April 4, 2017 • #

A couple years ago I bought a Kindle Paperwhite, after moving almost exclusively to ebooks when the Kindle iPhone app launched with the App Store. I read constantly, and always digital books, so I thought I’d write up some thoughts on the Kindle versus its app-based counterparts like the Kindle apps, iBooks, and Google Books, all of which I’ve read a significant amount with. For I long time I resisted the Kindle hardware because I wasn’t interested in a reflective-only reading surface. The Paperwhite’s backlit screen and low cost made it easy for me to justify buying. I knew I’d use the heck out of it if I got one.

I had a brief stint with iBooks when Apple launched that back in 2010. At the time, the Kindle apps for iOS platforms were seriously lacking in handling the finer details of the reading experience. You couldn’t modify margins or typeset layout, iBooks had better font selection, highlighting and notetaking worked inconsistently, and the brightness controls were poor. But eventually the larger selection available on Kindle and Amazon’s continued feature development in their app brought me back.

Buying the Paperwhite was a great investment. The top reasons are it’s portability, backlit screen, and the battery life.

When I say “portability”, it’s not about comparison to the iPhone (obviously the ultimate in portable, always-with-you reading), but with physical books. Prior to the Kindle, I’d do probably 1/3 of my reading on paper, and that’s now dropped almost to zero1. Even with the leather case I use, it’s so lightweight I can carry it everywhere, and I don’t need to bring paper books with me on trips or airplanes anymore. It’s light enough to be unnoticeable in a backpack, and even small enough to fit in some jacket pockets.

The backlit screen is great and gives the advantage of eInk combined with the ability to use in darkness. The best thing about that screen is the fidelity of brightness control you can get versus an iOS device. In full darkness you can tune down the backlight to nearly zero, still read in the dark and not disturb anyone else. With my iPad, even at the minimum brightness setting it can light up the room if it’s really dark.

The battery life on eInk devices is unbelievable. In two years I’ve probably charged the Kindle a dozen times total. When it’s in standby mode it uses effectively zero power, and even in use (if the backlight’s not turned up) the drain is minimal. I almost forget that it’s electronic at all. In a world where everything seems to need charging, it’s great to have some technology that doesn’t.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the beauty of accessing the massive library of books directly from the device. With a few taps I can have a new book purchased and downloaded, reading it in seconds. Using the iOS version for so long, I’ve missed out on this. Thanks to the Apple IAP policies and Amazon (justifiably) not wanting to share revenue with Apple for book sales, the app is only a reader; there’s no integrated buying experience. I just dealt with this by going out and buying titles through a browser session, but I didn’t realize the smoothness I was missing out on until I had it integrated with the Kindle.

Amazon’s long been an acquirer of other companies, but doesn’t have a great track record of integrations. They bought Audible and Goodreads long ago (2008 and 2013 respectively), both of which I’ve used for years. Only recently have they integrated any of that into the Kindle experience. On their iOS apps they launched a “narration” feature that’ll play back the audio in sync with the pages if you own audio and text versions (a little goofy, but at least they’re integrated). There aren’t many titles I own both audio and text versions of, but the ability to sync progress between the two formats is really nice. On the Goodreads front, the integration there on the Kindle is fantastic. I have access to my “want to read” list right on the home screen for quick access.

With so many devices and quirky pieces of technology, it’s nice to have something reliable and simple that does one job consistently well.

  1. I only read physical books if they aren’t available in e-format, or they’re nonfiction or reference books with heavy use of visuals. 

Topics:   books   technology