Reflections on owning a Kindle
This is a post that got unintentionally buried and never published. I pretty much finished it back in March 2015, but it has sat in drafts since. A few things have changed in the past 2.5 years, so I’ll be replying to myself and supplying fresh observations below, in italics, and trying to limit editing of the original post.
It had to happen eventually.
I have successfully avoided getting a smartphone, tablet, or even an e-reader for ages, making do with, let’s see, my two laptops, my desktop computer (recently deceased, admittedly), an mp3 player, a ten year old digital camera that has died and yet to be replaced, a voice recorder, and a crappy, but perfectly useful for making calls with, flip-phone from Tracfone. Me, text? It’s possible on my phone, but I will be terse with you. Just the way it is.
….and now I’m on my second smart phone. I got the first when a couple of young lads from T-Mobile cornered me one day when I was alone in the office and got me to sign up. This is not something I do, but, well, smartphone. They do come in handy, don’t they. And I haven’t really had anything to complain about. I do text pretty regularly now (though 97% of that is with my girlfriend). I did just get a pretty awesome digital camera, which is much better than the one on my phone (I am kinda addicted to Instagram). I’ll say it now: the smartphone gets a lot more use these days than the Kindle, but the Kindle continues to work just fine and it definitely still has its benefits. I don’t think e-readers have really progressed any further. E-Readers as standalone devices have lost the battle against tablets and phones.
Well, it finally happened. Serendipity: Tom bought himself a refurbished Kindle 7” HD, decided he wasn’t going to make use of it, and so I bought it off him for a song.
- Light-weight, comparable to your average trade paperback. It’s just a bit too large to fit in all but a couple of my jackets’ pockets, but hey, it can store an entire library.
- Great battery life, I don’t know exactly how many hours it gets, but my laptop only has maybe two hours of battery life. Strangely, my kindle powers down around 20%, when it should still have four or five hours left to go! Haven’t figured that one out yet.
- OverDrive and / or Hoopla: Being able to check out ebooks from the library, instantly, is pretty cool. As far as I understand the system, library ebooks work the same way as physical books – only so many copies are available for check out, so you still have to put holds on those popular books and wait your turn. And the ebooks are automatically “returned”, as well. Which is nice, except that maybe you just had one more chapter and would’ve been willing to pay the 10 cent fee to have the book for another day! On the other hand, you can usually just check the book out again the moment it’s been returned. One small annoyance is you can only check out a limited number of items (ebooks, audiobooks, movies). I suppose there might be the danger of people checking out hundreds at a time just because they can.
The Hoopla app is amazing, especially on my phone – you can stream audiobooks (last time I checked OverDrive you have to download the entire damn thing first), and change the speed at which they’re read! A lot of podcast apps, etc, have this feature, but Hoopla does it well: the pitch remains unchanged, and the sound is smooth – in some apps when you speed it up the sound becomes “clipped” like it’s tripping over itself. These days I like to listen to my audiobooks at double speed. It takes more concentration, but it does save a ton of time! Speaking of speed:)
- Speed-reading apps: I’ve casually read some of the theory, but having an interactive app with exercises to build your speed is nice. Especially when it keeps track of all your results and treats it like a game (the app in question is called “Reading Trainer”). It’s fun. Thankfully they enforce a half hour break in between sessions. The stylus is a must with this app.
I haven’t followed through with the speed reading stuff for a while. I have a hard time taking it seriously and giving it the intent it needs.
- A stylus and stand are nice accessories. As would, no doubt, a little external bluetooth keyboard, and maybe a proper case (although my homemade leather case ain’t too shabby)
A keyboard for the Kindle would still be fun but it would be excessive, let’s face it. I do like the gadgetiness of bluetooth projection keyboards, tho!
- A stylus is particularly nice with the sketching apps, although they all lag tremendously; anything that requires a more exact touch, which is nice even when you’ve got long, bony fingers like me.
- Headache from sustained use. Lovely to read in bed with since it provides its own illumination, but that light is also aimed directly at your eyeballs, and the dimmest setting doesn’t change that (although I think there’s an app for making it dimmer…)
…One thing that seems to help is if you set the background to black, and the text to white.
What I always knew I would love about an e-reader/tablet is the access to Project Gutenberg and Archive.org. Both, it turns out, are still fantastic, but PDFs from Archive.org just don’t look great, unless you download a specific Adobe Reader app. Or, alternately, a comics app, since comics are often formatted as PDFs. You still don’t get the full resolution, and they’re slow… which might have more to do with how Archive.org makes their PDFs rather than any lack of capability on the Kindle’s part (most of Archive.org’s PDFs are scanned with character recognition software and subsequently there are layers, and I don’t think the Kindle can process all the layers). Still, when it works, being able to read scans from some ancient, yellowing tome on a Kindle amuses me. One benefit I love with PDFs? You can ZOOOOOOM INNNNN! Very exciting when there’s lots of pictures. Have I said comics are effing amazing on this thing? the only thing better would be if the device were as large as the printed comics.
Now, Project Gutenberg is by no means infallible, but there’s really nothing major to quibble with. You can download the book in a variety of formats, such as .mobi, and my Kindle is old enough that it still primarily uses .mobi. From what I’ve seen so far, the quality of their setup is just as good as most commercial ebooks. Granted, you can’t get too crazy with the design of ebooks yet, but still. Pretty cool.
And you can HIGHLIGHT STUFF! I’ve been making excessive use of highlighting in ebooks, which I so rarely do in print books. But you can’t really write notes in the margins of ebooks, just yet.
The only thing left to mention is that there are some new ways to acquire ebooks on the cheap: look into Story Bundle – at one bare minimum cost, get a handful of new indie books on rotating themes – currently they have three bundles: “Aliens Among Us”, “Light In The Dark YA” and “Fairytale Fantasy”. Humble Bundle is known primarily for their game bundles (which are awesome), but they do have book bundles, too (usually non-fiction and/or geeky): their current bundles are “Hacking Reloaded”, “Treat Yourself” and “Warhammer RPG”. And…. yeah, there is Kindle Unlimited, which I haven’t tried yet. Point is – you can accrue ebooks super quickly and unlike physical books they won’t be piling up everywhere.
So really, what are you waiting for? You don’t have to get rid of your old physical books. You just get virtually instant access to a world of books you wouldn’t otherwise have discovered, and that’s something to be celebrated.