Kindle (part 1)

it_overview

The Kindle is an electronic book-reader from Amazon. It has a place for certain tasks on a boat.

Less than 10 years ago when this website started, there was a piece of hardware called a Palm Pilot. At the time is had the vast majority of the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) marketshare. There were add-ons for make it into a camera, digital barometer, scanner, MP3 player and eventually it morphed into a phone (all though not so successfully). This web site had pages on the Palm Pilot (and still does as archive pages), we used it as the first piece of equipment to let us send emails from the boat…

But that was then and 10 years is “forever” in the computer industry. We do have an interest in dabbling in the less expensive toys that become available and an equal interest in watching others dabble in the more expensive ones. The Amazon Kindle crept down into the price range to where we are willing to gamble on something new.

Over the last couple of years Amazon has brought out a product named “Kindle”. There are various configurations: large format, regular format both with or without keyboard and each of these can either be WiFi or both 3G and WiFi. All of them have the same software engine inside and the same display technology. One thing that held us back was that the Kindle is only available by online order and so it is hard to see one for yourself. After a  couple of flights and sitting around the airports, we noticed that what people were carrying for digital accessories fell into 5 main groups: smart phones (such as the iPhone), tablet computers (such as iPads), MP3 players (such as iPods), game players and Kindles. The 5 products have some overlap but essentially are targetted at different markets. Each are potentially very good at what they do, the essence is to decide what you want/need.

So far we have not felt the need to participate with the smart phones although some of what they do is impressive. One drawback is that for a boat moving through different contries and therefore through different phone companies the roaming charges accumulate incredibly quickly once you cross out of your provider’s service area. Tablet computers are equally impressive in capability but the phone charges when moving also rule them out. MP3 players we had already mastered and even integrated into our onboard entertainment system <link>. Game players have never had much attraction for us and we have never seen any on boats other than boats with teenage boys held captive for the weekend. That left book readers.

There are a variety of different book readers available. The only one we had seen was the Kindle. One striking thing about it is how readable the display technology is, reading it is like reading a printed book, even in direct sunlight. Outdoors usage was one area where the smart phones and tablet computers slipped – to be visible in bright sunlight requires them to use a lot of power (i.e. deplete their batteries) in order to make the screen visible. The Kindle does not use the same approach and there is no “brightness” display on the kindle. The Kindle display, like printing on paper, depends on an external light source for reading. Also a charge to the Kindle will last up to 3 months.

Features

  • built-in dictionary
    – built into the Kindle are 2 English language dictionaries (The Oxford Dictionary of English and The New Oxford American Dictionary) – one of which can be active at a time. Third party dictionaries are also available for other languages (e.g. bilingual English-Spanish dictionary)
  • 3G, WiFi and USB
    – material can be moved on and off the Kindle via either 3G phone connection, WiFi or USB (a cable is supplied). If in a WiFi reception area the Kindle smoothly connects and material can be moved to and from the Kindle account (each Kindle has an associated Kindle account on the Amazon website). If there is no WiFi reception then everything can be moved via the USB cable. The Kindle shows up as a device on the desktop of the computer and files may be dragged on or off.
  • Internet Browser
    – on a menu called “experimental” there is a web browser which via an internet signal can provide web browsing.
  • JPEGs
    – although not listed as a menu option there is a facility to move JPEG files onto the Kindle. Sites such as XXX list a procedure to do this.
  • PDFs
    – PDF viewing is built into the Kindle. It can be a nuisance if the line length of the document does not agree with the Kindle software but the material is still readable.
  • Calibre
    – Calibre is an indespensable 3rd party application which allows documents, e-books, PDFs to be loaded on and off a Kindle, converted between various formats (not all book readers use the same file formats)
  • MP3s
    – on a menu called “experimental” there is an MP3 Player, MP3 files are moved onto the Kindle via USB. Note that some Kindle models do not have sound capability.

Uses

Onboard Maringret we keep many printed books, some are maintenance oriented, others for entertainment. Due to the complexity of the boat we also have a lot of documentation, some from manufacturers, some on modifications, some on custom pieces of the boat. The previous owners had kept all such information in a folder but paper does tend to get limp on a boat and hard to read. Additionally there was so much of it that it either was kept in numerous small  binders which meant that you could never find the binder you wanted, or it was in one large binder and you had to carry that tome to where it was needed. We still had the printed copies at the time of buying the first Kindle.

Trying to manage the ship information had lead us to try a number of approaches:

  • copying onto a mobile phone
    – the screen of a mobile phone is only large enough to display small numbers or pieces of text, and you could only charge the phone through shorepower (or inverter) or USB (which we did not initially have);
  • copying onto the Palm Pilot
    – the Palm Pilot was very good at small items (even diagrams) and lists of text but its software never evolved to the point of the iPhone where zooming and panning were incorporated. We bought a program called Documents To Go which was supposed to allow word processing documents and spreadsheets to be synchronized between the computer and Palm. The software worked but the Palm supplied operating system was not able to provide features that are now standard in smart phones (zooming, panning). Trying to navigate an A4 sized document with a small screen is time consuming and error prone;
  • copying onto this website
    – the documents we moved onto the Maringret website were either “safety copies” in case we lost all others or ones we intended to share with others (e.g. Maxi 95 electrical schematic). The storage worked but was obviously only available when we had internet aceess.

When we first read of the Kindle we wondered which part(s) of our situation could be handled by it but as we could not see for ourselves the quality of the screen we never did anything concrete about it. Until we saw other people using it and were able to observe the outstanding quality of the display. We now use it for

  • recreational reading
    – through eBay we were able to buy a cornucopia of books, Amazon also has some free books as well as their Kindle Daily Deal where they sell a title for 1 day at 1 dollar/euro/pound, also we had purchased some normal priced books through the Amazon Kindle store, and then there is the enormous offering of books at Project Gutenberg
  • manuals
    – a lot of our equipment have their manuals in PDF form. Even old equipment (e.g. our Lewmar wire halyard winches from 1976) have had their printed manuals scanned and made available in PDF format on the manufacturer website
  • diagrams
    – a lot of our systems diagrams we have put into PDF form so they can be viewed on the Kindle. When troubleshooting systems we often have the Kindle beside us for either the manual, diagrams or both
  • tabular data (weather forecast details)
    – we have various text documents that list all sorts of tabular or procedural data, by putting it into PDF format we can view it on the Kindle

Limitations

The Kindle does have one major limitation which is document management. Our first Kindle has 3GB of memeory and can contain 3,000 books. The only way to organise the 3,000 documents is by creating collections which are the same as folders or directories on computers. Except that collections can not be inside other collections. Also each of the 3,000 books has to be moved into a collection using arrow keys on the Kindle – there is no computer based utility that allows you to use the power of your computer to quickly manage the files. For anyone using the Kindle to even 10% of it’s capacity the simplistic interface quickly becomes inadequate and a major bottleneck. Moving 300 books onto the Kindle would involve using the arrow keys to select each of 300 documents, and then direct where they are to be placed which involves using the arrow keys again – about 15 clicks on the arrows keys per document. About 4 to 5 thousand key clicks to file your books!

  • documents “hard” formatted in PDF form sometimes display poorly on the Kindle depending on how the line ends have been placed
  • the supplied web browser is really beta-ware and seems to work but is pretty basic
  • the JPEG viewing software is a bit primitive
  • the MP3 playing software is a bit simple after iTunes or an iPod
  • the units are slightly delicate, in no time at all we had knocked out a pixel on the screen and later cracked the frame. We quickly bought a protective case for it.

Six months after buying a Kindle we decided to buy a second as the first was proving to be so useful. Two years after buying our first we have hundreds of books and manuals on the 2 Kindles. Our reading has gone up as if your Kindle is with you then your library is with you. The Kindle Daily Deal operated by Amazon has provided a varied offering of titles available for 1 dollar/euro/pound for that day. Quite similar to how a library has books of interest displayed as you enter the library, at 1 euro to purchase the daily special it could cost less than driving or bussing to the library to sign out a copy for free.

Thereare updates to this page located here and here.


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