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Third Generation Kindle

In mid-January, at the end of my post about Robert Crais’ latest crime novel, The Sentry, I said a few words about e-readers:

I started The Sentry Sunday night on my iPad, because it’s what I happened to have at hand. But yesterday, when I set about reading the book in earnest, I switched to the Kindle. It’s still my preferred e-reader, unless I actually want the distraction of being able to check my email and the blogs every few minutes. But distractions aside, it’s so much easier to hold for extended periods of reading. Holding an iPad with one hand isn’t feasible. Holding a Kindle and turning pages with one hand makes a huge difference. And just imagine how much better the experience must be with the third generation — lighter still, better contrast. In two days, I won’t have to imagine. My new Kindle will arrive.

I have meant since then to write about Amazon’s third-generation Kindle. I started a post a week ago, but got no further than pointing out that in the preceding six weeks, I had read four books on it despite lots of other obligations, concluding that I couldn’t seem to put it down. It’s one of the reasons I did so little blogging in February, and why unread New Yorkers and New York Reviews of Books are piling up everywhere.

I know this is difficult to believe, given that the new Kindle is only a little smaller (same screen size though) and a little lighter than the old one, but I felt as I read those four books that for the first time, I’d rather read a book on the Kindle than read the book itself. Before, I would read on the Kindle for the convenience, especially when traveling. And because it’s lighter and easier to hold when lying down. And because I save on the space the books take up in the house, and usually on cost too. But I never felt I preferred the Kindle-reading experience.

What’s different now? Here are my guesses. I mean, I know what’s different about the Kindle. The question is, what about its differences makes me enjoy reading on it more? And my preference for reading on the Kindle is an observed fact, but without immediately obvious explanation, so I must guess.

1. The reduction in size of the Kindle, and reduction in weight too I suppose, allows me to hold it in one hand more comfortably than I could its predecessor. Both are easy to hold with the thin dimension pinched between thumb and other fingers. Now, though, I can put my hand behind it and hold the full width in my palm, whereas before I could do so only with a bit of hand stretching.

2. The better contrast between the e-ink text and the background makes reading more natural, at least in good light. In low light I don’t notice an improvement in contrast. With sufficient direct light, the text pops out in a way it doesn’t on the Kindle 2.

3. The black color of the body allows the Kindle to disappear into the background more than the white body of the Kindle 2 does. The less obtrusive keyboard helps too.

4. The quieter page turning buttons create less of a distraction, both aurally and in the way pressing them feels.

5. Having buttons on both the left and right sides to turn back a page is vastly more convenient. In the Kindle 2, one could move forward by pressing a button on the left or a parallel button on the right, but to go back, one had to push a smaller button that was on the left only. The new Kindle has mirror image buttons left and right — a larger forward button and a smaller back button. Since I usually turn forward with my right hand, I used to have to grab the Kindle 2 with my left when I wanted to go back, with the result that sometimes I just didn’t bother turning back even when I wanted to check something. There was some sense, conscious or unconscious, that doing so was a nuisance. Now going back feels as natural as going forward.

6. The surface of the new Kindle is different, a little textured, not smooth like the Kindle 2. At first, I didn’t think I would like it, but now I prefer it.

The next books I want to read happen to be ones I own in hardcover. And there’s a novel I want to read — Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad — that I almost downloaded for the Kindle in January, only to be warned by an Amazon reader review that this would be a big mistake. The reviewer explained that there are chapters written in Powerpoint, and that these “chapters are extremely difficult to read on the Kindle. The print is so small and the back grounds so dark that even a magnifying glass was little help. The font size selection feature on the Kindle did not work on the ‘slides’ for those chapters.” As it turns out, the novel comes out in paperback in two weeks, and at a lower price than the Kindle price, so I’ll order the paperback edition.

But here’s the curious thing. I’m deferring reading these books. I’d rather read on the Kindle. Or maybe part of the point is that I’m deferring starting another book altogether, so I can get my work done and make a little headway on my magazine backlog. Whatever the reason, I miss the Kindle experience.

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Categories: Books, Technology
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