Sunday, October 17, 2010

HARDWARE: KooKoo For The Kindle

At the start of 2010 I had several thousand unread books in my house (along with several tens of thousands of READ books) and a Sony Clie PDA that let me read electronic books in PDB and PRC formats (mostly MobiPocket Reader format books). Honestly, if I never, ever acquired another book in either electronic form or the traditional paper version, I couldn't read everything I have left, in my remaining lifetime.

I then started my odyssey to find the right ebook reader for my mother. And, in doing so, I have come up with the right ebook reader for myself. It's not perfect, but I've got my reading list for at least the next two years on my Kindle3. And I'm happy with that as my book-reading solution.

Having looked at the Sony 300, the Kobo (both versions 1.0 and 1.4) and now the Kindle3, I think I can promise you very decent reading experience with all of them. The Kindle3 seems to be the best of the lot, albeit the most expensive. But that price difference is more than made up for in improved reading experience. I quite like the Kobo and that's what Mom has. And she's got a BIGGGGGG family and she's been selling Kobo's like crazy down at the lake. And that's DESPITE having to take not one, but TWO Kobo's back to the store because they bricked up (although the store actually turned the second one into a brick. It was working, slowly, before the store flunkie got his hands on it). Kobo Customer Support alleviated any trepidation she had for continuing on with Kobo's.

And let's face it, the Kobo reader is close to impulse buy pricing now. And it's available in Walmart, so you don't have to dirty your shoes at a Chapters/Indigo anymore. With the new WiFi/Touch version in the pipeline, the 'classic' (it's been out since Mother's Day) version is now selling for $120 and I betcha the cost of a brand new one that it will be a hundred bucks at Christmas. And it you want an ebook version of the  'feel' of reading a book, the Kobo does that really well. It has absolutely no bells and whistles. But you can read for weeks between charges and it's easy on the eyes and easier to hold than most tomes these days. I wouldn't want to try and take Mom's Kobo from here these days. Not without an army behind me.

The Kobo that I tested for awhile with the intention of making it a birthday present for the next gen of my extended family was slower than my Clie. And it didn't have word look up. And, well, check the last post for my complaints list. Otherwise, I really quite liked it.

But I did buy a Kindle3 and I'm happier with it.

I like the ease of one-handed use for the Kindle3. I can hold it in either hand and turn pages forward with my thumb. The screen is crystal clear gray-scale with high contrast in e-ink. Page turns are so much closer to instantaneous as compared to the Kobo, that I had to unlearn my habit of pressing forward with the Kobo while starting the last line of the page I was reading. For the first few days, I had to do a lot of turning back a page to get that last line. Plus, the start up time for the Kindle3 is like two seconds. The Kobo takes it sweet time (between 30 and 45 seconds) to get up and running.

Right there, I had enough to merit spending the $165C, which included shipping and border-crossing levies, to get the Kindle3. But there IS more. There's a keyboard on the Kindle3, so you can look up things. AND a built-in dictionary. It doesn't happen often (I tend not to read Harlan Ellison or much NY Times stuff anymore), but I DO occasionally come upon a word I don't know and can't figure out from the context. Problem solved. Word of warning, the dictionary is NOT complete. Both of the them. So access to the internet is a good thing.

And the Kindle3 has that. It's not a world class browser. More word class, if you know what I mean. Text sites, of which there are STILL a few on the internet, work best. Heavy flash sites are a bother. Too much of a bother. But you CAN use the built-in WiFi to go web-spelunking if you are near a hotspot or a router (like I have hear). The Kindle3 also has primitive MP3-playing capabilities (and yes, you can be playing music while reading. I don't). It can read audiobooks with some aplomb, even remembering WHERE in a particular audio file you might be when you close down. And the Kindle3 will actually give a decent, if mechanical, audio read of a regular text book, presuming the book you have hasn't enabled speech-prevention in its DRM settings.

This being me, there's not one chance in a million that I do NOT have some complaints. I REALLY loved the backing on the Kobo. It was a quilted plastic that made the device easy to grip. The Kindle could do better to emulate. I have a gelskin covering coming that might obviate that. But out of the box, the Kindle clings better and who wants to drop $150 of hardware? There's no number row on the keyboard and no legend for which key combinations you have to use to get them. It's not that it's HARD to figure out those key combos, it is just so much unnecessary memorization for the savings of a little silkscreening. Otherwise, the Kindle3 hardware is there.

The MAIN gripe I have with the Kindle3 is the execrable title browser. It's all text and works as hard as possible to be as useless as possible. It tries to combine the title and author on one line and shows no covers. And the author sorting is by the author's FIRST name. There's none of the series data nor book description that I work so hard to get into Calibre, which I then use to get the books into the Kindle3. (I have since rectified half of that assertion through some programming tricks made available in Calibre). The Kobo might be a johnny-come-lately to the ebook scene, but it's title browser is incredibly better than the Kindle3's version. And this is FOURTH iteration of the Kindle software at this point?

Like the Kobo, I wish the screen-saver would show the currently-reading book cover instead of a random generic graphic from a small list. The powered-down device needs to show SOMETHING, so why not the cover. Unless you might be embarrassed by what that cover shows. (So, make it an option, if you are reading Amazon Love Slaves on the Moon). And of course, those random graphics come in handy when there is no currently being read book. I don't understand why neither the Kindle(s) nor the Kobo don't have this cover art feature. Ah well. At least the Kobo gives you access to the cover when loading the book. The Kindle3 hides it, always starting on the page AFTER the cover. You CAN backpage to the cover from there, but not a lot of people know that.

The ONLY feature a Sony has that Kindle3 users salivate over is text reflow in PDF documents. Many PDF documents come in two-column mode and that's hard for a 6-inch reader to handle. The Kindle3 DOES handle PDF's natively, but frankly it's like reading a magazine with a magnifying glass. You CAN do it, but it's a lot less enjoyable than you would like. Still, in a pinch, it serves. IF, however, you could get PDF's to reflow text, then the world of PDF reading would be immeasurably improved. Reflow is on every non-Sony eReader's list of things to get done. Even Calibre is working on the issue. It will come.

I said earlier in the month that I will be buying an Android-based tablet in the New Year. The READING part of a tablet will be for PDF's and full-sized magazine reading. I COULD have had that already by buying a Kindle DX, but I didn't because it's too big for my book-reading needs. It's more one-handed, although you can rotate the display to use either hand. But big is big and I like to read while lying on my side in bed. Nope, I still believe in a tool for a tool's job.

And for right now, a Kindle3 is a very good book reader.

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