Kindle Touch: Embracing e-Reading

I bought a Kindle Touch over the summer for two reasons: 1) I wanted to take a bunch of books with me on vacation, and didn’t want to pack four hardcover novels and 2) I was jealous of my daughter’s Kindle.

StarGirl, age 9, got the Kindle Touch from her grandparents for Christmas and spent the next six months devouring books on it. Early in the summer the family went to Sandy Hook, N.J. for the day, and I decided to give it a try. I was curious about how well it held up in direct sunglight, which is something my iPad has a notoriously difficult time with.

I read Peter Hamilton’s time travel short story “If at First” and I was satsified. The contrast wasn’t quite as high as I might like — but in average to bright light it was very readable.

I knew a number of my favorite authors had books coming out over the summer, all in hardcover, and while I wanted to read them on my summer vacation to Lake Champlain, I didn’t want to lug all those books along. And, truth be told, I didn’t really want to pay the hard cover price when the Kindle editions were running $9.99 to $12.99.

So I got the Kindle Touch, and my journey toward the digital side was complete.

I’ve always been a fan of print books, and I still am, but since getting the Kindle Touch I’ve read five books — The Lost Fleet: Invincible, Redshirts, Dread Empire’s Fall: The Praxis, Dread Empire’s Fall: The Sundering, Caliban’s War, and Newton’s Wake. I’d read a few ebooks before on the iPad, including all of Peter Hamilton’s Void trilogy, but the Kindle’s form factor beat the iPad’s.

The iPad’s text is crisper, but the device itself is heavier (I’m using the iPad 2; I’m not sure about the iPad 3). The Kindle Touch is the same size as a paperback and like a paperback its as easy to read reclining on the beach as it is in bed or on the couch. There are times I’ve wished for greater contrast (and coveted Amazon’s new line of Paperwhite Kindles) but it never kept me from reading.

Another big advantage, on the island and off, has been the Kindle’s battery life. This was a huge attraction for me in buying the device in the first place; it’s eInk display makes for ridiculously long battery life. I thought the iPad’s 8-10 hours was good, but 8-10 hours on the island is nothing; if you run out of power there, you have to rely on the kindness of neighbors to recharge using their solar panels. This isn’t a concern with the Kindle. I’ve had it for five months and I think I’ve fully charged it three times.

The touch interface is what got me to buy the Kindle; I’d seen previous iterations of the eReader but I didn’t like how you had to use buttons to move between pages. The iPad spoiled me on flicking a finger to move between pages, and it may seem silly, but the tactile interface helps maintaing the “bookness” of the digital copy. It still feels, however remotely, like ready a book when you still to turn pages. The touch interface can be frustrating — I’ve accidentally jumped through entire chapters by making the wrong gesture — but it’s successful 98% of the time.

My biggest complaint about the Kindle is the ads. I bought the ad supported version of the Kindle, partly to save a few bucks, and partly to see what advertisements Amazon would serve up. These have been a disappointment.

As a long-time Amazon customer, the company knows a hell of a lot about me. Every visit to their home page is influenced by that knowledge, but the Kindle willfully ignores that knowledge. The advertising model that funds this ad-supported version means that I get the same ads that my 9-year-old daughter gets: thrillers, laundry detergent, and electronics ads. It’s an odd mix that’s not informed by my previous purchases — where I expected ads for new science fiction books, I got promos for Vatican murder mysteries.

Back in civilization, the thing I like most about the Kindle is how easy it is to buy books. A few months ago I asked Twitter for book suggestions. @AbrahamHanover suggested Walter Jon William’s Dread Empire’s Fall books. Soon after I bought The Praxis, and a few days later I enjoyed it enough to get the sequel, The Sundering. Both were digital purchases.

I’ve been increasingly disappointed with book purchases at my local stores. My local bookstore doesn’t carry new books, and Barnes & Noble has ceded a good chunk of its book space to games and kid’s toys. It’s rare that I can walk into either place and buy the book I want; is far more likely to deliver.

I haven’t given up on print books. I just started reading Alastair Reynolds’s Galactic North in paperback, and I’m always looking for new novels when I’m at the bookstore. It’s just now I’m just as likely to buy the digital version of a book as I am the print version; hell, more likely if it’s a sequel or impulse purchase and I don’t have the time to drive to the bookstore.

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