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July 18, 2010

Sunday Book Thread

I'm still working on my stack of books that I listed last week, so I don't really have anything new to suggest. I have some words about my Amazon Kindle, though.

First: in past years, I generally had five or six books in my luggage when I traveled. And since my taste in reading tends to military history and the like, my books were generally thick hardcovers that weighed a ton. I have over a hundred books loaded onto my Kindle, and it goes where ever I go. I read a lot more now simply because it's more convenient: riding the bus, waiting for an appointment, standing in line, ten or fifteen minutes in bed before going to sleep. It's not like web-surfing on some gadget -- it's just like reading a book in terms of immersiveness, and its light enough not to be a burden on the hands and arms when lying down.

Second: the e-ink screen is great for most things, but it does obviously have some limitations. The page-turn speed is slow and can be irritating to some (though I barely notice it now); there are only 64 shades of gray on the display, and the resolution is limited, which means that sometimes photos, maps, and drawings don't render quite right. The navigational interface (the little pointing stick) is a little clunky -- I preferred the older model's scroll-wheel.

Third: lack of SD-card expandability. The first-gen Kindle could be expanded with a regular SD card, but the new one can't be. It comes with 2GB built-in storage. This is quite a lot since most of the books are simply HTML-formatted .mobi files, but if you read a lot of PDF documents or graphics-heavy books, it can be a limitation. (Or if you have a lot of MP3 audio books.)

Fourth: The text-to-speech functionality is surprisingly good. I have a seeing-impaired friend who bought a Kindle for herself after giving mine a try, and so far she loves it.

Fifth: The book selection for recent books is great, and the back-catalog is getting better all the time, but there are still some big gaps. However, I love only paying $10 for a recent-release book that would run me $25 or more in hardcover. This isn't always the case; due to publisher pushback, Amazon is charging more for some recent-release books to avoid cannibalizing hardcover sales. There are lots of "current events"-type books (like Too Big to Fail, a history of the 2008 financial meltdown) that I would have borrowed from the library rather than bought because I didn't really want to own the book, but now the cost-differential is enough to get me to buy it instead.

Sixth: I really like having all my books available on every device I use. Kindle books can be read by Kindle software running in nearly every device: dedicated Kindle reader, PC, smartphone, iPad, etc. I've forgotten my Kindle on a few occasions, so I generally just pull up my book on my Droid and continue reading. Amazon is trying to become the "iTunes of books", and they've made a good start.

Finally: battery-life, baby. The E-Ink screen has drawbacks, as I said before, but I'm getting 10 days to two full weeks of reading time out of a single charge (I turn the internal 3G radio off much of the time). Try getting that with an iPad!

The Kindle has paid back its price ten times over for me, and I bought mine before the big price drop. If you're a heavy reader, it's almost a no-brainer (if for nothing else than as a supplement to your dead-tree reading stock). the device itself is getting cheap enough now to be almost an impulse buy, though I do think that at some point Amazon is going to stop making the hardware themselves and simply re-brand a generic Android tablet. The future is OLED full-color touch screens -- the iPad has made that much clear if nothing else. There's going to be a huge glut of iPad-wannabes hitting the market this fall for Christmas, and once the dust settles, I expect Amazon to cut a deal with Asus or Cowon or one of the other big OEMs.

I generally have a love-hate relationship with most of my electronic gizmos, but not the Kindle. It does have some drawbacks, but it's become my constant companion, and I can't think of a better recommendation than that.

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posted by Monty at 09:05 AM

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