What took me so long?!
So you like to read, eh? Well that’s what Kindles are for and it’s very very well known that they do that really very very well. They are designed to be taken with you wherever you go but what makes them special enough to be part of the backpackers’ backpack? What puts them above the inconvenience (if it exists) of carrying a physical, analogue, book?
That’s more than enough question marks for now, first things first – The Kindle Touch is a wonderful thing. Brilliant for backpackers, commuters, or just when you’re waiting for someone to meet you in a pub. I wasn’t convinced by the first two generations of Amazon’s Kindle because I thought they were ugly as sin and I was still very much devoted to the printed word. I liked, nay – I like – the tactile process of working through a book. Especially monstrous ones like War and Peace that alter shape as you progress, requiring a different positioning of your fingers to bear their weight and turn their pages.
All the same, I won’t say that I was entirely wrong when they first hit the market back in 2007 but I should have bought a Kindle far sooner.
I don’t want to dwell too heavily on what has been thoroughly reviewed elsewhere, namely that it’s a joy to read from a Kindle even in strong beach sunlight, that the battery life is astonishing, that it’s really lightweight at 220g, and that it’s lovely and small at 173 x 119 x 10mm (without a protective case). As some reviews point out you can see the slightest of ghosts of previous pages lingering on but I can’t say it’s ever bothered me in the slightest. I’m a bit late to the party anyway as the Touch has just been superseded by the ‘Paperwhite’ with a built in screen light missing from the Touch. Handy for dorm room reading I suppose. What I really want to talk about is how well the Kindle in general works for backpackers. I expect most of this still applies…
Mine is a UK 3G version. That means that I can download books to it from almost anywhere in the world over Amazon’s Whispernet delivery system. Now, while that’s wonderful I did have very high hopes for the ‘experimental browser’ which also works on the free 3G. However, there is a serious drawback with the Kindle Touch generation’s version of that browser, i.e. it only allows free web access to a handful of chosen websites. Wikipedia and Amazon – these are the best of the chosen few. The former is excellent if you wanted to look up a place, concept, or person that appears in whatever you’re reading, and the latter is a given considering most of the content you’ll be reading comes from Amazon in the first place…
The magical world of the Portable Document Format
If you use the USB connection you can attach it to any computer and transfer PDFs to the Kindle. This is incredibly useful but often overlooked. The vast majority of major cities have mass-transit maps available online as PDFs. You can usually find PDF street maps and tourism guides explaining anywhere in the world. Or you can simply compile your own PDFs from sites like Wikitravel, sadly NOT one of the sites you can view on 3G. This means that you can create your own guide books and transfer them to your Kindle with ease. No more forking out £££ for what is probably an out of date guidebook – rent one from a library before you leave, find out about the areas you’d probably want to stay in and then create your own resources without all the extraneous information. Leave the rest to chance! Yes it does take a little while to open a PDF, and zooming also takes a little bit longer (and may well crash a TfL PDF, I should warn you now), but it gets the job done eventually. Which is better than remaining lost. Here’s some proof that you can load a London tube map on the Kindle Touch, it might not have the line colours, and please excuse the poor focusing, but you get the gist:
Don’t be stuck on just PDFs though – a PC screen grab from Google maps could be saved as an image file (JPEG or BMP for example) and loaded onto the Kindle in just the same way.
Previous generations of Kindles allowed the experimental browser access to webmail services like Hotmail or Gmail, this is no longer the case. The ability to view nice simple HTML versions of your emails, minus bandwidth-hogs like photographs, would be a massively useful thing to have. Especially if you forget your hostel’s address or need to get your flight number ASAP. You can still access the majority of websites over a WiFi connection though. That includes email so if you don’t trust a hostel’s PCs but they have secure WiFi you can still get by.
To return to the size and weight of the Kindle touch I would like to point you towards my review of the Scottevest Hidden Cargo Pants as they can carry the Kindle Touch with ease. As you can see in this photo of me with the Kindle in my left pocket. Or rather you can’t as the bulge is barely perceptible.
WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Obviously the Kindle Touch is small and light enough to bring along on any trip. Compared to one long trip I made where I carried paperbacks of Lonely Planet Australia, War & Peace, On the Road, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Fathers & Sons, Dorian Gray, and a book about the Hutt River Province. What a dick.
There is an experimental MP3 player built into the Kindle Touch, which I tested for the first time for this review. It’s not bad at all. The volume goes up to a deafening level and if you’ve only loaded a few tracks then it’s simple enough to manage. There are no playlists. There are no catalogues to search. You just have your tracks, one by one. It’s like a very primitive iPod Shuffle, I suppose. Clearly it’s aimed at loading audiobooks but it can fill the void if your other MP3 player of choice decides to konk-out.
All round travel companion?
I would say it comes close to replacing the need for a smartphone on the road. The 3G limitations do count against the Kindle Touch but realistically I never buy data bundles when I’m traveling anyway so the difference between what a smartphone and a Kindle can achieve is lessened slightly. The WiFi capability and the USB connectivity open up a world of options for the Kindle user. A great many extremely valuable functions are bundled in something that will undoubtedly save me space and weight in my packing from now on. Now is a good time to try and get hold of a Kindle Touch because as I mentioned the new Paperwhite will be out at the end of October with its fancy-pants screen light – you should be able to save some pennies by investing in the previous generation’s technology.
It’s a very versatile device and I’m keen to hear from other users about things I haven’t discovered yet, so teach me if you can!