A friend of mine told me the iPhone is the invention that has most changed her daily life since the World Wide Web. After using Amazon’s Kindle 3 for a while now, I can give it similar praise. As the New York Times wrote, “New Kindle leaves rivals farther back.”
Obviously, it’s not an iPad. It doesn’t do color, touch-screen, games, video, etc. And that’s the whole point. The Kindle is for reading, and it is designed to do that one thing very, very well.
As the new TV ad shows, reading outdoors on the iPad is a pain, but you can read the Kindle anywhere because the dynamic screen is literally printed with ink, just like a book. Even indoors, reading on the iPad gives me a headache after a while – for the same reason that reading a computer monitor for a few hours will make you drowsy. But reading hour after hour on the Kindle is like getting lost in a great novel.
The battery lasts for over a week, and it will fit in your back pants pocket or the pocket inside your suitcoat! And, a warning: seeing an entire book appear on your Kindle literally 5 seconds after clicking ‘Buy’ is addicting. Don’t get carried away and go broke!
This technology is a godsend to academics and students, who have hundreds or thousands of pages to read – papers from JSTOR, classic or contemporary academic books, modern textbooks, and so on. Now you can pack all of them into your pencil-thin Kindle and read them at the beach or the park.
My Kindle 3 Tips
First, you can stock up on classic texts from Homer, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Aquinas, Hume, Galileo, Newton, etc. for free, which are already available for free from the Amazon store. Just search Amazon’s site for the titles you want, click ‘Buy Now,’ and they’ll be delivered wirelessly to your Kindle.
You can also buy thousands of recent Kindle-formatted ebooks (or Audible-formatted audiobooks) and have them delivered immediately to your Kindle. Unfortunately, ebooks are not much cheaper than the paper verison.
On your Kindle, organize your texts into collections. Hit Menu -> Add New Collection and give it a name. On the Home screen, highlight a book, hit the right-arrow and choose Add to Collection. Once it’s added, click Home and move another.
For reading, I adjust your view. Hit the Aa (text) button to switch the orientation and the text size. I prefer landscape orientation for reading PDFs, and portrait orientation for reading Kindle-formatted documents (including reformatted PDFs). Also, check word definitions in-text by using the arrow keys to move the cursor to the word for which you want to see a definition. The definition will pop up automatically.
Next, convert your PDFs. You can read PDFs on the Kindle just fine, but there are three reasons to convert them anyway. First, the text-to-speech feature (Shift+Sym) can’t read PDFs, so if your eyes get tired then you’ll be glad you converted your PDFs first. Second, the Kindle must show the PDF as formatted, which sometimes isn’t very readable on the Kindle’s small screen. If you convert your PDFs, the Kindle can re-format paragraphs to match your desired text size and screen orientation. Third, the Kindle cannot search text within PDFs.
You can convert PDFs by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ‘Convert’. But these PDFs can only be so big, and sometimes Amazon’s conversion service is slow. For that and other reasons, I highly recommend you download Calibre.
Calibre is an extremely well-designed and easy-to-use ebook management program that is free on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It recognizes over 30 ebook readers, can convert dozens of formats, and much more. Watch the video tutorial. You will be impressed.
During installation, you can tell it your ebook reader is the Kindle 3, and it will automatically configure itself to convert to the right format, to deliver converted documents to your Kindle via email, and so on. Then you basically just drag and drop all the PDFs you want to read on your Kindle into the main program window, fix the author and title tags, highlight all the books, click Convert Books -> Bulk Convert to convert them all to Kindle format (MOBI). Then if you have your Kindle plugged in, you just click Send to Device, or else you can send the converted files to your device wirelessly by email.
Calibre has a lot of other awesome features, such as downloading news from hundreds of sources and converting them for easy reading on the Kindle. It can also download the metadata and cover images for your books automatically. One thing, though: Calibre can’t convert DJVU files, so for those I convert to PDF first with a free PDF printer like Bullzip.
Get a reading light. The Kindle is not backlit – that’s why you can read it for so long without a headache – so if you’re reading in the dark you need a light just as you would with a book. I bought this one, which runs on batteries and clips onto the Kindle.
Also, load up your Kindle with music. The Kindle is not a media player, so this feature is really meant for background music for reading. You can only pause and play (Alt+Space) your music or skip (F) to the next track. Kindle will play tracks in the order you added them to the ‘music’ folder via USB. I mostly put ambient music on my Kindle. You probably have tons of music on your phone, anyway.
Install the Kindle app on your computer, phone, iPad, etc. It won’t be as nice to read on those screens, but you’ll have your books available there.
Finally, create bookmarks, notes, and highlights. To add a bookmark, just hit Alt+B. You’ll see the corner of the page get “earmarked.” Hit Alt+B again to un-bookmark it.
When reading, I create very short notes and highlights on the Kindle, because working with the Kindle’s tiny keyboard is obviously not as fun as doing the same thing on a computer. Later, I open these notes on a computer so that I can type my longer thoughts into a text document or an article I’m preparing or whatever. (For example, I highlight a passage I want to quote in an essay I’m writing.)
To highlight a section, move the cursor to the start of the passage you want to highlight, hit the center button to start highlighting, move the cursors to the end of the passage, and hit the center button again to finish (or hit Back to cancel). Highlights appear lightly underlined.
To write a note, move the cursor to the right place and just start typing to create a note. I usually only type one to five words that will jog my memory, then choose Save Note. Notes are shown with numbered superscripts.
To access all your highlights, notes, and so on (with links to the original text) on your computer, just visit kindle.amazon.com and sign in!
The basic model Kindle is only $140. You can add unlimited 3G (cell phone towers) connection for a total of $190. If you prefer a bigger size so it’s easier to read PDFs natively, you can get the 9.7-inch DX model for $380.
Now, what am I missing? What’s your favorite Kindle tip? And why the frack can’t I hit Alt+NextPage to jump ahead 10 pages?
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