Ah, the e-ink reader. For years I've been wanting to try one out but never knew anyone who owned one. Then when I actually bought one for myself, all sorts of people (including my best friend who never thought it pertinent to tell me he bought one) came out of the woodwork and told me how they were enjoying their own e-ink readers.
In any case, for the longest time I was skeptical over the idea of reading e-books because reading them on a computer was uncomfortable both for my back and for my eyes and reading them on an e-reader was out of the question for me because they were being sold for outrageous prices. I had read about e-readers that used e-ink which used digital screens that were supposed to have the clarity and the sharpness of print on paper and how they were supposed to be comfortable to read on while having the benefits of being digital.
But alas, e-ink e-readers were expensive and I didn't know anyone who owned one. So for the longest time I stayed away from e-books and didn't see the need for them. My library of paper books was quite expansive as it was and I didn't need to invest in an e-reader for my reading fix.
Fast forward to early 2010. I had bought the first generation iPad for my wife so she could surf the internet while she breastfed our daughter. (She was complaining of boredom.) The iPad was being touted as competition for Amazon's Kindle so I tried using it as an e-reader. It was an okay experience. Okay, because the apps available to read e-books on it were plentiful, as were the books available for them. On the whole, I quite liked reading on the iPad and didn't really have problems with reading on it hours on end, like most people did.
There left one problem. And it was a major one for me. The iPad was just too damn heavy. One of the reasons I started reading e-books on the iPad was because I was becoming increasingly fed up with publishers releasing new books in large, bulky and most annoyingly, heavy hard covers.
The straw that broke me and my camel's back was the hard cover edition for Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. It weighs over five kilogrammes and is two and a half inches thick. Try holding that behemoth with one hand while standing in a crowded KTM Komuter train heading to Seremban at half past seven in the evening during rush hour. Not the most pleasant of activities, I assure you, even when there's a Murakami tome involved.
Back to the iPad. The iPad is only 680 grammes, which is a huge improvement over 1Q84 but the problem with the iPad is that it spreads its weight over a 10 inch screen and holding it one-handed on a crowded train can be quite tough on the wrist over a very short period of time. So while the iPad is a good e-reader at home, when lying on the bed, it falls short where I need it the most--the long emptiness of the span of time that is called the Train Commute to Work, also known as The Time Wot I Get All My Reading Done.
One day, finally, a colleague brought in to work a Kindle Keyboard (then known as the Kindle 3). I asked to take a look and I was ASTOUNDED!!! with the e-ink screen. So it was true what other people had claimed. E-ink screens really did look like paper. I couldn't believe my eyes. The other thing I couldn't believe was how light the Kindle was. I had imagined it to be as heavy as my iPad.
I contemplated getting one but the price was still too expensive for me. As if on cue, in stepped Amazon. They announced the ridiculously cheap US$79 Kindle and the $99 Kindle Touch. I knew this was the time to get one. I first thought of getting the $79 Kindle but after weeks of soul searching I realised I had so gotten used to the touch capabilities of the iPad, as well as the ability to simply tap a word to define it, I decided that the Kindle Touch would be the better option.
So I bit the bullet, coughed up about RM330 and asked my very same colleague who showed me his Kindle Keyboard to have it shipped from the US for me. Not a bad price, considering Kindle Malaysia asks for RM570 for it and they try to justify the extra cost by giving you a shitty case.
The iRiver Story HD, the e-reader that's being sold by MPH Bookstores and therefore the easiest e-reader to buy anywhere in Malaysia, is still a lot more expensive than my Kindle Touch and goes for RM499, and that's after they heavily discounted it after Christmas from its original highway robbery price of RM799.
The Kindle Touch weighs approximately 212 grammes and is lighter than a typical mass market paperback. I can hold it one-handed in a crowded train, in the loo, while copulating and while playing Wii Tennis matches, no problems. No wrist aches to be had. It features a rubberised back so your fingers do not slip while holding it and grips the Kindle. Very useful during intense, sweaty Wii Tennis matches, trust me.
At first glance, the Kindle Touch does not seem to have any buttons. The front features nothing but the screen, the word "Kindle" on the bezel at the top of the screen, and something that looks like a titchy speaker grille on the bottom bezel.
That titchy speaker grille is Amazon's bizarre design choice for a home button. I have no complaints though; it works as it should. I press it, and it takes me to the Kindle's home screen.
Navigation is done all by touch gestures. Some people prefer buttons to turn pages, but having never used previous iterations of the Kindle, I can't say I miss them. Touching the screen to turn pages back and forth, as well as accessing the dictionary and other menus is natural when you're simply touching or swiping the screen.
There is a slight delay between the time you touch the screen and the time the action you requested is performed but the delay is negligible and would probably only be noticed by users used to Apple's lightning fast iOS devices.
This is due to the technology the Kindle Touch uses for its touch detection. Unlike most devices with an LCD screen that detects the user's fingers directly, the Kindle Touch uses infrared beams that are shot out from the sides of the screen and monitors anything that interrupts those beams to detect finger strokes and swipes. The finger movement data collected from the infrared beams then have to be passed over to the CPU on the Kindle Touch, which then performs the action you requested, for example, a page turn.
If it was just a button, the page would have turned instantly. Even so, after using the Kindle Touch for a few days, the delay becomes unnoticeable and Amazon has released a firmware update that has increased the speed of page turns which drastically negates the complaints somewhat.
The e-ink screen is sharp and clear and obviously very good for reading. It is slightly recessed, thanks to the infrared sensors, and the bezels might cause some shadowing in bright sunlight. That is just a minor complaint however and speaking of sunlight, thanks to e-ink technology, I can bring the Kindle Touch anywhere outdoors and still be able to easily read it in bright sunlight, which is a huge contrast to LCD screens like on the iPhone or iPad.
Unfortunately, this also means the screen is not backlit, and when it's dark I tend to have trouble reading the screen. Reading in bed with the lights off is definitely a no-no and if you need to do something like that, you'd need to get a clip-on reading light or the Kindle Touch Lighted Leather Cover that Amazon sells.
Amazon makes it extremely difficult for Malaysians to buy e-books from them but it is not impossible. I'm glad I've managed to circumvent their region locks because once you get into the Kindle Store, a whole new world of books opens up for you.
Books that have zero to little chance of ever reaching Malaysia are now easily bought and I'm not talking about the obvious ones like Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses but also a lot of indie self-published books that you've never heard of but no less awesome than their mainstream, traditionally published compatriots. Newly released books are an instant one-click buy away. No more waiting for local booksellers to bring them in one or two weeks later (if you're lucky).
And while Malaysians are prone to disrespecting copyright, I am not of that ilk. I tend to buy my books and guess what, newly released e-books are at most $14.99, which is about RM45. Compare that to a newly released hard cover in Malaysia that ofttimes goes for RM79 to RM119. Older books go for a lot cheaper, though not as cheap as indie titles which go down as low as $2.99 and sometimes even $0.99.
The fact that Amazon makes it so simple to buy books from within my Kindle and for them to be able to make it so affordable (the Americans would like you to think that e-books by traditional publishers are expensive but they don't know how expensive it is here) has made me lose all interest in going to a normal bookstore. There, I said it. I don't go into bookstores anymore. Amazon has spoiled it for me and ruined the bookstores. Sorry, but I go where convenience is.
There's also a great secret feature in the Kindle that mostly goes unnoticed. Most people think once you get a Kindle, you are locked into buying books from Amazon. Not true at all. Thanks to a web browser that Amazon conveniently supplies with the Kindle, you can use it to visit other online book retailers, like Smashwords.
You could even visit free e-book websites like Manybooks.net and Project Gutenberg. And get this, you can download e-books from these websites directly into your Kindle, without having to use a pesky USB cable and plugging it into your computer. So no, you are not locked into buying only from Amazon with a Kindle. What's wrong with buying from Amazon anyway? They're the best bookstore on the planet, bar none.
There are other great secret features in the Kindle Touch that I found useful but that would have to wait for future blog posts. This particular review is already getting too long.
Those who think e-books are not for them, those who need to feel and smell the paper in books for them to enjoy it, well, I used to be one of them. But after owning a Kindle Touch, I think I can live without the feel and smell of paper.
A friend once asked me if I'd ever miss paper. I told her, why would I miss it? The study room in my house is a library with walls lined with bookshelves filled to the brim with hundreds of books I've bought over the years, some dating back to my childhood. No, I will not miss paper because paper will never go away, but it has to make space for the oncoming digital storm. Some might say the digital storm is already here.
The Kindle Touch has been the best purchase I have ever made. I thought I liked reading before, but the experience cannot compare to reading on a Kindle.