Kindle Touch

A few months ago, I got what was then the latest Kindle, and though I had been a little skeptical about reading electronic books (I can be a bit of a curmudgeon), I found that I really liked it. My chief complaint about the device was how hard it was to take notes. Depressing those tiny pill buttons was infuriatingly slow, to the point that I — who have never been in love with the lack of tactile feedback when tapping buttons on the iPhone — resorted to something like text-speak when making notes to make it less painful.

So when the Kindle Touch came out, I pre-ordered excitedly. Here at last would be an inexpensive e-reader I could easily take notes on while also sparing my eyes the strain of staring at a glowing screen.

Although I’ve owned the Touch for several weeks now, I’ve read only one book and a few smaller things on it, and I sort of hate it. The thing is sluggish. Page-turns take forever, and tapping to call forth and use menus takes a day-and-a-half. While I found the interface of my older Kindle pretty intuitive, on this one, I can never remember exactly what I have to do if I want a menu (to add an item to a collection, for example). Sometimes taps are interpreted as drags and vice versa. It’s so very easy to accidentally turn a page with an incidental touch. And it just doesn’t feel as good in my hand as the older Kindle; it’s thicker and heavier, hard to hold comfortably without making the aforementioned incidental contact. The typing interface is fairly usable (certainly better than hardware buttons), but I’m not at all convinced that the typing fix is worth the many other inconveniences. And to top all that off, the Touch has spontaneously rebooted a couple of times in the last couple of days, losing my place in the book I was reading.

I’m thinking very seriously about seeing if I can send the Touch back in, either to trade for the newest line of the regular Kindle or for cash back.

Tactile Buttons

One of my major beefs with the iPhone has always been its lack of tactile buttons. I’m not much of a texter anyway, and I’ve always figured I was probably less of one because I find it awkward to type on buttons that give me no tactile feedback when pushed.

This week, I’ve learned to some degree to appreciate the lack of tactile buttons. The Kindle has little buttons that you have to press firmly until they click, and it really slows my typing down. I find myself wanting something between what the iPhone offers and what the Kindle offers, a much more subtle physical indicator of a button press than the Kindle offers but something, at any rate, besides a tiny audible click.

I’m reminded suddenly of a difference I noticed years and years ago between keyboards for the Mac and the PC. This would have been in a college computer lab way back in 1995. The PCs (which still ran Windows 3.something if I recall correctly) had these great big clunky keyboards with ponderous keys that you just about had to mash with your elbows to depress. But when you switched to a Mac for some reason or another, you had these soft delicate keys that didn’t plunge and click so much as ease downward to a soft, springy terminal point. It was harder on the Macs to know you were typing individual letters because you lacked the definitive audible and tactile click, but there was something nice about that more gentle tactile feedback.

I’m undecided at this point on whether I’m coming around to the iPhone way of doing things or whether I’d like some tiny feedback when I push buttons. I do know that I wish the Kindle required just a wee bit less finger strength, which would allow me to take notes at least twice as fast as at present.

Taking Notes on the Kindle

I finally got a chance last night to try my Kindle out in earnest. One thing I’m hoping it’ll help me do is (if I can get over the urge to skim because its being a device makes me feel as if my reading of it can be perfunctory) to do a better job of taking notes. When I’m out and about with a book or am just bumping along reading casually, it’s easy to forget to make annotations. With the Kindle, I can make notes or highlight things any time I want; if I have the device on hand, I can add meta-data to my reading. For example, I sparked up Tom McCarthy’s Remainder last night and right away started noticing that he’s playing with boundaries and a sense of interiority and exteriority. From the moment I noticed the theme, I was able to add a note or a highlight any time I noticed a relevant bit. If I had been reading in a book without a pen to hand (or in a book I didn’t own), I might have made a mental note but forgotten it. Now I have breadcrumbs on my Kindle for when I wish to go back and reconsider my initial reading of the book. This is very handy.

The problem with annotations and highlights is that they’re kind of a pain to add. Using the tiny little arrow buttons to scroll to my place in the text is less than pleasant, and typing a quick note (for this non-texter) is arduous as well. And I sure wish there were a comma button among the default  buttons; I’d gladly sacrifice a quarter inch of space bar for a comma, but I now have to take notes in short, clipped sentences and separate lists with periods or no punctuation at all (or figure out what button sequence will cause a comma to be inserted). Taking notes, in other words, is pretty slow going.

The dream experience would include a tactile screen that I could touch, tap, pinch, or whatever to highlight or insert an annotation. I could then speak into the device and have the audio note saved. Voice-to-text software would then attempt to transcribe my audio note into a text annotation that I could correct after the fact (which would then feed back into training the device to understand my particular accent). Of course, there are barriers such as storage size for audio files and just the computational bits needed to accomplish such a thing. I’m sure the price point for the device would skyrocket with such things added. And I’ll bet the iPad or other devices have such features or have a roadmap that includes them.

But I have a Kindle. Still, I like the thing so far, and I’ve trained myself to some degree not to read perfunctorily. This could turn out to be a very good device for me, if not for my wallet.

Kindle Rent to Own

Before I begin reading in earnest on my new Kindle, I plan to finish up the library book I’m currently in the middle of. It’s not a public-domain book, so I can’t get it for free for the Kindle. In fact, I can get it cheaper in paperback than for the Kindle. But it’s frustrating to have the device sitting there unused while I read a borrowed book. I don’t necessarily want to own this book, though, and certainly not for $12 (I’m cheap).

It’d be nifty if Amazon had a rent-to-own option. The idea is that you pay a buck or two per week to have a book downloaded to your Kindle. When you’re done, you check it back in and pay no more. If you keep it long enough that you’ve paid the full price for the book, then you get to keep the book.

While I balk at paying $12 for a book I’ll skim once and never read again, I wouldn’t balk at paying $2 to have it for a week. It’s so easy to buy an iPhone app at the very low price point even if it’s something you don’t anticipate using long-term. I think that throwaway books are similar. Amazon’s losing my money by not giving me an option like this. I would rent loads of books at $2 a pop but will decline to buy the Kindle version at full price.

First Impression of the Kindle

At last I’ve decided to join the modern world and get an electronic reading device. I settled on the Kindle for no terribly compelling reason. A device that supports more open formats might have been wiser, really, since a big part of what I’m interested in is carrying old, public-domain (free) classics with me to catch up on when there’s not something new (expensive) I’m wanting to read.

I’ve played with the thing only a little bit, and my very first impression is that I’m going to have to make some adjustments to how I approach the device. When I glance at web sites on my phone, I’m usually doing very cursory reading, and the temptation to gloss over what I’m reading has carried over to my use of the Kindle so far. In the very wee bit of reading I’ve done (just the first few screens of a couple of sample downloads so far), I’ve been in electronic reading mode and so have been involuntarily skimming. So step 1 of learning to read on the Kindle will be to force myself into an awareness that the books I’m reading on it are in fact real books and not things to be merely skimmed.

More, perhaps, once I’ve had more of a chance to read. For the moment, I’m off to read the real paper book I had begun last night (Lolita, one I’m long overdue for and somewhat dreading).