Santa was very nice this year (as he is every year, I must add) and brought me a Kindle 3 (hence the new sidebar item). I was always somewhat sceptical of electronic book readers, always claiming that you couldn’t beat ‘the real thing’ – and never mind the trees; plenty more where they came from. That said, the geek in me cannot resist a techie gadget and when the Kindle 3 finally hit what I think is approaching a sensible price point, I was persuaded to give it a go, especially in light of the many positive reviews it has been receiving.
To be honest, I was a little put off by the heavy tie-in to Amazon’s Kindle store, but Amazon tends to be my book retailer of choice anyway. Besides, the Kindle does support other formats and the online conversion service for pdf and other documents seems to work fairly well. There are also a number of good programs which will convert to Amazon’s format anyway. Also, some of the large, out-of-copyright book repositories, such as Project Gutenberg, offer their books directly in native Kindle format.
But what’s it like as a book replacement? Rather good actually. Obviously it’s not a book, doesn’t feel like a book and doesn’t look like a book. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to read books. And for that, it’s rather good, as I said. It’s not like reading from a pc screen either I should point out. It’s an entirely different display technology and it is claimed to be less fatiguing than a normal lcd screen. I would certainly go along with that and I’ve read for several hours at a time without eye-strain. I doubt that that would have been the case reading from a monitor. In fact, I know from spending many hours in front of a computer that it definitely wouldn’t be the case. Is the same true of the newer tablet devices, such as the iPad? I don’t know – I haven’t tried one.
So why wasn’t I tempted to hang on for an iPad or similar? I know I come across as somewhat anti-Apple and there are historic reasons for that, largely associated with the days I used to use them at work. What they do, they do very well, or, at least, very prettily. Much as I like their prettiness though, I rarely give in to form over function. Take my mp3 player for example. The one I have is an ancient brick of a thing, looks ugly, has a clunky interface and has about as much street-cred as a thing with no street-cred. But, when I bought it, the main competition was the iPod (the older ‘classic’-style) and a few others. But few, and certainly not Apple, supported multiple codecs, direct recording from internal mic, external mic or external line source (and to multiple formats, in multiple quality settings) – at least not without additional, expensive accessories. Nor did anything at that time match the sound quality (Apple have only got close to ‘excellent’ quality with their latest generation players). I’ve also been able to ‘pimp’ it somewhat and, for the last 3 years, it has had 24 hour battery life and 32G of solid state memory – again something only the newest generation of players has caught up with. The point being that function has seriously out-classed form in this device and that’s why I bought it.
And so it is with things like the iPad. It’s too big to be a comfortable ebook reader. Its battery life means that I couldn’t go on holiday with it without a charger (the Kindle lasts for about 3-4 weeks before needing recharged). But the iPad can do so much more, I hear you say. “So what,” I reply. I’ve been through the phase of looking for the ideal device that does everything and concluded that, at the moment, it doesn’t exist. Maybe the iPad’s close, but not close enough. When it’s the size of a paperback, and has a 3-4 week battery life, and I can watch HD movies without squinting, and I can get full internet access and a keyboard I can properly type on and I can use any software from any supplier and I can properly multi-task, then I might be interested. In the meantime, give me a device that does what I need it to do and have it do it well (or at least well-enough). For reading books, the Kindle is close enough.
But what have I been reading? Just a variety of ‘stuff’, including some classic sci-fi. Currently reading ‘The Blue Parakeet‘ by Scot McKnight. Excellent book and I’ll probably be posting some thoughts from it soon.