Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Amazon Kindle

So Halloween is now quietly rotting away like the proverbial pumpkin and it's now time to start looking, dare I say it, to Christmas. And while we've still a good while while to go, I thought now might be a fairly appropriate time to make mention of what is set to be one of the most sought after gadgets on many a list to Santa this year, namely the Amazon Kindle.

The environmental impact of the Kindle has been a topic of much discussion over recent months. There are those who argue that as a white good the Kindle is far from green when taking into account production, shipping and end of life disposal. While there are other who in response, point to the same problems associated with print media; from the trees cut down to make paper, the amount of water and chemicals used in book and newspaper creation, the fact that shipping is much higher when it comes to the daily output of newspapers and periodicals, and the returns policy of many publishers that see unsold books returned and incinerated (sometimes as much as 20-30%)

So is the Kindle a greener alternative when you take these things on board? Well that really depends on personal usage. If you're a heavy reader, buy books new and subscribe to magazines and periodicals on a regular basis, then this might be the device for you. A 2009 study by the Cleantech group supports Kindle's green credentials, saying that with regular use it offsets its carbon foot print after one year. It is essentially, what you make of it.

As someone who reads a lot, I must admit that there are few things I like more than thumbing through second hand books at my local Oxfam or War on Want, and having the actual paper article sitting on my bookshelf, so an e reader hasn't had much of an appeal in the past. However, I do get nearly all my news and academic books these days from online sources, so a mobile device I could easily take up to bed or on the bus/train would be welcome (I don't have a laptop). At the moment I haven't bought or even used a Kindle - the wee man's at that stage in his childhood where he's destroying everything that looks remotely fun and expensive, so I'm going  to wait a while before I make a decision either way. But I thought that it would be a bit pointless posting without any real insight into the device. Therefore, the following review is from my good internet friend Gerry McKibbin...

First of all, you have to make the choice - WiFi or 3Gversion? With around £40 separating the two models, you should think hard before committing to the more expensive option.  I see it as coming down to two factors: (1) How impulsive are you about your book purchases? and (2) do you have a smart phone with internet access?  In my case, I could answer "very" to the former, and "no" to the latter, so I decided to go for the 3G model.  If, however, you're happy to wait until you can connect to your home wireless network to buy a book, or you can already constantly update your facebook status from your iPhone, then save your cash and opt for the WiFi version. 
On arrival, the Kindle appears to have a sticker over the screen saying "welcome to your new Kindle", but on closer examination, it is actually text displayed on the screen itself - a nice introduction to the clarity and readability (is that a word? Maybe I should look it up in the pre-loaded dictionary!) of the screen. After a couple of hours on the charger, they're ready to go.  Each Kindle is pre-regstered to the Amazon account of the buyer, so you're ready to go shopping straight from the word go and the Amazon Kindle store is just a button push away. 

So how does it compare to the old-school approach? First of all, the Kindle may be about the same length and width as a standard paperback, but it is very thin indeed and without a protective case can feel quite insubstantial in your hands.  The screen itself is a light grey in colour and contrasts nicely with the black e-ink. Thanks to the design and lack of backlighting, there is no glare from the screen and it is as easy to read in bright sunshine as a standard paper page.  There are page forward and page back buttons on each side, and a small qwerty keyboard below the screen.  The power switch is on the bottom of the unit, along with the micro-usb input and a headphone socket and volume control. The first thing that strikes you when you open a book is the clarity of the text on the page.  Even at the lower font sizes, it remains sharp and easy to read. Once you're done reading for the day, just switch off and the next time you open the book your Kindle takes you straight to the last page you read.  According to Amazon, it will hold about 3,500 books, but in my experience this is a bit on the generous side - larger pdf
files will take quite a bite out of the 3.5GB memory. 
Because Amazon has foregone backlighting to improve clarity, you'll need a light source to read your Kindle in bed.  Amazon offers a leather case with a built-in light for a mere £50. Tempting as these were, I've managed to find small clip-on LED lights in the pound shop that perform the function admirably. One thing worth mentioning is the battery life. Fully charged and with the wifi/3g switched off, Amazon claim that your battery will last a month.  And while I can't verify that claim just yet, I have to say that the charge meter has hardly moved since I last charged it over a week ago.  So even if you forget your charger, it should last the duration of your fortnight in the sun!

OK, so you can read books on it.  So what else can it do?  With a little bit of patience, a lot more! First of all, the Kindle menu has an option curiously entitled "Experimental".  Selecting this takes you to some of the new features of this model -internet browser, mp3 player and atext-to-speech converter.  The browser has basic functionality but if you just want to have a quick check on your friend's facebook status, or tweet about your latest read it's fine.  The mp3 player allows you to upload and play mp3s, but again functionality is limited - you can only play them in the order you load them. The text-to-speech makes every book sound like Stephen Hawking is reading you a bedtime story - I've been tempted to buy his new book just to use this function!


The Kindle was a bit of an impulse buy for me (see, told you I was  impulsive!), but it's been used every day since it arrived and still  hasn't lost its novelty appeal. There are plenty of sources online for free books (google will reveal all!) and when combined with free Calibre  software, it is a quick and user-friendly solution to managing an  e-library.If you're in the market for a basic ebook reader then the  Kindle comes highly recommended.