One of the things that has stood out for me so far in my new job is the vast amount of reading I now have. I’ve always used the commute to and from work to read (study modules for my diploma, journal articles, reports, work related reading etc.), and tended to prefer to read these on paper than on screen. But in this job the volume of reading is a lot higher, and I was conscious of the amount of paper I was using (and also having to carry around between home and work), so I wondered if an e-reader might be a better way of doing things.
I do read a fair bit on my iPhone but I’d never tried a dedicated e-reader. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to borrow a Kindle for a couple of days thanks to BCU eLibrary team. I had a couple of days of travelling so knew I’d be spending a lot of time on the train, so I decided to use the opportunity to see if the Kindle suited my needs.
As some of you may be aware (particularly those of you who follow my tweets), I had a mixed experience with it. I thought I’d share the main pros and cons from my experience as I know there are others wondering about getting a Kindle at the moment.
- Portability – an obvious point, but an important one. I borrowed the older model of Kindle which is slightly larger than the new one, but it was still very portable (even with its gorgeous leather case it easily fitted in my handbag).
- Storage – not only is the device itself relatively small (I can’t fit large hardback books in my bag), but when you consider how much it can store it really does save a lot of space. I’m not sure on the storage of the model I borrowed but the latest model can hold up to 3500 books. I downloaded some book chapter samples, some documents, and it had already got loads on too. Much more convenient than carrying round stacks of papers and multiple books!
- Battery life – as anyone who owns an iPhone knows, battery life is something you get used to being an issue and it becomes normal to have to charge every day. The Kindle battery life however is excellent – it can apparently last for a month which is really handy if you’re going away. I kept the battery topped up when I was transferring files (it charges from the USB) but think I could have got away with not charging it at all whilst I had it. Big plus point for use when travelling.
- Screen – one of the selling points of the Kindle is the clarity of the screen, particularly in bright sunlight. It’s also less strain on the eyes for reading. I have to be honest, I’m so used to reading from my iPhone that I found it strange to have a dull screen, but apparently it is better for reading for any long periods of time.
- Whispernet – for once, a device that just finds internet connection without having to faff about with loads of settings! I downloaded book chapters no problem, although the connection at home wasn’t great so the web browser timed out a couple of times before working. Still impressed though, certainly hope this will become the norm for web-enabled devices.
- Ability to read your own documents – this was the main thing I wanted to test so I was particularly interested in how it handled documents (PDFs, Word documents etc.). You can read both of these on the Kindle but it’s a bit fiddly. You can simply drag and drop PDF files when the Kindle is connected, but not Word documents (more on this in the cons section!). You can convert to Kindle files (giving extra functionality such as resizing text) by emailing the files to your free Kindle email address (there is a file size limit to the free service), but it will only accept files from approved email addresses, which is difficult when you are borrowing (the administrator would need to go into the online account and add your email to the approved list). In theory though, it is possible to read your own documents on the Kindle and that’s definitely a good thing.
- Clunky – if I’m honest, the Kindle did feel like it was a retro piece of technology, and OK I had the older model but it’s still a recent bit of kit! I was very disappointed by the poor keyboard and joystick, and you have to use the joystick to navigate. The Kindle I borrowed was in a lovely case, but the joystick is in such an awkward place that it’s difficult to use once it’s in the case. I thought I’d try it without the case as this was maybe a case issue, but even without the case it wasn’t easy to use. The keyboard was also pretty terrible, though you don’t really need to type much. There is an experimental browser feature on the Kindle and I did test it out and managed to view my blog on there, but I certainly wouldn’t want to actually type anything other than a URL. Maybe I’m being fussy, but it just didn’t feel responsive or easy to use at all.
- No touchscreen – leading on from the last point, I really missed having a touchscreen. As Mark from the BCU eLibrary team pointed out in his review, smartphone users are so used to using a touchscreen that it just seems like a backwards step to not be able to do so. If you want to look at the item from the bottom of the list, you have to scroll through all the other titles (using the clunky joystick) to get to it. OK, only a minor thing you may think, but this drove me crazy!
- No scrolling – I didn’t realise until I borrowed the Kindle but when I’m reading on screen I tend to move the text rather than my eyes (laziness I guess!). So I won’t tend to read a page of text from the top to the bottom and then scroll it up, I’ll just read to the middle and then scroll the text up to read the next bit. It sounds like a really minor thing and I’m sure I’d get used to it (I obviously don’t do this with books), but it really frustrated me that I couldn’t do that with the Kindle, and that I had to read right to the bottom and then wait whilst it turned the page.
- No accelerometer – again, maybe this is something I’m used to because of my iPhone, but I wanted to read my PDFs in landscape mode rather than portrait (due to scaling issues the text was tiny in portrait). I turned the device, and nothing happened. I turned it the other way, again nothing happened. This is because you have to manually (with the clunky old joystick again) select the orientation you want to read. You probably don’t need to change orientation for reading books, but for PDFs with tables and diagrams, I would have liked to be able to easily flip from portrait to landscape and back again.
- Screen size (proportion) – the screen size is adequate, don’t get me wrong (certainly a lot larger than the iPhone screen!), but I found myself wondering why so much space is taken up with a keyboard that you very rarely use.
- Not easy to convert files – so I mentioned that you can send files to the Kindle and convert them to native Kindle format (so that you can view them more easily, change font size etc.), but as my email wasn’t on the approved list for the account, I wasn’t able to test this. There also seems to be a lot of confusion over file conversion and whether or not it costs money. My understanding (from the Kindle Manual which was on the device) is that you can convert files for free as long as you send to the free email address and it is below a certain file size. But then there is a charge if you send it to the non-free email address – why would you do that? I asked on Twitter about converting files and there didn’t seem to be a straight forward answer, even from those who own a Kindle. I guess the Kindle target market is for fiction reading, but I would have thought there must be people other than me who want to read other documents on there (EDIT: this post from Bobbi Newman and the comments prove I’m not the only one) – why make it so difficult? I ended up converting my Word documents to PDFs and then dragging and dropping onto the Kindle, but the text was tiny so I had to read them landscape.
As you can probably tell, I have a lot more to say about the cons than the pros. So to answer the original question: no, definitely not kindred spirits. I have to give it the benefit of the doubt as I do think I would appreciate the emailing functionality if it works as I expect it to once your email address is added to the approved list, but I’m certainly not rushing off to buy myself a Kindle, not yet anyway. To be honest, all the experience has done is made me more convinced that I need an iPad!
Take a look at this e-reader flowchart which is an amusing (but sort of accurate) look at the best type of e-reader for your needs (thanks to @CILIPinfo for sharing). Unsurprisingly, I came out as needing an iPad or iPhone 4. Better get saving then!