by name, author or last accessed (and the Kindle screen shows 10 at a time). You can search, but the search includes everything in every book, and not just the title. I dearly hope they fix this not just in future versions, but via some kind of firmware update on my device as well. Meanwhile, you can hack around it in a rather inelegant manner.

As I pointed out earlier, start reading a book on the Kindle and you still tend to enjoy the experience immensely. This post was long due, but wasn’t written because I was too busy reading, and now if you’ll excuse me I’ll get back to my Kindle!

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