Sunday, February 24, 2013

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

I never really felt the need to have an e ink based reader.  I've been doing long form reading on mobile devices for a long time starting with the pea green soup 160 x 160 screen on the palm III.  From there I moved up to an ipaq pocketpc and then finally the iPhone.  I've always been quite comfortable reading novels on iPhone sized devices.  I just liked how light and small it was; how very easy it was to hold it in one hand.  Staring at LCD screens for long periods of time doesn't really bother me.

The biggest issue I've always had with e ink readers was the requirement of a light source.  That's because I like to do most of my reading in bed, and I wouldn't want a light on that disturbed my wife.  Having some sort of external mini book light sounded ridiculous to me.  What was this the 80's?  So when the Nook Simple Touch With GlowLight was released I started to take notice of e ink again but still didn't really see the need for one.

So when my younger son mentioned he preferred "primitive" paper books over reading on his iPad I figured something had to be done.  It was time to consider an e ink device again because that is supposedly the closest thing you could get to paper without actually having paper (I'm all about reducing clutter these days since we recently moved).  Also, it's a new toy I could check out but no this wasn't for me.  This was for my son to help encourage him to read more.  Yeah that's the reason!  Time to go shopping.

My research began with looking at the 3 most notable e ink readers with a built in light.

Nook GlowLight: $120.  It was the first one out and so is a bit behind in technology.  It has a lower 800x600 resolution screen but supports epub which is my preferred ebook format.  I already have quite a collection of epub files in dropbox.  The way the lighting is implement also is less even and older tech than the other devices.

Kobo Glo: $130 (best buy).  This has the latest tech in screen and resolution 768x1024.  It also uses newer methods of lighting the screen that produces better and more even results.  It's a tad bit pricier though.  It has epub support and incredible flexibility on customizing the look with the ability to adjust justification and even the weight and sharpness of the font.  Kobo is definitely a lesser known brand compared to the other two.  Battery is NOT replaceable.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: $120 with special offers.  I don't mind the ads that much since you only see them on the home screen or when the device is off.  You will never see them while reading.  Besides,  you can always pay the $20 extra later if you want to opt out of the ads.  It has the same great tech as the Kobo Glo and the same resolution.  It has a layer called the light guide which spreads the light more evenly and only lets out light down toward the screen beneath it where the guide lets it.  What it lacks are some of the customization options.  I really wish it had a way to set justification though there are some work arounds I'll discuss later.  It doesn't support epub which was a bit of an issue for me but not insurmountable.  Kindle uses the mobi format.  One odd thing is you can't actually completely turn off the light while reading.  You can adjust the brightness really low though.  The only time the light is completely off is when you "turn off" the device (while it displays ads).  It has 2Gb of non expandable internal memory which should be plenty (about 1000 books).  Battery doesn't seem too difficult to replace.

Why e ink:
- Most paper like reading experience.  Works great in sunlight
- With the light models now it works great in the dark too.
- Incredible battery life.  Kindle is advertised at 8 weeks with 30 min per day.  That comes out to around 28 hrs of battery life.  Power is only needed to paint the pixels (and for the light).  Image is retained after that without power.
- Light doesn't shine directly toward you so it should cause less eye strain.
- Size and weight is like that of a typical paperback.
- Cheaper than a 7" tablet.  No distractions.

Some disadvantages:
- Painting/refreshing the screen is a bit slow which can be distracting to some.  It doesn't bother me at all.  Forget about ever displaying video on one of these screens.
- No color so I wouldn't want to read comics, manga, magazines, or PDFs on this thing.  A 10" tablet is much better for that.
- No distractions.  They are designed to do just one thing and one thing really well though they do have some limited web browsing capabilities.  The paperwhite even dropped the audio capabilities.  There is no headphone jack so that means no text to speech either.

I went with the Kindle for a few reasons.  Amazon is probably the biggest name in books so you have a lot of support and a large library of ebooks to choose from.  They own audible too so their whisper sync works across your kindle, kindle apps on iOS/android/pc/mac, and also compatible audio books.  This allows you to read on any device and stop and pickup where you left off on any other device and even between listening to the audio book and then later reading where you left off.  It works well and is really convenient.  It's well supported by most libraries though most libraries do epub too.  You get some advantages being a Prime member like the ability to borrow books for free.

I also picked up this screen protector for $15 for 3 and the official leather case for a crazy $40 (UPDATE: Try this cheaper $7-9 alternative).  The case is really nice though if over priced.  The kindle snaps in snug and the magnetic cover turns the Kindle on and off like the smart cover on the iPad.  It just feels really good in your hands.  You might also want to pick up a usb charger since one is not included.  I didn't since I have plenty of usb chargers.  The screen protector is probably overkill in my quest to make this thing as child proof as possible.  It's also cut pretty close to the edge so it's very difficult to position correctly as there is almost no leeway.  Having the screen sunken in a bit and having to work within the edge of the bezel makes things just that much more difficult.  Here are some tips I always follow when putting on screen protectors.

I highly recommend calibre which lets you basically convert between many ebook formats.  I used this to convert my epub collection into mobi.  This usually works quite well preserving all images and formatting.  Converting from other formats like word or pdf gets you more mixed results.  I personally don't care for the gui or the library aspects of calibre.  Luckily calibre supports conversion by command line.  I wrote some hand batch files to help simplify the process.

Save this into a .cmd file then drop a shortcut into your send to folder.  Now you can just right click on any epub file from file explorer and select the shortcut from send to and it will convert the file to mobi in the same directory.  This one is good for converting epub to mobi.

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Calibre2\ebook-convert.exe" %1 ""

This one does some formatting to help cleanup conversion from PDFs (note: I prefer left justified):
"C:\Program Files (x86)\Calibre2\ebook-convert.exe" %1 "" --change-justification=left --remove-paragraph-spacing --title="%~n1" --title-sort="%~n1" --pretty-print --remove-paragraph-spacing-indent-size=.5

Run this one from a cmd prompt and it will batch convert all files in the current directory:
for /r %%i in (*) do "C:\Program Files (x86)\Calibre2\ebook-convert.exe" "%%i" ""

Do NOT convert to the newer KF8 format since for some absurd reason the kindle personal document service cloud storage doesn't support it!

There are a few ways to load books onto the Kindle. You can always tether and go through usb. Of course you can easily download any books purchased through Amazon over the cloud.  You can also use the buit in browser and hit  Click on any .mobi file and choose download it and it will appear in your device's library.  The final and most convenient and feature rich way is to use Amazon's personal document service which gives you 5GB to upload your own content which is a LOT of books.  Storing your own books in amazon cloud lets any kindle app/device easily download it from the cloud tab from within the app.  Also, this is the only way to get whisper sync to work across apps/devices with your own books.  To upload your books you could always use the custom email address which is provided with every kindle device/app.  It works but there is a bit of a lag before it gets processed.  My preferred way of bulk uploading is using their Send to Kindle windows (or mac) program which integrates nicely with file explorer.  Just select multiple files (up to 25 at a time) in file explorer and right click | send to kindle.  You can login to the amazon web site to manage your documents.  One thing I noticed that is lacking is a bulk delete.  It's very tedious if you want to delete many books out of your personal documents.  Luckily there is a handy bookmarklet that works great.

Highly recommended.  The kindle really is great for long form reading being easier on the eyes and just the right weight and form factor.  It's light on your wallet too.  Whisper sync really is great letting you read on your tablet, phone, or the paperwhite and just seamlessly pick up right where you left off.  Amazon also has a pretty good selection of free books and many public libraries support the Kindle.  I recently finished the game Spec Ops The Line which I found really quite good.  It was a very underrated game in my opinion.  I might have to write a review on it someday.  Anyways, the story got me interested in reading Heart of Darkness which I never had.  Well, it's free on amazon so it was simple enough to grab it right from their store.  It informed me of the free audio book on audible so I grabbed that too.  So now I can listen to it in the car with the audible app on my iPhone during my commute and continue reading at home on my iPad, iPhone, or Kindle and pick up right where I left off. It really is hard to beat that kind of convenience.

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