When Amazon released its Kindle with U.S. & International Wireless, a worldwide version of its previously U.S.-only e-book reader, there was a great deal of disappointment that it was not bound for Canada, at least in my house. Yes, if I moved to French Guiana, I could order a Kindle, but not in Canada.
So, I moved to French Guiana.
Well, not really. However, after having bought my second bookshelf from Ikea in as many months, my determination to acquire a Kindle and move to digital books was at an all-time high. The iPod and iTunes had saved me from being killed by an avalanche of CD jewel boxes when I was able to move my music library from plastic to binary, and I hoped that having a decent e-book reader could do the same.
Finally, after an aborted attempt with a Sony Reader, which stopped working after three days and had a paltry library in the Sony e-book store, I got myself a Kindle. It required an American address, since Amazon will not ship Kindles to Canada, and the purchase of Amazon gift certificates in order to buy Kindle books. I can’t use my Canadian credit card to buy books for the Kindle, but I can buy Amazon gift certificates and then use those to buy the books.
The first distinction between the digital revolutions in books and music is that there is no way to transfer books into digital format that you already own. When I wanted to put my copy of U2’s Achtung Baby onto my first iPod I just stuck it into my PowerBook and copied the disc to iTunes. I’d like a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my Kindle but apart from buying it again in digital format I’m out of luck.
How about the device itself?
It’s pretty damn cool. Using an e-ink display, the screen is easy to read in most light levels and since it’s not backlit it does not tire the eyes in the same way that reading on a computer screen or an iPhone screen does. Not being backlit, however, also means that when I’m reading in bed I need to use a reading light just like with a regular book. The Sony Reader screen is actually fairly comparable, though the Kindle’s has more shades of grey and thus can handle illustrations better.
Two things separate the Kindle from other e-book readers. The first is that with the backing of Amazon the Kindle has access to the largest e-book store. Sony e-books can’t be read on the Kindle, and visa versa, so picking an e-book reader with a selection of books you want to read is important. Since it’s not currently offered in Canada I’m buying Kindle books from Amazon.com in the States and thus it’s America-centric. However, apart from lacking much on hockey and having next to nothing on Canadian politics or current affairs, that’s not really a hardship.
The second advantage that the Kindle has is its built-in wireless. Kindle users are able to browse Amazon’s selection of Kindle books right from their device, buy a book, and have it wirelessly delivered to the device within seconds, all without a computer. Amazon offers subscriptions to a variety of newspapers, with the paper being wirelessly loaded on to the Kindle in the middle of the night for reading in the morning. The one issue is that when used outside of the U.S. there’s an extra $1.99 delivery charge for wireless downloads. Which is not a big deal for me since books can also be loaded onto the Kindle via a USB connection with a computer; however it does eliminate one of the cooler features, at least until the Kindle does make it to Canada.
The fact that Kindle books tend to be a bit cheaper than dead tree books kind of compensates for that, and so if I were out of reading material and say about to board a six-hour flight I’d happily pay the extra charge to download a new book.
The Kindle works as wonderfully as I thought it would, and while I’ve been trapped at home with the swine flu I’ve read through Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed by Brian Cronin and afterwards I did not even have to make space on my Expedit.