Sunday, 19 September 2010

Kindle: some thoughts on it so far

My kindle arrived yesterday, hurray! I like it. Here are some things I have thought about it so far.
1) Reading on it is fine. It tells you how far through a book you are, and is pretty easy to navigate. When you turn a page it's fast enough. The screen flashes black as it changes and some people find this distracting -- I don't mind it myself, because for one thing you can see the words of the next page in white on black just for a moment, and so continue reading. The screen is better than any e-ink screen I've ever seen before, but it is still a little grey rather than bright white. If you try really hard and turn it the right way you can just about get a little glare off it, but on the whole the more light the better.
2) The dictionary is more useful than I would have expected, maybe because I've been reading nineteenth-century material. I expect it's rather good for me; for example I wouldn't usually bother to look up words like indurated, because the context suggested the correct meaning, but it's so easy just to flick the cursor to the right place that I did it, and now I know. And because it's the Oxford English Dictionary it can cope with the odd Classical reference, which can be useful in nineteenth-century stuff. (Though you do have to change it to the OED in the settings, instead of the default American dictionary.)
3) Somehow it's rather charming.
4) But I find that I miss the blurb on printed books. I don't quite know why. I must consult book blurbs more often than I thought I did. I have been reading a few pretty obscure things, and some of them I downloaded a while ago in kindle readiness. Reading the blurb of a book sets you up for reading the real thing, I suppose. But I wouldn't have expected to miss it. And once you've finished a book you're just stuck on the last page, which leaves me feeling some odd sort of need to do something like reread the blurb, or shut the book in a definite manner. In time I'll probably feel just as satisfied by moving it into my "Finished" collection.
5) You can organise books into collections, but this is not yet flexible enough. And for some reason you can't put magazines into collections.
6) I wasn't expecting to use the magazine possibilities, but after browsing a lot I have taken out trial subscriptions to two which consist simply of short stories.
7) The browser is pretty good -- perhaps less so if you have high expectations. I don't have a smart phone, and every now and then I really feel the need of a way of checking train times, or looking for a nearby shop, or some such. I think it works best with mobile versions of websites. But I haven't tried it out on the road so far. It connected very well to the wifi here, but we don't have 3G here, so it will be interesting to try it the other way round.
8) Buying things from is very simple indeed. Downloads are remarkably fast. You can also get a sample of a book sent to your kindle before deciding whether or not to read the whole thing. I've done this with some items, e.g. to find the best Kindle edition of Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici. (This is the best kindle edition; Amazon tell me they are trying to sort out the mislabelling issue with the publishers.)
8a) I bet that suggesting samples could be a good way of sharing book recommendations with friends. Amazon could add a feature saying "suggest this to a friend" and the friend could get a message saying "XX recommends this to you, would you like to download a sample?"
9) I really like the highlighting feature, and I will tell you why. It's very easy indeed to highlight a bit of text, and the kindle assembles on the fly a text file of all your highlighted stuff, labelled with where it came from, as a sort of immediate commonplace book. I wasn't expecting to annotate things much on the kindle, so this comes as a surprise to me.
10) You can share those annotations over facebook or twitter. You can read other people's annotations of books you have downloaded. Needless to say I turned this feature off as soon as I got the kindle. Just imagine reading Moby Dick if you could see all the annotations and underlinings of all the American high school students who have to read it! On the other hand it might be a good sociological experiment, or a new form of novel.
11) As for choosing books, you have to watch out for the really cheap or free items, because some are very badly OCR'd from old copies of texts, and I have heard that poetry in particular can be very badly formatted on the page. If you come across a problem like this it's very easy to get your money back from Amazon; and it's a problem you're most likely to find in free things anyway.
12) Other shops: check what format they supply in. Kindle uses .mobi, but it can't use .mobi with DRM, as I understand it, unless it's Amazon's own DRM. A program called Calibre will turn epub documents into Kindleable documents, as well as other formats; but this only works on epub docs without DRM. So watch out for DRM. But stores other than amazon are often dramatically expensive anyway. I've only used one other shop so far. I've found it very easy to put non-Amazon .mobi files onto my Kindle.
13) But so far I have not experimented with putting onto it files which are not ebooks.
14) Instapaper is quite good. It gives you a "Read later" button for articles on the web, and then you can export the whole lot onto your kindle as a sort of self-made magazine.
15) I think that for the moment I shall continue with cheap or free stuff for a while, or things which it wouldn't be easy for me to get in another format.

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