You’re Welcome, Shelves – Why I Bought An Amazon Kindle

I love my books, and I love them pristine, with crisp pages and unblemished spines, the smell and the texture of pressed pulp. I read a .pdf of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on my work monitor screen back in 2008 and I hated it, mainly because of the crappy glare and how tired my eyes would be after staring at it for 3 hours or so (I’m an awfully slow reader). You could say that I related to Buffy’s Giles in the sense that I found pages far more lively than words dissolved into pixels. And ultimately, I couldn’t forget the fact that I was considering all those other e-readers or tablets out in the market.

So I thought long and hard about my Kindle purchase, and here’s what helped me make the decision to buy it. I’ll do a review once I’ve had more time with it to see how it does over time and maybe do a then-and-now comparison.

BOOKS VS HANDHELD

Why I thought it was time to switch mediums:

I was running out of shelf space.

While I could simply clear out my shelves and bookcases every new year in a desperate attempt to find extra nooks to squeeze my new additions into, I’m going to eventually run out of space in the next 4 years. I strongly dislike giving books away because I sometimes tend to revisit them, but if I have no choice, I’d usually donate them to the Salvation Army. I already find it hard to dump old issues of women’s magazines, so a 17-dollar book isn’t going to make it any easier.

I can’t always lug my favourites around.

Let’s not even talk about how clunky a good series can be (Dune? A Song of Ice and Fire?).  Big releases also tend to be hardcover-only first, before being available in my much preferred, more portable mass market paperback edition. Ridiculous and impractical for a working woman to be hugging a giant book around during office hours.

I’m also OCD about the condition of my books – dog ears, binding frays, corner cover peeling – to the point that I just feel really unhappy about seeing evidence of not properly having taken care of them. The unorganized warzone known as my handbag inventory will definitely brutalize anything that even hints at its own fragility, so I just give up all together and only read at home. On the weekends.

Digital copies are dime-savers.

Long-term investment. That’s what I thought when I was looking through Amazon’s eBook library. Paperback editions usually range anywhere between USD4.99 to USD 17. I already thought that buying off Amazon was way more worth it than buying from my local bookstore (of which prices are typically about SGD 17 to SGD40). eBooks cost anywhere from being free (yes, free, for some classics) to normal paperback prices (USD 18), depending on the kindness of the book’s publisher. That’s what sold me. I found, much to my delight, that many of the books I wanted cost nothing or up to $3.99, and that would help me save a lot of cash. Plus, no delivery charges.

They’re forever.

More of a minor point, but still something that adds to the decision-making process. Books don’t last forever. The pages yellow over time, dog ears turn into torn edges, mildew sets in and threatens to destroy it altogether.  A Kindle may die, but the eBooks are still going to be there even when the technology advances, unless a giant misfortune befalls Amazon and all cloud services shut down, or The Day The Earth Stood Still realises itself and we all go back to primitive living. The likeliness of that is slim, so I’m not so worried about that.

Best of all, when the digital content is up, it’s there for as long as Amazon wants it to be. No worrying about things going out of stock. Just buy it when I want, no wait time involved.

Bigger selection to broaden my collection.

The variety and range of the online retailer is imitable. There are some really good works of modern literature that are only available in digital format. I was looking at this title Selection Event for one. The Kindle Singles range also has its fair share of interesting novellas, and serves to be the “indie” showcase for small time writers hoping to grab a bigger audience. While your average library waits for its spatial upgrades to finish construction to make way for more books, Amazon just sets up more server space and offers you more to choose from than you could possibly need. I don’t mind that at all.

EREADER VS TABLET

This one was a bit tougher. I was told by many to wait for an iPad 3 and just download the free Kindle app to read, but I wasn’t satisfied. Ultimately, it was a very close measure of needs versus frills, a constant back and forth of pros and cons.

Did I need all that?

Honestly? No. I was thinking very hard about the iPad because of what other things it could potentially offer me. In my own opinion, I didn’t see the usefulness of a tablet, iPad or otherwise, that extended beyond what a smartphone could provide (and it’s time for my telco contract to be renewed). Neither did I have creative endeavors that required spontaneous on-the-go recording or jotting down. Sure, I could get a bigger screen to watch shows on, but if that’s the only reason that propelled me to make the purchase, it didn’t justify the purchase price. Which brings me to my next point.

The price tag mattered.

I’m not saying that we can fairly compare an eReader and a tablet on price alone, because they are, after all, two quite different things. But I had to choose between getting the cheaper, single purpose reader that fulfilled my sole objective of switching to digital reading, or indulging in something nearly four times the eReader’s price that could come with everything I might potentially find use for in the future. For the average cash-strapped person, this was much harder than it’s supposed to be. They’re both in their own ways long term investments. But taking into account what gadgets I already own, the tablet just didn’t seem convincing as a need as I wanted it to be.

I’m not an all-in-one gadget kinda girl.

Let me paint you a picture. I have a desktop. A laptop. A Playstation 3. A smartphone with one game on it, and before that, a boring Blackberry. An iPod Nano. A PSP. An actual TV in my room.

This is purely personal preference. I like to keep the use of my things separate. I use my phone to call and text, and my mp3 player for music. I don’t want my phone for games (explaining the Blackberry) because I have a PSP, PS3, and PC at home to help me with that, and trust me, they offer me much more indepth story and gameplay immersion than a series of birds ruining the lives of squatting pigs for over 30 levels. Because as a reinforcement to the previous point, I already have things that I have that serve my single-purpose needs. It’d be sad for me to under-utilize my tablet and force myself to find use for its other features when I never really needed them in the first place.

If you’re a fan of (insert number)-in-1 things, then maybe a tablet would be a better option. Even moreso if you don’t already have other devices that you previously considered but put off buying because of price/practicality (like a netbook, or a casual portable gaming device like the Nintendo DS). But if you’re more like me, just hold it off. It’s not that big of a deal to miss out on a tablet.

I bought into the marketing.

Look at the main Kindle page. There really is nothing all that special about it. Maybe I’m the only person who ever reads copy, but the features list really called out to me and was completely influential in my decision. If you look at the tech specs, it doesn’t quite impress in a single glance, but it’s all that other mumbo jumbo afterwards that mesmerized me. It’s so simple and effective. And those reviews! Many, many glowing reviews. I kept reading and reading them to make sure that I took everything into account, that botched units and flaws would be displayed in plain sight for me to see so I could antagonize it. But there weren’t very many of those at all. I did a lot of research too, on how to get a Kindle outside of the US, and if it was going to be too much of a hassle to maintain it, I’d give up. But it wasn’t. Then I was more than halfway towards finally getting a Kindle of my very own.

WHICH KINDLE?

After narrowing down from handheld to an eReader, it was time to look at the specific options. I didn’t even consider Barnes and Nobles’ Nook because the internet just showed me how much it paled in comparison to the Kindle. B&N doesn’t have convenient ways to purchase the Nook/eBooks either, but more on that later.

Amazon’s Kindle range consists of:

1) 5 Button Kindle

2) Kindle Touch

3) Kindle Keyboard

4) Kindle DX

5) Kindle Fire

The Kindles, save for the 5-button edition, have Wi-Fi and 3G versions, and versions with/without special offers. The cheapest combo you can get is the Wi-Fi with special offers. Special offer Kindles have advertisements when the device isn’t in use, or along the bottom of the homepage. They aren’t really that bothersome, unless you outrageously loathe the advertising world and all they have to offer. You don’t get to see them while you’re reading anyway, and I think that for USD50 less, it’s something that I can compromise on.

Now, down to the type of Kindle build to choose from.

I was extremely tempted by the Kindle Fire because of its great likeness to tablets. But trust me, it’s not by any means a tablet replacement. After all, it’s easy to see that the sole purpose of creating the Kindle Fire was to push the Amazon Prime programme to consumers and make buyers of the Fire heavily reliant on their cloud servers to get/retrieve their content. Load times and online browsing are reportedly slow too. And for a non-US based customer, Amazon Prime isn’t gonna happen. I would if I could.

Equipped with the Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, don’t expect too much of it if you’re a regular Android user. This is one for the masses, not the tech saavy customizanerd.

The smallness of the 5-button Kindle was appealing too, but it didn’t pique my interest as much as the remaining two options: the Touch or Keyboard. The DX would’ve been too big for my taste, so I crossed that out early.

Ultimately, I felt like I needed some kind of keyboard somewhere. I spent the last 2 years of my life on a Blackberry and found myself addicted to that tactile QWERTY feel. At home I use a Razer Blackwidow Ultimate, and at times I wrote more just for the sake of listening to those sexy clicky mechanical noises.

In addition to that, I recently had to switch to an iPhone because of sudden lunacy/failure of my BlackBerry. It’s easy to use, but I find the fingerprint smudging abhorrent. Nope, don’t want to smear my human finger oils all over my screen, and I don’t want to risk testing it out.

I also tend to forget that touch screen doesn’t mean pressure sensitive, so the chances of me actually getting dead pixels could be higher (can anyone prove that, though?). The last thing my Kindle-to-be needs is probably a good Thai-styled massage.

So I settled with… a Kindle Keyboard 3G w/Special Offers.

Paired with a nifty looking red cover that comes with its own reading light, I breathed and parted with my gift card money. And then I waited. (It was on its way to my best friend’s house in the US, so I really waited.)

HOW I BOUGHT THE KINDLE, AND HOW TO GET THE BOOKS

There’s a buying guide already out there, but I thought I’d just do my own guide because somehow, I found it terribly hard to feel secure about it despite reading it over and over. Hopefully this gives you a clearer picture of how to get a Kindle.

For the Kindle, Prepare:

A) 2 Amazon accounts;
1 for your regular use (if you don’t have an existing one yet), 1 to be your “fake US account”

B) A third party willing to deliver your package from US to your hometown (ie, VPost, ComGateway, Borderlinx, kind best friend)

1) When you set up your US Amazon account, be careful not to add any credit card data to it. Gift cards only! Make sure you’ve got a valid US address and telephone number (probably your third party delivery concierge’s, or for my case, best friend’s house/number) pegged to the account.

2) Visit the Kindle store page, and you can change your settings from unknown to United States.

3) Purchase a gift card using your regular old account. Gift it to your US-only one.

4) Buy whatever Kindle you want, and remember to add any accessories you want to the cart, like US to UK adapters. You get free shipping to your US address because you’re nice enough to give Amazon enough of your money to qualify.

5) Wait until it reaches you.

For the eBooks, Prepare:

A) An IP/Proxy disguising program – HotSpot Shield works perfectly fine for me, overflowing ads and all

B) More gift card money ready in your US account

1) The program will help you fake your location. Be sure to have it active before you’re logged in.

2) Make sure you’ve followed steps 1 to 3 for the Kindle. Replenish your gift card balance if you have to. If you have any left over, you can immediately…

3) Browse the hell out of the store and buy to your heart’s content. eBooks are 1-Click buys and not “Add to Cart” items, so it’s easy to go through your money really fast. Once bought, they are automatically delivered to your Kindle (unless you previously selected not to) and take less than half a minute to download, provided that you have wireless/3G coverage in your area.

4) Read dem books.

Why you need the US account

You can actually use your non-US credit card to buy a Kindle, but when you purchase it, you are basically registering your device to the same account. You may choose to not register the Kindle you buy (as a Gift option) and do the registration later, but it makes things much easier for yourself by just having the separate US account.

Because eBooks can only be purchased with US credit cards/addresses, it makes no sense whatsoever to register your Kindle to a non-US-linked account. The moment you hook up a non-US credit to the account (even though you’ve already indicated your address as US-based), you will not be able to buy eBooks until you add a valid US credit card number.

It’s total nonsense, but people do get accidentally trapped. You don’t have to rush through the process. The IP disguiser is an extra step to make sure that Amazon can’t tell that you’re not physically located in the US. And it’s why gift cards are a great workaround to all this location stuff. It’s your money now, so spend it as you like, no verification needed.

Talky talk

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