Monday, November 08, 2010

The New Kindle: an English teacher's initial thoughts

This post is written from the perspective of a lover of 'real' books - the paper, the covers, the look of the bookshelves... And we all know these aren't about to disappear soon, but it would be particularly ostrich-like not to recognise that e-readers are making real inroads into book-buying, particularly in America, and especially into hardback sales.

Amazon's recently-released 'Latest Generation' Kindle is very impressive. It's as light and 'handy' as the ads say (literally: you discover that you can read one-handed standing in a bus, with your thumb flicking the 'pages'. More importantly, the quality of the screen is extraordinary, and gets better the more light is cast on it (thus the Amazon ad mocking the iPad by the pool - it's true!).

A few observations in no particular order:-
  • It solves the old travel angst: the fear of running out of books, and so perfectly supplements that pile of paperbacks in your luggage. I've been using it to re-read classics (recently, Emma); they're either free or cost virtually nothing to download.
  • When preparing to teach a novel or play, the note-taking and highlighting options mean that you can read away, and at the end have a ready-prepared series of quotations and important passages in your Amazon account for copying. Easier than scrabbling for /scribbling with card and pen. Also, bookmarking is straightforward.
  • The brilliant Instapaper app makes the Kindle the perfect place to assemble longer articles from the web for considered reading in your armchair, rather than on the computer screen. Click here for instructions on how to get your Instapaper articles sent free to your device.
  • The battery life is astonishing.
  • Downloading books via wi-fi or 3G is slick and quick.
  • You can load PDFs onto it, again for easy reading and storage (by the way, there's now a 'Print PDF' option at the bottom of all our posts - handy formatting of longer pieces such as this one).
  • At the moment the Kindle feels like a 'quiet space', unlike the iPhone/iPad/computer screen. They've included an 'experimental' browser (black and white, of course), and so presumably in another generation or two this will develop, but for the moment it's a largely distraction-free zone.
  • You can download free samples of all books - the equivalent of flicking through them in the shop.
  • Get the Kindle app for iPhone/iPad and then watch as your books sync across the devices, stopping at the most recently opened 'page'.
  • For education? Not quite yet, though some schools in America are experimenting with it. But it won't be too many more 'generations' before e-readers become real options for English and other classes. I'm surprised that no hardware company has designed a robust device somewhere between the Kindle, the iPad and the laptop for schools: the world-wide market is gigantic, and the opportunity is there.
In a year or two no doubt we'll be looking back at the new Kindle as a crude effort, but there's no doubt that the e-book is getting there.

[added later: Amazon have now released a slick app for the PC (and other devices) that means you can read books on your laptop, too: an advantage here is that it's much easier to highlight and bookmark these than on the Kindle itself, and then assemble your notes. Really handy for English teachers!]



Nicky said...

As a Kindle noob, I've really enjoyed this article – thanks!I'm rushing off to install the Instapaper app right now, so I can read the new 2011 Horizon report – which predicts e-book's will be mainstream within 6 to 12 months – in comfort on the sofa :-)

SCC English Department said...

Thanks, Nicky. Instapaper is great - on several devices. Happy Kindling!