Amazon Kindle – Review for Australia

I have just received my Amazon Kindle and thought I would give my impressions of what the device for use in Australia.

Firstly I should explain my motivations in buying a Kindle.

The first reason is that I, like many people, have a file on my computer called “to read” which just fills up and virtually never get read. Most of these are pdfs or Word files and I thought that the Kindle might mean that I get them off the computer and onto a device that is easy to read on. I also have a library of pdf reference books that I again need to get off the computer and actually read!

Second reason was that I like both the environmental benefits of not having a paper copy of a book. I’m sure you’ve seen the email signature that tells you how many litres of water it takes to make 1 sheet of paper. I have also seen some research on the energy requirements, and paper is higher than steel per tonne produced, which really surprised me! Well imagine being able to reduce that.

Thirdly, I have relatives coming over from the UK and the ability for them to read the UK papers is a big cost saving and convenience for them rather than buying international versions from local shops.

Lastly I would like to read more books and this might give me the ability to do so.

The ordering process on Amazon is seamless as usual, and a Kindle account is created for you so that you can buy books etc without having to enter your credit card. This is a great convenience and I guess we won’t worry about security at this point!

Converting files was a lot easier than Amazon made it sound. There are a few options: –

  • Amazon have a paid for service where you email them files and they convert and send them directly to your Kindle. This is the service you hear about most often, and I’m not sure why. I can only ever see using this if I want someone to email me a document when I am out somewhere (hopefully on a beach).
  • Amazon also have a free service where you email them files and they convert and email you back a link for you to download them to your PC/Mac. This seems ideal, as if you have emailed them, you are going to be at your computer and you typically get the file back in under 5 minutes!
    Using this service the conversion of pdf’s (Kindle doesn’t natively support pdf’s) was ok. With technical books there were some issues, but they are certainly readable.
  • Downloading Stanza and converting them from there. Stanza (http://www.lexcycle.com/stanza) was bought by Amazon a few months back and has some great tools for converting between ebook formats. I found that this did the job, but code in the pdf’s seemed to execute rather than be shown as copy. I haven’t tested this on the Kindle yet, but Stanza’s desktop reader was executing both html and javascript.

When the Kindle arrived (30 minutes after the tracking told me it was still in LA) packaging was nice. Understated, almost playing on the environmental side but at the same time giving an almost Apple quality feel. You don’t want to keep the box like you do with an Apple product, but at the same time it’s very nice.

First impression of the product is really the screen. When you take it out of the box, there are some instructions on how to get started. At first glance I thought those were printed on the protective film, but they were actually on the screen! Graphics look incredible, very detailed with no obvious pixels. Yes, the screen really is stunning. I had seen mixed reviews of this feature, but I’m guessing that the people who don’t like it, may have a problem with contrast perception as the light grey background with black text is certainly different from the pure white of an LCD. However, as there is no backlight, it just doesn’t have the harshness of a monitor, and you really do get the impression you are reading a printed page.

I dutifully plugged the USB cord into my iPhone charger and left it for 4 hours. After that time the orange charge light was still on but I thought that it should be enough. Once I started to use the device though I was finding that the controls were very laggy. You seemed to have to press the next page button way too hard and sometimes it just didn’t seem to work at all (see later when this was resolved). I also noticed that the battery indicator was still showing that it was plugged in, which it wasn’t! After about an hour I started getting battery warning and shortly after it locked up with a “Battery Dead” type message on the screen.

My next option was to plug into a different charger and see how that went. Bad was the answer as it still wouldn’t boot up and the charge light kept going on and off. Frustrated I sent an email to Amazon support assuming that mine must have a fault. Their reply was: –

If you have a computer available, please try charging your Kindle using an existing USB port. Many 3rd party charges are not able to sufficiently charge the Kindle.

It worked, but I have to say that does give me a few problems, in that I have all sorts of USB chargers and seemingly none will work. I really don’t want to have to drag a laptop round with me just to charge a Kindle. Also the advertising saying that you can use it without having a computer is just not right, if you need a computer to charge it. I guess here that there is a good market for a 3rd party charging product.

Note here that the version I received did not come with a US power plug, so I couldn’t even use that and a converter. It seems that some may have judging by other reports.

After that little disappointment it did charge and rebooted. The good news was also that this seemed to completely cure the lag problems I mentioned earlier. Buttons are now responsive enough so you can just roll your finger over them and the page turns (yes I still think I’m reading a book).

I have now used the Kindle at night and during the day in the house, and at a McDonalds sat outside. The screen is very legible and you really do forget you aren’t reading a book. Usability wise I would say a big thumbs up from me.

Content however may be a different story in Australia in particular.To test what was available and the pricing I went into a local BigW and looked at their new and featured books and wrote down a list of any that I thought might be good. The list includes: –

  • The girl who kicked the hornets nest
  • The six sacred stones
  • I can see you
  • The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown)
  • The five greatest warriors
  • The scarletta factor
  • The Fiery Cross

Of these only one was available, which was very disappointing. It was a lot cheaper than a physical book, but we really need more content. The frustrating thing is that I know most of these are available in the US. Come on Amazon and publishers, get yourselves sorted out and embrace the future rather than clinging to your old business model.

I am hoping that I can buy in other formats and can use Stanza (see above) to convert to Kindle. However, I do have my doubts about this as this won’t work if the book is copy protected, and I’m sure they will be!

The content I did get was a newspaper and a few book sample. The newspaper is on a 14 day free trial (remember to cancel if you don’t want to be charged for it after 14 days). I have to say that although not the same as reading an actual paper, in many ways I like this better. It is more like a web experience with articles arranged into groups you can navigate through. I think for people used to a physical paper it may take some getting used to, but if you get your news from the web, it is great. There is no doubting the convenience too with the paper being delivered to you anywhere in the world! The one downside is that these aren’t cheap. I will probably not continue my subscription, but would if they were halve the price.

Book reading I can’t comment on too much. It really is just like reading a book with the added conveniences that it isn’t as big, it saves your place if you fall asleep reading it and you can set the text size and column width up just how you like it.

Overall, I have to say that I really am liking the Kindle. Even more than I expected. For me the big downsides relate to Australia, in particular: –

  • Doesn’t come with and Australian charger and you can’t use a standard USB charger. You thereefore have to plug into a computer to charge.
  • There is not enough book content on the Australian Kindle store.

There are things that I haven’t mentioned here including the basic web browser, which doesn’t work in Australia, wikipedia access which has been reported to work, but I haven’t been able to get going. However I am reviewing just as a reader for the moment and will hopefully get to those later!

*** UPDATE *** (after 10 days of use)

I have had my Kindle for about a week now and in general am enjoying it. However there are a couple of issues I have come across: –

– Septimus Heap book series was on the Australian store, I bought the first book and want to buy more, but it has now disappeared. I can only assume that Amazon didn’t have the rights to sell it in the first place which leads on nicely to point 2 below.
– The Australian Store just doesn’t have enough books on it. I am finding it hard to recommend the Kindle when the number of books I can get is so limited. I have bought 2 books so far and had sample chapters of about 5 more but you really have to choose by what you can get rather than what you want.
– I also have an audible account and should be able to play audible content. When I try it asks to validate the device with audible but when it goes to do this it tries to connect then fails. This means I can’t play audible content at all.
– I have tried converting quite a few technical pdf’s and despite my comments above, they don’t usually convert well enough to read. I really think they should have native pdf support in the Kindle, they have it in the DX, the iPhone has it, so I’m sure the device is capable enough. This would particularly help me (and many other techies) that tend to buy pdf books, and have a heap of pdf white papers we want to read on our computers. Having said that the problem is particularly when there is code in the books as it doesn’t keep the indenting, which makes it a nightmare to follow. Other books seem to convert okay, though native support would still be better (specially when there are side bars with additional info).

Having said all that, I am still enjoying reading on the Kindle, and it is making me read books socially rather than just work related topics.

*** UPDATE 25/11/09 ***

Updated software just coming through including PDF support. I will update this post when I have given it a try.

*** UPDATE 04/01/10 ***

I have finally tried the charging tip suggested by Andrew. It does seem to charge the Kindle quite happily if you plug into your printers USB input port (the one that reads the memory sticks on the front of the printer usually). It does lock the device while you are charging though, and I would advise turning the printer off before you pull the lead out, just in case.

Overall though I find charging through  the printer more convenient than via the computer.

I should also mentioned the books I have read so far. These are: –

  • Septimus Heap – Book One – This has now been pulled from the Australian Kindle
  • The girl with the dragon tatoo
  • The girl who played with fire
  • The girl who kicked the hornets nest – The above series was really entertaining and is definitely worth considering. The writing in the first leaves a bit to be desired but the story is good and after this one the 2nd and 3rd books were good. There is also a variety of styles here the first being a bit of a mystery, the second a thriller and the last a court room drama. Personally I liked the second best.
  • By reason of insanity – I really struggled with this one to about the 15% mark, from then on it has had me hooked. This is a courtroom drama with a serial killer and all sorts of things thrown in. It was only $2 when I bought it and once you get past 15% it is excellent. Looking forward to finishing it tonight.!

12 thoughts on “Amazon Kindle – Review for Australia”

  1. Try converting your PDF’s through a program called calibre. It is a brilliant app.
    I agree that there are just not enough titles in the Aussie store.

  2. Nice little write up, I feel the same way. I’m a programmer with a lot of technical books in pdf form, and its very hit or miss whether they convert properly. I’m hoping in 6 months to a year they can offer every book on the kindle for international readers, and have a better way of converting files. Using the kindle itself is very awesome, but its missing that ipod ease of compatibility, where you just stick in cd’s, burn, and hey presto everything works 100%.

  3. Hi Just bought one, I am looking for a charger in Australia, I have found it will charge from my HP printer which has a usb card reader on it, Kindle seems to be looking for a USB host before it allows itself to be charged. I have found that resetting the device by holding the power switch for 15s fixes the lagging.
    I still feel that this device is “bleeding edge” as software can sometimes be slow or buggy, but overall the reading experience is excellent. I have managed to get WIkipedia working on my device using the experimental browser, but no other websites can be accessed.

  4. Simon, thanks for your blog. I’m wondering whether your experience allows you to comment on a couple of issues. Firstly, when you describe the paucity of titles on the Australian Kindle store I’m assuming that this just relates to wireless downloads and that it is still possible to access the full Amazon stock of Kindle edition at Amazon.com if you have a computer ? Is this right ?

    Secondly, as an Australian currently living in India for the next 2 months I’m wondering whether I should wait until I get home before ordering a Kindle ? I’ve seen info indicating that Australians should only order the Australian version. Not sure whether this is just so we can miss out on the charger or because the software is irrevocably different in some way. Any ideas on this ?

    Many thanks if you can help ?

    Mike

    1. Hey Mike, unfortunately the lack of titles is more to do with our geographic location rather than the kindle itself. That means you can’t get the books on their site either (unless they are physical book strangely).
      I’m not sure the exact mechanism of how they check. If it is by credit card address, the way around it would be to have a US based card, or to somehow set up an account to pay by paypal so the address is hidden (you could even use paypal to generate one time credit card numbers). If they check by IP then it would be easy enough to use a proxying service to get round it.
      Trouble is for me that the kindle is now linked with my existing account, so I would also need to transfer that over to a new ‘owner’.
      You can probably see that your comments have set me wondering how to get through their system!
      If you want to have a look at what books you can get, and have an iPhone or iPod Touch, get the kindle app, as you can browse, buy and read books from there too. The screen size is a bit small but for looking at book choice and browsing, I actually prefer it to the kindle.
      On your second question I can’t see a good reason why you would need an Australian version rather than one from anywhere else. The wireless connection is ATT global roaming, so is not particularly linked with a carrier here. As for plugs, you just don’t get one here, so ordering from elsewhere might actually be an advantage (I know they get one in the UK for instance). It would be worth a search around, but I can’t see there would be any problem order one in India.
      I guess the other thing I should mention here is the iPad. If you can hold out, the iPad might be an even more compelling book reader than the kindle. It certainly looks slicker anyway. Personally I have my doubts as the kindle is as big as I want to hold in bed or on the sofa (I’ve heard that’s a problem with the kindle DX too).
      I hope this has answered you questions in a round about way!
      Hope you are enjoying India too. It’s one place I haven’t been, but would love to get there sometime!
      Cheers
      Simon

  5. Thanks for the review: same as you, I have a folder of stuff (pdfs) to read…of course, that never happens due to the fact you’re not going to print out 100 pages at home, and it’s unpleasant to read these things on a screen. Unlike you though, the environment issue is a big zero for me – going e-book sounds like buying a Prius: rich people feel-good pointless shit in a world where 3rd world dumps like India and China are spewing forth at a rate that will soon make the US and us in Oz look like a greenies dream!

    Anyway, just ordered the DX (which will let you read your own PDFs) so we’ll see how we go.

    1. I think it is probably a bit of the Prius factor. However it should mean cheaper books eventually when the publishers actually do the right thing. I guess that’s the real push. There is also the fact that you can carry everything in a small device where the battery may last a couple of weeks if heavy use.

      The DS us interesting. I saw they do some kids ebooks the other day. I have the original DS and I have to be honest reading on that screen makes my eyes hurt. The iPod is better as there are more pixels to play with but that still struggles with PDFs. Biggest problem is PDFs don’t reflow so you need to zoom in and move the area being displayed, which is a real pain. Post a comment though when you get yours and let me know what you think.

  6. I just unpacked my new Kindle. Now I have to wait for it to charge!
    I have a phone charger with the right size USB but am scared I will damage the Kindle. Also have an adaptor for cigarette lighter in the car which you plug USB into. we are going on a 7 week road trip and this would be ideal. Again a bit nervous about trying it.
    GEOGRAPHIC RESTRICTIONS!!!!!! I’ve spent 2 weeks trying to get around them. You need a USA address and a USA credit card. I put some money into a virtual credit card which claims to give no information but it is based in UK and didn’t work with Fictionwise (who have recently closed all other loopholes as far as I can see.) I have Calibre installed and need help with setting it up.

  7. H,

    Great review. I also have a kindle 3 and am enjoying. Going to give this Calibre tool a go for my ebooks.

    I have managed to buy books in the US so far by buying them online and transferring via cable tot he device and keeping my wireless off always. Not ideal but so good so far (20 or so books purchased)

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