Over the past few months, a number of expat blogs have been extolling the virtues of the Amazon Kindle and other similar e-book readers. Before our trip to Vegas, I was actually planning a blog post on why I would never own a Kindle. The lesson I learned – Never say Never. Andrew and several of his team members gave the top presentation at his conference. Their prize – Kindles for all.
Since we now own one, I decided to give it a fair review. The two things I was interested in:
- Is Kindle really a good choice for expats?
- Is Kindle better for the environment than a book?
Is the Kindle a good choice for expats?
Andrew started researching this question on our flight home from Vegas. Since most expats I know tend to travel by airplane quite frequently, I wanted to know how Kindle fared on the journey. Andrew downloaded a book from Amazon before we left Vegas. It was a fast and easy process, while in the States. The price however was on par with a paperback book. Andrew’s overall assessment was the Kindle is light, easy to read and has loads of battery life. A few downsides arose:
- The flight crew views Kindle and other e-book readers as electronic devices (although technically they don’t work in the same way as a lap-top or mobile phone) and requires them to be turned off during take-off and landing.
- The cabin reading lights cause a glare on the screen of the Kindle making reading a bit difficult.
In the interests of giving the Kindle a fair review, I decided to buy and download an e-book from Belgium. A few more issues arose:
- When I looked at the Kindle website from my Belgian-registered account, the e-book that I wanted actually cost more than the paperback version – What the heck? Andrew told me to use his US-registered account and the price dropped to slightly below the paperback price.
- I bought and downloaded the book directly through the Kindle, rather than via my computer, and was charged an additional 1.99$ because I wasn’t currently in the USA. (I have since learned this charge does not occur if you download to your computer.)
I am over halfway through my e-book reading experience and I must say that I am pleasantly surprised. The Kindle is light and easy to read, as Andrew said. I don’t get the eye-strain I normally experience from reading on a monitor. It’s very easy to turn pages, adjust text size and make notes (not something I normally do when I read for pleasure but good to know I could if I wanted to.)
So is it good choice for expats? I think it is, if:
- You are able to buy and download books to your computer to avoid the extra charge for not being in the US.
- You have a US address you can register with Amazon so you don’t pay the inflated international book prices.
- You want subscriptions of US magazines and/or newspapers delivered globally
- You are located somewhere with limited access to English language books (or other languages assuming the Kindle phenomenon will expand to translations at some point)
- You have limited space for packing/storing paper books
Is Kindle better for the environment than a book?
I’ve been trying to live a greener life lately and one of my important concerns about Kindle was its supposed greenness. I’ve read several articles lately about how using the Kindle or other readers will save paper and therefore trees, thereby being much more environmentally sustainable. I’m all for saving trees, but I have a hard time believing that any electronic device is particularly sustainable.
I did some further digging, and it seems the jury is still out on this issue. There are a lot of variables that come into play: How many books do you normally read? Do you buy second hand books? Do you read the same book more than once? What about newspaper and magazine subscriptions? A Kindle is obviously not more sustainable than one book, but maybe it is better than a year-long newspaper subscription. I found an interesting article called Books vs. eBooks – A life cycle comparison that talks about all of the different things we have to consider before we ever hope to answer this question.
First of all I’m going to cop out by saying ‘there’s no easy answer to either question.’ I’m surprised how much I actually enjoy reading on the Kindle, but I also won’t be giving up books any time soon either.
What Kindle is good for:
- Saving space in the suitcase when travelling – I normally pack two or three books for a trip of a week or more. Now I can download a few books to the Kindle before I leave home and I don’t have the added weight of extra books I may not have time to read.
- Saving a few cents on book costs – I say a few cents because currently the biggest complaint about Kindle is the cost of the books. Since I no longer am buying a physical entity, I would expect to pay significantly less; currently that’s not the case. I am cautiously optimistic that the prices will come down as ebook readers catch on, making this a real benefit.
- Textbooks and manuals – I’ve read that Kindles are being used in schools and universities now and I think this is a HUGE plus. I would have loved to carry all of my university texts on one little device, being able to highlight important passages and make notes without worrying if this would ruin my re-sale value. I think this is where the ebook readers will really excel if used to their full potential.
- Quickly finding that quote you forgot to mark – Ebooks are searchable so finding the information you want is fast and easy.
What Kindle is not good for:
- Art books – As a photographer my shelves are filled with books of artistic inspiration. That little greyscale Kindle screen isn’t going to cut it for those.
- Guidebooks – Similarly I have amassed quite a collection of heavily illustrated guidebooks that I won’t be viewing on Kindle.
- Reading in the bathtub – You could do it… but I wouldn’t recommend it.
- Saving the environment – I’m still not convinced that Kindle and its ilk are better for the environment overall than buying used books or going to the *gasp* library…
- Booklovers – I love books – the feel, the smell, looking at the covers lined up on my shelves. I’m just not ready to give them up yet. I also love bookstores and the Kindle is putting one more nail in the coffin of independent booksellers.
PS – While I was writing this, Apple finally announced the launch of the new iPad (do they not have any women on the team who could have spoken to them about this name…?) Already there is discussion about how green it is.
What are your thoughts? Do you own a Kindle or other ebook reader? Would you?
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