Sunday, July 07, 2013

Why Kindle?

"There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them."


Joseph Brodsky

In 2004, I told the Ex-Grrrfriend™ that in the future, people will read from paperback-sized devices, each capable of storing thousands of books. She laughed and scoffed at that, telling me that it was one of the most ridiculous thing she ever heard and that the idea would never take off. She told me that reading from an electronic display strains eyes and that such devices cannot provide the same tactile pleasure of thumbing a real paper-and-ink novel. Then, we broke up. Probably unrelated.

Later that year, Sony released the LIBRIe, allegedly the first E-Ink e-book reader in the world. A few days ago (or 9 years later depending on how you want to look at it), I decided to buy myself an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite as an early birthday present to myself which, at the time of writing, is the absolute slicing edge of e-book readers.

Now, living on the island of Borneo - the proverbial hairy bottom of the world - I am not privileged with access to Amazon.com's services so I was forced to employ a third party to do my purchasing for me. The wife told me she can get one of her legions of Singaporean friends to help me get one and then mail it to me, but once I start fancying something, waiting any substantial length of time for it will invariably cause me a disproportionate amount of stress. Can't help it. I have been completely spoiled by the culture of instant gratification that the internet engenders. So, I found Kindle Malaysia by way of Google (Praise the Motherboard!) and ordered one from them. I also e-mailed them twice within minutes of purchasing to essentially ask "Is it here yet?"

Kindle Malaysia advertises themselves as a "Painless way for Malaysians to buy Kindle" and boy, they kept their words. They even salved my vexations by answering my e-mails (twice). I made payment on Sunday and my parcel arrived at my doorstep on Wednesday, so I guess that they must have some floor stock ready to ship at a moment's notice.


Kindle Parcel Arrived
Damn straight it was urgent, bitches.

I bought the Wi-Fi version of Kindle Paperwhite and a leather wallet plus screen protector for it for a grand total of RM 690. I figured that having constant internet access wouldn't be a necessary feature for a device that can literally store years of entertainment in it. It is also the version with "special offers" that would display unobtrusive ads for deals in the Kindle Store. I opted for it because I might actually be interested in these deals and because it shaved the price of the Kindle down further.

It came in this cool minimalistic chisel-shaped hexahedral black cardboard box,


Sleek Black Kindle Box
And I must squee.

After peeling off the seal (which sadly defaced the box a little), I find my newest toy. On it was a screensaver instructing me on how to turn it on,


Kindle Fresh Out of the Box
Technically, the term "screensaver" is a misnomer in this case.

Two of the most irritating things that people say when I told them I bought a Kindle are "Why not get an iPad?" and "Why don't you stick to real books?" So, why indeed? Now, let me take you through my decision making process,



So, Why a Kindle?


Kindle in Red Leather
I like bright-coloured stuff. Helps me look for them at a glance.

Compared to a smartphone or a tablet PC like Apple's iPad,
  • Longer Battery Life: As a heavy smartphone user, I find that one of the biggest handicaps to such devices (with AMOLED or LCD displays) is how long I can use them on a single charge. An iPad, for example, would be drained of juice in just a third of the day. The Kindle Paperwhite boasts that its battery can keep going for 8 weeks at half an hour of reading a day with the wireless turned off and the light setting at 10 (or 28 hours of continuous reading, if you are allergic to hype-speak) because it only needs power to refresh the display.
  • Better-Suited Display: The biggest disadvantage of an E-Ink display is that it is only still available only in grayscale (where Kindle is concerned) and users who habitually use smart devices might find the stuttering manner by which E-Ink refreshes a page to be a tad distracting, at least at first. However, its strengths more than made up for its weaknesses. For starters, you can read it just fine under direct sunlight making it much more suitable for outdoor use (and I read out-of-doors a lot when I travel) while the glassy display of other smart devices would be nigh unreadable in the same conditions. And because E-Ink does not glare - a complaint I frequently hear from people trying to read on a tablet PC or smartphone - it reduces eye-fatigue too. Having used it heavily in the past few days, I can attest that it actually looks like there's an actual piece of paper behind the screen.
  • Cheaper: Much, much cheaper. More than 2 to 3 times cheaper. Enough said.


Kindle Paperwhite in Action
An unedited photograph of my Kindle taken with flash at close quarters.

Compared to real ink-and-paper books,
  • Lightweight: I compared it to a few paperbacks I have lying around - while it is undeniably weightier than a thinnish novel like China Miéville's The City & the City, it weighs about the same as Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (or Neal Stephenson's anything really). But if I weigh it against my medical textbooks, it is practically feather-light so I can study in bed if I so wish. Also the last time I went on a backpacking trip, my books took up nearly a third of the total weight of of my backpack. Now, I can theoretically carry up to a thousand books with me wherever I go.
  • More Ergonomic: I am one of those finicky readers who wouldn't open any book I read more than a 45° angle because I hate creasing the spines (people who have borrowed books from me would know my ground rules). Also when I read a heavy book in bed, I was obliged to rest it on the mattress and turn in bed with every page turn to have the right page facing me. Turning pages is necessarily a two-handed task or I might accidentally dog-ear or fold them. With my new Kindle, I no longer have to worry about all that!
  • Read in the Dark: No night-lights or reading lights required. With the illuminated screen, I can read in pitch darkness while my wife snoozes beside me. It's great for when if I go camping as well. With the Paperwhite, I can even finely tweak the luminosity and the gradations run from 0 to 24.
  • Special Features: The Kindle Paperwhite comes with a few cool features that real books can never have. For example, I can look up any word using the built-in Oxford Dictionary by just pressing on said word for a second and the definition would pop-up on screen. I can also look at some books with the X-Ray feature that gives notes on who the characters or what objects/places on the page are, and where within the book the same names occur (which would be useful when you are reading a series with a bajillion characters like George R. R. Martin's A Song of ice and Fire). The size of the letters are adjustable, and you can even change the font, the distance between lines and the size of the marginal spaces. There is also a Time to Read feature that tells me how long it would take me to finish the book or current chapter calculated based on my real-time reading speed. Connected to Wi-Fi, I can instantly translate any word or passage using Bing Translator with just a few taps on the screen, or download and read any book I own that I have stored in the Kindle Cloud (which I can access using my PC or my smartphone as well). There are also highlighting, note-making and book-marking features as well, and whenever I open a book, the device and Cloud remembers exactly where I left off.
  • Ease of Purchase: One of the most important differences between real books and e-books is that I can have any book I want within seconds. In the past, I had to order them via Kinokuniya or Borders and wait for weeks for them to arrive before making a 2-hour journey from Malacca to KL to pick them up.
  • Cheaper: So far, every book I have bought from the Kindle Store cost less than what I would have to pay had I bought them from a conventional bookstore.
  • Access to Free Books (Legally): I just downloaded Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species from the Kindle Store's free e-book collection and there are thousands of books there with expired copyrights that you now technically own by just buying a Kindle. Aside from Amazon.com, you can also download free e-books from Project Gutenberg, Open Library, and countless of other websites on the internet. Seriously, you can get a Kindle and read non-stop for the rest of your life without ever buying a single book.
  • Greener: No trees ever need to die to support my reading habit.

Kindle paperwhite in Low Light
And unedited closeup of the display in semi-darkness.

The correct question is, why are you not reading from a Kindle?



P.S. I'll admit that the idea of my own physical library still holds a sort of magical sway over me (and I already own several hundred real books). I guess I just need to get over my irrationality about it.



Embracer of futures,
k0k s3n w4i

4 comments:

Bismuth said...

I hate the inability to buy books with a Malaysian address and have resorted to using a new account and proxy websites. Worked fabulously as suggested on Kindle Malaysia previously. But recently I'd been having difficulties finding any proxy sites that will let me buy Kindle titles. I'm not the most tech-savvy person around so was hoping if you could share what proxy sites you're using or if there's any simpler way to go about buying on Kindle actually? Thanks!

thebleufish said...

Heh, I used to be one of those who scoffed at the idea of e-readers and swore by the smell of tangible pages. For a year and a half now, I have been using the Kobo e-reader. About 70% of the books that I've read in that period of time have been rendered in e-ink. Every single one of the points you've stated, I agree with! I fear for the future of physical books (hah, I work in a bookstore), but at the same time it would be hypocritical of me to denounce e-books and their various benefits. :p

- Aud (random stalker/reader)

c3rs3i said...

I read a physical book recently. It actually felt nostalgic.

I have the Kindle app on my phone and tablet as well which I use when I don't have my Kindle with me but have a few minutes to kill. All devices will sync to the latest page you're on which is very very nice.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Bismuth: I don't use proxies. I use the gift card hack. What I do is that I create a normal Amazon account and peg my Malaysian credit card to it. I then create a second Amazon account with a fake US name, US credit card number and US billing address. Using my first account with my real credit card, I purchase gift cards for the second account. Then, I use my Kindle (which is logged into my second account) to purchase books from the Kindle store, no proxies required. You can get more details on how to do that here.

Aud: Or do you prefer to be called thebleufish? We are all resistant to change but so far, everyone I know who made the switch to E-Ink find it to be a superior way to consume books. It is still crappy if you want to look at colourful artbooks or textbooks with lots of diagrams though but I am certain the tech will catch up eventually.

c3rs3i: Yeah, the Kindle Cloud - one of those things that remind me that I have arrived in the future. I also just went analog recently and read Tad William's The Dirty Streets of Heaven. The whole time I was wishing I had it on Kindle instead.