Sunday, May 8, 2011

Things I Like About the Kindle

There are a few obvious things that you know you'll like about an e-reader, before you even hold it in your hands. 

There's the amazing portability of enough reading material to keep you busy for years (unless you read a lot more and a lot faster than I do).  You can carry a whole little library around with you (in this device that weighs less than some paperbacks!).  

Then there's the to ability to load something new from Amazon in seconds, when connected to a WiFi network.  (There's also a certain degree of ability to access other parts of the Internet, though it's definitely not what the WiFi Kindle was designed for-- and it shows.)  So far, I much prefer to shop on my regular computer than on the Kindle itself, but it's nice to know that I can get new reading material while on the go (as long as I can find a hotspot).

I knew that I would love all the easy access to free books.   (Technically, most of them have been free for years on-line, but I don't like reading off a computer screen for hours at a time.  Reading from the Kindle screen is nothing like reading from the computer monitor.  It's easier on your eyes, more portable, and more intimate, somehow, if you that makes any sense. (g)) There are many wonderful works in the public domain, and occasionally you'll find a more recent title available for free (as a promotion).  Some people complain about the lack of a live table of contents in some of the free classics, but personally, I tend not to skip from chapter to chapter very much, anyway.  Either I read from start to finish or I go directly to a favorite part (which is fairly easily estimated and jumped to, if you've read it enough to have a favorite part).  Of course, you can often get a version with the live table of contents for just a dollar or two, if it's important to you.  Most of the time, I think I'll be happy saving that dollar or two for something else.

So, those are some of the things I knew I'd like, but while using it these past few days, I've also already found myself appreciating a few other features that I hadn't really thought as much about before purchasing it...

First, no-hands reading.

This may be less of an issue if you typically read hardcovers (particularly those that are well-loved/beaten into submission), but often I find that when reading a book, I must keep at least one hand on it at all times, to hold it open to the right page.  If I want to eat while I read or just not have to hold the book open constantly, I must find something heavy enough to weigh down both sides of the book.  It can be difficult to position the makeshift weights so that they don't either slide off or block the text.

With the Kindle, of course, this is not an issue.  It's so lightweight that holding it up for hours is less likely to become tiring, but if you like (and I find that I often do), you can just set it down in front of you (or prop it up on something, to get a comfortable angle).  There are no pages trying to snap back shut.  You still have to press the button to the page, but until they figure out a way to let you control the e-reader with your mind, I guess we're stuck with that.  ;o) 

Second, dictionary look-up.

When I was young and full of aspirations-- when time seemed to stretch ahead of me in years long and many ;o)-- I was more likely to stop and look up an unfamiliar word when I came across one in a book.  These days, of course, that happens somewhat less often (thank goodness), but when it does, but I find myself less and less likely to bother looking it up.  I rely on context clues.  Educated guesses.  Call it laziness, if you will (though that's awfully judgmental of you, don't you think?).  In any case, I rarely bother to stop reading and flip through a dictionary (or run to the computer).  That's where the Kindle comes in, with its fancy built-in dictionaries and look-up system. 

I have to say, I'm impressed.  I've tried out the Kindle's default dictionary a few times already and found it very useful.  You just move the cursor to the front of the word you want defined, and up pops the definition.  Hit another button if you want to read more about it in the dictionary, and go back to your book with another single tap, when you're done.  It's so quick and painless, I think I'll be looking up unfamiliar words more often than ever!

Third, status bar (and "status dots").

When reading a non-digital book, I like to be able to tell at a glance approximately how much I've read.  It's just a useful thing to know, and it can be motivation to keep reading or save the last few pages, depending on your mood.  I hadn't really thought about the fact that when reading a digital copy of a book, you might not be able to gauge the length of a book so easily.

Fortunately, whoever designed the Kindle did consider that.  There are no page numbers on a Kindle, but at the bottom of every "page" (screen?), there's a thin, unobtrusive progress bar indicating how far you've read in that particular book-- and the numerical percentage of the book you've read (40%, for instance).  Another neat little feature is a tiny inverted triangle that marks where you were when you started reading in this particular "sitting". 

Something I think I'm less likely to use, but which is also potentially nice to know about is a row of "status dots" below each title in the Kindle's "table of contents"/home screen.  Under each title, there are a row of dots.  You can tell two things from these dots.  First, the length of the row varies in relation to the length of the work.  (I'm not sure how it's calculated, but you can tell at a glance whether it's a short story or a lengthy novel.)  Second, the dots become emboldened to indicate how far you have read in the work (which is how it works as a status bar). 

In closing, I still like it. (g)

(Incidentally, I opted for the slightly cheaper "Kindle with special offers", and in my opinion, the ads and offers are completely unobtrusive.  They only show on the screen-saver and in a thin band at the bottom of the "home" screen-- never when you're actually in the middle of reading something.  I find them very easy to ignore-- if anything, kind of interesting to look at-- but then again, I'm not easily bothered by non-noisy and non-pop-up ads, in general.)

...Well, enough rambling about that for now, I guess.  :o)