Kindle and Me: Kindred Spirits? - Jo Alcock Consulting
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Kindle and Me: Kindred Spirits?

Kindle and Me: Kindred Spirits?

Amazon Kindle - Black Leather Cover and Book Titles

Amazon Kindle - from dvdmerwe on Flickr

One of the things that has stood out for me so far in my new job is the vast amount of reading I now have. I’ve always used the commute to and from work to read (study modules for my diploma, journal articles, reports, work related reading etc.), and tended to prefer to read these on paper than on screen. But in this job the volume of reading is a lot higher, and I was conscious of the amount of paper I was using (and also having to carry around between home and work), so I wondered if an e-reader might be a better way of doing things.

I do read a fair bit on my iPhone but I’d never tried a dedicated e-reader. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to borrow a Kindle for a couple of days thanks to BCU eLibrary team. I had a couple of days of travelling so knew I’d be spending a lot of time on the train, so I decided to use the opportunity to see if the Kindle suited my needs.

As some of you may be aware (particularly those of you who follow my tweets), I had a mixed experience with it. I thought I’d share the main pros and cons from my experience as I know there are others wondering about getting a Kindle at the moment.


  • Portability – an obvious point, but an important one. I borrowed the older model of Kindle which is slightly larger than the new one, but it was still very portable (even with its gorgeous leather case it easily fitted in my handbag).
  • Storage – not only is the device itself relatively small (I can’t fit large hardback books in my bag), but when you consider how much it can store it really does save a lot of space. I’m not sure on the storage of the model I borrowed but the latest model can hold up to 3500 books. I downloaded some book chapter samples, some documents, and it had already got loads on too. Much more convenient than carrying round stacks of papers and multiple books!
  • Battery life – as anyone who owns an iPhone knows, battery life is something you get used to being an issue and it becomes normal to have to charge every day. The Kindle battery life however is excellent – it can apparently last for a month which is really handy if you’re going away. I kept the battery topped up when I was transferring files (it charges from the USB) but think I could have got away with not charging it at all whilst I had it. Big plus point for use when travelling.
  • Screen – one of the selling points of the Kindle is the clarity of the screen, particularly in bright sunlight. It’s also less strain on the eyes for reading. I have to be honest, I’m so used to reading from my iPhone that I found it strange to have a dull screen, but apparently it is better for reading for any long periods of time.
  • Whispernet – for once, a device that just finds internet connection without having to faff about with loads of settings! I downloaded book chapters no problem, although the connection at home wasn’t great so the web browser timed out a couple of times before working. Still impressed though, certainly hope this will become the norm for web-enabled devices.
  • Ability to read your own documents – this was the main thing I wanted to test so I was particularly interested in how it handled documents (PDFs, Word documents etc.). You can read both of these on the Kindle but it’s a bit fiddly. You can simply drag and drop PDF files when the Kindle is connected, but not Word documents (more on this in the cons section!). You can convert to Kindle files (giving extra functionality such as resizing text) by emailing the files to your free Kindle email address (there is a file size limit to the free service), but it will only accept files from approved email addresses, which is difficult when you are borrowing (the administrator would need to go into the online account and add your email to the approved list). In theory though, it is possible to read your own documents on the Kindle and that’s definitely a good thing.


  • Clunky – if I’m honest, the Kindle did feel like it was a retro piece of technology, and OK I had the older model but it’s still a recent bit of kit! I was very disappointed by the poor keyboard and joystick, and you have to use the joystick to navigate. The Kindle I borrowed was in a lovely case, but the joystick is in such an awkward place that it’s difficult to use once it’s in the case. I thought I’d try it without the case as this was maybe a case issue, but even without the case it wasn’t easy to use. The keyboard was also pretty terrible, though you don’t really need to type much. There is an experimental browser feature on the Kindle and I did test it out and managed to view my blog on there, but I certainly wouldn’t want to actually type anything other than a URL. Maybe I’m being fussy, but it just didn’t feel responsive or easy to use at all.
  • No touchscreen – leading on from the last point, I really missed having a touchscreen. As Mark from the BCU eLibrary team pointed out in his review, smartphone users are so used to using a touchscreen that it just seems like a backwards step to not be able to do so. If you want to look at the item from the bottom of the list, you have to scroll through all the other titles (using the clunky joystick) to get to it. OK, only a minor thing you may think, but this drove me crazy!
  • No scrolling – I didn’t realise until I borrowed the Kindle but when I’m reading on screen I tend to move the text rather than my eyes (laziness I guess!). So I won’t tend to read a page of text from the top to the bottom and then scroll it up, I’ll just read to the middle and then scroll the text up to read the next bit. It sounds like a really minor thing and I’m sure I’d get used to it (I obviously don’t do this with books), but it really frustrated me that I couldn’t do that with the Kindle, and that I had to read right to the bottom and then wait whilst it turned the page.
  • No accelerometer – again, maybe this is something I’m used to because of my iPhone, but I wanted to read my PDFs in landscape mode rather than portrait (due to scaling issues the text was tiny in portrait). I turned the device, and nothing happened. I turned it the other way, again nothing happened. This is because you have to manually (with the clunky old joystick again) select the orientation you want to read. You probably don’t need to change orientation for reading books, but for PDFs with tables and diagrams, I would have liked to be able to easily flip from portrait to landscape and back again.
  • Screen size (proportion) – the screen size is adequate, don’t get me wrong (certainly a lot larger than the iPhone screen!), but I found myself wondering why so much space is taken up with a keyboard that you very rarely use.
  • Not easy to convert files – so I mentioned that you can send files to the Kindle and convert them to native Kindle format (so that you can view them more easily, change font size etc.), but as my email wasn’t on the approved list for the account, I wasn’t able to test this. There also seems to be a lot of confusion over file conversion and whether or not it costs money. My understanding (from the Kindle Manual which was on the device) is that you can convert files for free as long as you send to the free email address and it is below a certain file size. But then there is a charge if you send it to the non-free email address – why would you do that? I asked on Twitter about converting files and there didn’t seem to be a straight forward answer, even from those who own a Kindle. I guess the Kindle target market is for fiction reading, but I would have thought there must be people other than me who want to read other documents on there (EDIT: this post from Bobbi Newman and the comments prove I’m not the only one) – why make it so difficult? I ended up converting my Word documents to PDFs and then dragging and dropping onto the Kindle, but the text was tiny so I had to read them landscape.

The verdict

As you can probably tell, I have a lot more to say about the cons than the pros. So to answer the original question: no, definitely not kindred spirits. I have to give it the benefit of the doubt as I do think I would appreciate the emailing functionality if it works as I expect it to once your email address is added to the approved list, but I’m certainly not rushing off to buy myself a Kindle, not yet anyway. To be honest, all the experience has done is made me more convinced that I need an iPad!

Take a look at this e-reader flowchart which is an amusing (but sort of accurate) look at the best type of e-reader for your needs (thanks to @CILIPinfo for sharing). Unsurprisingly, I came out as needing an iPad or iPhone 4. Better get saving then!

  • joeyanne
    Posted at 13:16h, 15 October Reply

    New Blog Post: Kindle and Me: Kindred Spirits?

  • joeyanne
    Posted at 13:18h, 15 October Reply

    Finally finished blog post on my experience with a Kindle, know you were interested @jess_humphreys @heidigoseek

    • edward_e_jewell
      Posted at 13:24h, 15 October Reply

      RT @joeyanne: Finally finished blog post on my experience with a Kindle, know you were interested @jess_humphreys @heidigoseek http://bi

    • georginahardy
      Posted at 13:24h, 15 October Reply

      @joeyanne Love the flowchart. I got directed very quickly to printed matter… πŸ˜‰

      • joeyanne
        Posted at 13:26h, 15 October Reply

        @georginahardy Brilliant isn’t it?! Love stuff like that

    • gary_burgess
      Posted at 13:32h, 15 October Reply

      RT @joeyanne: Finally finished blog post on my experience with a Kindle, know you were interested @jess_humphreys @heidigoseek http://bi

    • heidigoseek
      Posted at 13:40h, 15 October Reply

      @joeyanne thank you! A Kindle might not be in the so near future for me anymore… but maybe early next year, appreciate the review πŸ™‚

    • timpaa
      Posted at 17:09h, 15 October Reply

      RT @joeyanne: Finally finished blog post on my experience with a Kindle, know you were interested @jess_humphreys @heidigoseek http://bi

  • Bobbi
    Posted at 14:35h, 15 October Reply

    I really want a Kindle DX for some of the reasons you mentioned regarding pdf reading, larger screen just displays them better, it automatically rotates from Landscape to Portrait when you turn it. I’m just waiting for the price to drop.

    Kindle 3 which is the one I have does handle pdfs slightly better than the kindle 2 including allowing highlighting and annotations.

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 14:58h, 15 October Reply

      Thanks for your comment Bobbi, it’s good to hear from someone who owns a device and has had time to get a more rounded opinion. I don’t know much about the different models so that is particularly useful to know about the Kindle DX. Doesn’t look like it’s got such an attractive price point though, and I can’t actually find it on the Amazon UK site!

      • Bobbi
        Posted at 18:29h, 15 October Reply

        Yeah the price does need to drop on the DX. But in the meantime my Kindle 3 works ok. The US Amazon site says Live Outside the U.S.? Good news. Kindle DX can now be shipped to customers outside the U.S. you should be able to order from this page of course its still expensive πŸ™‚

        I would strongly encourage anyone considering an iPad as their primary reading device to borrow one to play with before purchasing one. Reading on a computer screen is harder on the eyes than reading on an e-ink screen. An iPad is great if you want a multi-functional device and I understand the desire to not carry another item. Unfortunately I was too easily distracted by the other things it could do to fully immerse myself in reading, something I really enjoy about reading. Also its heavy, I can hold my Kindle in one hand for a long time. And the battery life on a dedicated reading device is longer. Of course there is no one-size-fits-all option and people will have a preference.

        • Jo Alcock
          Posted at 19:10h, 15 October Reply

          Thanks for the link, good to know you can get it in the UK but yes, it is too expensive for my liking.

          I can definitely see your point about getting distracted on the iPad – I’m terrible for getting sidetracked when I’m reading my RSS feeds, so can imagine the same would be true on the iPad. I don’t think I’d be able to read the iPad in bed either, whereas I would with a Kindle (possibly not the DX though).

  • Lex Rigby
    Posted at 14:36h, 15 October Reply

    I’m with you on this one Jo! The iPad won out for me too:

    Nice to read your thoughts!

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 14:59h, 15 October Reply

      The iPad is so easy to use, everything just seems to work the way you expect it to (from my brief play anyway). Wish it was a little less expensive!

  • Heidi
    Posted at 14:53h, 15 October Reply

    Great review, thank you for posting this. I played around with the iPads a bit at the Apple store the other day. I have to say, price difference aside, I probably would prefer the iPad to the Kindle. The first time I downloaded a PDF to iBooks was when I was on the bus (to my iPhone earlier that same day), and I had no idea that iBooks could store PDFs like that. That was actually a plus for me as it was just something I pulled off of the internet that moment. The calendar and email apps are beautiful too. I was even impressed with the Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps.

    I’m also used to reading from my iPhone, usually via the Kindle app, I kind of prefer the backlit screen, especially for night reading. The times I’ve been in the sun with my iPhone I turn the screen brightness down a little, this helps reduce the glare (and saves a little on battery life).

    With all that said about the iPad though, I still have yet to get my hands on a Kindle to try one out!

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 15:05h, 15 October Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Heidi – I totally agree with you (though I have only had a brief play with the iPad).

      I love the fact that I can open documents from emails on my iPhone and send them straight to iBooks or Connect (an app I have bought to enable me to edit documents on the go).On the Kindle I had to go to my PC, connect the Kindle via USB, and send the files across. I imagine the emailing is a lot easier, but still not as straight forward as with the iPad.

      I felt the same about the backlight too, I am so used to reading on my iPhone now (I usually read my RSS feeds that way) that I’m just not bothered about the display – it doesn’t seem to give me headaches and my eyesight has always been poor anyway! One of the things I found strange whilst I had the Kindle was on the train in the dark and through tunnels it’s nowhere near as easy to read as it is on the iPhone.

  • Nicky Adkins
    Posted at 08:45h, 16 October Reply

    Fab review, thanks! I felt the same way – my brother bought a Kindle and asked me to test drive it for a couple of weeks, knowing that I’m a much more hardcore reader than he is. I kept trying to turn the page by wiping a finger across the screen and each time it didn’t work, I got more frustrated. I also disliked the plasticy feel and the buttons drove me nuts. The thing that truly put me off though was the way that the next screen flashed up in negative when you clicked to the next page; as a speed reader, this did strange things to my mind and left me feeling overloaded and annoyed.

    Though I can see the benefits, I think I’ll save up for an iPad, or just keep using my iPhone.

  • Mike Dainton
    Posted at 12:51h, 18 October Reply

    Nice review Jo! I think the difference between the free and paid email address, is whether you want the file delivered over 3G (only paid email address works) or wireless/usb (free email address works).

    I’ve found an essential piece of software for kindle ownership is the free version of Calibre which is a desktop ebook management tool ( Amongst other things, this will convert pdf to an ebook format the kindle can handle (mobipocket I think) and email it to the kindle. This allows you to scale the text on the kindle as per a normal ebook. It is a bit hit and miss with images though, so don’t expect complex pdfs to come out looking anything like they do on the computer screen.

    Hopefully in a relatively short time devices such as the Notion Ink Adam ( will start to appear which use new LCD technology which can be switched between backlit and reflective displays. This should allow all the multi touch options of an ipad, but with the option to display ebooks using a display much more similar to the kindle. Weight may still be an issue though, which is what really prevented me from using the ipad as a reader for novels.

    In the meantime, I am hooked on my kindle!

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 14:28h, 18 October Reply

      Thanks Mike – the emailing makes sense now.

      Someone did mention Calibre when I was trying to get my pdfs looking a bit nicer, if I borrow the Kindle again I’ll try that out.

      I’ve heard a lot of talk about Adam but hadn’t quite grasped what was so amazing about it. I can see the ability to switch between different displays would be a great advantage, although I agree with your concerns about weight – I did love the fact that I could read in bed with the Kindle; I wouldn’t want to try that with an iPad.

  • Ian
    Posted at 14:23h, 19 October Reply

    Great post Jo. Before I go any further I should mention that I am not fan of the Kindle (as you know!), but that is more down to the fact it doesn’t support EPUB more than anything else. Given that EPUB is accepted as the standard format by almost all publishers, it seems odd that Amazon won’t support it. Still…..

    One of the other things I always thought I would find annoying was the keypad. I can see how it may be useful, but as an ereader owner without a keypad, I don’t really feel like I am missing out….it seems to me that it would just get in the way.

    I have one of the older Sony readers which does not have a touch screen. For me it doesn’t really cause a problem and, in fact, I would argue that it is better than a touch screen for one very good reason. Sony were pretty clever when they made the PRS-505 as they put page turning buttons exactly where your thumb rests on the machine. This means I barely have to move to turn a page. Touch screens have their advantages of course, but you still have to move your finger to turn a page…..and I’m lazy! πŸ™‚ Seriously though, it is one of those examples of an early model being well thought out only for later models to focus on price rather than functionality. But it maybe that only I would have a problem with that!

    The only other thing I’d mention is the screen. I think e-ink is genius. I don’t have any eyesight issues whatsoever, but I find looking at a screen for too long really makes my eyes ache….I even find this with an iPhone. If I was to read for a substantial length of time, I would need an e-ink screen to be able to do so without wanting to poke my own eyes out! But again, horses for courses πŸ™‚ Some people can handle backlit screens, some can’t. I definitely fall in the latter category πŸ™‚

    Anyway, hope the experience hasn’t put you off ebooks all together. As I keep saying to colleagues, it’s early days yet and work needs to be done on the technology, but it does have a great deal of potential.

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 15:25h, 19 October Reply

      Thanks for your comment Ian.

      The experience hasn’t put me off ebooks – I can certainly see the appeal and for my fiction reading I would prefer to carry a Kindle around than print books, even after this not so brilliant experience.

      I think I was just expecting a little much of the ereader – I only read a sample chapter of a book, the rest of the time was spent trying to convert PDFs and adjust the screen so that I could read them properly. I think having an iPhone and using it so heavily has meant that I expect all devices to be able to meet a number of different needs, rather than just doing one thing very well. I think for reading ebooks, an ereader is excellent. For reading work-related documents, ereaders (or at least, the Kindle) isn’t quite there yet.

      Having said that, I am terrible for getting distracted when I’m trying to read, so maybe a dedicated ereader is actually just what I need!

  • iPad as a reading device | eLibrary
    Posted at 13:39h, 08 March Reply

    […] I tried the Kindle first, and I have to say I wasn’t that impressed. Admittedly, I borrowed the slightly older model, but it’s still only about a year old and it just felt so clunky. I agree with Mark; being so used to a smartphone, I found it very strange to not have a touchscreen. I also couldn’t get my head round the complicated way you had to convert files and email them to yourself rather than just a simple drag and drop. Having said that, for a fiction reading device I can see it could be really useful – battery life was great and it’s so portable. It’s just not good for reading your own documents or anything other than books really. (NB: If you’re interested in a more detailed review, I wrote a blog post on my own blog about the pros and cons of the Kindle). […]

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