December 30, 2011

Summer before last, I voiced my opinions regarding various issues I saw with regard to Kindle ownership. Well, those people who know me (or follow me on Facebook) could tell you I now own a Kindle... I'm quite taken with it, actually. So what's changed, you might ask?

First, let me tell you what hasn't changed. Kindle books are, for the most part, still encumbered with Digital Rights Management (DRM) protections. This means you are still officially beholden to Amazon's services for access to your media - if you were to lose your Kindle, and Amazon decided it didn't want to be in the e-book business anymore, you'd lose all access to your purchases. Fortunately for those people who care enough to do something about this, it is possible to strip DRM from your own purchased Kindle books. I'm not going to explain how; but the information is out there - and since you can only do it for books you've purchased for yourself, I don't see any ethical problems with doing so. Also, if you don't have a philosophical issue with DRM... I'm happy to say that, now, Amazon's implementation pretty much "stays out of your way" from a pragmatic point of view. But still - I look forward to the day when publishers realize DRM does nothing but hurt their honest customers.

Amazon has largely addressed what I previously saw as the biggest sticking points to buying Kindle books. Most importantly - you can now lend Kindle books to other Kindle owners! This really was too long in coming, but I can say it works well. All you need to know is the other person's email address - fill out the simple form on Amazon's site, and it's done! I must point out that DRM restrictions can theoretically interfere with this, since authors have the ability to flag their books as non-lendable (which is patently ridiculous) - but this has not happened with any of the titles I've asked to be lent.

Another previous objection of mine was the inability to give Kindle books as a gift. This, too, has been addressed - and quite well, as I can attest to from my Christmas shopping experience this year. If you find a Kindle book you'd like to purchase for someone, you just need to click on the "Give as a gift" button located immediately below the "Buy" button on the right hand side of Amazon's web page. You can even choose the delivery date, which is handy if the book is intended as a birthday or Christmas gift.

In my previous ramble, I'd complained about having to use buttons to navigate through Kindle books. My point of view has come about 180° since that time - and I should explain why.

Last winter, I had to have shoulder surgery because I'd managed to completely tear a rotator cuff tendon (the attachment of the sub-scapularis, if you're curious). For the subsequent six weeks I was not allowed to use my right arm at all. I was fortunate in one regard, since I'm a southpaw; but if you spend a few moments to think about all those (even trivial) tasks you normally use two hands for, you'll understand the adjustment I had to make.

I knew, prior to surgery, that I'd have a fair bit of time to kill post-op - and, it being the dead of western Washington winter, I wasn't going to be outside enjoying the sunshine! So that was when I broke down and ordered the Kindle. I figured it was light, and it could easily be operated with one hand. But what I didn't know is how quickly you adjust to navigating with the buttons! Now (December 2011) there are touch-screen Kindles available; but frankly I think I'd still prefer buttons if I were buying a Kindle today. The way I tend to naturally hold the device while reading makes it very easy to click a navigation button without even moving my hand. A cozy chair, my Kindle in one hand, a cup of tea (or snifter of brandy) in the other - it doesn't get much better than that!

As an aside, I'd like to add a quick note about the e-ink "pearl" display technology that Amazon's used since the third generation Kindles. It's very impressive - the typefaces are rendered better, in terms of both clarity and page contrast, than in most paperback books I've read. Additionally, the page changes are quite fast, which ameliorates one of the main complaints some people had with the first iterations of the Kindle.

Finally - there are people out there (owners of "rival" e-readers, mostly) who complain that Amazon settled on a digital format known as mobi (or mobipocket) instead of the epub format used by most other readers. Frankly, this is a strawman. For the purposes of book layout, both are equally good. Mobi and epub are just slightly different variants on the "language" the web uses - HTML. If you choose to go with a different e-reader than Kindle, I'm sure you'll still be happy - but be sure to base any purchasing decisions on the features of the reader and the availabiltiy of books, not this mobi versus epub silliness.


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This page was last updated November 18, 2013