Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Kindling Interest: Amazon Kindle 2 in Ireland

I will put my hands up and admit that I was highly sceptical of the recent explosion of ebook reading devices. Amazon and Sony seem to be leading the way, with Apple's new iPad also being marketed as being suitable for this role, and it was an introduction to the Sony reader that really peaked my interest. While having dinner with a friend she took it out, us both being geeks, and then proceeded to have a play with the device. My scepticism vanished instantly, these devices really are easy on the eyes, though it is hard to lose the sense that you are reading from an electronic gizmo, though it does not detract from the good attributes of the device.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: The Kindle in the Tuff-Luv Saddleback Cover

Over the next day or two I went online and did some googling, looking for reviews and scanning forums for users opinions. My goal was to have a device which I could not just read books from, but also help me with the substantial reading I have to do for my degree. Initially the Sony device with the touchscreen was the frontrunner, but I started to lean further to the Amazon Kindle 2 based on reviews and my only personal preferences. My main hang-up was going to be how well this device handles PDF files. The problem with the Kindle is that it does not handle them well, you get no editing options if you just copy them onto the device. What you must do is email the PDF files to Amazon, they convert them to the Kindle format, for free, and email them back to you. This process (even for 10 large pdf's sent at once) has never taken loner then 4-5mins. There is the option to send the converted files directly to your Kindle instead of back to your email account but this costs about 10c per file... so I will 'drag and drop' for the time being.

Amazon Kindle 2 Connected to Ubuntu
Image: Kindle connected to Ubuntu, simple

Amazon also has a choice of Kindles, the 6" version or the larger DX with a 9.7" screen. The larger one also benefits from orientating the screen automatically depending if you are holding in portrait or landscape. For a complete description on the Kindle 6" there are two short videos provided by Amazon to watch HERE and HERE . Another concern of mine was how well the Kindle would be serviced here in Ireland by the wireless, would access really be free? Guess what, it is! You can access the Kindle store, download the books, use Wikipedia all for free on the device. You essentially get yourself an encyclopaedia before you even buy your first book. I have already bought items in the store and they have always been downloaded to the device in the 60secs Amazon likes advertising. Another useful feature is the 'sample' option, Amazon send you on a sample from the book for free, maybe a chapter or more, and if you like you can buy, I have already used this feature several times.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: Shopping on the Kindle

Using Ubuntu as my operating system I was concerned with how well they would work together, even though the underlying OS on the Kindle is linux that does not promise anything. Again, forum posts looked positive and when I plugged the Kindle into the PC (running Ubuntu Karmic Koala 9.10) the Kindle showed up like any other USB drive and is even labelled 'Kindle'. Passing file to the device are as easy as 'drag and drop', for all intense purposes there is nothing to report, it all works perfectly.

Amazon Kindle 2 Connected to Ubuntu
Image: Kindle appearing in Ubuntu

I did buy the recommended Amazon Kindle Cover, but after a day or two I just did not enjoy using it and found it distracted from the overall excellent quality of the Kindle. So after doing some more searching I found the Tuff-Luv Saddleback Case and I absolutely love it, the soft leather feel and the way it slips over the Kindle really makes it a much better mate then the folder type cover. There are a vast array of choice available but I recommend you start with Tuff-Luv either on Amazon or via their official website HERE, you should not be disappointed.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: Connected and in the Tuff-Luv Cover

Amazons operation is slick, I ordered on a Friday and the Amazon was at my door Monday morning having left the USA and getting delivered by UPS to my door in Ireland via Germany. Turning on the wireless will have a welcome letter delivered to you as well as any shopping you may have done before the devices arrival. So far I am loving it, its ease of use and simplicity is key. If you just like reading lots of books this device is a blessing, especially if you travel a lot. If like me you are more research inclined or just like making comments these features are there and I use them all the time, however they are not yet as slick as everything else. It is great being able to scan through entire articles for that quote you forgot to note the page of, but being able to scan through research is slightly less appealing. Though I am not wiping out several trees a week in printing materials and then losing them a few weeks later together with my notes, they are all here and with copies stored on my PC I have them indefinitely. All that and my bag is a damn site lighter.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: Reading the Kindle in Landscape

You got to remember, and this is what I did not get, is that you are not reading a computer screen. Your eyes are not going to tire and get sore after reading for some time. The 'electronic ink' on the screen is almost book-like. You can sit and read without strain and the small size of the 6" suits the kind of reading of those of us on the move often. The Kindle 9.7" DX would be fine for me if I could afford it and not need to carry around all day. This is my secptism with devices like the new Apple iPad, I think reading ebooks will be a nice feature for the device but it will not compare in the long-term with the benefits of Sony and Amazons purpose built devices. That and the screen of the iPad will surely start to strain the eyes in time, also the weight and size of it will detract from this role. Then again, to be fair, it is not its primary purpose. The battery life of the Kindle 2 really depends on how much you need the wireless turned on, so most of the time you could leave off and this could give you up to two weeks of usage, while with wireless on 24/7 this is slashed to approx 4 days. Charging the Kindle 2 is via USB, just plug in and wait for the light to turn from yellow (charging) to green (charged) with a full charge only taking about 3 hours.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: Pressing the menu button gives you these options

OK, we know I love it but what are the little niggles that I have found over the last two weeks of playing with it daily?

1 - On the left hand side I would find it more useful for the 'next page' and 'prev page' buttons to be swapped, since I am right handed I would find it much more natural to use the device in that manner.
2 - The male voice is very pleasant to listen to with the speech function, but the female voice I think the pitch may be slightly too high and is not as enjoyable for extended periods of time
3 - The 'home' screen would be much more useful if the owner could arrange what is on the device under owner created headings
4 - As a college student and have been using the Kindle primarily to store/read and make notes. The conversion from PDF format to AZW is still not perfect, maybe moving all footnotes and images the end of the PDF would ensure more concise formatting.
5 - The option to set a password at start-up and when the device wakes up
6 - 'Basic web' seems to be very slow when I have used it and I do question the usefulness on such a device. However just offering to look up Wikipedia is very useful function.
7 - The selection of titles in the Amazon Kindle Store is still not huge and those not available in Europe can not be downloaded to your device

That is about it, everything else just works. I never used the original Kindle but from what I have read the Kindle 2 has integrated all the improvements suggested by users. If history does repeat, then maybe next year we could see the next generation of Kindle appearing with more improvement. I am hesitant to suggest a colour screen version as it would add to the price, reduce battery life and its usefulness would be limited. Though if you read more magazines then books, maybe a colour option would be more appropriate.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: One of the screensavers

If you have any doubts but are really interested then try to see the device in the flesh or at least try to see a device with a similar type screen, there are also many more photos on my flickr page (CLICK HERE for the set). I have loved using and should continue you to enjoy it for as long as it lasts...or when the next model arrives.

Happy e-reading and peace



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