Kindle Paperwhite

I decided to upgrade my Kindle Keyboard to the new Kindle Paperwhite. I wouldn’t usually upgrade such a device so soon (2 years after buying it) but my girlfriend was thinking of buying the basic £69 Kindle, so I used that as an excuse to let her have my old one, so I could try out the new one with the light 🙂

My first impression is that the lighted screen is beautiful to read from, and will make it easy to read in pitch-darkness. That’s the real benefit here, whether in bed at night or outside in the sun the screen just looks great. You may read reviews complaining about some unevenness in the lighting along the bottom of the screen, yes I noticed that but it’s really not an issue at all, since that part of the screen only shows your progress information anyway, not text from the book.

Unfortunately the touch screen is a major step backwards in page turning, instead of 2 large buttons on each side of the device for backwards and forwards, there’s an invisible grid on the screen tap over to the far left to go back, tap in the middle to right to go forwards, and at the top to bring up the menu. It feels clumsy and makes this device stop short of being the perfect reading device. The touch screen does make the virtual keyboard easy to use, so buying books is much easier. However I spend about 0.0001% of my time on the Kindle inputting text so I’d be happy do to without that. I often find myself getting lost in a book because I mistakenly went forwards instead of back.

So I’m mixed about this one. Great screen, but missing physical buttons. I guess Amazon need to save something back to make people upgrade again next year? 😉

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Do people really feel their books?

The BBC have been running a story this afternoon about e-book sales vs printed book sales. I was surprised when a majority of the people they (unscientifically) surveyed said they preferred printed books. This was not because they can be purchased second hand for next to nothing, not because they make a great gift or because they can be passed along to a friend, but because of the way they 'feel' – really?

I have never finished a great book and been absorbed for days by the texture of the book in my hand – a satisfying plot, however has made me do just that – and digital advances can improve the reading experience by offering custom fonts, synchronsiation, character profiles, built in lights, and being easier to hold. I've probably converted about 4 people I know who said they loved the smell and feel of printed books to e-readers, because good story is what makes a good book, after all.

Peter V Brett Book Signing

 

I have never been to a book signing before, so I didn’t know what exactly to expect from last Tuesday’s event in London. It was so great to meet your favourite author (Peter V Brett is tied with Stephen King as far as my favourite authors go) – of course it was brief, there were many people with books waiting to be signed – but it was great to have even just a brief chat – kind of amazing to think to yourself – “You know that awesome fantasy world that you’ve spent who knows how many hours of your life reading about, pondering, imagining, and discussing – well this is the guy who penned it all, right here!” – part of me wanted to jump up and down with excitement like a lunatic, the other part of me (the part that thankfully, usually wins these internal mind-battles) thought I should just act polite and ask a few questions about the books.

So well worth it, if you ever get the chance to meet your favourite author (even just for a couple of minutes) DO IT!

 

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Queue, the Stephen King section (AKA horror section, where they put King’s non horror books too)

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More queuing, lots of people talking about the books

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The books

Six months on, my Kindle thoughts

It’s been around six months since I stopped reading paperback books and moved to the Kindle. My reasoning behind doing so was not so much environmental concerns (I’m sure an electronic reading device isn’t exactly green to produce and keep charged) but convenience and hopefully a better reading experience. Having all your books on you, being able to synchronise your place with other devices (phone, tablet) for those occasions when you forget your Kindle and find yourself wanting to continue your book, and being able to adjust the size of the text.

Wi-Fi only would have been enough

I opted for the more expensive 3G option thinking I might take advantage of the free 3G to browse the web or buy books when I am out and about. I have rarely needed or wanted to do this. When I’m at home I can use the Wi-Fi, the same goes at work. When I’m on holiday there’s usually no shortage of Wi-Fi available (in Lisbon even the tour bus had free Wi-Fi!). In those situations where there is no Wi-Fi, frankly I can wait a few hours to purchase the next book. Oh and the web browser isn’t particularly useful, not when you have a smartphone in your pocket at least.

A better reading experience

In all honesty I can say that the Kindle is a more enjoyable reading experience than a normal book. Yes it lacks that woody aroma, and you never get to see the cover artwork in it’s full colour glory – but as someone once said, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover anyway. Being able to make the text bigger and control the line spacing really helps. Some books that were 900 pages long with a 8pt text size would have put me off in the past, but with a Kindle you don’t really pay much attention to how “fat” a book is, all you see is that percentage indicator gradually creeping up. The built in dictionary makes it so easy to lookup words that I actually learn a lot by looking up words I didn’t know instead of simply inferring what the meaning might be.

It’s still a gadget

Of course there’s no getting away from the fact that these things cost a lot of money, and the books themselves aren’t really that much cheaper than their paper counterparts (thanks somewhat to the UK VAT laws, which mean digital books are subject to VAT, but traditional paper books are not). Taking a expensive gadget everywhere isn’t always an option, and you’ll probably want to buy a case for it. Oh, and PLEASE don’t do what I did and put the Kindle in the same bag as a bottle of sunscreen (yes, the case was a good investment!).
However, that said, I think the benefits outweigh the negatives and my Kindle had survived trips to the beach. I’d definitely recommend a Kindle.

Online Services I use

Here are some of the few online services I consider worth paying for…

 

XBOX live

XBOX Live

I have been using this service since I first got my XBOX 360 in 2006. I was at first very sceptical about paying to play games online, after all I’ve paid for the game so shouldn’t the online play be included in the price? Having seen other free alternatives however (Steam on the PC, and of course the PlayStation network) XBOX Live seems a more cohesive service. Starting games is simple, as is inviting friends to voice chat. A nice way to waste some time on a Sunday afternoon.

£4.99 / month (I got an annual pass for about £27, look for special offers)

 

AudibleAudible

Audiobooks are a great way to “read” while you’re doing other things, in the gym, in the car, doing boring household chores, or sometimes just when falling asleep. The monthly subscription gives me a book each month (which when some of them are over 30 hours long, will easily last that long) and is genuinely a good way to get more reading time in. There’s an Android app, and books will play on the Kindle too.

£6.99 / month

 

DropBoxDropBox

DropBox is a neat online backup service. While Windows Live Mesh is technically superior, you can’t get more than 5GB of storage as you can with DropBox. Therefore I use it, and it’s very useful to have all your documents available wherever you are. If only the software would make is easier to sync existing folders (currently it’s a longwinded process involving symbolic links) I wouldn’t feel the need to be looking for alternatives all the time. Still, it’s a good price and the features they do have are very useful.

$9.99 USD / month

 

Spotify

I am still on my free trial of Spotify, after having initially been sceptical about “renting” music rather than owning it. Being able to try out albums is great, and now they have offline access for mobile phones it’s actually not a bad product. I have discovered a lot of new music using sites such as BBCify, which I would never have done without Spotify. It’s a shame not al of the music labels have signed up, that is misguided in my opinion. The desktop client it a bit clunky – a classic case of “design by committee” but the underlying functionality is worth the money.

£9.99 / month

More Stephen King

Under the Dome

IMG_3967Look what Santa brought me for Christmas… weighing in at 1074 pages it looks like one mighty read. If it’s anything like Cell or Salem’s Lot then I am in for a treat. The only King book of this size I’ve read before was Dreamcatcher, which while good, seemed way too long.

I’ll let you know in a few months…

 
 

The Painted Man–by Peter V Brett

image_thumb[1]I don’t usually read fantasy books, in fact before I read The Painted Man I’d never read a fantasy book. Not that I am one for boxing things into genres – I am far more likely to pick up a book on the merit of its author’s previous work or by reading reviews. Luckily my brother recommended me this book, and so I took it on holiday with me to Greece. Having just finished Stephen King’s Salam’s Lot, the pace style of this book was difficult to get used to. Once you get going however, this book comes into its own. The author takes his time to build a realistic, plausible world, one that is plagued monsters that arise from the core of the earth whenever the sun sets. The book follows three characters over a number of years, and by the time the story climaxes you really feel you are inside their heads and can fully empathise with them and their actions.

Along the way there is of course plenty of action, heartbreak and surprises – but what really makes this book so good is the fascinating world it exists in and the characters than inhabit it.

I was sad when I finished this book, not because the ending was bad (it’s not) but because I knew I would be leaving that world behind. Luckily there is a second book, and I’ve just started that. So far so good.

I highly recommend this book.

Cell by Stephen King

A couple of months back I finished reading Cell by Stephen King.

The hardback original cover

What can I say? What an amazing book. Despite the inevitable of label “Horror”, I’d classify this as more of a psychological thriller. Yes there are many gory scenes, but the meat of this book is not in the action sequences, but in the constant feeling of fear, fear of the unknown experienced by a group of people who find themselves unaffected by the “Pulse” sent out through the mobile phone network, a pulse that resets the human brain to its most primitive form and eventually takes those affected by it (most people), know as  the “phone crazies” on a different evolutional path. What could have been?

The book could be described as a zombie apocalyptic story, but rather than the usual approach of “virus hits earth, chaos ensues, lead character finds a big gun, shoots zombies, makes their way to safety” the author gives the zombies original abilities and strange behaviours that just  cry out to be explained and will keep you reading.  All of the characters feel well written and believable, meaning you as the reader care about them, making the goodbyes sad and the dangerous moments tense.

Much has been said about the ending of this book, with many readers disappointed that it didn’t answer all their questions. While I won’t give anything away, all I will say is I liked the ending, it suited the tone of the book. If anyone has ever seen the original cut of Blade Runner, and then the Director’s Cut you’ll know what I mean – sometimes what is not said can be so much more powerful, in the same way the ending to the first Matrix film was ruined by the two subsequent sequels.

So I highly recommend this book, don’t be put off if “horror” isn’t usually your thing.