Kindle, iPad 1, MacBook Air.
I last wrote about the predecessor to this device a couple of years ago, having returned mine because the UI was about as bad as it gets. The keyboard was indistinguishable from a bilge pump. Both suck, and the page turn buttons on the long sides were way undersprung, so I was always turning pages unintentionally. It’s the only thing I recall returning – OK there was that awful 20mm Canon EF lens – in ages.
Well, the new one – mine is the bottom of the line $79 model – dispenses with 3G, being wi-fi only, and deletes the physical keyboard in exchange for a button-activated virtual on-screen version. An improvement from the execrable to the awful. This makes the device smaller and lighter, as it’s now down to 6 ounces, and the only time you really have to use the clunky keyboard is when first signing in to wi-fi. UK residents pay $138, 75% more, which will serve to remind them not to try and tax our tea ever again. Call it war reparations.
In the US, Amazon Prime members ($80 annually for 2 day UPS on almost everything, plus free movie rentals – recommended) can also get free access to all the Harry Potter books which is enough to make you want to cancel your Prime membership. Still, you don’t have to read this tripe and J K Rowling has no need of your filthy American money. They have enough worthless paper there already, not least in her interminable, glutinous prose-laden novels.
Such a deal.
This is actually a lending library, so I thought I would get off to a good start and borrowed Michael Lewis’s ‘The Big Short‘ because though I am tall I am also short, if you get my drift. Woo hoo, $9.99 saved already. (Lewis attended my alma mater Salomon Brothers. No, it’s not a Catholic school).
Why am I subjecting myself to this torture again? I want to spend some quality time with our son on the beach and as my earlier piece illustrates, the iPad is useless in direct sun, whereas the Kindle is useless everywhere else. Bright sun is a reasonable bet on California’s beaches, and the prospect of sitting there on me bum like a dope doing nothing would mean early insanity. Swimming? Excuse me, I would rather like to return home with at least two legs attached, rather than with one stashed in the belly of the local Jaws. We are talking Pacific Ocean, here, and those boys gotta eat. Now all I have to do is avoid the discarded hypodermic needles on the beach. So Kindle it is.
The device remains useless for viewing pictures. It automatically downloads software updates unprompted, and did so in my first 30 minutes of use. Nice, if accompanied by more flashing than your local member of Congress in the men’s room at the airport. Unlike your MacBook Pro, there is no telltale odor announcing the fact that you have just fricasséed your gonads, as the Kindle remains perfectly cool.
The weight is so low that it goes unnoticed, one hand operation is a non-event (page turn buttons are on both uprights) and the buttons need a far firmer push on this model, preventing accidental page turning. As before, it comes pre-registered to your customer name and account at Amazon – very nice. Best of all the gadget fits in the back pocket of your Levi 501 button-front jeans, the type Real Men wear, allowing you to do it justice when you next sit down in a forgetful moment.
Finally, not having email etc. means there is no distraction from the old guilt feeling when using an iPad that you have not checked email in the last five minutes or the markets in the last two seconds. That’s not all good, though. Germany loses at soccer, their Chancellor goes berserk and next thing you know the market is up 20% because she was seen making off to the Führer Bunker in the Chancellery with a loaded pistol and a cyanide capsule clenched in her teeth. Well, you will miss that joyous event in real-time if the Kindle is the only gadget you have with you at the time. I suppose there’s always the iPhone and a towel over your head for a quick trade or two while the waves roll in as you twiddle your toes in the sand and broken bourbon bottles.
The regular model is $109 and comes without home page ads; you can pay the extra $30 to remove these from the $79 version I bought, at any time. Smart pricing. These ads are referred to as ‘Special Offers’ which is rather like saying the IRS invites you to file an annual tax return. Your freedom of choice is identical. In practice the ads appear on the home page only and are unobtrusive. The first one I got was for diapers …. maybe condoms will be next? Battery life is claimed to be one month which is Kindlespeak for a week, I suppose. You recharge from any USB socket using the provided micro USB cable. Too bad it’s not mini USB – yet another thing to pack. Mine came 40% charged and was up to 100% in an hour using the MacBook Air as a power source, meaning it should recharge in about 3.5 seconds on a desktop machine. Switching wi-fi off is the best bet for battery life and trust me, only true masochists will keep it on for web surfing.
The Kindle continues to suffer from inept synchronization design. Amazon makes much of how a book read on one device, say an iPad, will be synced to the same location on any other, say a Kindle. They call it ‘Whispersync’ and I call it ‘Bollocks’. In practice if you choose to re-read a finished book, no matter which page you leave it at, all devices will think you are at the last page, and there is no ‘Reset’ button. Gee, how hard is that to do? The simplest fix I have found is described here and it works well. I reset my finished book on the MacBook Air, and then all other devices thought I was at the beginning, or whatever location I set it to on the MBA. No biggie, but really, Amazon!
And don’t ever dare hit a footnote reference because it’s back to Bollocksync and all your devices will once again be at the back of the book. Reminds me of my 10 years dealing with US Immigration. (OK Immigration and Naturalization, though there was nothing Natural about the methadone cases behind the counter). Any time you made an insignificant error on one of their interminable forms, it was back to the end of the line. About that time I recall entertaining serious thoughts about joining the Communist Party and lying on my application. I imagine they were running a pool to see who could accomplish this sadistic ‘back of the line’ trick most often. “Yo, Phil, I did sixteen today!” Once such victim in the line in front of me had a fully fledged nervous breakdown when this treatment was visited on her. Needless to add, she was French. I suspect the software designers at Kindle must be the same ones who work on Fuji cameras or INS forms. Neither ever uses what they create and sure as hell none of them are Americans.
There’s also a ‘Shop in Kindle Store’ option which is rather like asking an amputee to use chopsticks. Yup, that keyboard again. Buy your books using a Mac or iPad, then sync the device. Life is too short for the alternative. I challenge you to find the fiction work you want from the catalog of 504,779 titles and counting. This year’s US Budget will make it 504,780.
One special feature is the ability to rotate the screen orientation whereupon, in landscape mode, the device’s buttons take on all the utility value of a eunuch looking for a spot of fun in a harem. Don’t go there. (The landscape mode; the harem’s fine). However, in flipped portrait mode it works well, moving the button pad to the top. It’s not used when reading and the long, side-mounted page turn buttons fall more easily under the fingers. However owing to another bit of coding genius from the chaps at Amazon, the home page advertisements do not invert which is either wrong or inspired. Probably inspired, as the first ad I saw upside down was for AT&T proclaiming the might of its 4G cellular telephony. Upside down it looks more like 1/4G, which is about right.
Finally, there’s a web browser under the mysterious menu choice of ‘Experimental’. After personal discussions with Jeff Bezos, I can disclose here for the first time that Bezos took my comments to heart and that the choice is being renamed to “I just crapped my pants”. I know this as I just looked up this site using the Kindle after a few hours of virtual keyboard input, and it looked like s**t.
Use with cellular wi-fi? No problemo. My iPad has Verizon cellular (the working alternative to AT&T in the US; AT&T is like government – you pay and nothing happens); fire it up, switch on the personal hotspot on the iPad and login the Kindle after seventeen attempts using the virtual keyboard. Works perfectly. You even get that little symbol on the Kindle telling you that magic is happening and this is not your grandfather’s wifi. You know, the kind in every Dell computer.
Hemingway on the Kindle in the sun.
The ability to change font sizes is welcome.
More when I have got through some more Hemingway. But take it from me, this is very much a single purpose device, designed for reading in bright light only. No idea if it does Chinese. Fair bet it does. Anything else, fughedaboutit.
First field test results:
On the beach at Half Moon Bay
Battery life – update July 23, 2012:
I kept wifi off except for downloads, read seven full length books since I bought mine on June 28, and the battery was showing dead with wifi on and maybe 10% left with wifi off. So Amazon’s ‘four week battery life’ is more like three weeks as long as you leave wifi off, which is not so easy, as after switching it on for a download, you have to dig into the Settings menu to place the device in ‘Airplane Mode’ which is Amazonspeak for ‘wifi off’. A full recharge using the USB cable took 2 hours.