I finally bought a Kindle the other day after finding that they were back in stock at Amazon.com after the Christmas rush.
I was ordering books for a forthcoming trip to Italy, and after putting a couple of high quality Blue Guides into the basket I realised I needed another, less cultured and more practical guide, so looked at the Lonely Planet.
As much as I dislike this series, they are useful for when you need to know about rail connections rather than obscure architectural trivia.
However, just as I was grimacing at the thought of having to lug this 1,000 page monster around when I’d only be checking it for details a few times, I noticed a Kindle version was being offered alongside the traditional book, and at a slightly reduced price.
A quick check revealed that the Kindle was in stock, and suddenly I envisioned the weighty tome being transformed into a small slim grey slab, which could also be stuffed with other documents, the ones I usually print out and staple together. A practical solution, even though I realised I would most likely never be reading novels from the electronic newcomer.
The Kindle arrived a few days later, and now, after a couple of weeks of use (or rather, non-use), I can say that its purchase was a mistake.
The moment I saw it I knew that this device was not going to be as revered and respected as my iPhone 4 or Nikon D7000.
The Kindle is just a very limited device in a medium which is clearly still in its infancy. Sure, its promise and premise are startling, and has potentially the same appeal as the iPod first had : you could have your entire collection with you at all times.
With the iPod, however, you still retain your earlier medium. Your entire CD collection gets processed and stuffed into the device, leaving you with both, the mobile lower quality version, and the full files on your CDs for blasting out on your fancy hifi.
The Kindle is different, and crucially so. That large book collection you’ve been building up over the last few decades isn’t going to appear on your eBook reader, not unless you’re prepared to buy them all again in digital form.
It’s rather like the shafting we all got in the vinyl to CD switchover back in the 80′s.
Perhaps some richer folk don’t mind that, and obviously it is they who are the main target for the device : kids brought up in the digital age wouldn’t be affected, but they don’t read books anyway.
Aside from that, which in itself is something of a deal-breaker, we come to the actual reading experience. The screen is fine, and easy on the eyes. The navigation, however, is horrendous. Clunky and unintuitive, all users of iPhones will constantly find themselves touching the screen, somehow hoping that it has suddenly become touch responsive in order to obviate the awful clickfest that ensues any time you want to locate something within your tome.
Maybe for novels this wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but for reference materials it is annoying.
A few days ago I discovered that Kindle has an app for the iPhone which I dutifully installed and found I could download and read all of my purchased eBooks in style.
What a difference, even though the smaller screen is less pleasing to read: being able to navigate by touching headings, turning pages seamlessly by swiping the screen, having maps in colour and being able to activate links directly in a real web browser.
The iPhone will be coming to Italy, not the Kindle.
I only purchased one other book – a large compendium of poetry, which I thought might be nice to dip into. Unfortunately this was not to be – like most of the shoddy free stuff you can fill your Kindle with, this eBook came with no index or contents page, rendering navigation impossible. The illustrations too were missing, replaced by ugly placeholders.
My regard for the Kindle can be seen in the way I treat it – instead of buying a fancy case, it resides in a tatty yellow paper bag.
Obviously the Kindle has been a big hit in its latest incarnation, and sales of eBooks at Amazon have eclipsed those of paper, but for me the device is of little immediate use.
Perhaps it would be more appealing if, aside from the navigation woes, Amazon were to adopt the policy of throwing in a free electronic version with every real book purchase, just as the surprisingly large number of musicians releasing on vinyl include a free CD or MP3‘s. Then you could enjoy the best of both worlds.