all aboard the kindle bandwagon

Inspired largely by JapanNewbie’s post on the Kindle 3, I decided to get one for myself.  The 3G isn’t very useful where I live, since the web browser is limited to Wikipedia whilst on 3G when not in the US, so I got the basic wifi model.

UPDATE: it seems that this limitation is not correct, and the 3G does work for any site.  See Benny’s review on YouTube.

Amazon’s goal with the Kindle has been to make a device that doesn’t feel like a device; that is to say, a device for reading that, when you start reading, just disappears.  In this they have been very successful, at least as far as this customer is concerned.  Even though reading on an e-reader is still a novelty, once I’ve been reading for a very short while I stop thinking about “wow nifty gizmo” and get drawn into whatever I’m reading, just as with a paper book.  The device is extremely thin and light, and takes up about the same space in your hands as a normal smallish novel would, except for being a lot thinner.  The display is excellent.  Fonts are very crisp and clear – it surprised me to learn that the resolution was only 800×600.  Sometimes there is a little bit of glare if you’re working with a single light source at exactly the wrong angle, but this is seldom an issue.

Navigating through menus and within books with the five-way controller is fairly awkward, but that takes up only a small part of your time with the device so isn’t anything to worry about.  Likewise, highlighting passages and writing notes is somewhat a pain.  The web browser also suffers from having to use the five-way controller to maneuver around, but, again, the web browser is quite incidental.  The operating system is simple and intuitive; the problem is that controller.  However, without going to a touchscreen and adding dramatically to the cost, I’m not sure how they could have done much better.  It works; it’s fine.

Amazon doesn’t sell Japanese books for the Kindle, so you have to find your own.  Luckily, this is pretty simple (usually).  Various places around the web have free Japanese texts available for download, you can use Instapaper on Japanese websites, and of course there is the treasure trove that is Aozora Bunko.

I took some photos of various text displays.  I didn’t have a proper copy stand or light tent, so they’re not the best pictures ever, but you should be able to get some idea.  Click for bigger versions.

Here is what a normal text file looks like on the Kindle, with the text size I’d usually use:

And with the smallest text:

And with absurdly large text:

You can put Aozora Bunko texts directly on the Kindle as well, but the best way is to use the online converter at A2K.  This is extremely simple (instructions here) and results in a file that displays perfectly.  Here’s a sample using the medium text size:

I haven’t tried using Mangle to put any manga on the Kindle yet, but I did try it with a book I happened across that was in a similar format, namely a collection of .png files.  This didn’t really work very well at all.  The text was very light and hard to read, and the pages were out of order – still don’t understand why, but the picture viewer on the Kindle is after all an undocumented experimental feature and one should perhaps not expect too much.  What did work though (thanks again to BlackDragonHunt for the suggestion), is taking Mangle’s output, packaging it into a .zip file, changing the extension to .cbz, and opening it in Calibre.  From there, you can output the resulting file into either a normal e-book format or a pdf, both of which work equally well.  The display will depend heavily on the scan quality, but here’s what I ended up with for this book:

I bought the Kindle 3 mainly because of Aozora Bunko.  There are a tremendous quantity of texts there of precisely the sort of thing I am working towards reading.  Collecting hard copies of so many books would cost a fortune and take up a great deal of space; the Kindle cost less than $200, takes up no space at all to speak of, and (without any exaggeration at all) gives me access to years of reading.  In short, I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any learner of Japanese.


BlackDragonHunt has put up a very good post here with more details on getting various filetypes onto your e-reader.

9 responses to “all aboard the kindle bandwagon

  1. Excellent write-up… you basically just sold me on one of these. The Aozora stuff especially is too good to resist.

    One question, though:

    >>The 3G isn’t very useful where I live, since the web browser is limited to Wikipedia whilst on 3G when not in the US.

    That’s kind of a drag. So if I get the 3G one and have it shipped to Japan (where I am), the browser can only view Wikipedia over 3G? I hope I’m just parsing your sentence wrong >_<

    • Seems to be correct. I just checked for Japan:

      Access Wikipedia via Whispernet on the experimental web browser. Access other websites like Google via a Wi-Fi connection. Blogs can also be downloaded via a Wi-Fi connection.

      • Hm… then perhaps the cheaper version is in order in my case as well.

        Thanks for clearing that up!

      • I’m not 100% sure on this though … compare Benny’s experience here. Hmm. They sure don’t go to any great lengths to make this clear.

  2. I have to say I’m impressed by the supported formats, the clarity of the text and various font sizes. I’ve been looking semi-interestedly at electronic book-readers like the Kindle for a while now, but… I think it’d just be another expensive toy.

    In any case, I think I generally prefer paper books – although they probably show their age faster, you do at least have a hard copy that’s yours, that you can lend out and resell. It’s the same with CDs – I’d rather have the disc itself than spend money on floaty, deletable mp3s…

    • I know exactly what you mean – I don’t buy music without physical media either.

      Without the availability of all these free texts I would never have gotten an e-reader.

  3. WOW. I ordered myself one of these last week, but I had NO IDEA about the potential relation to Japanese study. This is FANTASTIC news, thank you!

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