Not the drink from Ireland this time but the latest incarnation of Amazon’s Kindle. As a lifelong lover of books that you can touch and smell and lend to your friends I was always suspicious of electronic e-readers (although speaking as a lover of technology the original Sony e-reader did inspire in me some of the same aspirational enthusiasm as the Apple iPhone). Still, I could never imagine choosing such a device rather than a book, whatever the charms of weight, ease of use and cost might otherwise argue.
Now? Well I acquired my Kindle just before Christmas, partly with the benefit of a gift voucher I might not otherwise have used. I chose the Wi-Fi version mainly because it costs £111 ($139) as compared with £152 ($189) for the version that also works using the 3G network. I think that if you plan to use your Kindle for daily download of a newspaper as you go to work the 3G version may be worth the extra but otherwise the Wi-Fi version is fine.
The machine itself is an elegant piece of engineering. It needs a cover of some sort which adds to the cost because however tough it may in fact be it does not look rugged. It is light to hold (rather less than many a paperback and all hardbacks) but I would not take it into the bath to read as I might a paperback. I am still waiting for my cover to arrive. I did not choose the expensive Amazon cover mainly because some owners have experienced technical problems with the Kindle itself caused apparently by the fitting for the reading light used by the most expensive version.
I did wonder how well the Kindle’s connectivity might work; after all we have all struggled with Wi-Fi networks and wireless routers on our computers, I suspect. The good news is that it works like a charm. The bad? Well you do need the password for your home router (assuming you have set it up as a secure resource) because you cannot connect the Kindle without it.
Once connected I set about buying e-books. This was my other big concern – that the prices did not reflect the lack of tactile ownership. I had not seen any half price or three for two offers and prices seemed high – at least for the latest books. In fact there is a huge range of prices – everything from free (things like Hardy, Dickens and other out of copyright classics) to hardback comparable. In between, for example on the Amazon UK site, you could buy e-books for £1 in their 12 days of Kindle promotion (and I did). Buy them with one click online and the next time your Kindle is switched on they arrive at the machine without further ado. I was very impressed. You can also buy from Amazon using the Kindle itself but just be a bit careful – it’s very easy to press a button and buy without perhaps meaning to. There is a cancellation facility but I’ve not used it yet.
One of the reviews I read before I bought suggested a number of things that were not true – that you could not edit documents (you can)using the small keyboard; that you were stuck with Amazon (you can in fact download from other sources on your pc and convert to Kindle format; the Calibre software is very good and free to download – just Google it); that if Amazon lost interest in supporting the product you would lose all your books (not true – you can back up to your pc). I guess the writer was working for Sony. In fact the Kindle has consistently exceeded my expectations; battery life is very good (although I may be conditioned by having an iPhone); you can play audio books and music through speakers or headset; you can synchronise with your Iphone using the Kindle app and continue reading on that device if you choose; there are some experimental features too, like web browsing of a small number of pre-selected sites and a text to speech facility.
What don’t I like? Well, the next page/previous page buttons seem to me to be the wrong way around (I would prefer the next page button to be at the top) and both buttons would suit me better if they were positioned higher up the Kindle. There’s no colour (it really isn’t an iPad competitor) and if you are used to a touch screen the navigation using the keyboard and the 5 way button does seem a bit old-fashioned. However these are exceedingly minor niggles and will not stop me from filling up my Kindle with the 3,500 books it can apparently hold.