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Amazon Kindle on the Road

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Wireless Access

So I broke down and got myself an Amazon Kindle Reader last week before I left for an extended trip to Europe. I've been reluctant to spend this kind of money ($399) on an electronic reader, but since I'll be spending a good deal of time on the road this year in Europe I thought it'd be a good idea to stock up on reading material before I hit the road and not have to deal with keeping stacks of paper books with me.

I read a lot of books - fiction, non-fiction and technical - and other than the technical books I really have no need for physical books on a shelf somewhere. In fact, more often than not, once or twice a year I dump all of my books on our local used book store and get nothing back from the original value anyway other than bestowing a bargain (or curse) on somebody else on my bad taste in books.

After using Kindle for the last week and a half extensively I can safely say that I'm happy with this purchase. The reading experience of the device is great and it works well in all of my reading scenarios. Since I've bought it I've probably put 15 hours of reading in and I have run the battery down to about half. That is though with the wireless off since I'm in Europe now where the Whispernet feature that connects the Kindle to the Internet and provides the instant online buying and downloading of books, doesn't work. Here I can still get books but I have to download to my machine and then sync to the device.

I did use the wireless feature though before I split and downloaded about 10 books. I was surprised to see that book downloads are pretty darn fast with most books completely downloaded after a few minutes. In fact, I was at Powell's at the Portland airport browsing around, found a couple of more books, dug out the Kindle and by the time I walked out had the books already downloaded. Kind of a bummer for Powells though (but then they're way overpriced anyway <g>).

From a feature perspective I love the device for the thing it was designed for reading and readability. Tonight, I missed a late bus today here in Geneva and was stuck at a bus stop for a half an hour in low light. Even though the device isn't backlit I was comfortably reading my book by the street light half a block down. The half an hour flew by and I almost missed my bus not paying attention. <g>

Although the device won't win any awards for product design it's functional and the screen just works great. I was reading for most of my 9 hour trans atlantic flight and there's none of the eye fatigue that comes when reading content on a laptop screen.  I read frequently in bed before going to sleep (if for nothing else than to get my mind of code before going to sleep) and while eating. Eating is probably the 'oddest' place for reading in general and Kindle actually works better than trying to get a book spine to behave. There's the issue of green spinach stains though... Hmmm...

You can search and bookmark easily and even annotate. There's internet access to WikiPidia and a few other select sites, but don't expect to get free WiFi out of the Amazon paid connection. Part of the high price is probably meant to defer Amazon's wireless bill for Whispernet that runs over Sprint's high speed cell network and allows for book browsing and the limited focused research Internet access.


Book selection is good but certainly not all inclusive. I was looking for some fairly new Sci Fi books, and found they weren't available while last releases by the same authors and publishers were. Seems odd - I suspect publishing to Kindle goes by the paper back rule - once paperback comes out it can also go to Kindle. Opportunity missed if books can sold electronically at near hardcover prices until then <shrug>

But most fiction and non-fiction books I was looking for were available with Kindle.

The technical book selection for Kindle is  pretty sparse though - it looks like only some of the big publishers like Sams, Addison Wesley etc. are putting out Kindle editions at the moment. But some of the more prominent 'design', 'architecture', patterns etc. books can be found for Kindle, which is actually a good fit. I picked up a new copy of Pragmatic Programmer which I'd been meaning to get anyway, but was bummed to find that Code Complete and Design Patterns (which are good to have around) weren't available. OTOH, I'm not sure how well I'd like to have highly technical books in this electronic format - I still prefer a physical book for reference books believe it or not (if for nothing else that they are separate from the computer screen which is already massively overloaded with simultaneously running applications). Actually I'm just checking back and see that a few of the big hits are available. I guess I wouldn't mind having a portable copy of Stephen Walther's ASP.NET 3.5 book or Adam Nathan's WPF book with me at all times and those can actually be had for Kindle, but looking at some of the samples of Stephen's book it's not as user friendly as I would hope. Code listings split badly and in the case of Adam's WPF book you lose all the color and good flow that that book sports. This one page electronic format is just not a good match for books that contain lots of code I think. I still prefer a printed book for real reference work I guess (yes even over purely online content which is always so damn scattered).

But for pure printed text - the reader works as well as a printed book.

Talk of the Town - whatever!

While I was flying the Kindle also got a lot more attention than I liked - people would walk by the aisle and stop and  constantly ask what it is, how it works etc. After a while I got tired of that shit and put on my headphones and appeared to be really immersed in my reading. Can I never get any piece and quiet? The book reader also came up in a few conversations I've had here and several very unlikely folks got really excited about the device and its possibilities including one real grouch <g>. People who read a lot are immediately taken by the idea of having much of their reading material at their finger tips.

The device is not pretty, it has hard edges and the buttons for pages while adequate are too big and to easily clicked or bumped resulting in double page turns. But it's quick to get used to. Overall I'd say the device is practical, but certainly not flashy both in external design or the screen UI. That's probably a good thing - it helps  from getting too distracted and keeps me focused on its primary task: reading a goddamn book instead of playing video games.

Remember it's an Amazon Sales Machine

So the Kindle is a good deal for me - I have one thin device I can carry around with me and carry many books which is great for travel. But it's expensive. If it wasn't for my extended absence I probably wouldn't have bought this thing. $400 is not cheap for what amounts to a big Amazon sales tool. The device is locked to Amazon, so everything you get for it has to be bought through Amazon. This means no used books discounts or even buying books from other sellers at Amazon. And even though there's no physical product prices are only slightly less than full shipped books. Given that Amazon ships most physical for free (if you're willing to wait a little) it's kind of a bummer that there's not more of a discount for Kindle purchases either. Kindle is clearly targeting the geek and well to do set with this device. Surely both publishers and Amazon are laughing all the way to the bank for each Kindle book sold.

Maybe someday there will be an open and actually widely used e-book format that doesn't suck and has enough support from publishers, but at this time the Amazon Kindle seems to have that market cornered. While other solutions exist they are either infringing copyright laws or are relying on minimal support from a few independent publishers here or there. Things in this space will likely change in the future - Amazon has proven that people are willing to pay for the hardware to get electronic book content, but it's hard to say which way this will go.

Still I'm happy with the device if for nothing else than having one thing to schlep around instead of a 5 books as I often did  when gone for longer stretches of time...

Posted in Personal  

The Voices of Reason


Bill Mason
May 07, 2008

# re: Amazon Kindle on the Road

Rick - You can buy books from Fictionwise for the Kindle and they have a great selection of SIFI.

Bob Archer
May 08, 2008

# re: Amazon Kindle on the Road


I have had a Sony reader for about a year now. I also participate alot in the forums at www.mobileread.com which has alot of info on this topic. You should check the Wiki for the ebook source topics.

As the above comment said, you can buy books at Fictionwise, as long as you buy the multi-format (non-drm) kind and get the Mobipocket format. It will work on Kindle just fine. You can also get ALOT of free sci-fi from the baen free library at www.baen.com. You can also get most public domain books (out of copyright) from feedbooks.com and manybooks.net. Yes, there is quite a bit of sci-fi in the public domain. You can also get free books from project guttenburg www.gutenberg.org where you can download CD collections, and make your own CD's if you'd like.

So, there are alot of ways to use your Kindle without paying Amazon for books.


May 08, 2008

# re: Amazon Kindle on the Road

While Gutenberg has a larger collection of free books, www.feedbooks.com has a large collection already formatted for the Kindle that you can load directly using the wireless connection (when you're back in the US).

Cat Faber
May 10, 2008

# re: Amazon Kindle on the Road

I've got a Kindle too, and I like it a lot.

Baen also has a lot of unsecured mobipocket e-books that Kindle can display. They have the free library (yeah, the first taste is free--they give away the first couple of books in a series to get you hooked :-) but they have newer releases for a couple of bucks under the paperback price, or you can get Webscriptions (sort of "grab bags" of e-books that include a couple of new hardcover releases), or you can even buy "e-ARCs" which are e-books of books that haven't been released in hardcover yet. Their stuff is all science fiction. And since it's DRM-free you can use it on a different device if your Kindle ever wears out.

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