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My First Week With the Amazon Kindle

I was worried that the technology would be distracting while I read but that was not the case

Amazon EC2 Session at Cloud Expo New York

I received an Amazon Kindle for Xmas. It wasn’t a surprise as I put it on the Xmas list my family insisted I provide. My wife had me order it with her credit card to make sure it was exactly what I wanted. The order was placed at the beginning of December to ensure it would arrive on time. It took just four days to arrive here in Montreal from Amazon in the US.

Originally I had the Sony PRS-600 reader on my list. I made the list in mid-November and the Kindle was not available in Canada. But at the end of November Amazon announced it would ship to Canada. Even then I leaned towards the Sony. It was smaller but with the same size screen. It had a touch screen and expandable memory. It was compatible with Adobe’s ePub and other formats. But in the end it was price that made the difference. At the beginning of December a Sony PRS-600 at Best Buy was $399 CDN plus tax for a total of $450 CDN. With a hot Canadian dollar this worked out to $428 US.

The Kindle was $259 US plus $21 shipping and $31 import fees for a total of $311 US which was $327 CDN. The $100 difference was significant and since there was the possibility the Kindle might just become a desk decoration if I didn’t like it I could not justify the Sony pricing. Sony did reduce the list price to $359CDN and even down to $299CDN briefly before Xmas. But that was too late for me. So from the second week of December till Xmas morning I waited to open my Kindle.

Of course I did far too much research on the Kindle. I learned that it used a Linux 2.2 kernel. I found web sites that explained how to get a console prompt on it, use foreign language fonts, and change the screen saver images. I also learned that for all of these hacks to work I would need to ‘jailbreak’ the Kindle and risk ‘bricking’ it. What I did find that interested me was free book sites such as Google books, FreeKindleBooks.org, and the Baen Free Library.

Xmas morning finally came and as is the tradition at our house we each opened a single present in advance of the rest of the family arriving in the afternoon when all the presents would be opened. For my wife Santa brought her a Fuval Edge aquarium. My son received an MSI laptop and my daughter received an iPod compatible clock radio (there was more good stuff in the afternoon). I received the Kindle.

Since the Kindle can only be ordered online its packaging is quite plain since it does not need to attract attention on a retailer’s shelf. The box is completely sealed and you must pull a tab to rip off a strip of the box. Fed Ex and UPS boxes do this well, Amazon does not. The tab to grab is too small. I almost went for pliers to hold the tab. I also got the Amazon leather portfolio case for the Kindle and I had to use scissors to open that box because the tab of its box came off in my hands. But I did get the box opened.

The Kindle is beautiful piece of technology. Although the pictures on the web site are quite accurate, seeing it up close and then holding it in your own hands was a thrill. It is white and you expect to find an Apple logo somewhere on it. It already has an image on its screen telling you to plug it in. It comes with a USB cable and an AC plug. The cable can either plug into a computer or the AC plug much the same as an iPhone. It is usable while it is charging so I proceeded to set it up.

When a Kindle is ordered you must set up an account on Amazon. The Kindle is then registered to you when it arrives. If you check off on the order that it is a gift then it arrives unregistered. But it takes only moments to unregister it from one account and then register it with a new account. Mine was unregistered and so I registered it with my own Amazon account. I had to accept the dreaded One-Click purchase feature. Unlike Apple that encourages one-click but allows you to enter a password for every iTunes purchase, Amazon only supports one-click on the Kindle. Some web sites expressed concerns in the event that your Kindle was stolen. However, if you report your Kindle as stolen to Amazon they will cancel purchases made by the thief and remove the books from the Kindle.

The Kindle uses the cell phone network for purchases. Americans know who their carrier is. Foreign buyers using the International Edition such as myself do not officially know who the carrier is. We suspect that in Canada it is Rogers. I do not know what the official reason is for withholding the carrier’s name. I suspect it is because they are overcharging Amazon and which we end up paying for and Amazon does not want to deal with a grass roots rebellion aimed at a particular carrier.

There is no fee for using the Kindle wirelessly to shop for books. You do not need a computer to buy books; you can do everything from the Kindle. Amazon pays the network charges for your browsing. In the US the price of a book includes the network delivery of the book. In Canada and other international markets Amazon adds an additional fee. In Canada that amounts to $2 US a book. Although there is an Amazon.ca that prices its books in Canadian dollars, all Kindle books must be purchased from Amazon.com and so all prices are in US dollars.

Americans can browse a number of web sites such as Wikipedia, Google, CNN, and CNET. Canadians can only access Wikipedia. Having access to an on-line encyclopaedia is good but since we already pay a premium to buy books I would think carrier X could allow more access. You also get an email address for your Kindle such as ‘[email protected]’. In the US you use this address to email books to your Kindle. There is no email service in Canada.

The book shopping experience is quite good. The response from the web site is excellent and all the features of buying on a PC are there on the Kindle such as reading preview chapters. Once you decide on a book it really does arrive in less than a minute as the Kindle web page promotes. For my first book I purchased Death Masks by Jim Butcher at a cost of $8.59 US which comes to $9.03 CDN. This is pretty much in line with the cost of a paperback book. An American Kindle user would have paid only $6.59 US. It almost makes me think of driving to the US border to buy books. Alas, I would still pay the Canadian price even if I was in the US.

The real test of the Kindle was to read with it. So on December 27 and still suffering from an annoying common cold, I stayed in bed all day and read Death Mask. I found the experience identical to reading a dead tree version. The Kindle’s screen is sharp and clear. The buttons for turning pages are large and convenient. I strongly recommend the leather portfolio cover as it gives you more options for holding the Kindle comfortably.

There are six font sizes you can choose from. I started reading at size 4 with size 1 the smallest and size 6 the largest. By the second hour of reading I was down to size 2. There was no eyestrain. I was worried that the technology would be distracting while I read but that was not the case. It took about six hours to read the 384 page novel. There are 108,216 words. So I was reading at about 300 words a minute which is my average for works of fiction.

Before I put an e-book reader on my Xmas list I read the opinions of people who already had one. The consistent message was that a reader was ideal for sequential reading such as you do when reading fiction. For reading technical documents and manuals these reader were judged inferior to their paper versions. The Kindle now displays PDF files perfectly. However you cannot change the size of the text as you can for a native Kindle text. Coloured text in the PDF is too faint to read. Going to landscape mode helps and so in a pinch using a technical PDF on the Kindle is possible. There is a 9” Kindle but it is not available internationally and it costs more than $500.

I decided on a Kindle for reading fiction. I have only had it for a week so I cannot tell if the Kindle will be a constant companion. I am quite satisfied with it and I have no reservations in recommending it to anyone interested in trying the e-book reader waters. I also recommend an open source program called Calibre for managing the Kindle when it is connected to a PC or MAC.

More Stories By Ken Fogel

In 1980 I bought for myself the most wonderful toy of the day, the Apple ][+. Obsession followed quickly and by 1983 I was writing software for small and medium sized businesses in Montreal for both the Apple and the IBM PC under the company name Omnibus Systems. In the evenings I taught continuing education courses that demystified the computer to the first generation of workers who found themselves with their typewriter on the scrap heap and a PC with WordStar taking its place.

In 1990 I was invited to join the faculty at Dawson College in the Computer Science Technology program. When I joined the program the primary language was COBOL and my responsibility was to teach small systems languages such as BASIC and C/C++.

Today I am now the chairperson and program coordinator of the Computer Science Technology program at Dawson. The program's primary language is Java and the focus is on enterprise programming.

I like to write about the every day problems my students and I face in using various languages and platforms to get the job done. And from time to time I stray from the path and write about what I plan to do, what I actually get around to doing, and what I imagine I am doing.

@omniprof

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