I’ve finally weakened. After years of waiting for a tablet which could be viewed in the sun I bought a Kindle Paperwhite when it was on offer. I love books and maybe this is the reason why I didn’t buy one sooner. I like the feel of the book rather than just the reading of it. Kindles always look a little bit silly by comparison. I bought one for my daughter a couple of years back and it did slightly change my mind but not enough to take the plunge.
Surprisingly the thing which finally tipped me over the edge is my desire to improve my French. I like reading French magazines and newspapers and also to read English novels which have been translated. I was looking at the specification and it suddenly dawned on me that I could use the power of the Kindle to translate words I was struggling with rather than have to lug a dictionary around with me too. Also there are plenty of English classics for free in French in the Kindle library. More on how that worked out later…
First impressions when you open the box are just how basic it is. Back in the day something of this capability would have enormous manuals but, like the Apple portfolio, this is a wade-in product. It is amazing how set in your ways you become about a user interface. It took me a day or so to be comfortable with the navigation back to the home screen. I also think the design of the power switch in the same bay as the power cable is a bit clunky but it shows that I am automatically assuming I won’t use standby. I went for the wifi only option because I couldn’t envisage being that desperate to buy a book that I wouldn’t be able to download it over wifi. If you are used to a tablet screen the Kindle screen will be a little surprising with the occasional moments of reverse monochrome, smearing and lag. It’s a small price to pay for what the reader does extremely well though.
I bought the Kindle just in time to go on holiday and this demonstrated the first feature/challenge of the reader. I like to use reviews to help me choose a book. I also like to browse a wide choice before plumping. Personally I find I can’t do this adequately without using Amazon on either a tablet or PC. The Kindle doesn’t offer particularly easy sorts of searches. If you know what you are looking for you will be fine but otherwise you will have to wade through a lot that you don’t want to look at. I am not interested in which books which are the most popular and I found I was being presented with a lot of chick lit.
I got a good variety of books – love a novel, some history, some humour, a guide to wherever we are going and a couple of other things which take my fancy so that I can work my way through even the longest flight and holiday. In the age where airlines really limit baggage size and weight this is a great way to avoid extra charges. Immediately I hit the greatest difference for me. I realise that I have to finish a book before moving on to another one and so I keep only one on the go at any time. I can feel how much progress I am making by seeing how far through the book I am. The Kindle breaks down the barriers to dabbling in more than one book at time and I found myself skipping between three books at a time. I don’t really know what to make of this. It feels wrong because I’m not used to working in this way but it is quite liberating being able to pick up where I left off easily in the book that best fits my mood. Particularly if I am trying to read in French: I can’t do this for long before the sense of inadequacy sets in. Another slight negative is that typically we would take a few books with us and then swap than around. The Kindle is very much a solitary device and so although you may save on packing your companions may end up taking as much as ever.
The reading itself is good with the exception of the charts and graphs. Photographs in black and white are as expected but I was reading Capital in the 21st Century and some of the charts don’t scale well. Text is easy to read and you can set the size to suit your eyes. I could read the Paperwhite beautifully in bright sunshine and I wish the same technology could be developed to replace tablet screens. It would transform the market. My Dorling and Kindersley Guidebook didn’t work as well as I expected. Maps are a crucial part of the guide and these don’t display well. Navigation between sections wasn’t as slick as I would expect. Maybe a further application or format could improve on this but until then I am going to still be buying travel guides. I do still have clumsy fingers for either turning pages, highlighting or capturing and still find myself turning too many pages accidentally. Those extra features are surprisingly usable though. I like the idea of highlighting parts I want to think about, seeing what other people have highlighted and having easy definitions.
The translation feature is very good. With the standard dictionary I could highlight a word and then have a choice of translating via a web connection. Quite good, and better than having the dictionary to hand, but not what I was really looking for. I bought the Collins Robert Concise French-English Dictionary and now I can just highlight a word and the translation comes straight back. This is exactly what I was looking for and is great for anyone learning a language. As you can email text to the Kindle I can imagine a lot of students using the feature really successfully. Another nice touch is that any word translated can become a flash card which is a good way of checking you have remembered it…or not in my case.
Battery life is excellent. If you set the brightness levels correctly and switch off wifi it will last any holiday comfortably without the need to take one more charger with you. I still don’t find it comfortable to hold with the case I’ve chosen but it is no worse than a book. Overall I’m really glad I’ve bought it. The size, shape and weight are real features and the variety of being able to swap between books is something that is growing on me. It reflects increasingly the way I listen to music, watch TV and use the tablet. It probably doesn’t speak volumes about my concentration levels but so be it. Kindles are now at a price point where you don’t have to commit to them as your sole source of reading. For anyone learning a language, or any other subject for that matter, it is probably justified on the additional features.