The 4th generation Kindle is my first eReader. I bought it shortly after they were released here in the UK. I’ve made light-to-moderate use of it for a variety of books, including fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional reference text. On the whole, I’m very pleased with it, and expect to enjoy it for many years to come.
The display is obviously the most vital part of an eReader, and the Kindle has been very impressive in this regard. Text is generally very clear and readable, with a good level of detail and definition. If needed, you can customize the display to a certain extent. This includes adjusting the font size up and down to a comfortable level. You can also change character/line spacing, margin sizes, and even opt for a serif/non-serif font if you have a preference.
It’s important to realise though that the screen is not lit-up in any way, so you need another light-source to see it. This is what makes the Kindle so battery-friendly, and is partly why you can still read it clearly out in bright sun-light. However, it does mean that the contrast is not as good as you would see on more conventional display devices. It’s still very legible though, so the reduced contrast is unlikely to be problematic for most people.
This is perhaps the second most important part of an eReader – how long does the battery last? If you leave the WiFi off when you don’t need it, then the Kindle’s battery can last for 2 or 3 weeks with light-to-moderate usage. Crucially, the display hardly draws any power except when it’s changing what’s on-screen, so it’s only page turns and other interactions which use your battery.
In practice, the Kindle is pleasant to use and read. It’s very light, and a similar sort of size to a thin novel. Finding a comfortable reading position can be tricky if you want to avoid finger-marks on the screen, but you get used to it. Buying some kind of sleeve or case may help.
Your main interaction during reading is usually turning pages, and this is made very easy using the buttons on both sides. They are designed to be pressed in at an angle, presumably to reduce accidental presses. I still hit them by accident sometimes though!
Other navigation (e.g. through menus or contents pages) involves the directional controller at the bottom. It’s fairly simple for the most part. The menus are clear and quite easy to follow, and shouldn’t cause a problem unless you’re a major technophobe! Navigation within e-books often depends on the book’s publisher though, and not all of them make very good contents pages (if they even make one at all). Free e-books are often particularly bad in this area, and large reference texts can be fiddly if you need to look-up something specific.
You can make your own bookmarks and highlights though, which is very useful. These can be stored for later reference, and you can even see sections which other readers have highlighted. Note-taking is a much less pleasant experience though, as the on-screen keyboard is slow and a bit awkward to use. That’s the trade-off for buying the cheaper model though!
You can store hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of e-books on the Kindle. Organising them all can be a slow process if you have a lot, but you can put each book into one or more collections to make them easier to find. Personally, I found it easiest to download a Kindle application for my PC, organise the collections there, and then import those collections into my Kindle device.
There is a huge range of e-books available through Amazon, including lots of free and very cheap titles. If you have a wireless network connection then it’s a fast and seamless process to get your e-book purchases onto the Kindle – they just get downloaded automatically, and you’re ready to go.
Purchasing e-books is a buyer-beware situation, as quality varies a lot! In most cases, the text itself is absolutely fine, with some occasional minor transcription issues. Layout sometimes suffers though, and images often don’t appear very clear unless they’re just simple diagrams. As such, it’s perhaps best to avoid any books which are supposed to contain important/complex illustrations. Reviews from previous readers can be helpful in this area if you’re not sure.
A number of other features exist to make the Kindle a bit more interesting and useful. The best one in my view is the dictionary. While reading any e-book, you can use the directional control to select any word, and a brief definition will pop-up on the screen. This is great for those occasional words which you just can’t quite figure out!
If you like to read your e-books on multiple devices (e.g. on a computer or a phone as well) then the WhisperSync service is brilliant. It can automatically synchronize information such as your bookmarks and the last page you read in each e-book, making it easy to go from one device to another.
Another interesting feature is the ability to shop online for e-books directly from the Kindle itself (if you have a WiFi connection). I’m on a PC all day though, so I tend just to do my e-book shopping there instead. Nonetheless, the service looks good and is quite simple to navigate if you know what you want.
There are definitely some shortcomings in this device, but I love it anyway. It’s easily one of the best technology purchases I’ve ever made, as it lets me carry around so much wonderful reading material all the time. If you love books, and you’re not afraid of a bit of technology, then I heartily recommend buying a Kindle.