Read this before you buy a Kindle

Are you planning to buy or give a Kindle this festive season? By Zafar Anjum
06 Nov 2009

Are you planning to buy or give a Kindle, Amazon.com’s beautifully designed e-reader, this festive season? If yes, you should read this blog post.

Do you live outside the US and plan to get a Kindle? If yes, then you must read the following.

But first, a confession. I don’t have a Kindle. Like you, I too want to have one and that’s why I am looking at its pros and cons. There are many questions that bother me—is it worth it and how does it compare to its competitors, especially the Sony e-reader, to begin with.

That brings us to the nub of this blog. Like you, I too was looking for information on this topic and that’s when I came across these two interesting write-ups on the Kindle experience.

Kindle DXThe first one is an essay by Nicholson Baker in The New Yorker (‘A New Page: Can the Kindle Really Improve on the Book’). Like most New Yorker essays, this too is a sprawling piece of American journalism at its best—it runs into nearly 8 pages! So I thought I will glean some relevant points from the essay and present them as easy-to-digest facts for you (if you enjoy reading a piece of fine writing, do click on the hyperlink).

•    The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was grey. And it wasn’t just grey; it was a greenish, sickly grey. A post-mortem grey. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker grey. Dark grey on paler greenish grey was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.

•    Monotype Caecilia was grim and Calvinist; it had a way of reducing everything to arbitrary heaps of words.

•    I asked Josh Christie, who worked there, to recommend a truly gut-churningly suspenseful novel. I was going to do a comparison between the paperback and the Kindle 2 version. Christie suggested ‘The Bourne Identity’ and a book by Michael Connelly, ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’—one of his colleagues at the shop swore by it. I bought them both. Outside, I sat on a bench near L. L. Bean, eating an ice cream, and tried to order ‘The Bourne Identity’ wirelessly from the Kindle Store. But no—there is no Kindle version of ‘The Bourne Identity’. What? What else was missing? Back home, I spent an hour standing in front of some fiction bookcases, checking on titles. There is no Amazon Kindle version of ‘The Jewel in the Crown’. There’s no Kindle of Jean Stafford, no Vladimir Nabokov, no ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’, no ‘Remains of the Day’, no ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind, no Bharati Mukherjee, no Margaret Drabble, no Graham Greene except a radio script, no David Leavitt, no Bobbie Ann Mason’s ‘In Country’, no Pynchon, no Tim O’Brien, no ‘Swimming-Pool Library’, no Barbara Pym, no Saul Bellow, no Frederick Exley, no ‘World According to Garp’, no ‘Catch-22’, no ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, no ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’, no ‘Henry and Clara’, no Lorrie Moore, no ‘Edwin Mullhouse’, no ‘Clockwork Orange’.

•    But say you’ve actually found the book you’re seeking at the Kindle Store. You buy it. Do you get what’s described in the catalogue copy? Yes and no. You get the words, yes, and sometimes pictures, after a fashion. Photographs, charts, diagrams, foreign characters, and tables don’t fare so well on the little grey screen. Page numbers are gone, so indexes sometimes don’t work. Trailing endnotes are difficult to manage. If you want to quote from a book you’ve bought, you have to quote by location range—eg, the phrase ‘She was on the verge of the mother of all orgasms’ is to be found at location range 1596-1605 in Mari Carr’s erotic romance novel ‘Tequila Truth’.

•    …You can’t read your Kindle books on your computer, or on an e-book reader that competes with the Kindle… Maybe you’ve heard of the Sony Reader? The Sony Reader’s page-turning controls are better designed than the Kindle’s controls, and the Reader came out more than a year before the Kindle did; also, its screen is slightly less grey, and its typeface is better, and it can handle ePub and PDF documents without conversion, but forget it. You can’t read a Kindle book on a Sony machine, or on the Ectaco jetBook, the BeBook, the iRex iLiad, the Cybook, the Hanlin V2, or the Foxit eSlick.

•    Kindle books aren’t transferrable. You can’t give them away or lend them or sell them. You can’t print them. They are closed clumps of digital code that only one purchaser can own. A copy of a Kindle book dies with its possessor.

I stop quoting from Barker’s article here. Heavy duty stuff? Read the full piece and you will get more painstakingly noted reasons on why the Kindle is great or not so great (yes, I decided to keep the mystery on!).

The second article that I want to mention here is actually a blog post from an India journalist, Rati Chaudhury (‘Kindling my literary taste’). Rati lives in India and she has recently acquired her Kindle for Rs13,000 (about US$280; S$400). She is generally happy about the e-reader: “Its six-inch screen and e-ink format makes the reading experience almost like a real book. You can even bookmark pages and highlight key messages.” And so on.

But she has some complaints too: “Although I am drooling at this gadget yet there are a few things I wish Amazon will correct. Firstly, it has no backlight so it is not possible to read it in the dark. There are no Indian newspapers on Kindle yet, but I hope that will be sorted out soon. Also Web browser is disabled in the international edition.”

What do you think now? Does an e-reader with a sickly grey screen, no backlight, and a defunct (turned off) Web browser interest you? Hmm…I’m still thinking about it but do let me know if you make up your mind.

Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia dot com.

http://www.mis-asia.com/opinion__and__blogs/bloggers/read-this-before-you-buy-a-kindle

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