Friday, June 3, 2011

The Amazon Kindle - A Review

I recently purchased the 3G version of the Amazon Kindle, and while I definitely don't consider myself qualified to write reviews about technological products, I do want to share a few thoughts about the Kindle's performance in general and about the benefits it offers to Catholics, particularly those who love to read.

I decided to buy a Kindle for two primary reasons. First, I'm planning to pursue my Ph.D. studies beginning in the fall of 2012 at Ave Maria University, and the program's reading list is massive. I simply don't have room on my shelves or money in my pocketbook for all the books I'm going to have to purchase. Amazon offers a wide selection of classic Catholic reading material in digital format for little or no money. More about that in a minute. Second, I occasionally stay for a few days at a time at a place that doesn't have Internet access. Since my cell phone is about as simple as it gets (I don't even text much less have a data plan), I end up with a bad case of Internet withdrawl. With my 3G Kindle, I can at least check my email and access a few of my favorite websites.

That being said, the Kindle, just like every other technological device, has its pros and cons. On the negative end of the spectrum, the Kindle has a few glitches here and there. Mine froze up on me a couple times and needed to be reset, which is actually very easy after I got past the panic stage and checked the Amazon user forums for advice. Further, the web browser is primitive at best. It's rather slow but not much more than my often-stubborn computer. It can't handle more than one window at a time, and the text can be prohibitively small for most people although there are ways to increase text size. Since the Kindle has only a black and white screen, web browsing works best on pages that are primarily text-based. Chatting online through an instant messenger works on the Kindle, but it's a little fussy since the Kindle's keyboard is tiny. Both ebuddy “lite” and Yahoo Messenger mobile version are good options for chatting, but users have to remember to keep refreshing the screen to see responses. I prefer Yahoo Messenger because it has a better design, and it's easier to use overall. I couldn't chat with my best friend as long as I normally do, but we could at least say hello and catch up on the news. Keep in mind, too, that the Kindle's battery life is much shorter the more its wireless features (like web browsing) are used, but the battery is easy to recharge. Most importantly, even with the slight annoyances and glitches, I can get on the Internet free of charge when I'm away from home and at least perform basic operations and keep my sanity.

Actually, I've found that the Kindle's positive aspects far outweigh its negative ones. As a reader, it's wonderful. The screen, with its “E-ink,” is easy to read and doesn't tire my eyes even when I stare at it for a long period of time. The Kindle store, which is accessible directly from the Kindle or from the computer, offers hundreds of books on every subject imaginable, including over 15,000 free (yes, free) out-of-copyright books that Amazon has designated “Kindle Popular Classics”. My Kindle is currently stocked with favorites, like Jane Eyre and Treasure Island, and other classics, like Dracula and Wuthering Heights, that I've never gotten around to reading. Actually, the sheer amount of reading material available can be quite overwhelming sometimes, but that's a good problem to have. Other Kindle books are reasonably priced, and Amazon provides frequent special offers. Currently, for instance, the “Sunshine Deals” offer features over 600 books for $.99, $1.99, or $2.99. Most of these books aren't best sellers, but there are some good reads among them. Even regularly priced Kindle books are often less expensive than paper copies. Books download to the Kindle in under a minute, and the Kindle has plenty of storage space, about three gigabytes. Amazon will archive books, too, and archived books don't use Kindle memory. In other words, the Kindle can hold more books than most people will ever read.

For Catholic readers, the Kindle, especially the 3G version, offers plenty of opportunities for faith formation and theological study. Catholic classics from the likes of St. Thomas, St. Augustine, the Apostolic Fathers, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, G.K. Chesterton, and many more are available for free or a nominal amount (like $.99 or $1.99). Books from contemporary authors like Benedict XVI, Scott Hahn, and Mike Aquilina are also available in Kindle editions. The Kindle's Internet access opens up a world of Catholic reading possibilities. The Vatican website works very well on the Kindle web browser, as does New Advent and Christian Classics Ethereal Library. I actually find it easier to read online with my Kindle than I do with my laptop or netbook because the Kindle is easier on my eyes. Plus, I'm not stuck sitting in front of my computer; I can curl up in my favorite chair instead.

Overall, while I will always own and read primarily paper books, the Kindle is proving to be a helpful device with far more positive qualities than negative frustrations. I would highly recommend it to anyone, Catholic or not, who loves to read, study, and learn.

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