An Expat or Travellers Best Friend – the Kindle

This post is about my new Kindle, but I’ve got to give you some background first…
Paris Kindle
My trip last week to Paris was a much needed break to the modern world from my life in a small Moroccan town where my only access to the cultural things I love about the society I come from has been through technology.

I know, people always say “What? Morocco is a rich and beautiful culture. It’s exotic and amazing.” It’s true, but there are certainly some things that I miss that don’t exist here (and before someone says “Why don’t you go back to the USA or move to Europe?” – I’d like them to tell me how to do that without abandoning my wife and child while we go through the visa process – which can only happen with me in the US now. – but anyway – I digress…)

So, what are those things? There are a lot of them actually –
– live theatre
– cinemas
– garage sales
– thrift stores
– wine tastings
– book stores
– used book stores
– an easy affordable postal system
– barbecues
– clean, green parks
– craigslist
– access to cool new technology
– and the list goes on and on…

Probably though, there is nothing I have missed as much as I’ve missed being able to go to a new or used book store, find books in thrift shops or yard sales, or buy books easily online and have them delivered in a week or less (instead of 1-2 months). I’ve found a few English language books in Morocco and picked them up anywhere else I’ve been, but as a confirmed bibliophile, sorting through a hundred books holds no comparison to spending all day in a shop…I have a bookshelf filled with books I’ve already read.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched the rise of the ebook reader with great interest. I published my first ebook back in 2001, but I’ve never really been able to enjoy reading on a computer. Despite the fact that there are approximately a thousand ebooks on my netbook, I’ve simply never enjoyed reading them the way I love reading a real book.

Earlier this year, I published my first book for the Kindle format. Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagobond, since I didn’t yet own a Kindle, the layout and formatting aren’t what they could be…I hope to revise it soon.

While I’d been wanting to get a Kindle, to buy one in Morocco was next to impossible and the duty and customs on technology made the price prohibitive. Publishing on the Kindle was as close as I could get to buying one. I had seen exactly two of them up close until a few days ago in Paris.

Old School and New School Subway Reading
Old School and New School Subway Reading cc Image courtesy of Ed Gaillard on Flickr
I suspected that a Kindle would be very similar to reading an ebook on a tablet or a netbook but in a more convenient size. I knew the technology was supposed to be radically different, e-ink – easier on the eyes, etc etc etc, but again, I suspected that the Kindle would never be able to replace the book. The feel of a book, the way the eyes move across the page, and the smell of new ink or old dust that is a part of the mystery. I was right – at least about the smell, but as to the rest.

Good Lord, I’m in love with my Kindle! It’s my hero! I’ve been rescued from a country with no modern English language bookstores and given access to the largest bookstore in the world from anywhere I can access wifi.

Seriously, fuck the iPad, iPhone, i-anything – I have books! Books books books! And, much to my surprise, I’ve found that I am able to dive into the virtual stacks just as joyfully as I would dive into a free box of books outside a university office or the dusty shelves of a newly discovered used bookstore. Jeff Bezos has delivered something a million times more wonderful than anything Steve Jobs ever did.

If I had been in the USA, I probably would have bought the new Kindle Fire – color, touch screen, web browser, etc etc – but frankly, I’m glad that it isn’t yet available in France because what I bought was the very simple Kindle e-Reader which Amazon offers online for $79 but which I had to pay a very reasonable 99 Euros for at the Virgin Mega Store on the Champs-Elysees. If I had bought it on Amazon and had it shipped to Morocco, the customs would have ended up being double that – if it even made it.

Small enough to fit in my pocket (about the size of a very thin paperback) ultra light, a six inch display, a battery that lasts an entire month, and enough storage to hold 1,400 books – my Kindle feels like a novel when I hold it in my hand, it fits in my pocket easily, and the display really does feel exactly like I’m reading a printed page. It really does. Doesn’t matter if the sun shines on it or if there is glare, it is mindblowing.

I’m not the only one in love with this, it seems the gadget has gone through some great redesign and I’ve managed to get it at just the right moment:

“The new Kindle is the best e-reader $100 (or less!) can buy.” – Engadget”

… if what you want is pure e-reading pleasure for the lowest price around, this is a big, definite winner.” – GigaOm”

“I can’t think of a single other gadget that costs less than $100 that I’d actually recommend, which makes the new Kindle just about the best Christmas gift out there.” – Popular Science”

“The basic Kindle e-reader from Amazon now starts at $79, a price point that’s very hard to resist. It seems that those of us late-adopters who have hung back will be nicely rewarded for our patience and circumspection.” – Chicago Tribune

And get this, I had sort of thought buying a Kindle would be like buying blank paper and then paying someone to print books on it, no freebies and you pay for the materials, but in fact – what I’ve found is that there are tens of thousands of free books on the Kindle – not just crappy books by unknown authors but books like Tom Sawyer, books by Leo Tolstoy, Jack London, Kurt Vonnegut, and many more. I’ve been digging through the stacks for days and have already downloaded nearly 300 free books that I would have actually bought if I found them for fifty cents to a dollar at a garage sale or thrift store.

Here are a few more stats on the new basic Kindle e-Reader:

Display Amazon’s 6″ diagonal most advanced E Ink display, optimized with proprietary waveform and font technology, 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 16-level gray scale.
Size (in inches) 6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″ (166 mm x 114 mm x 8.7 mm)
Weight 5.98 ounces (170 grams)
System Requirements None, because it’s wireless and doesn’t require a computer to download content.
On-device Storage Up to 1,400 books or 2GB internal (approximately 1.25GB available for user content).
Cloud Storage Free cloud storage for all Amazon content.
Battery Life A single charge lasts up to one month with wireless off based upon a half-hour of daily reading time. Keep wireless always on and it lasts for up to 3 weeks. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as shopping the Kindle Store, web browsing, and downloading content.
Charge Time Fully charges in approximately 3 hours via the included USB 2.0 cable connected to a computer. U.S. power adapter sold separately.
Wi-Fi Connectivity Supports public and private Wi-Fi networks or hotspots that use the 802.11b, 802.11g, or 802.11n standard with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication or Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS); does not connect to WPA and WPA2 secured networks using 802.1X authentication methods; does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.
USB Port USB 2.0 (micro-B connector)
Content Formats Supported Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.
Documentation Quick Start Guide (included in box); Kindle User’s Guide (pre-installed on device). Additional information in multiple languages available online.
Warranty and Service 1-year limited warranty and service included. Optional 2-year protection plan available for U.S. customers sold separately. Use of Kindle is subject to the terms found here.
Included in the Box Kindle wireless e-reader, USB 2.0 cable, and Quick Start Guide. Power adapter sold separately.

I can just go on and on. I can actually use my library card in Hawaii to check out Kindle books from the public library, so I have access to library again. If I want to buy a book on Permaculture or Chess or find Keouac’s Lonesome Traveler, I can connect to the wifi and purchase it in less than a minute.

The downside? Minimal – the five way controller is a bit clunky, using the experimental web browser is black and white and if you like color photos or pictures – you can’t have them on this – maybe 1,400 books isn’t enough (greedy :)) but no problem – you can upgrade for $20 and get the touch version, get a version with a keyboard, or splurge and spend $179 for the new Kindle Fire with color, touch, and more. For me though, the one I have is like a dream come true.

As an expat, a traveller, a reader, a writer, and a person who loves books – I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful this thing is. THe fact that I got it for 99 Euros (about $130) blows my mind. The fact that you can get it for $79 blows my mind even further. I’ll be writing more about the kindle in coming days. I’ve already compiled a list of nearly 60 free travel reads and am working on a recommende Vagobond library. If you’d like to get a copy of my Sci Fi novel “The Hu Factor” – I’ve actually formatted it for the Kindle….and it’s just $4.99 or you can pick up Finding Your Passion Income for just 99 cents! All there is to it, is to do it! But definitely get your Kindle…it’s the best thing ever.

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Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook