Saturday, October 11, 2008

Kindle on the road or how to take all your library with you.

This post deals with a new tech toy which we have acquired, so if you aren't interested in tech, toys or books, then you can skip it.

First a little background. Last year Amazon announced that they were bringing out a device to read e-books (electronic books). This in itself was no major issue, as readers have been around a while, Sony, Franklin, and a few others were already in the market. Not to mention that pretty much every handheld device, Palm, Blackberry, Nokia etc., could also be used to read e-books. At the time I though little of the device as I had a laptop, and also a Palm, so if I wanted to read books I could do it on either device. Add to this the fact that I never read books (other than technical books), on my computer devices. As a matter of fact I didn't even have any "regular" books in e-book format.

Now we jump to spring 08, Katheryna ran across a mention of this device and asks me about it. Katheryna reads voraciously, so we always had an issue about finding material, and space for all those books. We only have room for 1 or 2 books, which she would of course read in a couple of days. So if we were not able to find books in that time she had nothing to read. So I decided to have another look at the Kindle and e-books in general.

What I learned was that, although not perfect it seemed to fit our requirements perfectly. It is a simple device which does two things exceedingly well. The first is it presents e-books in a very good format (size, and readability), the second is store a large amount of content in a small space. In addition, battery life was touted to be excellent. The additional features were of little interest to us. Things such as Whispernet, and wiki access, instant download, blog reading, newspaper subscriptions, were not going to be available to us, and so weren't an issue in the decision to purchase this device.

Now that we had decided that the main features where important enough to us to drop the 399$ on this toy, we went ahead an found out about getting a device. Here is where the fun starts.

First, Amazon will not ship the device outside the United States. Ok, no problem, I have a brother in the states so I bought the device and had it shipped to him in Florida (thanks Rick).

Second problem, even though they allowed me to purchase the book, I could not purchase content for the book, because the credit cards tied to my account are all on banks outside the U.S. Not being employed and having no credit record in the U.S. makes it impossible for me to get a U.S. based card. So that option is out. Having already purchased the device I wasn't about to let such a small matter keep me from getting some content.

But before I get into that, I should mention the following. There is basically three types of content you can put on this device. The first being, content purchased directly from Amazon and downloaded or wirelessly delivered to the device. The second is free content from places like Manybooks or Project Gutenberg both of which offer books which can be downloaded for free, and then uploaded to the device by a computer. The third is user generated content. Which can be converted by Amazon for a fee or free depending on how you do it (they charge .10 cents a page for wireless delivery, but it is free if sent to your e-mail account), or which the user can convert using tools like MOBIPOCKET eBook Creator which one can download free from MobiPocket.

The device supports content in ".azw" (Amazon Kindle format), ".txt", ".mobi", or ".prc" format. So if you already have content in these formats (and they are not protected by DRM) the device will be able to present it directly. In addition to these formats it can also play music in .MP3 format, and display pictures in .jpg format.

I use content rather than e-book as it doesn't just need to be "books", it can be text files, web pages(html), or PDF which can all be converted to the correct azw format by the tool mentioned above (or sent to Amazon for conversion).

The first thing I did was have a look at all the free content I could find, just google ebooks and you will find plenty of content (mostly paid). The free content is pretty much duplicated all across the web by Manybooks and Project Gutenberg and others. These are books which are no longer protected by copyrights, or produced specifically as public domain works. Nevertheless there is a lot of very "interesting" free things out there.

As Katheryna wanted some current novels and did not just want to have to read "old" classics, so I had to find a solution to the Amazon restrictions.
My solution was to use someone else account in the U.S. In order to purchase content for the Kindle, I had transfer the registration of the Kindle to that account. Now with the permission of the account owner (as I was using their credit card), I could easily purchase all the content directly from Amazon and load it to the device, or download it to my laptop and upload it to the device from there.

When the device was delivered in Florida, my brother just turned it on and it downloaded the items which I had purchased. Although not without some problems, apparently there were a number of "timeouts' in the delivery process, so that it had to be re-started a couple of times. But in the end all the 31 items which I had bought were on the device when it was shipped to me in Argentina.

Once we received it here (without any hassles from customs), the device turned out to be the size of a paperback, all in white. The screen is excellent and is large enough to be easily readable. In the beginning the buttons were more of a hassle than anything else. But surprisingly after a few days you get used to it. The main problem is that whenever you pick up or put down the Kindle, you will invariably hit a button by accident. You also have to get used to holding it so that you don't hit a button by accident, but so that you can still page forward or back as required.

The battery life has been around approximately 16 to 18 hours. It probably would be more if we didn't spend so much time reading it outdoors (in our tent), where at the moment it is around 5C (41F).

In the meanwhile we have already purchased more content, and I continually comb the free sites for more stuff to download. Since the Kindle is out of the U.S, and there is no access to Whispernet, the content has to be purchased and then downloaded via the internet, and then uploaded to the Kindle by the included USB cable. Because the size of the files is so small this works really well.

One of the most important things for us was the fact that the kindle has extendible memory, in the form of SD memory cards. At the same time I bought the Kindle I also bought a 4GB card. The internal memory of the kindle is around 180MB for user content. The normal azw books you buy will be pretty small. For example the last 17 novels I bought all in all only took around 9MB, so depending on how you plan to use the device the internal memory might be enough. For us this was certainly not going to be the case. At the moment, the Kindle internal memory is empty (ie. I have 180MB free), all my content is on the chip card, which now has around 2GB of data on it. The space is being taken mostly by a lot of converted PDF's, also music will take a lot of room, depending on how much you load. A note on the music, this is not a device to listen to music on. The music which I have loaded is used as background music when reading.

All in all we are really happy with it, and our major problem is that we keep fighting about who gets to use it when. And finally, what have read? Well, Katheryna finished Tuesdays With Morris, and The Sky is Falling, and has started on Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and Dan Brown's, Angels & Demons. For my part, I just finished Pillars of the Earth, and have started on World without End. So after a week we are getting some pretty good use out of the Kindle!!

Update, it has now been 4 months since we got the Kindle, and yes we are still fighting about who gets to use it. At the moment, I have two 4Gb cards both nearly full of content. Approximately 5000 books. One cards contains all English books. The second card contains books in Italian or German (for Katheryna who sometimes prefers to read books in Italian or German if they are too "complicated" in English), as well most of my reference (technical books and articles) material.

In the last week I have read 4 books by Douglas Adams (Starship Titanic, Mostly Harmless, Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency and Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul). I am in the middle of two others (Brian Green's, The Elegant Universe, and Goedel, Escher, Bach and Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hoffsteadter). I can't list all the books that Katheryna has read, but suffice it to say she is not running out of material any time soon.

One of the things I enjoy the most about this device is that it functions as a "Library" or Bookstore, I just turn it on, and start to browsing among the 248 index pages, looking for something interesting to read. Amazon continues to publish new novels in Kindle format, and of course there are thousands upon thousands of older titles also available in this format, so it is in the end just a question of when can I use the Kindel!

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

I must say this is a very informative post on Kindle. I myself am addicted to Kindle now for all my books. Well I say that kindle is never going to fail, millions of people have been using this and all are satisfied with the results of kindle, kindle conversion, in every aspect. I do have a kindle and the ebooks I buy, publishers get it published from