When I was thinking about buying an e-book reader, I searched online for opinions of others about the topic. And I found no shortage of reviews on specific readers. But they were all technical reviews, on the specs and the size, and how the e-ink works, and having a backlight versus no backlight. All very useful. So I am not going to write in depth on that topic. If you need more technical info on the Kindle, see here.
This is about the question that I did not find the answers to: why would I want an e-book reader? Would it be difficult to read on? How does the book get on there? What do I do once I have one?
I have to start by saying that I have quite an emotional relationship with books. Books are never just inanimate objects; they are more just the sum of their parts. Books are my friends. Books are more than just words on paper, I see them, feel the paper, smell the ink. Having books close by me, displayed in my bookshelf or piled on my bedside table, is part of the experience – the anticipation of the unread ones, and the soft voices in the lingering memories of the finished ones – I read with all my senses.
I was, and still am, very concerned that reading books on an e-book reader will be fundamentally different. And generally, every booklover I have spoken to has voiced the same concerns. I have come to the conclusion that it is probably a compromise.
The e-book reader will never take the place of books completely, but it is a good supplement. It is lighter and smaller than a book, and fits nicely in my handbag. That also makes it more practical and accessible than a book. It can contain a huge number of e-books and e-magazines and e-newspapers. It is more practical to carry around than a book. Just recently I spent the 12 minutes it takes to get from Sandton to the East Rand in the Gautrain, reading. And the few minutes I wait in the car at my son’s school are also spent with my nose in my, er, Kindle.
But I am also often a spontaneous reader. I buy a paperback at my supermarket with my groceries. I blow my budget with an impulse buy when browsing through a bookshop. I buy books from second-hand bookshops. And I borrow books from friends; I get it from her along with her vocal, on-the-spot review. So I don’t think I will ever give up on paper books either. The Kindle will supplement my books.
Buying a Kindle, and buying eBooks
Buying Kindle is simple. You go to www.amazon.com and look around there, and if you are ready you just click to follow the instructions. From the moment of purchase to having it in my hands was one week.
Once you have it, you go back to Amazon’s website, and follow the prompts to register your Kindle and linking it to your credit card, and from then on buying a book is incredibly easy. From the moment of purchase till it is on your Kindle is a matter of seconds. You can buy directly from your Kindle, or from your computer. I find browsing their shop easier from my computer, simply because it is easier to navigate. The book you purchase is sent to your Kindle via Wi-Fi as first option, and if none is available, 3G. (More on 3G later)
I got the Kindle without a cover, and since I will be carrying it around in my handbag, I found a cover very necessary. They are almost impossible to find here, so when you are ordering your Kindle, you may consider ordering one of the many cover, pouch or skin options they have available, at the same time.
Another brilliant feature is the ability to buy a sample book. Any book available to buy, gives you the option of getting a sample book first – the first few chapters of the book are sent to your Kindle free of charge. When you have finished reading those you can buy the rest of the book with a click from your Kindle. I love this option, as I am not always sure if I want the book, without browsing it first. I recently bought a wrong book accidentally, and I wrote an email to Amazon support from the website. Within minutes I received a reply, and within a day or so the amount was reversed on my credit card. No fuss.
It is also instant gratification. Once my account was set up at Amazon and linked to my Kindle and credit card, I had instant access to any book I could think of. Many of the classics from Shakespeare to Sherlock Holmes are very cheap or free. Other books that would require a search in bookshops are at my fingertips. Bestsellers are available even before the bookshops launch them, and at a better price. So, if it is a specific book I am looking for, I can have it on my Kindle within minutes. While thinking about buying, you can browse the range of books here.
Reading on the Kindle
Reading on the Kindle is surprisingly easy. There is no screen glare. Ever. Under any conditions. As difficult as it is to imagine before you have tried it, it really does read just like a book. Except that it is lighter, and easier to hold. Once I got the hang of turning the pages by pressing a button, it was easy to forget that it was not a paper book. You can set the font size from rather small with more lines per page, to rather large with fewer lines per page. One thing I love is the built-in dictionary (there are 2); when you move the cursor to the beginning of a word, it will bring up the definition of it, and you can click if you need even more info. You can also highlight and save quotes and clippings, for later referral. The screen is black-on-white. This is easy to read, but might be a little detrimental if the book you are reading has a large number of photos. Especially if you are going to be using your Kindle for reading magazines, it may be a drawback. But for ordinary novels, it is perfect.
Because it is not backlit, it is easy to read in any light conditions, and it is easier on the eyes, but it does mean you need a light when it is dark. The absence of a backlight also make the battery last longer.
This was a big concern to me. Most reviews I had read, were about owning a Kindle in USA, and I was worried about spending all that money, and then it didn't work here.
first: if you have any concerns about Amazon not shipping to SA, you can read what Simon Dingle says about that here.
Having a Kindle here is really not very different to having a Kindle in USA. Once you have your account set up, it works very much the same. Many of the books available for free in the Kindle books store on Amazon to users in USA, are available to international readers for $2. South African online bookshops like kalahari.net and exclus1ves are moving into the e-book market, and are adding titles to their ranges all the time. The books available from these sites are very well priced. Kalahari is now also offering Huisgenoot and You in eMagazine format, with other titles to be added soon.
Some of the other features offered with the Kindle are a PDF reader, the ability to play your music files (experimental) and a text-to-speech feature. Although you can download and listen to audio books, the text-to-speech feature means your Kindle can read all your books to you, even the ones that are not audio books. You can choose between a male and female voice, and reading speeds. The voice is rather electronic and monotonous, and the accent is annoyingly American, but the feature has its uses.
The browser is 3G, and it is free. It does not use a simcard. This makes it possible for you to buy books anywhere, anytime. It does browse the internet, and is bookmarked with Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and more. The browser is very clumsy and slow, and browsing is not very comfortable. It was never meant to be a tablet computer, and browsing on my phone is faster and easier.
All in all, I am thrilled with my Kindle. I love the convenience and the portability. It is a great tool for any book worm, and a great gift.
• Available from Amazon.com here
• Reading area: 6” – 15.24cm diagonal
• Thickness: 0.335” – 8.51mm
• Cost: $189 without shipping costs
• Holds up to 3 500 books
• Battery life is about 1 month if Wi-Fi is switched off
Do you have a Kindle? Or another eBook reader? Do you like it? Where do you buy your eBooks? What is your favourite book that you have read on it?