Angry Robot


I am now the proud owner of a Kindle. It was an extremely generous birthday present from my sisters. I’ve been researching and discussing ebook readers a lot with my pal Ari – it’s a fascinating emerging market. I probably wouldn’t have shelled out the bread for one at the moment, but I’m certainly happy to have one, to learn about its capabilities, and to learn more about the entire field.

The screen is a wonder. It really has to be seen to be believed. When I first looked at it I thought the “plug in the power cable” message and diagram were a sticker on the screen, but no, that’s how things look. Virtuality has never looked so physical. It literally uses no power unless you’re turning the page.

The font is actually really nice – a serif that’s flirting with sans. You can adjust the text size, but not the font, which struck me as odd, if the sort of thing Apple would do, and you sense that this product is very much the result of an emulation of Apple’s attention to design detail.

The interface leaves a lot to be desired. Your instinct is to touch the screen, but no, you’re stuck with a nipply little joystick, a keyboard(!) and a handful of other buttons. The low refresh rate of e-ink displays make it feel klunky no matter what, but that’s one of those tradeoffs that goes with the territory. Luckily, most of the time you’re just going to be pressing ‘next page’, and that works fine.

You can buy books from the Amazon store on the Kindle itself, and as I’m sure you’ve heard, they get zapped near-instantly to the device, thanks to its always-on cell radio or whatever they call it. You can also plug in to your PC via USB and transfer things that way. There’s also a free app called Calibre that can work like iTunes to your Kindle’s iPod, and will also convert files (including Epub, PDF, RTF, HTML) into Kindle-optimized formats.

You can store thousands of books on this thing, so I loaded it up with some public domain Dead White Guy Classics via Feedbooks. Also, my current book is James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover, an enormous hardcover that gets tiring to lug around. I had previously downloaded a pirate .rtf ebook of it (which I feel was within my moral rights, doncha think) to try and get it on my iPhone on those days I wanted to carry my camera instead of a half ton of paper, but the document converted poorly. Calibre did a great job and now I can consume hard-boiled political conspiracy fiction in a much lighter package.

Back to that cell network connection. Here’s where things get shady, probably because the towering death lords we call the Canadian telecommunications oligopoly have entered the room. In the US, you can do the following with your Kindle:

In Canada, you can do none of these things. Also, every transaction has a $2 surcharge added to it, so a $10 new release becomes $12 and a free public domain book becomes $2. I think what is happening is that Kindle doesn’t yet have a deal with Rogers, Telus or Bell, so the prices reflect the ludicrous roaming charges that those companies bill to AT&T. No one even knows what network this thing is connecting to – none of the parties involved will talk about it. That suggests negotiations are still ongoing. Be that as it may, the last thing we Canadian nerds needed was another sign of what a technological backwater we have become.

If you were going to hold out for a future, more awesome ebook reader, I can’t say I blame you. It seems like a new one is announced every day (Nook, motherfucker!), and undoubtedly future models will feature touch screens, colour, will fire lasers & brew killer espresso. And in Canada, you may want to wait unil Sauron, Hitler and Emperor Palpatine (or whomever manages the affairs of our telecom providers) allow the device to reach its true potential.

Regardless, right now, the experience of reading on this thing is quite pleasant, as is the slim size, and the generous storage. It’s the Tardis for book nerds, and I’m definitely happy with it so far.