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Kindle 3

December 29, 2010 10 comments

I’ve been the proud owner of a nice Kindle 3 eReader since last September. I love how thin, light and classy it is. It was not my first eReader though. Before it, I owned a Sony Reader PRS 700 (since late 2008) but I quickly got tired of it and went back to p-books (physical books). I had big hopes for the Kindle 3 since I first heard about it earlier this year and enough to say that it exceeded my expectations.

Before I talk about Kindle on Ubuntu, I’d like to explain what I was looking for with this device.

Two decades ago, I used to read a lot, I mean, compared to my friends who barely touched books. It was something like 50 books a year at some point. With time, it shrunk to as low as 3 books a year, and that made me sad. What I really like while reading is the immersion feeling, when I no longer think about the book itself (the object), or anything/anyone else around it, but I just want to move along with the story, within the story.

That’s the feeling I’ve been able to experience most of the time with the Kindle 3 in the last 4 months. Providing the conditions are right, I totally forget about the device and enjoy the content like I used to with p-books. I can see three of those conditions:

  1. I often read while commuting (unless I’m bicycle commuting, of course), and when it’s safe enough to use the eReader. In Paris, trains could be gloomy and packed, I won’t say it’s dangerous, because I never feared for my life there, but it’s best to look around before taking such a device out of your bag. It applies to tablets, consoles, and other gadgets, but not so much to phones/smartphones those days, they are quite common.
  2. Lights. It’s an eInk display, meaning no back-light. If the room is too dim, you need a reading light of some kind. I’ll write about mine in another post. The good side of it is that it’s not subject to glare like most LCD devices so it’s easy to read outside (I assume you’ve seen the ad comparing the iPad and the Kindle), or with an artificial lights.
  3. distractions. If there’s a source of distractions, I tend to easily loose focus nowadays. Could be anything, like noises or music ; I just discovered that having one of those new shiny Android tablets nearby definitely distracts me away from reading on my Kindle. Internet as a whole is usually a distraction for me too. The Kindle contains a web browser, it’s useful for a quick search in Wikipedia or the Amazon store, but not for anything else, it’s too slow and grey, not tempting enough, fortunately for me.

Since September, I’ve already read more than in the last 2 years! Definitely a win. It also means that this nice little machine is capable of replacing p-books for me now. At least novels. For text-books, magazines, newspapers, that’s another story, worth a dedicated post.

Another good point of this device is that I just had to charge it 3 times since I have it. That’s impressive compared to LCD devices. It’s one of the reason it’s so easy to carry everywhere, no need to bring the cable or the charger with you because you can be sure you won’t need it anytime soon.

Regarding contents, it’s very pleasing if you read in English. The Amazon Kindle store has a lot to offer, including free books (not only classics but also late listed free non-classics and recent free non-classics books). For non-english speakers, the offer is almost non-existent and you will need to rely on other sources, most probably with conversions.

For this to happen, the kindle must be attached via a USB cable to a computer. Not much to say here, on Ubuntu, it auto-mounts without any troubles, exposing a bunch of folders. Amazon proprietary formats are “azw” and “tpz” (Topaz), mostly with DRMs. Enough to say that I’m not a fan of DRMs, but for the Kindle, it’s always possible to import any non-DRMed ebook in a format called “mobi”. I don’t feel particularly tied to Amazon in that regard. I often hear people saying that once you buy a kindle, you’re doomed to stay with Amazon forever, it’s a bit too extreme. There’s a multi-platform tool called Calibre that can convert a lot of ebook formats. I’ve been able to export the ebooks from my Sony Reader (lrf) to the Kindle quite easily. Calibre is of course available in Debian and Ubuntu/universe. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Calibre, I find its (Qt) interface quite bloated, but it does its job. I wish someone starts a minimalistic interface, preferably for Gnome. Something more deeply integrated into the desktop would be nice.

There are times when a book is not formatted properly (no real chapter, lack of justification..), or has typos, either because it’s from a poor quality source (an ocr-ed scan) or because of a lossy/bad conversion, it’s still possible to fix this. It happened to me to a book I really wanted to read and after playing with the zillions obscure options of Calibre, I gave up and searched for another tool. I found an ePub editor called Sigil. It also uses Qt, but I find it much nicer than Calibre. There’s an ITP and an initial package proposed in Debian which doesn’t seem to be moving. In the meantime, I’ve made an update in one of my PPAs. It works quite well, but it still means using Calibre to first create the epub, and later convert the edited epub to mobi for the Kindle.. there’s definitely some room for improvement here. Of course, Sigil is not limited to fixing existing books, it could be used by authors to write one from scratch.

This post is quite long, I will talk about PDFs and tools I use to make them more readable on the Kindle in another post.

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