Reading an old book can be a very sensual experience. Pick it off the shelves of your study and the aroma of the ageing paper wafts up to you, as do the memories that are tied to it. Your school days, spring cleaning with your family, the leaves you dried between the pages and the friends that you lent it to…a book carries all of these with it. The charm of a book also lies in the fact that it too ages with its owner… Dog ears, torn pages, peeling covers and even the silver fish!
But today and in the future, we are going to be reading books in an entirely different way – digitally. The ebook and its reader are not in the realms of science fiction anymore, nor are they inevitably elitist.
After more than a handful of companies joined the race to digitise our reading experience and the consequent crash in prices happened, the urge to go digital is likely to take over the minds of many more readers.
Will you marry convenience and digital permanence or would you rather stick with the frailty of a paperback? I pondered over that question, with the new Amazon Kindle DX in my hands. How close is it to the experience of reading a real book? Here's what mine felt like.
The Kindle DX has a white body with a plastic finish that feels very nice to hold. The device itself is probably as thick as a glossy magazine. Once slipped into the executive-looking leather cover that the Kindle is shipped with, it could easily pass off as a personal diary in your hand; it weighs as much.
The bezel has the Amazon Kindle logo on the top with the 5-way scroll and menu buttons to the left of the panel. The keyboard has keys fit for a baby's fingers! With the space dedicated to the keyboard on the bezel, they could have easily designed slightly bigger keys to make typing easier. Our guess is that this has been done in accordance with Kindle's statement that ‘the top design objective was for the Kindle to disappear in your hands'.
The Kindle DX has an inbuilt accelerometer that can be locked in any viewing mode while you read an e-book. When you rotate the unit, the 5-way scroll adjusts itself to the viewing mode and you can navigate through books and menus easily.
The best part about the Kindle DX was the e-ink display. It was nothing short of brilliant and when we say brilliant, for a change, we don't mean impressively backlit with brilliant colours. We mean it's a black-and-white, no-frills display which is as easy on the eyes as reading a book, if not better. Apart from the letters of the alphabet, the keyboard has four special function keys — Caps Key and ALT to the left, and Text Size Key and Symbol key to the right of the space bar.
One feature that will actually save you a lot of fretting and fuming is the Kindle DX's ability to synchronise last page read between devices. Suppose you fell asleep while reading the 16th page of Atlas Shrugged, the next time you open the book on your Kindle or any other device where the Kindle app has been installed for eg. the iPhone or iPad, it'll directly take you to the 16th page when you select that book stored in your unit.
With this feature, the Kindle is ahead of its competitors but the likes of the Barnes and Noble Nook are trying to quickly catch up.
Organising the Home screen is easy if you do it as soon as you transfer a single file from the PC or download it from the Kindle Store. Do not procrastinate because you'll then have a long list of files and categorising each one can be a tedious affair (you can't select multiple files and move them to a folder).
You can create new Collections on the unit, name them to your liking, and move files to these Collections. So you can have one folder containing all books from your favourite author, one for sci-fi novels and another for music or audio books and so on.
You can choose to view your content sorted according to author name, collection name, book title or the most recently chosen file.
You can add a note or highlight only on books purchased from Amazon and not downloaded samples or e-books that you've sourced from elsewhere.
We tried a couple of audio books on the Kindle DX and the audio playback was clear and loud enough to be heard in a book club of ten people or more. There isn't much you can do with audio books except skip forward or rewind the track.
The Kindle DX comes with 4GB memory (3.3GB of which is usable), which, the company claims will allow you to store up to 3,500 books, periodicals and documents. Despite this, an expandable microSD slot would have been a sensible addition, considering most e-readers these days have it.
The wireless connectivity of the Kindle DX was ace. It detected and almost effortlessly connected to a hotspot where even the iPad failed. Connecting to the Kindle Store didn't take long either.
The samples that we downloaded from the Amazon Store were delivered to the device and displayed on the Home screen within minutes of us having chosen it.
With a couple of books downloaded from the Amazon store, we tried the Text-to-Speech option provided. It had three reading speeds and a male and female voice to choose from, but the enunciation was slightly…well, robotic. Also, not all the samples we downloaded had this option.
The battery life of the Kindle DX was very impressive. Running on the extremely low-power consumption display and with the Wireless turned off, the Kindle can easily go on for more than a week without running out of juice. You can either plug it into your computer and charge it via USB or connect it to a socket with the U.S. adapter provided.
Close to 15 e-book readers were introduced last year and about three or four have been launched this year already with the Acer LumiRead L600 being the newest kid on the block. What beats the Kindle DX is the fact that most of the rival companies like Sony Portable Reader ($399), the dual-screen enTourage eDGe($499) and QUE proReader ($799) have a touch screen interface, which makes reading an ebook as close as reading a paperback. Surely, its glaring absence is felt in the Kindle DX.
Although the e-ink makes reading on the device a pleasure, we couldn't help but wonder how beautiful certain magazines would look on the Kindle DX if only it supported colour.
Yes, you also won't be able to read at night with the lights switched off because the Kindle's display isn't backlit. But the absence of a backlight means there's no strain to your eye whatsoever when you read it under ambient light. This is also the reason why you can read the Kindle's display even under direct sunlight.
While the grapevine is rife with rumours of a full-coloured version of the Kindle being worked on, the competition has already been flagged off with Fujitsu pulling the covers off FLEPia — an 8-inch e-reader that displays books and images courtesy a proprietary colour e-paper technology - last year.
The Kindle DX would have been perfect if only the user interface was touch-based and incorporated a colour display. The spruced-up version of the Kindle DX will be the first to be based on E-ink Pearl that offers about 50 per cent better contrast and ‘sharper images, darker fonts and clearer text', but no colour yet. Amazon has recently slashed the prices of the Kindle DX. It could be well worth a try if you are not considering using a tablet to do the job of being your e-reader.
LOVE – E-ink display, long battery life
HATE – Lack of touch interface and colour
With some books you might want the fonts displayed to be bigger. But refrain from increasing the font size. Why? If you increase the font size you'll have to scroll horizontally to finish every line displayed and this is a rather slow process. Instead, switch to landscape mode where all the text fits the width and the display is bigger and better. The size that the text can be tweaked to varies from one book to another.