I bought Amazon’s Kindle 3 a week ago and have read a mix of plain text files and PDFs (Edgar Allen Poe short stories and math textbooks). Last time, I wrote about my initial satisfaction, and a week later I’m still happy with the reading experience. The electronic ink doesn’t strain my eyes, page turning is fast, and the choice of fonts and page orientation is suitable. The Kindle renders PDF files well if you orient the page layout to landscape instead of portrait. You can see the page in close to normal size this way.
FYI: if you are reading a PDF whose text formatting is important, don’t convert the PDF to MOBI. The text won’t be more readable, and the conversion strips all formatting. For example, I wanted to read Perl & LWP. Portrait orientation made text too small, so I reoriented to landscape and held my Kindle sideways. The text was now a good size, but I wanted to see what the same PDF would look like in MOBI format. So I converted it using a free and opensource e-book management software called Calibre. It was awful. For this book, at least. Perl & LWP is an instructional book on the computer language Perl. Normal text has serifs while example computer code is styled in monospace, sans-serif font. But the MOBI conversion process stripped all formatting and my Kindle rendered everything in the same font. After trying to read it and suffering a headache from being unable to distinguish regular sentences from Perl, I switched back to the PDF.
In other news, I’ve been working on a Perl script that will extract articles from the New York Times’ homepage and deliver it them to my Kindle. I figured “If I can read the Times for free on a computer, why not find a way to read it for free on my Kindle instead of subscribing for $20 a month?
My evolving Perl script can be found here. So far this script extracts any URL from Times’ homepage that’s marked as a “story” by its surrounding HTML tag. It will then visit each URL, collect the article’s text, and write that text to an output file in plain text.
Now the task is to deliver this document to my Kindle. The Kindle 3 downloads content over Amazon’s proprietary network called Whispernet. I read that Whispernet is essentially Sprint’s EVDO 3G network but am not sure if this true for the Kindle 3. In either case, Amazon allows you to e-mail text documents to an address associated with your Kindle. As long as the e-mail address is in the form of [something]@kindle.com, you can choose anything you want.
Once you send a document to your Kindle e-mail address, Amazon processes the file and delivers it to your Kindle device. Unfortunately, Amazon charges $0.15 per megabyte (rounded up). Being a cheapskate, does that outweigh the slight effort of simply uploading documents to my Kindle via a cable directly from my personal computer? This is free but with the disadvantage that I cannot get fresh content from the Internet while away from my computer.
I realized that by restricting the Kindle’s ability to connect to the Web to Whispernet, Amazon strategically made itself the online gatekeeper. Now they can collect fees and offer their own services. We’ve seen this before in Apple’s products. Alas, it’s bad for me but smart for Amazon.