Impressions and advice from a new Kindle DX owner
A few weeks ago I announced here that I had decided to get an e-reader. Well, I’ve gone and pulled the trigger and am now the owner of a new Kindle DX, which I bought as a gift to myself for my birthday. (Clever man that I am, I asked family members who intended to give me a gift to make it cash in support of the purchase.)
And I’m here to tell you that currently, these three weeks in, I’m completely delighted with the thing.
Please note that I say this as somebody who for years has loathed reading e-books on a computer screen, to the point of wanting to slit my wrists or someone else’s. I also say it as someone who, although he lives half his life on the Internet at this point, is possessed of a red-hot Luddite impulse when it comes to techno-evangelism, and a tendency to regard modern digital media culture through a dystopian lens.
But as a book reviewer I often receive pdfs instead of paper books, and for personal and professional reasons I also read vast amounts of articles and essays on the Web. I’m talking about scores of them per week. This has become not just a pain but a biblical millstone around my neck. And I’m here to tell you that my experience with the Kindle has been like a liberation from prison. I’m now a believer. If this is the Matrix, then plug me in.
I think the Kindle’s salutary effect may come from a combination of two things: the device’s portability, since it effectively serves as a book, or actually a compact library of texts, that I can carry anywhere instead of being chained to my laptop computer; and the E Ink technology that makes the visual experience qualitatively different from reading text on a backlit computer screen, and more like (although not identical to) reading print on paper. For me, at least, reading books etc. on the Kindle really does substitute quite nicely for reading text from a printed book, although I’m certainly not about to abandon the latter.
So now my take on e-books is radically changed. I have always hated them without measure, but it turns out it was the interface (my chained-ness to a computer plus the pixelated backlit visual nightmare) that accounted for the hating. I had half-suspected this might be the case, and had been told as much by a few friends, who have now been proved right. Of course, I’m sure a Sony Reader or another device using the E Ink technology — and there are several — would achieve exactly the same effect. I researched the market heavily before making my purchase, so I know there’s more than one worthy e-reader out there, and the market is getting ready to explode with new competition. Personally, I’m most eager to see how the forthcoming Plastic Logic and IREX readers perform, especially given their new partnerships with Barnes & Noble.
But for now I’m thrilled with my Kindle DX, whose large screen I wouldn’t want to trade for even a second for the smaller Kindle or Kindle 2 (or Sony Reader), and nearly all of whose features — page turning, bookmarking, note taking — are wonderfully intuitive. The thing really and truly promises to “reinvigorate my reading life,” as I have heard a few other owners describe their experience of it. I’m presently using it to reread Dracula — the e-book version of the Modern Library edition, which I got cheap-cheap from Amazon — as well as a host of essays, studies, and papers about vampires and vampirism in preparation for writing my essay about religion and vampires for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the Vampire: The Living Dead in Myth, Legend and Popular Culture (Greenwood Press, 2010), edited by S.T. Joshi. And the experience from both a scholarly and a readerly-enjoyment perspective is truly excellent.
GENERAL E-READER ADVICE
Before making my purchase I came to really appreciate any useful advice I could find, so I figured I’d pass on some of my own.
Here’s some general advice if you’re considering diving into the e-reader fray:
- If you can, for Cthulhu’s sake go for the Kindle DX with its bigger screen. I have messed with the other, smaller readers — the previous Kindles and the Sony Readers — and while they are indeed cool, I can tell you that the reading experience is immeasurably enhanced by the larger screen size of the DX, which allows for more words per page and an overall smoother, more satisfying time. Of course, if you wait just a few months you’ll see a slew of new large-screen readers hitting the market, so that’s something to consider, too.
- There are several really excellent free e-book resources that you’ll want to look into for stocking your e-reader: Feedbooks, Munseys, Open Library, and more. Plus there is, of course, the longstanding universe of e-texts a la Project Gutenberg, the Internet Classics Archive, and so on. All of the texts at these latter sites can be converted for reading on e-readers. (For some specific advice about doing this on the Kindle, see the next section below.)
- Try to get your hands on one or more e-readers so that you can actually test drive them before making your decision. Short of that, avail yourself of the really excellent online resources — especially the sites offering comparisons of different e-readers — that you can find through some careful searching
ADVICE FOR NEW AND PROSPECTIVE KINDLE OWNERS
Here’s some specific advice for those of the Amazonian tribe:
- Go to the Kindle store at Amazon and check out the top 100 list. You’ll find many free books listed there. Simply click to “buy” them and they’ll be transferred instantly and wirelessly — and free of charge — to your Kindle.
- Contrary to widespread rumor, the Kindle 2 can handle pdfs. It just can’t do so natively, which means you have to take pdfs through a conversion process instead of dumping them directly to the device. The DX, by contrast, does have native pdf capabilities, which is nice, but don’t pay the extra money for it — and it is a lot! — if you’re thinking that one of the benefits will be the ability to use pdfs, since Kindle 2 can do it, too.
- If you’re looking to put your own files on your Kindle, bear in mind that all of them will have to be converted to a Kindle-friendly format, unless you’re transferring pdfs to a Kindle DX. You can do this in one of two ways. In the first you’ll attach the file to an email and send it to your Kindle user address, which you’ll be given when you buy the device. The format is “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Sending files to this address will cost you something like 15 cents each (charged to your Amazon account) and the files will show up in Kindle format automatically on your device via Amazon’s so-called Whispernet wireless connection. But — and here’s the second method — you can also do this for free by adding the word “free” to the address, thus: “email@example.com.” This method will cause the converted files to show up in your email in-box, after which you’ll have to hook your computer to your Kindle with a USB cord (provided with your purchase of the thing) and do a manual transfer.
- Although the Kindle file conversion service can handle many file types, I’ve personally gotten the best results — as in, the most consistent in terms of the resultant formatting — from sending documents saved in Rich Text Format (RTF). Also bear in mind that, as already mentioned, you don’t have to send pdfs through the file conversion service if you have a Kindle DX, since it has that native ability to handle such files. But pdfs are NOT zoomable on the Kindle, and you can’t use the text highlighting and note-adding and read-aloud functions with them. The Kindle just displays pdfs at a single size in a frozen format, as it were, and lets you read them. This being the case, if you’re making your own files to transfer to the Kindle, I really recommend that you save them as RTFs instead of converting them to pdfs, and then send them through the file conversion process in order to be able to take advantage of the various cool features. Also bear in mind that pdf texts can show up as terribly small and difficult to read on the Kindle’s screen, although the DX’s ability to show you texts in landscape format helps to enlarge things. If you have to use or make pdfs for Kindle reading, you’ll want to make sure the texts are plenty big if all possible.