I love a new toy. Especially when it promises to simplify my life and give me access to more things more quickly.
But still, I was surprised when my husband gave me a Kindle for my birthday because I thought they were only available in America. Not any more. Since October last year, the Kindle International (the first of the new e-readers and created by Amazon) ships to 100 countries including Australia.
In the most simple terms, e-readers are to books what iPods are to music. Revolutionary.
I’m nothing if not evangelical about my new toys so the first thing I did when my Kindle landed was to immediately start telling everyone about it. This proved anti-climactic because virtually nobody had heard of it.
No matter, I had books to buy.
First, a reminder I’m no tech expert. Just an enthusiast. And for the record, I have no commercial relationship with Kindle or Amazon. This is not a paid post, just a personal review of a product I paid full price for.
Right. Here are answers to some of the things you may want to know before you buy a Kindle.
The hand-held wireless device that retails for around US$259 and displays e-books, magazines and newspapers is about the size of a paperback book but very thin and light (about 10.3oz). It feels good to hold.I am not going to give you all the technical specifics of the Kindle because I am not a tech writer so you can go here for all that.
2. HOW DO YOU BUY BOOKS?
After linking my Kindle to my existing Amazon account and charging up the battery via a USB cord plugged into my laptop, I used the basic navigating function to browse the Kindle store.
3. CAN YOU BUY ANY BOOK?
No. The first book I searched for was my own, even thought I’ve already read it. And, in fact, written it. Sadly, I was not able to buy Mamamia, A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood on Kindle and this was my first disappointment.
Call me ignorant (ignorant!) but my assumption was that all books were available as e-books via Kindle. This is not true. Something my literary agent confirmed when she called last week to discuss the issue of e-books with me.
Publishers around the world are currently negotiating deals with authors to enable them to sell e-books. Authors are generally unsure how to proceed. But that’s quite literally another story.
There are presently around 100,000 e-books that you can buy for your Kindle via Amazon, in all major genres.
The classics, New York Times best sellers and most new releases are there and they’re mostly around A$11.99.
4. DOES THE BATTERY LAST?
The Kindle website brags that you can read War and Peace on a single charge. I didn’t test that specific claim but I did almost get through one book without recharging.
Other than to recharge the battery, there are no cords or syncing. Your books and samples are delivered wirelessly and in under a minute. This, I like.
The Kindle automatically goes into sleep mode if you don’t ‘turn’ a page for a while and holds your place when you wake it up.
5. WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO WITH AN E-READER?
You can have blogs and newspapers and even some magazines delivered to your Kindle but I don’t do that because I sit at my computer so much. The Kindle screen is only in black and white anyway. Not much chop for newspapers or magazines. Not this version. Not yet.
6. WHAT IS THE BEST PART?
My favourite feature, however, is the sample option. For any book, for free, you can download a sample. This will usually be a decent chunk – maybe the first chapter and contents list. Always several thousand words. And because you are not standing up in a store, you will actually take the time to read that sample before you commit to the purchase. It will save you from many bad book buys.
The Kindle can hold about 200 at a time. Imagine lugging those around in your suitcase or on the train. For those who have several books on the go at once, those who need to reference multiple books and anyone who travels, e-readers are particularly compelling.
Perhaps the best way to explain the greatest strength of the Kindle is with the following story. A friend called me one evening recently to tell me about an interview she’d heard on Radio National with the American author of a new book about a particular subject I’m interested in. While she was still on the phone, I grabbed my Kindle, typed the book’s title into the search bar and within 20 seconds had downloaded a free sample of the book.
I hung up the phone, read the sample and decided to buy the book for $11.99. Eight minutes after my phone had rung, I’d bought the book and I spent the rest of my evening reading it.
7. WHAT ARE THE FLAWS?
Well, as I sat in bed that first night ooohing and ahhhing over my shiny new white toy, I realised that in a very short time, I will look back on this version of an e-reader and compare it to the early mobile phones who shared their size and functionality with a house brick.
The screen is not colour. Nor is it a touch screen. The navigation is clunky and very very basic. Sure, it’s sexy but it’s pretty damn rudimentary compared to, say, my iphone.
Ironically, buying books for your Kindle is so quick and so easy, that you’re likely to buy too many books in your excitement and end up with a digital pile-up of unread books exactly like the paper version next to your bed. My Kindle is already backed-up with books I’m feeling guilty about.
8. HOW HARD IS IT TO READ A BOOK ON A SCREEN?
Not very. The Kindle uses some kind of fancy shmancy technology that makes it much more like reading ink on paper than reading a computer screen. That’s the spiel and I found it to be not too far from the truth. However it’s not backlit (you can buy some attachment separately) so it’s difficult in bad light. That bit is a major bummer.
9. IS IT EXPENSIVE?
Not really. After your initial $250 outlay, the books themselves are far cheaper than buying them in paper form and you don’t pay anything for the wireless. It just uses 3G. So there are no plans or commitments. This bit is good.
HOWEVER. As a lover of bookstores, it also pains me to rave about the convenience of the Kindle at the possible expense of retailers. That’s why for me, the Kindle will not replace the book shopping, browsing or reading experience. It will just supplement it.
Because yes, there is a tactile experience that’s missing here. It’s a bit…sterile. When I went on holidays with my Kindle, I found myself longing to visit the bookstore. An actual one. So I did. And I bought a couple of actual books.
Convenience and instant gratification aside, it seems I’m not yet ready to leave paper behind (sorry trees).
Now, bring on the ipad.
Can you imagine an e-reader replacing books for you? You may say NO WAY but think about how the ipod has replaced CDs, albums and tapes for most of us….
What is your favourite gadget at the moment? And what are you lusting after?