Why The New Kindle is a Must-Have for Travelers

There are three items I own which I’ll always upgrade when a significant upgrade exists: my computer, my camera, and my Kindle. Yesterday I got my new Kindle, the fourth generation one that was just released. Before I talk about this specific Kindle, I want to address some general points about the Kindle.


Some people balk at the $189 price tag of the newest 3G Kindle (which is the only one to buy, by the way). It’s expensive, but only if you consider it a drop in replacement for books. I consider it $200 to ensure that I read at least 10X more than I used to.

Last year I didn’t count how many books I read, but my guess would be somewhere around 5-8. I can only really think of a couple, but there must have been more. I’ve had a Kindle for fourteen weeks. On the Kindle I count 24 books that I’ve read in that time, plus one book which was only available in paper and was loaned to me, which brings me to 1.8 books per week. In a year that’s almost 95 books!

This jump is attributable 80% to the Kindle and 20% to the new habit of turning my computer off at 11.

If you don’t read as much as you’d like to now, investing $189 on a Kindle will definitely improve that.

Then, of course, there’s the book prices. Most of the books I’ve read since getting the Kindle have been purchased through the Amazon store, despite the fact that I used to mostly pirate books. Why? Because I’m not paying $9.99 for a book, I’m paying $9.99 for a perfect reading experience. I actually started reading a pirated copy of Eat, Pray, Love (don’t bother reading it unless you’re a girl…), and midway through bought a legitimate copy because the formatting is so perfect. Paid books also sync across your computer, phone, and Kindle, and can be downloaded on demand from Amazon whenever you want.

The other thing to consider is that you can download a substantial free preview of almost any book, usually consisting of a couple chapters. When someone recommends a book to me I download the preview, and then when I’ve run through all of my books I start reading previews until I find one that I want to finish.

“But I love the feeling of reading a book”

I interpret this as “But I’m used to reading a book”. I don’t know anyone who has gotten a Kindle and said a word about the pleasures of reading a paper book. Especially people who read big books. I recently finished Good Calories, Bad Calories, which is 640 pages. Not only is it annoying to hold such a big book, especially in bed, but it’s a huge pain to bring it with me anywhere.

The Kindle looks like paper, the font size can be adjusted to suit your preferences, and page flips can be done with one hand. I don’t like to use the word perfect, but it’s pretty darn close. Read one book on the Kindle and tell me you prefer a paperback… I dare you.

The New Kindle and Travel

The new Kindle is tiny. The half inch shaved off the width and height is far more dramatic in person than on the spec sheet. It’s now pocketable. Not that you’d throw it in your pocket with your keys and phone, but that you could put it in your pocket while you go grocery shopping and you wouldn’t really notice it. It’s thinner, too, but you have to really work to notice that difference.

The contrast ratio has been improved by 50%. I found the old one to be totally acceptable, but the new contrast ratio is immediately noticeable. You don’t need to hold the Kindles side to side… just reading a page on the new one makes any seasoned Kindle reader say “wow”. It looks great.

There are now forward and backward keys on both sides. I’m really happy about this because before you couldn’t go back a page if you were holding the Kindle with just your right hand. Now you can. The keyboard DID lose the number keys, though, which I think is a mistake. Accessing the numbers using the SYM button is annoying. The new buttons have a stickier feel to them and I find the narrower keyboard much easier to type on. If I’m typing with my thumbs, narrower is better.

One HUGE improvement is the web browser, which is now based on Webkit. The old browser was usable in a pinch but pretty brutal. Here’s a side by side of my site on the new one vs. the old one.

The browser isn’t as good as an iPad or laptop or even a phone, but it doesn’t require a service plan and it works in many countries. I’m not sure if people understand that– there’s no monthly fee for the 3G on a Kindle, and it works internationally, also for free. I used my Kindle in both Japan and Canada to check my email and to make phone calls through my phone system. Google Maps used to be unusable on it– now it’s good enough to be useful.

Without a Kindle you’re just not going to read while you travel, assuming you travel lightly. On Life Nomadic I read Atlas Shrugged on my computer screen and the first few chapters of The Life of Pi on a bootleg copy of the book I bought in Vietnam. That’s it, and it’s a shame because I had plenty of long plane rides, train trips, and lazy afternoons on the deck of a ship. The size of the Kindle is so negligible that I wouldn’t have noticed it, even in my small backpack.

You can buy the new Kindle on Amazon.






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