Tuesday, November 19, 2013

(Paper)white flight

I've long been intrigued by the idea of an e-reader but never owned one. Recently my wife gave me a present -- an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3G, supposed to be the most advanced ever.

In such free time as I am allotted, I've started getting acquainted with it. Although there are no buttons (other than an on-off switch) and you convince the Paperwhite to do what you want it to by tapping the screen, navigation is actually pretty easy and I think will quickly become second nature. The screen is smaller than a paperback book but you can (with its preferred file types such as AZW and MOBI) choose a font and adjust its size.

Being able to carry hundreds of books or periodicals, and select any you want to read at a given moment, in a device you can hold in one hand is obviously useful. So is being able to download such items without even a Wi-Fi hot spot (with the 3G version, not earlier generations). This is no toy. In their way the Kindle and other e-readers are as much of a game changer as the PC.

So far I have only one gripe, and it's about Amazon's incomplete instructions. The how-to onscreen manual starts well, clearly explaining the moves you need to make and the menus, in something very like actual English instead of technobabble. So far, so good. 

But after that it's pure sales promotion, herding you to the Amazon store. That's okay too; most Kindle users will want to buy some downloaded books from Amazon.com. I understand the company doesn't make money on the Kindles themselves, so it's reasonable they'd flog e-books from their own store.

But that's all you're told. Not a word about how you can use the Paperwhite for books and periodicals from other sources, some of then [whisper] free -- the Gutenberg Project, for instance. Certainly no instructions for converting other types of files to MOBI.

So you have to go online and find tutorials, written and video, which are of varying quality. Free conversion software is available; Mobipocket Creator and Calibre seem to be most prominent (not, as I say, that you'd ever hear about them from Amazon). Once they do their job, you transfer the MOBI file to the Paperwhite via a USB cable. 

It's not actually hard, but typically of software developers, they don't explain the conversion technique well. Through trial and error or, if you must, one of those "For Dummies"-type Paperwhite manuals (presumably), you get the hang of it. If I can, anybody can. I suppose the average eight-year-old today would understand the process quicker than I did.

Regardless of Amazon's rather petty withholding of useful information, the Paperwhite is life-enhancing, and a welcome diversion from our national Time of Troubles.

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