December 7th, 2011



So, I love my Kindle Fire! I need to get over my distaste for smudgy fingerprints on glass, but other than that, the touch screen interface works perfectly. Well, it would work perfectly for someone with more slender fingers than my own clumsy sausages, but I'm learning. I no longer hit the wrong letters on the pop-up keyboard. Mostly.

The Fire is the same size and shape of a regular Kindle, but thicker and heavier. It weighs as much as some hardcovers do--a little over a pound--which I wasn't expecting. Still, due to its relatively small size it's not as difficult to hold or carry as some hardcovers can be.

To test what it's like as an e-reading device, I downloaded two free, public domain works that I'd long been meaning to read: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's classic short story "The Yellow Wallpaper," and Robert W. Chambers' collection of weird tales The King in Yellow. (Matching colors entirely coincidental.) Ordering Kindle books off the Amazon site, either via the Fire or my computer, turned out to be a snap. (Maybe too easy, actually. I can see how ordering books could quickly become addictive.) I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the books were not only immediately downloaded to my device, but also stored in free "cloud" storage on Amazon's site, which means if my Kindle Fire is ever lost or broken, the books I purchased won't be lost along with it.

Let me just take a moment to say, though, that these free public domain Kindle titles, as welcome as they are, are incredibly poorly formatted for the Kindle--if they're formatted at all. "The Yellow Wallpaper" wasn't too bad, mostly because there were only a few short pages without much opportunity to screw it up, but The King in Yellow had issues. Accented letters were missing and replaced with large, empty squares--for instance, the word "café" appears as "cafO," if the O were a square--which is a serious problem for a book with a number of French quotations in it. Also, some paragraphs bled directly into others with no line breaks to separate them, and there were no page breaks between stories.

Lesson learned. When I downloaded the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe and the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft--because no one should ever be without them, and the stories are perfect for reading if you're between books and waiting in a long line or stuck in a subway tunnel--I splurged and spent actual money on them (though not very much; turns out you can find some good deals for the Kindle). The difference was immediately apparent: active tables of contents that link you directly to stories, proper formatting that's much easier on the eyes, etc. Totally worth it.

The Kindle Fire also comes preloaded with The New Oxford American Dictionary, and you can actually look up definitions for words in the book you're reading by simply touching that word. This came in handy especially for The King in Yellow, which featured quite a few words that might have been commonplace in 1895 but aren't used so much anymore. Did you know "traducer" means someone who spreads nasty rumors for the purpose of destroying another's reputation? I didn't, but I do now!

I haven't downloaded any music or videos to the Kindle Fire yet, though I did use the included Silk browser to check my email and watch a music video on YouTube (Jay-Z's "99 Problems," if you must know). Both excursions onto the Web were seamless and easy. I do wish the Kindle Fire had a 4G satellite connection rather than relying solely on wi-fi to connect, because I'm not always in a wi-fi hotspot, but I suppose that'll come about in future generations of the device. In the meantime, wi-fi is fine and will probably have the welcome, if unintended, effect of keeping me from getting addicted to downloading.

All in all, I'm really enjoying the Kindle Fire experience. It's doubtful I'll ever give up physical books for good, especially ones with footnotes or illustrations, or books where actual effort had been put into the design to make them something more than a simple word delivery system, but reading on the Kindle isn't nearly as frightening or difficult a transition as I was worried it might be. It's actually pretty fun.

And there's another benefit, too. If a book I'm reading has terrible, gory, or embarrassing cover art, I always worry that the other people on the subway will judge me for it. (I actually wound up taking the dust jacket off of Jenna Jameson's autobiography, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, because it was so racy and embarrassing. Of course, there was nothing I could do about the full-color pictures inside, which always seemed to appear the moment an old woman or young child sat down next to me on the train.) But when I'm reading on my Kindle, no one else can see the cover art, which means no more judgmental stares!