STEPHEN SMITH: The Kindle: A Brave New World for Electronic Devices
I have a Kindle, and I like it.
For years I've avoided e-books and the accompanying hardware. The screens on the reading devices were sometimes difficult to see, especially in bright sunlight. I'd frequently lose my place in the book and couldn't find it again, or sections of the book went missing. The batteries ran down too quickly. Recently published books were not immediately available. Dog-earing a page or underlining a passage was impossible, and if I were reading the book on my laptop, I couldn't easily recline and enjoy the text.
Moreover, I like the feel of a book -- its portability, the texture of the paper and binding and the reassuring heft. More importantly, I can stretch out on the couch and read away, flipping the pages at my leisure.
The Kindle, which is sold by Amazon.com, seems to have vanquished many of these problems -- and thank goodness, they've anticipated other irritating hiccups that can disrupt the leisure activity of reading and transform it into a battle of wits with some computer dude who isn't available to help: "Your call is important to us and we will connect you with our first available representative."
The Kindle is the latest e-book reader and was launched by Amazon.com in the fall 2007. It differs from other e-book formats in that it is a stand-alone device that uses a shielded paper screen on which the ink adheres electronically. Books, newspapers, magazines and blogs are available via Amazon Whispernet, a free transmission system that functions like a cell-phone network, thus making a computer unnecessary.
For those of you who suffer computer phobia, the Kindle is reasonably user-friendly. It comes with a leather or fabric cover that's about the size of a paperback book. The screen is white, and the front size -- and this is my favorite feature -- is adjustable. On the right and left sides of the Kindle are page turners to move the text to the next page or the previous page. The process is simple and reasonably quick. And most readers are likely to find the electronic pages more readable than the pages in a bound book.
The system offers a home page through which the reader can access a welcome message and a Kindle user's guide. At the bottom of the Kindle there's a scrolling "navigation" button that moves the reader throughout the opening format. There's also a "Kindle Store" from which the reader can purchase reading matter.
Books range in price between $10 and $1.99, depending on the age and popularity of the book being accessed, and they are charged to your credit card. The Kindle will also download audio books which can then be transferred to your computer and other devices -- or you can listen to the book or to background music while using the Kindle.
The device also contains a built-in Oxford Dictionary that's accessible while reading the text of a book. If you come to a word you don't recognize, the Kindle will pull up the definition above the text and you can read on. You can also highlight and dog-ear passages and send them via e-mail to your home computer.
Does the Kindle have shortcomings? Sure. The most obvious is that you have to hold the Kindle in its cover or you're likely to hit the "next page" or "previous page" bars. The tiny keyboard located below the screen is usable only by carefully touch the keys with your thumbs. And despite Amazon's efforts to make the Kindle completely user-friendly, it isn't. If you have trouble plugging in the toaster, you probably shouldn't buy a Kindle.
The great convenience is that you don't have to drive to the bookstore or wait a week while your book is mailed to you. The Kindle appeals to the most basic American impulse -- I want what I want when I want it.
All in all, the Kindle is a step forward for both readers and publishers.
Contact Stephen Smith at email@example.com.
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