Friday, September 3, 2010

Kindle 3 Second Impressions

After having a little more time to settle in with the device, I'm getting more comfortable with what it can and can't do, at least with the current firmware. But more importantly I've started actually reading on it, and that's an experience I can't fault.

But first, a warning: after discovering Feedbooks and in particular the essential Kindle Download Guide, which is a MobiPocket-format e-book with hyperlinks to all the other Mobipocket free content they have, things became... strange.

After downloading a couple of texts (because there's some great old stuff there including many beloved childhood classics: Edgar Rice Burroughs! H.P. Lovecraft! E.E. "Doc" Smith!), suddenly the Kindle froze and rebooted... and then a couple more and it rebooted again... and if I attempted to add a book to a collection, instant repeatable reboot. Try and read any of what I downloaded, instant reboot.

The only way to resolve this was to remove the Download Guide e-book completely. I can't say why, but that thing is evidently anathema to the Kindle 3.0 firmware - even though reading the guide itself was fine, simple having it on the device rendered the device unstable. Remove that, however, and suddenly all was well.

And so I began to settle in, beginning with Accelerando, which I've mostly been reading in bed at night or in the early morning. And here the Kindle ... well, it Just Works(tm). The display is clear and easy to read in just about any lighting conditions, enough so that I wouldn't bother springing for a case with light. I do, however, seriously regret not getting a plain leather case when I ordered the Kindle, because the shipping on the case alone is quite expensive (Amazon by not actually calling the new Kindle something distinctive haven't made it easy to know what case fits what device, so I have no idea whether anything I can order in New Zealand would suit it or not).

The next-page/back buttons on the side of the device work well so I've never had a problem getting comfortable and holding the Kindle with either hand. It hasn't yet quite "disappeared" for me yet, to the point where I've forgotten that it's there, but when reading it I'm definitely able to get into the flow of reading just as well as if it was a print book.

Now, things that don't work so well: well, the Webkit-based browser built into it is a mixed bag. The most baffling thing of all about it is that you get no control at all over font size in pages, even though regular desktop browsers all provide this and so does the Kindle itself for e-texts. This means that you're always forced into using one of the zoomed-in views to read the teeny-tiny text which is clunky and just... ugh, especially for pages with navigation sidebars.

However, pages designed for mobile phones are mostly a joy on the Kindle. Plain Gmail has the teeny-tiny-font problems and runs very slowly (and has crashed the browser outright at least once). Mobile Gmail is just perfect, though; it was good on a Symbian S60 phone and it's equally good on the Kindle. The stand-out exception where neither works well is Google Reader, since the mobile version isn't good even on phones where it uses numeric keys for its limited interactions, which means that the Kindle's alpha-oriented keyboard makes for an even worse experience. Not that I'd want Google Reader except that a quality RSS reading experience is something that the Kindle is crying out for and is unavailable outside North America.

Apropos of which, the regional availability is just driving me nuts, and there doesn't seem to be any way around it. Although the Steam Game Service has a lot of the same region problems (including Australia/NZ being charged over 3 times the USD price for some games), at least there gifting is an option, or would be if I knew anyone in the U.S. willing to help. There's no gifting for the Kindle, however, even for items where the print version can be gifted.

So, while I'd like to get Illuminatus! again (and I could briefly find it on my Kindle before it fully region-locked itself, which is why it's on my Amazon Wish List), I can't. I'd like to (re)read some other books like some Thomas Pynchon and Infinite Jest but even though for some of those I know Kindle editions exist, Amazon won't even show me the items existing at all in e-book format unless I find the URLs for them externally via Google.

So, most of the content I actually want for the device I simply can't buy. Fortunately there are other sources of e-books I can use, and I can see that the Kindle definitely will still increase my reading volume. If only it wasn't for the bizarre region-locking it would be an unhesitating recommendation, but as it is I'm not unhappy and definitely looking forward to a Wi-Fi DX joining the line-up. It also won't be supplanting my print subscription to The Economist as the Kindle version is remarkably expensive and doesn't give access to the Web version, something that comes with a print subscription; and although I'd found that out already while looking for content after ordering the Kindle, now that I actually have the device it's vanished off Amazon's web site for me now - it's evidently region-locked, and thus hidden by the "doesn't exist" filter. /sigh

Update: Oh yeah, one small thing I didn't pick up on before buying the Kindle is that it uses a Micro-USB B connector, like the slimline Nokia phones (e.g. the E71) do. Which is fine and dandy, no problem, except that generic Micro-USB B cables are stupidly hard to get hold of at the moment, at least in New Zealand - no-one carries them retail (except as an overpriced Nokia accessory) and there's only one vendor on TradeMe selling cables. That problem will hopefully go away over time but right now I have no spares.

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