Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2009

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

The Amazon Kindle portable reading device is now in its second generation, and there have been several improvements over the original design. The new device is thinner – about as thin as a magazine – and lighter than a paperback book. It also has a better processor, increased memory, built-in speakers and a new Text-to-Speech feature. The reader enables you to view books, magazines, blogs, PDF documents, MS Word documents, images and music files.

What does this mean to you? Well, besides being able to read the latest bestselling novel you can also read depositions, keep up with legal blawgs and soon purchase law books and CLE books designed for the Kindle. Not only will these law books be less expensive but their owners will be able to index them and set bookmarks, which will save you time and money.

Buying Books and Loading Files

The feature that has made Kindle really stand out is its ability to download books directly from the Amazon Kindle Store wherever you are by connecting to the Internet for free using Sprint’s cellular data network. Most books and documents are delivered in less than 60 seconds; unfortunately, web-surfing is still expectedly slower. You can fill the two onboard gigs of storage with more than 1,500 books. Subscriptions to U.S. and international newspapers, magazines and blogs are automatically delivered to the device.

The Kindle Store has more than 300,000 books available for download. New releases and New York Times bestsellers are about $10, and you can find samples of the first chapters of many books for free. There are also many other free or low-cost titles, including some classics now in the public domain. Newspaper subscriptions are around $5.99 and $14.99 per month, magazines between $1.25 and $3.49 per month, and blogs for $0.99-$1.99 per month.

You can also shop for Kindle books from your computer and have them wirelessly sent to your Kindle by clicking the one-click “purchase” button.

“I like being able to order books that are otherwise out of print, or hard to purchase in paper form, and being able to travel light,” says Davida Breier, Marketing Director for National Book Network, a book distributor based in Lanham, Maryland.

To charge the Kindle, attach it to either your computer or a wall outlet using the well-designed power/USB cord. This same connection allows you to drag and drop MP3 and Audible audio book files onto the device. Just don’t try to add PDFs or other documents using this method. Kindle can’t natively view any text or image files that you try to copy over. Instead, you’ll need to e-mail your files to your Kindle e-mail address for conversion to Kindle file format at at 15 cents per megabyte (rounded up to the next whole megabyte).

If you have more than one Kindle in your family there is a feature that allows sharing purchased e-books with your other registered kindles. The really neat part is how your device can switch back and forth while remembering your reading location. That way, you can start reading the book on one device and continue where you left off on another.

Controls

Unlike most of its brethren, the Kindle has a full QWERTY keyboard that you can use to enter notes while reading, searching the Kindle Store and entering URLs when surfing the Internet.

Amazon also improved the page-advance button (which had been a little too large on the original Kindle), making it very easy to accidentally turn pages. The page-turn buttons are now smaller and take a bit more effort to click when advancing a page.

The Display

The display uses “e-ink” technology, which makes words on the screen looks like a printed page. It displays 16 shades of grey, which render very clear black-and-white images. With no backlight you will need a light to read in the low-light areas. Visually-challenged readers will be happy to note that the Kindle’s font size can be adjusted to six different levels.

Battery Life

Like popular Apple devices, Amazon has sealed the battery into the unit. If you want the battery replaced, Amazon will gladly do it for you for $60. Battery life is extended if you disable the wireless connection using the menu options. This will give you a few weeks of reading instead of only a few days.

Gripes

While the Kindle is probably the best – and most expensive – reader on the market, it does have some drawbacks.

The text-to-speech feature suffers from the common robotic-sounding voice, which comes in your choice of male or female voices. While a benefit to commuters and the visually-impaired, I don’t believe it is going to get a lot of use.

There has been some controversy in the recent past. When Amazon discovered that they had sold books without the proper rights, they recalled the books and deleted copies of the books from customer devices and refunded them their money. The customers, who were surprised this was even possible, complained after failing to receive notification of this action. Amazon promised not to repeat their mistake.

There is still no touch screen. It seems almost odd that this feature is missing, unlike the Sony PRS-700 Reader, which has an onscreen virtual keyboard. The downside is problems with contrast and glare issues. For this reason, Amazon has opted for the non-touch screen until the e-ink touch-screen technology is improved.

When reading PDF and Word files Kindle does the job, but it does not display them quite as well as the Sony PRS-700, which can zoom in and out of PDFs.

Kindle’s Big Brother

The larger Kindle DX is ideal for newspapers and textbooks, and Amazon is partnering with a number of universities for the beta test. It will read PDF documents without conversion to the Kindle File format, stores more than 3,500 books and will also change the display from portrait to landscape by simply turning the screen on its side. But its hefty proportions also bring a correspondingly hefty price tag of about $500.


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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August 2009

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