By Phil White
As the creaking bookshelves that line my home office and my credit card statements can attest, I love books. Searching for them, acquiring them, reading them. I admit it, I have a problem! I am a hopeless bibliophile.
But recently, after taking advantage of Borders’s misfortune and purchasing three more, 5′x4′ shelves for the bargain price of 40 bucks a pop and already filling 75 percent of this new space, I realized something. I have no more room in my office. The built-ins in the living room are crowded like a poorly merchandised department store during a Thanksgiving sale/melee. Where the heck can I put more books without declaring an expansionist foreign policy and colonizing one of my sons’ bedrooms?
As I was pondering this a couple of weeks ago, I glanced down at my desk and saw my HTC Flyer tablet. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog (forgive me dear readers, I truly don’t sell these in my spare time like a London street dealer), I mostly use this handy gadget as an electronic notebook. What would it be like to read a whole book on this device? I wondered. Could it eliminate my deep, pathological need to acquire new hard copies?
With these thoughts in mind, I downloaded Amazon Kindle for Android, a free app in the Android Marketplace, and bought the Kindle Deal of the Day title, Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century by Eric Raynaud and Sergei Kostin.
In this blog post, I’ll briefly review my experience reading my first full length e-book via Kindle, and in part two, I’ll do the same for the Kobo e-book app, which is embedded in the HTC Flyer, with the added bonus of stylus support (something I can’t use with the Kindle app – come on Amazon, step up for we few, we happy few stylus users!).
$1.99! A good start. Books on the clearance rack at Half Price Books range from $1-$3 but the selection’s hit and miss. Actually, that’s not a bad thing – part of the treasure trove experience really.
Downloading the e-book
Amazon’s proprietary Whispernet technology lived up to its billing, and the book was ready to read within a minute.
The First Chapter
I set the background color to sepia, and reduced the screen brightness to its lowest level, in an attempt to ward off the eyestrain I’ve heard is common with reading e-books on a glossy, color screen. Worked as hoped for the first chapter.
Moving between pages was easy – a tap on the right side of the screen turned the “page.” To highlight text I simply selected a passage and held my finger down for a moment. It’s also easy to make notes with the virtual keyboard in this way.
So far, so good.
Four Chapters In
Maybe it was the fact I’d been staring at a screen for my nine-hour work day, or that it was almost midnight and I was tired, but the dreaded eye strain showed up around the end of the fourth chapter. Curses!
I quickly started chapter five the following evening, thanks to the Kindle app kindly saving my place in the most recent book I’d read. No chance of a physical bookmark falling out (or a two- or four-year-old taking it!), so that was handy.
I found that I could prop myself up in my favorite leather recliner and read the text as easily as I could with a paper version, and it’s possible that I read faster because my brain and eyes are conditioned during the day to work from a screen.
The tablet is heavier than a paperback, and about the same weight as a hardback, so no issues there. I found the seven-inch form factor was most convenient to hold in portrait mode.
End of the Book
e-Book Price: Good
Selection in Kindle Store: Unparalleled.
Delivery Speed: Lighting-fast
Eye Strain: Not as bad as I’d anticipated, but it was the same as working late – certainly an annoyance and may have been more so if I’d read for longer sessions and/or if the book had been longer.
Searching: One inconvenience with hard or paperbacks is the lack of full content search, which Google et al have spoiled me with when using the web. Even the best index in a physical copy can’t match the instant search capabilities of an e-book, which I’d find most useful if using an e-book for research.
Intangibles (his really applies to all e-bookstores, not just Amazon’s): I like reading real books at night because they don’t tax my eyes in the way a computer’s (or, in this case, a tablet’s) screen does. It’s also a pleasure to see how far through the text I can get based on where I place my bookmark at the end of the evening – though, to be fair, the Kindle app does show reading progress.
Going into a bookstore and perusing texts volumes old and new is also a pleasure that e-book shopping cannot provide. In a real book store there’s the possible satisfaction of stumbling across an elusive book I’ve been pursuing for years, or of finding a rare edition. Not so much with the Kindle store – the selection is transparent, the editions are what they are, there’s no waiting game. I suppose it’s a trade of the (non-web) browsing experience for convenience and speed.
I didn’t like the note-taking and highlighting capabilities in the Kindle app, simply because they didn’t allow me to use my Flyer’s stylus. Since high school I’ve liked annotated margins with my scrawl, and I think this practice makes me more engaged with the text. Typing in notes on a virtual keyboard doesn’t come close.
Conclusion: Though impressed by the vast selection, instant downloads and convenience of reading this Kindle book, this limited trial has not convinced me to abandon my beloved hard copies. Even though I’ll need to get creative to fit in more bookshelves. If I traveled more or lived in a tiny New York apartment maybe I’d feel differently.
We’ll see if reading a full book with the stylus notes-enabled Kobo app changes my mind…