Thoughts on my Kindle

I like to read. I’m not saying I’m some kind of über prolific reader, but I do get through one or two books a month, although I like essays, short stories, novellas and such as well. So what I wanted then, was an e-reader to buy books to, which would allow me to drop things in to it from gutenberg.org and other public domain locations, then also white papers and other lengthy pieces of text from the net.

I’ve been eyeing the Kindle for a couple of years, but between the form factor and mainly the price, I hadn’t gone for it, but with the 3rd generation model having a wi-fi only model available, and the then high on the yen vs. dollar exchange rate, I thought it might be time to bite, so I ordered, it shipped, and now I’ve been using it for almost a couple of months.

Out of the box, the device is well packaged, and it simply powers on and works. It’s a good first experience.

I’ll be honest though, it’d didn’t work straight away with the WPA2 wireless in my house based out of an old Apple Airport Express access point. It really didn’t seem to want to try, so I looked at the Kindle Forums, and though people were helpful, the tech level there is as you might expect for a general customer device perhaps – it’s addressed some issues, but some of the reasoning is a little off target – there’s a lot of misunderstanding amongst posters, and attempted clarification by helpers on what WEP is and isn’t, what the SSID is and isn’t, what the password is and isn’t and what are your wireless access point details, and what are your ISP router details. At least they’re polite.

I also tried calling Kindle support, and to be fair, their response was what they promised – I entered my number, and a few minutes later, they called me back. I have to say though, I put in a Japan number, but the response was in English and I don’t think the person had any Japanese language skills, so I don’t know what kind of support a Japanese only speaker would get. (Also, the Kindle itself came set to English with no Japanese instructions, though the cover does have Japanese instructions.)

Anyway, I did get it working, and I’ve put the troubleshooting part of that at the bottom, so we can talk a bit more about the device itself now.

Overall, it’s excellent. The readability is very good – it’s not black and white, but a pulp grey and black, and honestly, with a few pages, I forgot I was using an electronic device. I actually caught myself trying to look at the top of the Kindle to see how far through the book I was. It really is as immersive as a book as far as I’m concerned. The Kindle does helpfully tell you what percentage you have read at the bottom of the screen in place of page numbers which obviously aren’t valid as you might alter the font size and so on, and there all the note and bookmark options you’ll need.

The UI is still a bit odd though. You can make folders, lets say ‘Thrillers’ and place certain novels and stories into it. Great. Except they still show in the main listing as well, which for me means it’s already getting quite cluttered, and I’d like to have all my sci-fi together, my comedy together and reference works together. I’m half thinking I’m missing something on this.

I commute to work on a busy train, and even in it’s leather cover I had no problem holding the Kindle for an hour at a time into work, though they’re not that common in Tokyo, so it did get a few second glances.

Some other notes on the physical device: the battery does last as long as it says – at least four weeks with wi-fi off, and a built in memory capacity of ~ 3GB which I think will be enough for now.

Getting works on to the device and into that memory is interesting. When you enable the device on Amazon.com, you get an e-mail address to which you can e-mail acceptable formats and when you connect via wi-fi, it’ll connect to that address and download the works you’ve sent. This is also the way you get the stories you can buy on Amazon itself, delivered wirelessly via the ‘WhisperNet’. You can also connect the device to your PC/Mac and it shows as a mass storage device on the desktop so you can copy files on to it directly. This is all fine, but for many, knowing what’ll work and what wont is a bit hit n miss, and I might not want to use this clunky desktop approach.

One app I’ve been using to get around this is Calibre, which converts files between formats like ePub (which the Kindle doesn’t support but which is popular), text and so on to the .mobi format Amazon does support. It’ll also e-mail the file to your Kindle account for download. Why doesn’t Amazon offer this functionality in it’s Kindle for Mac/PC app?

Buying an e-book from Amazon is pure simplicity. I bought ‘Daemon‘ by Daniel Suarez and once purchased it really was just pushed down to my device and I could read it within seconds. Excellent. One disappointing note is that many Kindle books are a bit overpriced in my humble opinion – most are paperback price, some are hardback price (like ‘Freedom TM’, the sequel to Daemon, at the time of writing).

Really? For a file which saves Amazon and the publisher all the physical media and shipping? If you look at the tags on many books, people have tagged them as expensive Kindle versions. This is a real shame at this stage of adoption.

Basically then, it’s an iPod for reading, which is what these things were always meant to be; certainly it’s web browser works, but I don’t see much point for it. Some people on the forums slammed it because for some reason they thought they were getting a 140USD iPad. It’s not an iPad. It’s a book reader, and for that it’s excellent. You can also listen to audio books if you like too, which is no surprise since the leader in that market is the Amazon owned Audible.

Overall, I’m really pleased with this purchase, and the Amazon case I got for it. It gets taken a lot of places, and I’ve already read a lot on it, and I can see it being excellent for trips. Again, if you want something to read books on, get a Kindle. If you have more cash and want a media device and maybe read something, then get an iPad I suppose, though I emphasise, reading for long periods I’m told by friends is not as good an experience. I see this Kindle as being something I’ll actually use more than I expected, and that’s always the sign of a good purchase.

The technical bit

Just to cover my out of the box lack of wi-fi activation. So it couldn’t see my SSID, and when I manually entered the details it said it just couldn’t connect. Allegedly being at least somewhat tech savvy, I decided to give it a try from first principles, but I wanted to see where official support channels would get the average user, that is, if my parents had this issue. Firstly, the forums; as I said they are good people, perhaps not overly technical, but definitely keen, but no real answers unfortunately. I called Amazon’s Kindle support line.

The person went through their script and was very polite, but their bottom line suggestion was to go to McDonalds, to a totally open wi-fi hotspot, register/activate the device and then it might work on my home network. There is a McDonalds down the road, but honestly, I wasn’t drunk (my usual requirement to duck under the golden arches) and since I have full control of my wireless system, and consider myself somewhat technical,  I decided to give it a crack. So, I dropped everything to make my system a hotspot and set my Apple Airport Express to factory default – it worked fine. I don’t recommend having anything else on your wi-fi if you do that – it’s not very safe.

I then started ‘rebuilding’ the security – put WPA2 on, made a few other minor changes like the channel, and every was fine. I didn’t get it, then I changed one last setting back to how it had been before: “Connection Sharing” – factory default is to ‘Share a Public IP Address’ whereas I had it set to “Off – Bridge Mode” and sure enough changing that kills my Kindle’s ability to connect to the wireless, no matter what anything else is set to. I honestly have no idea why, and since the box is ~six years old and discontinued I doubt it’s a big thing in the market. I do wonder if anyone can replicate this though.