Monday, December 26, 2011
Review: Kindle Fire Book Experience
In the Star Trek original series episode Court Martial (1967), Jim Kirk is facing a general court martial for apparently sending a fellow officer to his death in a non-emergency situation (it's a trick, since the officer faked his own death to implicate Kirk as revenge for a problem that happened between them years before). Kirk's attorney is one Samuel T Cogley (played wonderfully by the late Elisha Cook Jr.) who has his own system of practicing law based on old fashioned, hardcopy books. When Cogley is explaining his system to Kirk, he asks, What's the matter? Don't you like books?" Kirk's reply is, "I like them just fine, but a computer takes less space." That's my theory behind reading on the Kindle Fire.
I'm actually a bit torn. Like Cogley, "I like books". I'm old enough to still think that a "real" book is better than an electronic copy, but I have to balance desire with practicality. The Kindle Fire will never be able to replace the feel or the smell of an old book, but the content and the magic will still be there on each page I swipe (instead of turn). The Kindle Fire has a 6.5 GB storage limit on its hard drive but Amazon offers free unlimited cloud storage for anything purchased at Amazon (you can store non-Amazon products in their cloud free too, but only up to 5 GB...to upgrade to 20 GB of storage for said-files costs $20.00 a year), so "book shelf" space doesn't seem to be a problem.
I was intriqued by Amazon's free lending library for Amazon Prime users. Since I have a month's free trial of Prime, potentially, I have access to thousands of library books which I can borrow from Amazon for free. This sounded fabulous, but there's a catch.
I fired up my Kindle (pun not intended) and on the main page, tapped "Books" and then "Store". On the Books page, there's menu on the right side and I tapped "Kindle Owner' Lending Library". A list of various categories (Fiction, Nonfiction, Comics & Graphic Novels, etc...) appeared. Once I made a selection (Fiction) I saw a list of books, some available through Prime for free, but nothing to indicate that they could be borrowed. I selected one at random and when the book's "details page" appeared, there indeed was a button that said "Borrow for Free". I scrolled down for awhile but didn't find anything that looked appealing (in spite of the number of books I own, I'm actually picky about what I read).
I decided to try "Comics & Graphic Novels" and received a bit of a shock. The "graphic" part has to do with sex. A huge percentage of this collection is virtual porn, with titles such as "Wicked Desires: Steamy Sex Stories Volume 1", "My Sister Bestfriend", and "Sex Messages, Social Networking, and BDSM". The actual comic books were neither DC nor Marvel and seemed to be rather seedy, off-brand tales from the 1950s and 60s. Anything worthwhile (Batman, Green Lantern, Watchmen) cost about $10.00 each. I also noticed DC but no Marvel titles, which was quite a let down.
Treasure Island and burned through the first two chapters. And at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial huckster, that's not all. Amazon also points you, via their website, to numerous library projects that offer over a million free titles. Projects such as archive.org and gutenberg.org, complete with instructions on how to access their content from Kindle Fire. I haven't tried this part out yet, but believe me, I will.
As with movies and TV shows, the number and type of books you can borrow or get for free through Amazon Prime or the Kindle Owner's lending library is limited. The comic book and graphic novel selection was particularly wanting and I was severely disappointed. I really think there needs to be an online archive project specifically for older comic books, since their physical copies won't last forever and the originals held by the publishers are reproduced and distributed at the mercy of those companies. I guess that's my problem, though and I suspect that availability of book and comic book titles is limited by licensing costs. Besides, Amazon and the various publishing houses have to make a buck somehow.
In spite of the roadblocks I encountered, I still discovered that I have access to a large selection of reading material. Not everything I want, but books that I can't find, even at my local lending library. Speaking of which, I can't wait to see how to actually borrow a digital book from my public library for Kindle Fire. In the meantime, I'm going to be happily making my way through Treasure Island. "Yo ho and a bottle of rum, mateys."
Oh, and if you liked this review, make sure to catch my other Kindle Fire review on my experiences with movies and TV shows.