Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gringo Gear: The Kick-Ass Kindle

by Thaddeus

 XKCD rightly compares the Kindle to another famous electronic book...

This is a new feature here at O Mangue: reviews of products which make gringo life that much easier.

When I first came to Brazil in 1984, I hit a wall I hadn't anticipated. I am a book worm. A serious bookworm. I go through two or three books a week. Not all these books are high-minded texts: in fact, most of them are pulp fiction. But if I don't have reading material of some sort on me all the time, I start getting jumpy.

So back in 1984, when I didn't yet know how to read Portuguese, I rapidly ran through all the books I had brought with me. At the time, I was living in Riberão Preto and this was long before anyone had invented the term "globalization". There was one English-language book outlet in Riberão - at the mall - and it had about 50 books, all on sale for the equivalent of 6 times their American price. Even so, I was desperate. By the time a year had passed in Ribeirão (and I had learned enough Portuguese to read stuff like Feliz Ano Velho and A Queda para o Alto), I had bought pretty much everything in that store that I could stomach and had read through The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich four or five times. Things got so bad that every time I left Ribeirão to visit another city, I'd spend my first day searching for English-language book stores.

When I came back to Brazil in 1990, things hadn't changed much. In fact, I got my first job in Brazil, working for Devir Livraria, as a direct result of an all-weekend English book quest in São Paulo. One of the best perks at Devir was being allowed to order my own reading material (and getting a 20% discount to boot).

A pity that's Kindle didn't exist back then. God knows how my life would have been different.

As most Americans reading this probably know, the Kindle is's e-book reader. I was an early adaptor, buying my first one back in early 2008. I'm now on my third.

There are several book readers on the market and the Kindle is the only one I've used so far. I have no wish to change to something else for two reasons: the device's electronic paper screen and the fact that it's backed up by's distribution empire.

For those who've not yet seen a Kindle, it's a plastic device about the size and weight of a large paperback. You read books on a grey and black electronic paper screen. This is crucial: electronic paper emits no light and the words are physically present. This means that the experience of reading is exactly as if one were reading printed text: no headaches from looking at LEDs for hours on end.

The Kindle 2 in all its plastic glory. A newer version called the DX is also available.

You turn pages by pressing on buttons at the side of the device. Pages flip slightly slower than with a regular book, but not enough to bother me - and I'm a fast reader. The Kindle also allows you to turn the corner of virtual pages to mark places in the text as well as write notes in virtual "margins". Text can also be highlighted. Both notes and highlights go to a .txt file where they can later be downloaded directly to your computer. The Kindle also allows you to search text - not only in a book, but in your whole virtual library. The device comes with a built-in 3G system that allows you to buy and download books from at will. In the first editions of the Kindle, this feature was blocked in Brazil. In my new second edition machine, however, it's fully operative. Last Friday, in fact, I sat down next to the Pará River in Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon, and downloaded three books while waiting for my breaded filhote. Sure, Belém's not the middle of the rainforest, but when I recall scrambling to find English-language reading material in 1980s Brazil... Well, the Kindle's nothing short of miraculous to me.

Though the Kindle supposedly only reads proprietor-format texts, there are now plenty of programs on the 'net which allow you to freely transcribe texts back and forth between various other formats. I now routinely translate colleagues' Word and PDF papers into Kindle format and read them virtually. It saves time and paper.

The best thing about the Kindle, however, is that it allows you to port virtual libraries with no effort at all. Last winter, Ana and I took over 50 books along with us on our vacation to Visconde de Mauá.

In terms of user-friendliness, it took me about two hours of reading to be able to completely ignore the fact that I was not reading a traditional book. The interface is VERY intuitive and I'd be willing to bet that even such confirmed technophobes as my 67-year-old mother could use the device with little difficulty.

The Kindle does have a few downsides, however...

In the first place, it isn't very good for academic work where one needs to be constantly zipping back and forth in a text. It has no page numbers (only location markers) and this also makes attributing quotes difficult. Finally, of course, not all texts have been digitalized (though this is something that's rapidly going to change with the growing popularity of digital reading devices), so you might find that what you need isn't available.

For light and entertainment-based reading - as well as a portable reference library - the Kindle is fantastic. For serious academics, I think we're probbly never going to get completely away from paper.

If you're a gringo or an immigrant far from home, however, and you love reading, investing in a device of this sort is an absolute must.

 And for those of you who are unscrupilous criminals, entire collections literature can be found for the Kindle, for free, at The Pirate Bay. But we here at O Mangue would never wish to be seen as supporting file piracy, so please don't go there. Oh, and ask yourself "What Would Jesus Do?" (always presuming, of course, that Jesus wanted to get ahold of some high-quality Jenna Jameson porn without paying for it...)


  1. Thanks Thad. Right now I have the Sony touch screen 700 series. After reading various reviews on other e readers,I am veering towards the newest Kindle, the Kindle DX with its' 9.7 inch screen. I should think that it would be an improvement for some of the academic text books. The new ereaders are coming out fast and furious! The books themselves appear to be cheaper, with the exception of new releases and academic books. Sony is coming out with an upgraded e reader with wifi and a bigger screen. One thing, does the Kindle have a back light? Can you read it in most light? Still, I am veering towards the Kindle with its' large screen for my next purchase. Another thing, can you import PDFs into it or must they have DRM in order to do so? Thanks for the post! Herneith, down with DRM!

  2. No back light on the Kindle but because of the electronic paper screen, you can read it in any light that you can read a book in. At any angle. This is the BIG plus of the Kindle for me, though you sacrifice color to get it.

    The new Kindles allow you to toss PDFs right up on the screen. You'll DEFINITELY want a big screen DX for those academic papers, though, as most PDFs don't scale up or down. I now wish I'd bought a DX...

  3. Hey Thaddeus....Are you saying that any document in the PDF format can be loaded into the Kindle? Or is there some other processing required...using some other re-process the PDF file. I am assuming that, since the KINDLE is the size of a paperback then the best PDF should also be that size.

  4. "I now wish I'd bought a DX..."

    Bite the bullet Thad, buy one! My greatest beef is with the rapidity that these gadgets upgrade. You buy the newest major upgrade and before you know it, a newer version comes out with major upgrades. Colour ereaders are on the horizon!


  5. Hey Thad! Get a load of these beautiful covers for the Kindle DX!

    I am going to purchase the Kindle! Thanks for your review!

  6. Adrian, practically any PDF can be loaded directly onto the new Kindle. You'll probably want to process the document for better legibility, however, using thrid-party softwear, which takes a minute, basically.

    If, like me, you need to read PDF's of scanned documents and articles, you might want to buy the Kindle with a larger screen. I saw a doctor using one of these on my last trip up to the States and it's really useful. Anything can be read on that, pretty much, with no prior processing.


  7. I have purchased the Kindle DX! You can indeed transfer PDFs onto the device. However, depending on the document, as Thad says you may need, or want to have it converted to the Kindle compatible format. For straight forward text though, just transferring the PDF should suffice.
    Here is a link to the Kindle page describing this:

    I have transferred some PDFs to the Kindle and have not suffered any ill effects while reading them. I have not however, done so with documents that contain graphs, pictures etc. This may be where the document converter comes in handy though.

    Thad, I have purchased the cover for my Kindle DX:

    Thad, do more posts on software!