Kindle review

A few weeks ago, I gave in and bought a Kindle from Amazon. The new smaller e-reader costs a very reasonable £89 and mine weighs 168g, less than the average paperback. While I didn’t buy this specifically for backpacking, it does have a lot of appeal if you want to do some reading on a trip.

According to the blurb, it will hold up to 1,400 books. You can also put other files like PDFs on it, but unless they are formatted correctly, they are not easy to read. There is also a web browser, which is not very good. It has WiFi connectivity. So far this has been fine. I tend to turn it off to save the battery unless I need it. I’ve not fully tested if fully. Amazon claim 12-13 hours with WiFi turned off. I’ve no reason to believe otherwise.

Charging is through a USB cord. Be warned, the connector at the Kindle end is non-standard, so you’ll need the lead supplied. At the same time I bought the USB 3 pin plug adaptor as it charges faster through the mains than a computer and is useful if you are not near a computer. The Amazon plug weighs 36g, slightly lighter than the equivalent Apple adaptor.

The screen is an e-ink screen. I’ve found it very legible and clear. The font size is easily changed, but I found the standard font to be the right size for me. There are also three options on the font itself (regular, condensed, san serif). Line spacing and words per line can also be adjusted. Again I found the default settings work for me.

I’m impressed by the clarity of e-ink. It’s less strain than reading on my iPad. The only time I struggle is in very low light. Page forward and back is accessed by two elongated buttons on each side. Menus are accessed by the buttons and directional pad below the screen. It’s all pretty easy and intuitive.

Buying a book is simple either through the device itself by WiFi or through a computer. Delivery takes a matter of seconds. All books are stored centrally by Amazon, so you can’t lose any. There are lots of free books, that are out of copyright like Sherlock Holmes. The paid for books are generally cheaper, but by how much seems to be dependent on popularity and promotion (e-books attract VAT, while paper books don’t).

So far I’ve read one complete book, “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene. I’m now on to his second, “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality”. Hardly light reading! I’ve loaded some other free books as well. Dictionaries are pre-loaded.

So the crucial question is: how do I like it compared to reading a normal book?

What I like:

  1. Very clear and easy to read.
  2. Feels quite natural to read.
  3. Lightweight and easy to handle.
  4. Easy and intuitive navigation.
  5. Quick to buy a new book.
  6. Notes and highlights often provided.
  7. Bookmarking easy.

What’s not so good:

  1. No sense of where you are in a book.
  2. Diagrams and drawings are poorly reproduced, despite the ability to zoom.
  3. Laborious to flick backwards and forwards, e.g. to glossary.
  4. Non-standard USB connection.
  5. Tied to Amazon.*

All in all, I’m very happy with the Kindle. From a pure backpacking perspective, it’s a very attractive way to carry reading material with you. I do have some philosophical misgivings about the control that Amazon may gain in the book selling and publishing world. It is possible that Amazon might gain a quasi monopolistic position through Kindle and e-books, which may not be healthy.

* Addendum, apparently you’re not as tied to Amazon as I thought (commentary that I had read suggested that you are), see comments below. Not sure how this works and whether Amazon will back up non-Amazon purchases.

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33 thoughts on “Kindle review”

  1. Thanks for the review Robin. I’ve been thinking of buying my wife a Kindle for Xmas but with a sneaky eye on me using it for when I’m out and about! Good to see a review from a outdoor man rather than a tech-head – much more relevant.

  2. At least on my Kindle (v3 with the keyboard) you get a progress bar along the bottom of each page that also tells you the % of the way through the book that you are. And it has little marks to indicate the position of new chapters. But it’s not as intuitive as a paper book of course.

    The USB is of the new “slim” standard for thin devices like smartphones. It is exactly the same as the connector on HTC and Samsung phones. The cables are relatively easy to get.

    If you email a pdf doc to your kindle via Amazon’s conversion service, it does a reasonable job of turning it into an ebook. It depends how well the original pdf was laid out. It does kind of suck at reading raw pdfs.

    1. The progress bar doesn’t have the same feeling as a physical book. As you say it’s just not as intuitive. I’ve only looked at raw PDFs. There seems to be so many different foramts of micro USBs, I’m losing patience with them all. Each needs a different lead or converter.

  3. Good stuff Robin. I’ve had a 3rd generation Kindle for about six months now and absolutely love it. It goes with me everywhere and as a result I’ve read far more than I used to when reading time was really limited to bed time. I took it on an overnight trip a few weeks ago and found it was easy to read with a diffused head torch in the tent at night. A direct torch beam, even on low intensity, causes too much glare on the screen.

    It’s interesting that the current generation Kindle doesn’t come with the charging plug as standard – this might go some way towards explaining the lower price? I’m also very surprised that the quoted time with WiFi *of* is only 12-13 hours. That sounds terrible (perhaps a typo?). I’ve only charged mine up twice in six months and that is reading almost daily! I use mine with WiFi off during the week, and turn it on at the weekend to get books and my Instapaper delivery (see below).

    Diagrams and drawings definitely are variable when it comes to quality. It seems that some publishers are taking the time to check the quality of the reproductions, whilst others aren’t. Another problem can come from list/bullet point formatting and indentations/block quotes which the Kindle sometimes gets a bit wrong.

    I agree that the lack of awareness of where you are is frustrating. Though the % progress bar works fine for me, I do miss the “feel” of how much of a book you have left. Glossaries can be a pain but I love the in-built dictionary for getting instant word meanings.

    One of the best features I’ve discovered is the tie-in with Instapaper. If you use this service to mark blog and newspaper articles to “read later” through the week and then tie the service in with your Kindle e-mail address, you will get a weekly compendium of all your articles in delivered free via WiFi to your Kindle. It is brilliant.

    Also, as Jon notes you are definitely not tied to Amazon. I use Calibre on my Mac to manage .mobi books and the rest of my “non-Amazon” library. With some Googling you can also take other e-book formats and convert them for use on the Kindle. This is good as, though the Kindle book range is impressive, I am still frequently coming across books not yet published in Kindle format.

    The two Brian Greene books are excellent. He does a great job of explaining extremely theoretical/conceptual ideas in a way that you can grasp. I’m just about to start Manjit Kumar’s Quantum which is supposed to be a good overview of Quantum Mechanics, the theory and the figures involved in its development.

    Sorry for the extremely long comment!

    1. On battery time, I’m only going by Amazon’s a month of reading half an hour a day. I suppose if you are generous you might interpret that as 15 hours! Thanks for the info on formats.

  4. I’ve been experimenting with making pdf’s of guide books (for climbing) to save weight as I don’t want to carry 3 or 4 books in my pack. I have found that it can work but you need to be very careful with illustration as resolution can be an issue.

  5. We bought the Kindle as an introductory step to get us into the world of eBooks technology, to be used for text-only reading like fiction. It served that purpose well and the eInk is impressive in normal lighting or outside, but many PDFs are hit-and-miss and pictures are pretty crap generally. There are many eBooks around that are free of DRm and can be read on it, in fact I would never buy anything with DRM.
    It would need good protection if stuffed in a backpack I think.

    The biggest problem – and one that made us vow never to buy any such device from Amazon again – was the fact that some core functionality was deliberately disabled until the device was registered via WiFi. I had a long argument with Amazon support about this and I almost sent it back. Getting the damned thing registered was the worst customer experience I’ve ever had in my life: eventually, after two days of research and fruitless emails asking for advice, to we ended up at a motorway service station to find a WiFi spot and it took nearly two hours to get it done. Never again.

    1. Good to know of the experience of others. For it was relatively painless as it was registered already to my Amazon account.

  6. Ours was pre-registered to our Amazon account on their website, but that’s not sufficient: the device itself (i.e. internally within its own electronics) must be registered specifically via WiFi. There is no alternative method and no way around this, customer support wouldn’t budge on the issue.

  7. I’ve always got a book on the go, i feel uneasy if i don’t have something to read!
    There is something about the physical qualities of a book that i love. I try to carry as little technical noise to the hills as i can. A Kindle seems like another step on the techy slippery slope to this Luddite. 🙂
    Is there a ‘time-out’ on a Kindle, as i often use a book as a ‘nodding off’ aid?

    1. It has time out setting of 10 minutes so after 10 minutes of inactivity it shuts down to the screensaver (which doesn’t use any power). I know what you mean about technology, it does seem like yet another thing. However, it is lighter than a book and has a reasonable battery life.

  8. As someone else mentioned the usb plug is the new “standard” micro-usb now used on all new phones. It’s worth investigating a program called Calibre (free) for managing books. It can also scrape various websites, including some newspapers and upload the content to your Kindle.

    Although Kindle books are encrypted Mobi format, it’s easy to decrypt them (I said allegedly M’Lud) to read on other devices.

    1. Agree re Calibre. Is really good at getting on line newspapers. It’s just as good as the subscription newspapers from what I’ve seen, other than that the Amazon subscription will deliver via the mobile network (if you have the appropriate Kindle Keyboard) but Calibre can only deliver via wifi.

      1. Thanks. I get my newspapers on my iPad. Bigger screen and in colour 🙂 much cheaper than the hard copy

  9. Hello Robin,

    I must admit to being tempted, but most of our household reading is of the fictional type and nearly all can be bought for pence at charity shops etc. There is clearly an advantage if one travels by ‘plane as the weight factor would be beneficial – but then we would need two of the things!

    1. If you want carry several books and weight or bulk is an issue then the kindle is an obvious answer. There has been some comment that airport X-ray scanners destroy the screen. The advice is to turn it off completely, not just with the screen saver.

  10. I’ve had my kindle for just over a year and it has got me back into reading. Calibre and the instapaper app are two bits of software you definitively need to install.

    Calibre is good for news scrapping, I have most of my daily news deliver to the kindle via it.

    I have found the kindle to be a bit sluggish when it gets cold, the page turn takes a bit longer.

    best piece of tech I have bought 🙂

  11. You just can’t beat a Kindle for entertainment on a long distance backpacking trip. With a month long battery life, you’ll never run out of something to keep your mind occupied!

    For lighting it on a dark night, rather than wasting the battery on my head torch, I use a Kandle II (http://www.mobilefun.co.uk/kandle-ii-by-ozeri-clip-on-reading-light-for-amazon-kindle-black-p33143.htm) – weighs next to nothing, and on the lower light setting, easily lasts a couple of weeks (at about 2 hours a night use).
    Make sure it’s the Kandle II, though… the original model doesn’t have adjustable light setting, so clearly doesn’t last as long.

    Similarly, for protection whilst backpacking, I use a cheap EVA Hard Case (http://www.amazon.co.uk/iGadgitz-Travel-Sleeve-Generation-Released/dp/B0042FV5LC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1322262874&sr=8-2) – with the little bit of memory foam inside, it offers enough protection to take a few small knocks inside the rucksack. Admittedly, it pretty much doubles the weight of the Kindle, but given a choice between that and breaking it, I’d go for the case.

  12. I’ve had mine since April this year, bought purely for backpacking purposes. I’m an avid reader, love books and have quite a decent library at home. I didn’t think I would take to it quite as much as I have done. It is a wonderful piece of tech for sure.

    Nick has pretty much covered everything I could say about it. Battery life is phenomenal with wi-fi turned off. I use it every day and have charged it up 4 times since April! It does get a little sluggish in cold temps and also if you have more than 800 different items on it – books/pdf’s.

    The ability to make your own pdf’s with lots of route info for multi-day trips plus it includes 2 games – Minehunter and GoMoku (pressing and holding down the shift, alt and M keys) not sure if the games are incorporated into the newer keyboard-less versions though.

    can’t think of any downsides –

  13. I have not seen the charging connector, but my normal Kindle has the new Micro-USB connector which is completely standard now across pretty much all mobile devices (BlackBerry for example). I think it simply replaces the old Micro USB connector. As I say, I have not seen the new Kindle (although I would like one) so I don’t know…

  14. I bought the 3G Kindle and although its the dearest of the kindle’s, I do like the mobile Internet access. The browser is slow and a bit clunky but I do like the fact I can access the Internet anywhere there is a mobile signal and its free. Have yet to see if the mobile access works abroad. With the 3G version there is the possible potential for mobile blogging Robin

    1. It worked for me (kindle3, 3g version) in France this summer. A couple of times it didn’t but I think that was a network issue. Generally, it was great – switch on, download the guardian (there’s a website that puts the rss feed into the right format), check the emails, facebook, log off, great.

    1. It may be standard, but I guess so is the one on my Satmap, and Olympus camera, and Panasonic camera, all of which are different. It would be nice to have ONE standard micro USB port for all devices (including Apple).

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