Review: New Kindle Paperwhite Makes e-Reading Easy

popup-paperwhite-diffThe days when a book was simply a few sheets of paper sandwiched between two covers are long gone. Of course, there’s every chance that the paper-and-ink novel will never die out completely – it’s too perfect a design for that – but it’s no longer so simple as that. The times, they are a-changin’.

The Kindle Paperwhite is in many ways the peak of current ebook technology. Sure, it can’t play movies like the Kindle Fire, or leap tall buildings in a single bound like the iPad – but once you remove the tablets from the race it’s pretty clear that the Kindle Paperwhite is several lengths in front. From the sleek, lightweight design to the touchscreen technology and the clear, crisp reading experience, this is as good as (e)reading gets. Here’s a breakdown of its main features:

Screen: If you’re already familiar with the previous generation of Kindles, the new Paperwhite will still come as a surprise. The whites look whiter than before, the blacks blacker. The entry-level Kindle always suffered from slightly greying text, straining your eyes in poor lighting, but you’ll have none of that here. The text is easy to read, and often sharper than plenty of the print books on my shelf. The backlight has been redesigned too, offering a more natural light, which makes for easy reading over longer periods of time.

Most of the features are the same as before. But the tweaks to the screen and the general operation make this the perfect entry-level Kindle for those who want to join the ebook generation – and it’s a valuable upgrade for those still labouring with the basic Kindle, too. They come in a range of sizes and some even have 3G; you can check out all the options here.

Navigation: The touchscreen technology makes for a much easier experience than the old Kindles, so you’ll have to engage your brain just a little less between chapters. Menus are clear and simple, and without an array of buttons to navigate the entire experience is close to seamless.

Capacity: With only 2GB of storage, you may worry that the Paperwhite won’t hold your e-library. But don’t be too concerned. The focus is firmly on its reading capabilities (there are no apps to download here, and there isn’t even a headphone socket) so books and documents are all that will fill up your device – and these tend to take up very little space. There’s room for literally hundreds of books on the Paperwhite, and with a new facility to switch between your cloud and your device storage you have plenty of online storage options should you ever reach capacity.

Battery: We didn’t get a chance to test this, but Amazon are saying that the battery will last for eight weeks, if you read for an average of 30 minutes a day. Even if you read for an hour a day, it should still last a month. Long enough to take it away on holiday with you and forget to pack the charger.

Pages: Without buttons to hold you back, the page-turning experience is quick and seamless. A tap to one side of the screen, or a swipe, does the job, and the new pages now load 25% faster than previous models. Perfect for reading one-handed while you sip a cup of coffee.

Options: If you like to customize your e-reading experience, there are plenty of options to choose from. Menus can be viewed as thumbnails or lists, the text size can be changed quickly and easily, and there are even different fonts to choose from. We also liked the new PageFlip feature, which enables you to ‘flick’ through the book to a specific page. Ebooks have always been more difficult to jump around in than their physical counterparts, but now you can flip backwards and forwards with ease. Surely it won’t be long until they come with a built-in flyswatter too.

Verdict

If you already have the previous Paperwhite, you probably won’t want to upgrade to this newer version. Most of the features are the same as before. But the tweaks to the screen and the general operation make this the perfect entry-level Kindle for those who want to join the ebook generation – and it’s a valuable upgrade for those still labouring with the basic Kindle, too. Here at Litro we believe that the print-and-ink book is here to stay – but when you’re on the move and want a light, portable way of carrying your library with you, the Paperwhite is currently top of the pile.

Litro has a Kindle Paperwhite to give away this Valentine’s Day. We want to hear your best literary chat up lines (via haiku) by 12th February at the latest. The best lines will be posted online Friday 14th and a winning cupid will be chosen to win a New Kindle Paperwhite. Find more details and terms & conditions here.




Win the New Kindle Paperwhite

New Kindle Paperwhite
Kindle Paperwhite

With one in five relationships starting online according to mysinglefriend.com, does this prove technology’s dominance in the field of love?

With Valentine’s Day soon upon us, we want to hear your best literary chat up lines (via haiku—we are a literary magazine after all), so step into the boots of the likes of Heathcliff and tweet us the lines he – or even, for that matter, Catherine Earnshaw – should have thrown at each other, to have stopped him from becoming such a bitter soul. The best lines will be posted online Friday 14th and a winning cupid will be chosen to win a New Kindle Paperwhite. Don’t worry, we’ve also got amazon e-gift cards to give away to runners-up as no one is a loser in Love. Send us a haiku (or a bunch of them) with your best one-liners.

To get you started, here’s one we made up at the office: “You’re going to think my last name is Caulfield, because I’ll be Holden you all night long” – can you do better? Get creative, be cheeky, and dedicate it to that special person or someone who sat next to you on the Tube and you wished you’d tried your lines on. You can post your haikus on our Twitter page or on our Facebook.

The winner will receive the latest piece of literary technology from Argos and runners up amazon e-gift cards
We’ll be bringing you a review of the Kindle Paperwhite next week once we’ve had a chance to put it through the Litro test.

Deadline: All haikus must be posted on or before Wednesday, February 12th




The End of the Word As We Know It: Reading in the Age of Distraction

Broken Kindle. Photo by Jason Brackins
Broken Kindle. Photo by Jason Brackins

My flatmate lays it out on the kitchen table. He turns phantom pages with a flick of the wrist. The text is translucent. It swoops and scrolls, fits to size. Everybody purrs in approval. And I, the aspiring writer, I stare down at this next generation ebook with a sickly smile, and I think: sorry. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why a book has to resemble an impressive special effect…

Will the paper book be the next casualty of the information revolution? The sea of Samsungs, Androids, Apples, pads, pods, netbooks and notebooks that confront me on every plane, waiting room or cafe these days would seem to suggest it. Unlike films, newspapers or music, the web’s threat to the traditional publishing industry is not from making what’s already out there available for free, but rather providing too many enjoyable alternatives to reading. A decade ago the web remained quarantined indoors, anchored to desktops by Ethernet umbilical cords, and a good novel could still help to pass the time on a heaving tube and or lonely bus. Now kids who sport web-enabled phones can never leave what Andrew Keen calls the ‘global dorm room’ – Facebook is the book they all read, the novel they’re all writing, and they rarely need to leave its realm any more.

The result of this industrial-level distraction is a gradual infantilization, not only of the way we write (if Facebook is a collective novel, it’s a poorly punctuated one), but of the way we read. In his seminal essay Is Google making us stupid? Nicholas Carr talks of how the fidgety behaviour we associate with small children is spreading up the age brackets, and how the “deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” And that was written when tablets and smartphones were still new.

Let’s be honest, serious reading is an often difficult task, requiring mental space and energy, and with more than a whiff of deferred gratification about it. It promises something richly rewarding in return for an investment of hours, days, or weeks; the internet squirts an all-singing, all-dancing boredom-prophylactic into your eyeballs after an investment of seconds. Trying to focus on a book while you’re online is a bit like studying for an exam in the midst of a multi-media carnival parade: a bitmapped swirl of trivia, live gossip, shimmering images, sputtering podcasts, YouTube echolalia, links, jinks, jokes, tweets, tropes, memes, clips, bits, bytes, sites…

Broken Kindle. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski
Broken Kindle. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Enter the e-reader. Touted as one way to save old-fashioned reading in the age of the touchscreen, the Kindles, iPads and Nooks offer a sort of détente between the slower-paced world of print and the gratifying immediacy of the web age – a high-tech life-rope to a low-tech tradition. After all, in a resource-hungry world, does the paper itself still matter if people continue to download (and even occasionally pay for) books?

But the e-reader is not a simple format switch, the same thing on a different device. The reality is considerably more complicated. Not only have ereaders created an ebook market that’s becoming increasingly independent of the traditional one (and one which predictably involves scores of authors giving away their work for almost nothing), but their loyalties are to the future – or to put it another way, they’re subject to the same market dynamic as every other bit of hardware out there: planned obsolescence, accompanied by regular competitive upgrades.

Here the essential fallacy in the e-reader as saviour of the publishing industry argument becomes apparent. There’s only so far you can upgrade a screen which displays books; once you’ve been through a couple of generations (the Kindle is now on its fifth) new improvements can only go one way – more speed, more multimedia, more interactivity. The Kindle Fire, Amazon’s recent showpiece, boasts ‘over 22 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, and magazines, plus tens of thousands of popular apps and games such as Angry Birds Space, SkyscannerJamie’s 20 Minute Meals and Auto Trader.’ And… books? Yes, those too.

Admittedly the Fire is an offshoot branch of the family, but it does suggest that the ereaders of the future are about much more than just reading. By setting the simple book within the visceral riot of the contemporary web, the Kindle and its futuristic brethren risk eclipsing it entirely. Let’s not even dwell on the fact that it’s produced by a company famous for slashing publisher revenues since the Millennium. If a machine boasting of its power to bring a whirlwind of music, video and games into your hands is publishing’s last best hope, then things are grim indeed.

Perhaps it’s symptomatic of the times we live in. Our age is witnessing a grand project of de-contextualisation, as old media is re-framed within a new, multi-tasking environment. The recent Storyville documentary about Google Books’ attempt at a forced-collectivisation-of-literature program, by means of a Soviet-scale push to digitise the bulk of the world’s libraries without asking anyone, highlighted the culture clash between a millennia-old literary tradition and a new information economy based on speed, ease and instant appropriation. What first appears a noble sentiment – who can argue against saving the out-of-print archives from decay? – is revealed as a potentially reductive and profit-oriented credo.

Leaving copyright issues aside, books are not books as we know them to Google. They’re the information economy’s equivalent of undiscovered oil, more fuel for the search engine, and the project’s resounding achievement was to turn years of scholarly effort into a highlighted citation. Narrative, cohesion, authorial intention: all irrelevant. A book is just a bit of long-form content. Of course it might steer some to buying a copy – links to Amazon in the sidebar and so on – but we’d be optimistic indeed to assume all those all students compiling their bibliographies from a laptop are eager to pay if only someone would just let them.

Broken Kindle. Photo by Lachlan Hardy
Broken Kindle. Photo by Lachlan Hardy

Unusually in that case, Google lost the battle; their books-into-blurb program won few supporters among ranks of authors, editors and publishers less than overjoyed to see years of their labour reduced to a splash of searchable text, and the overlords of the information age were forced by court injunction to put the brakes on their voracious digitising. But the case speaks volumes – every pun intended – about Silicon Valley’s attitude to the oldest text-based technology of all. Culture is content, and the quicker, easier and cheaper it flows, the better for everybody. Why read when you can just scan? Why attempt to understand the subtleties of an author’s argument when the web will give you two lines you can patch into your thesis? If it turns coherent works into orphaned snippets, it turns serious readers into distracted surfers. After all, let’s not forget that Google is a company whose revenue stream comes from servicing humanity’s global attention deficit, a business model based on directing us toward content calculated to tantalise – a compelling thought when we remember these are the people we’re about to entrust the bulk of world literature to. We’re handing the library keys to a company that turns interruption into algorithmic science.

But perhaps we shouldn’t let ourselves lapse into wild dystopia. The digitization of books, the evolution of ereaders into tablets and web portals – all just aspects of a slow process that may well transform the publishing industry, but will never quite kill it off entirely. The reality is that whichever format they come in, books are too central to our culture to be totally side-lined by the web’s glitzy ephemera. The Booker, Pulitzer or Costa remain major press events; today’s bookslams, signings, festivals and other live literary events are doing more than ever to yank the author out of seclusion, and reveal a passion for writing that goes far beyond the polite or academic. Even the young who we imagine don’t read any more still surprise us: the fans of Dumbledore, Discworld or The Hunger Games are prepared to besiege Waterstones or Barnes & Noble for a major signing. It’s hard to imagine them getting so worked up about a blog-post.

In a perfect world, book selling might continue to thrive while the web makes it possible to gather together the ‘”ong tail” niches of out-of-print or obscure volumes – albeit with a touch more respect for the original than Google has shown. The web is best when it shines a torchlight on overlooked corners, giving unread authors the chance to circumvent the slush pile and gain a readership, while allowing ereaders to bring books to new audiences, the young and disabled among them. The reading community finds new ways to unite online even if what it reads becomes more piecemeal and disparate. And in doing so it’s simply part of the great contradiction of our time: that we gather ever more closely around ever more scattered campfires. The community of readers now spans the planet. If it could only find the time to read.

Of course reality is more prosaic, and the digital revolution – like the industrial one before it – will have its casualties whether we like it or not. But we do have to set our own concerns within a wider historical picture and remember that change is always terrifying to those who can only imagine its consequences. One noted thinker I glanced at recently complained of how information technology actually reduces our faculty for recall by providing an artificial prop to our memories – an observation that sounds like something Nicholas Carr might make to bait a Wired readership. In this case however the writer was Plato, and the new technology he feared was writing itself. Perhaps progress, like a novel reframed within the borders of a Kindle Fire, is all just a matter of context.




Reading the Classics on a Kindle

(c) thekellyscope
(c) thekellyscope

My favourite present this Christmas was a Kindle.

No, really. I’ve come a long way since the moment I announced, a year ago, that while some people might find a use for an e-reader, I could never be persuaded to make the move away from real books.

You know when you remember a past statement and just wish you could put it back into your mouth and swallow it for ever? Yes. That turns out to have been one of those.

I’m a serious reader. My addiction is incurable. The walls of my flat are lined with books, so many of them that they have overflowed their shelves and now stand in towering installations around the living room. It’s a weird week when I don’t read at least one book, maybe two, probably three. So I should be championing the importance of the printed word and denouncing those dangerous e-book pretenders, right? Well, that’s what I used to think.

But then, sometime during 2012, my opinion changed. Maybe it was the fact that so many of the other people speaking out in favour of print books were doing it in a way that I can only describe as embarrassing, grading to insane. First there was the (serendipitously titled) Slate article, ‘Out of Touch’, which argued that

If books are essentially vertebral, contributing to our sense of human uniqueness that depends upon bodily uprightness, digital texts are more like invertebrates, subject to the laws of horizontal gene transfer and nonlocal regeneration. Like jellyfish or hydra polyps, they always elude our grasp in some fundamental sense.

This pretentious piece overlooks a pretty obvious fact that I couldn’t help but notice – that e-readers are actually physical objects. When you read with one, you may not be holding a sheaf of paper, but you’re still holding an item with words on it and taking those words into your brain. The same words, incidentally, as you would take in with a paper book.

Not that fanatical e-book detractors will admit that. They behave as though the act of passing precious words through an electronic device somehow makes them less valuable. Last month I went to an event at which several of the UK’s most prominent critics talked about e-books and e-readers as though a Kindle had personally come into their houses and killed their families. “They’re terrible!” cried one. “They’re ruining the country’s reading culture!” complained another. A woman in the audience nodded in agreement. She, she told the room, feared for the children who were unlucky enough to grow up using these dreadful devices. “But how many of you have one?” asked the first critic suspiciously. There was a pause, and then three quarters of the room put up their hands. After that, the discussion became much more subdued.

If even these snobs were hiding secret e-reading habits, the format must, I thought to myself, have something to it. After all, what could really be so bad about the act of e-reading? The words are the same, and it’s the words that really matter. Paper is lovely to touch, covers are beautiful to look at and there’s a special acquisitive joy about owning a physical object that any bookworm will recognise immediately, but a book is made up of words, and that’s what an e-reader offers: the chance to get to grips with those words, just in a different medium.

And what e-books lack in packaging they more than make up in additional features. Instead of just reading you can also listen to audio, watch a video or look at photographs to enhance your experience of the text. Random House’s recent A Clockwork Orange app includes interviews with critics and a scan of the original manuscript. Looking at it from this point of view, the idea of owning an e-reader suddenly seemed extremely attractive to me.

So now I’ve got one. What’s my verdict?

You may be surprised to hear it, but the words still look like words. They still go together to make stories, and those stories are just as good, or as bad, as they would have been if I’d been touching pages instead of my rather fancy leather Kindle cover. Even the technical issues I was worried about turn out not to matter: I’m surprised by how similar flicking from screen to screen feels to the physical turning the page motion I’m used to, and I realise that what I found less immersive about reading on a computer was its ability to switch between multiple procrastination methods rather than anything about the scrolling text. Reading a book on my Kindle still feels like I’m, well, reading a book. The medium alone can’t make a reading experience invalid. I haven’t ‘read’ Trilby, I’ve read it, and there’s nothing any nay-sayer can do that’ll convince me otherwise.

Has my Kindle put me off physical books? Since I went out last week and bought seven newly-released paperbacks, I don’t think so. On the contrary, it’s given me access to an additional treasure trove of out-of-copyright, and therefore free, classics. As a fan of eighteenth century and Victorian literature, this is a huge attraction: my e-reader has given me the ability to get my hands on books that (aside from fortuitous discoveries in second-hand bookshops) simply don’t exist for me to buy in physical format.

Then there’s the weight issue: I can read Little Dorritt on the train without putting out my shoulder trying to haul a physical copy of it around in my bag. And if I find a title that I fall in love with and know that I want to read again and again in future – well, I’ll buy a beautiful physical copy to keep on my shelf. Conversely, I no longer have to worry about wearing out my favourite copy of an old and much-loved novel. Instead, I’ll just buy the e-version so I can read it on holiday while it’s still sitting safely on its shelf – the literary equivalent of having my cake and eating it too.

Of course, I need to point out that the e-book is not a trouble-free product. There are e-book detractors – and these are the ones that I do listen to – who point out their concerns about low pricing models. They also (with good reason) remind digital fanatics that the current e-book licensing method means that readers do not own the e-books that they buy. They are merely renting them from the distributor, a rental that can be brought to an end at the distributor’s discretion.

But are those things enough to damn e-books and e-readers? Of course not. And are people who predict the paper book’s demise correct? I don’t think so either. E-books are not paper book replacements, nor are they really being marketed as such. They should be seen as a handy alternative, a useful add-on that’s more likely to improve and expand reading culture rather than kill it off. E-books can do things that print books can’t, and vice versa – but what stays the same, no matter the medium, are the words themselves. And aren’t those words what we’re all here for?




E Pluribus eBooks

Will the iPad succeed in bringing the classics to a new audience?

Given its massive popularity, there is little surprise that iPad could take esoteric tarot reading and astronomy and make it trendy. Sandra Smiley tells us why e-readers won’t give more currency to the classics.

The e-reader’s success at the tills this holiday season has had pundits auguring a transformation in the way we factotums read – with the huge number of free classics available in electronic libraries, they argue, people will opt for literature’s opera magna rather than paying for the latest potboiler. I’m not sure I buy it. It does seem to me that, since the holidays, markedly more tube passengers are toting that new tablet PC. And there certainly is a growing boodle for the bookish available on the net, with loads of platforms for sharing and initiatives like Project Gutenberg giving up the classics for free. This is great— but I sincerely doubt that it’ll have the proud new owners of iPads revisiting their sixth-form English texts in significant numbers.

I’ll admit I’m not totally convinced by the classics. Like most students of literature, I had them shoved down my throat in a great many torturous sessions of literary gavage euphemised as “undergraduate seminars”. And though I’ve resigned myself to the idea that a knowledge of the classics is good to have tucked away, I choke on ’twases and shants. As  a general rule, I just don’t enjoy reading anything written before our time, the twentieth century — I stumble over snaking syntax, unfamiliar contexts and archaic vocab. Not helping matters is a principled objection to glossaries on the grounds of their obvious impracticality (and one too many paper cuts). Surely I could have done without that trip to the moors of this chapter to find out that “dowlas” is in fact a kind of coarse sacking? Use that one in a sentence.

Classic literature is difficult, better the focus of thoughtful study than a long-haul flight, and I personally maintain that anybody who claims to enjoy a spot of Shakespeare on public transit or bit of Byron before bed is a crook-pated liar. It’s for that reason that the electronic libraries won’t do much for the classics, many now free in ebook form. We won’t see the Kindle do for Lewis Carroll what YouTube did for Justin Bieber, ‘Fred Figglehorn’ or for Heidi the Cross-Eyed Opossum. Being free doesn’t generate interest — striking a chord with people does (although I’m loath to imagine what fire a marsupial with vision problems ignites in the general public).

By now I must have you convinced that were my brow any lower, it’d be my chin. But this isn’t a rip on English lit’s rich and challenging masterpieces – far from it. The simple fact is, much classic literature just doesn’t resound with people as readily as, say, girls with dragon tattoos. Popular contemporary lit presents the reader with familiar and comfortable characters and situation – and unsurprisingly, people will continue to pay for this kind of tome, one that speaks directly to them. The classics, on the other hand, require time and effort to really take in –  and the iPad, with its 1-GHz Apple A4 processor and squillion megabytes of RAM, is hardly working to slow life down. Despite the Kindle’s second coming and the annals of free classics multiplying on the web, the most popular titles, I maintain, will continue to be contemporary. That’s what you’ll see people filling their short spurts of leisure time with, skipping through them on the subway or during the odd Saturday night at home.

If sudoko hasn’t got anything to say about it, that is.

By Sandra Smiley