Thursday, July 04, 2013

Why I Love My Kindle

So, coming in hot on the heels of my last post, the title of this one might make some of you think that I, Chitra Appasamy, now fancy myself a writer of Technology Reviews.

Calm yourselves. It is not so.

I've had occasion to discuss the Kindle and its virtues several times over the last month, with suspicious book-lovers who view (as I did) buying a Kindle as some form of 'selling out' to the Electronic Age, and proof that one does not, in fact, really love books, but is merely a 'casual' reader (the horror!) You know the sort. Someone who picks something off the bestseller shelf to read on a flight or on the toilet. Is that who you are, Chitra, huh? How can we have misjudged you so?!

How can a person who's grown up devouring books, who visits secondhand bookstores and libraries more to savour that gorgeous old-book smell than to actually buy or borrow anything, who loiters in the Landmark aisles for hours just window-shopping, who has to dodge a book-avalanche every time she opens a cupboard, whose Amazon wishlist of 262 items comprises largely of future additions to her library - and in my case, someone who loves and designs book jackets - how can such a person, such an obvious kindred spirit, possibly enjoy reading crisp electronically-generated letters on a cold, hard piece of soulless plastic?

People find this very upsetting. When a long-time book lover buys herself a Kindle, it is like Proof that the Book is Dying (as various articles on The Internets keep trying to convince us). Doesn't anyone care about that lovely book-smell anymore? Are we the only ones left? What is happening to the world?!

I understand your feelings, because they mirror mine from about a year and a half ago. So you can imagine my shock when a friend I really admire, who loves books even more than I do and has read about ten times the number I have (for the record, this is a formidable figure) whipped out a Kindle in my presence. This was the first time I had actually seen this supposed Destroyer of Worlds, and I was simultaneously fascinated and outraged. How can YOU possibly have one of these, I asked plaintively. A few months later, I had one too.

I admit that I opened the package with mingled joy and trepidation, and that it took me a few days to get used to reading on said piece of soulless plastic. But get used to it I did, and I am so glad. Here's why.

Book in Bag: Let me paint you a woefully familiar picture. You buy an awesome book you've been waiting to read. You stuff it in your bag and carry it absolutely everywhere, not wanting to miss a single chance to spend time with it (in a free class, at the bus stop, in the doctor's waiting room). By the time you finish the book, it looks about five years old. You spot that a corner of the cover is bent, and your skin crawls. Also, depending upon size and weight, you are pretty restricted in your choice of bags (this can be a pain if you are a member of the race of Girl) and you simply don't have a bag that fits the book and matches everything. I have solved this problem in the past by going out and buying a new bag, but let's not talk about that now.

Whereas a Kindle, even in a protective case, is small, incredibly light and durable, and lets you leave your paper book at home unscuffed. It fits in almost any handbag and I know guys who've carried it in large pants or jacket pockets.

Travelling Library: Five weeks in the US! Hooray! I'm all packed in compliance with the inadequate Laws of Baggage but oh my gosh, what on Earth am I going to read there? Five weeks, two massive air commutes...let me pack five books. Who needs shoes and underwear anyway!

During the course of the five weeks, I invariably discover that books do, in fact, inhabit the place that I am visiting, and guess what, there's a sale! MOAR BOOKS. Now, how do I get them back to India? Crap, I'll just have to stuff them in my deceptively tiny handbaggage and yay, they don't weigh ladies handbags! By the time I arrive home, I have strained my back and need to recover in bed - but at least I have the five books I carried there and back and didn't read for company.

Yeah. You see where I'm going with this. A Kindle can hold three thousand books. If you travel a lot, and you read a lot, it just stands to reason that you should get one.

I think those two reasons alone should be sufficient to bring anyone around. There's more. But before I go there, I should probably reassure you that e-Readers are not going to kill the paper book, at least not for a good few generations - if ever.

Amazon may have announced that e-books beat hardcover books in sales, recently. But they didn't mention that hardcover books usually cost at least twice as much as Kindle books, and also, most importantly, that paperbacks outstripped both hardcover and Kindle books by a mile. Who buys hardcovers nowadays, anyway? But of course, all we saw was KINDLE > BOOK! PANIC IN THE STREETS!

I, and everyone I know who owns a Kindle, still obsessively buy paper books. If I read an awesome book on the Kindle, I am totally going to go out and buy the printed version with the pretty cover. I am also rather selective of which books I buy on the Kindle and which I buy for my bookshelf - and I think that's the smart way to do it. Books I am experimenting with, want to take on holiday, or that are just too massive and also part of a long series - these go in the Kindle Library.

Now that I've reassured you somewhat, let me point out a few other reasons why the Kindle is worth a book-lovers hard-earned dollars (it's not all that many dollars either).

Instant Downloads: Your favourite author's book is releasing at midnight. Pre-order it. At midnight, it will automatically download, in seconds, to your Kindle, and you are free to squander your sleep perusing a book that literally released minutes ago.

Affordability: If you're trying out a book you haven't read before, and you don't feel like risking 600 Indian bucks on it, Kindle books are almost always significantly cheaper.

Free Books: Any book that's out of copyright, is free on the Kindle. Seriously. Free. And there's a ton of really excellent ones. Go and see.

Deals: There are awesome deals that happen on a very regular basis. These are to support new authors, promote reading, or just for fun. And if you have the cheaper Kindle that allows advertising, it's actually really cool, because it doesn't interfere with your reading or uglify your screen and you find out about this stuff without having to go looking. There are also some excellent bundle deals around the interwebz, like the Humble eBook Bundle or Amazon's own 'box-set' type deals.

3G: You can choose to buy a Kindle with a 3G connection that allows you to access the Kindle Store and buy books from absolutely anywhere, even if you're in a tent in the wilderness reading by torchlight. And you don't have to pay for this connection at all beyond simply buying a Kindle 3G. (The 3G version is optional, all Kindles come with regular Wi-Fi connectivity.)


So, this is why I think the Kindle is awesome. And to reiterate, it doesn't make you stop buying (or loving!) paper books. It just gives you options and makes everything that much more streamlined and convenient. I view the Kindle as a supplement to paper books, not a substitute for them. And it is working out really well for me.

(I'm not going to go into all the hardware details like how the e-ink is as easy on the eyes as paper, and the charger plug is interchangeable with most smartphones, and you can spill your drink on it without too much happening (I haven't done this yet). If this blog post gets you interested enough, you can go find all that out for yourself.)

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Keyboard Love

(I love my new keyboard so much that I'm writing a blog post about it, just for the joy of typing.)

Oddly enough, in all of the 13 years I've been actively using computers, I've never had the occasion to choose and buy a keyboard myself. The Early Years (mostly involving my 'cookiemonster123' email address and numerous Napster chats with strangers who liked The Beatles) were spent carefully picking out characters on one of those old, yellowing, clickety-clackety keyboards of yore.

A couple of years later, after absorbing several glasses of sticky beverages, old clickety-clackety gave up the ghost and along came a strange new contraption. I had finally 'mastered' (or so I thought - Future Me kicks 14-year-old Me's ASS at typing) the art of using a keyboard, and I viewed the annoyingly soft and soundless intruder into my PC world as some strange new beast to be vanquished. I was so tied in to that loud 'clack' that I'd be convinced my keystroke hadn't registered, which resulted in tyyypingg liiike tthhisss and some serious keyboard abuse (and bruised fingertips).

Over time, I got used to membrane keyboards, but that's about it. No great love blossomed. I never thought 'Wow, this keyboard is epic!' or really gave much thought to them at all. Computers of my own, when they came, wound up being laptops, so keyboard-buying was a moot point. (I have to interject, though, that the Macbook Pro's post-2008 chiclet keyboard design is absolutely lovely to use).

Then one fine day, a friend of mine is super excited because his new 'mechanical' keyboard has just arrived. What is this mechanical keyboard? I ask. Aren't all keyboards by nature mechanical? He looks at me like I've just crawled out of the woodwork and says, didn't you ever use a computer when you were a kid?!


So they DID still make clickety-clackety keyboards. And, since keyboards are one of the things I'd never bothered to research, I had nooo idea. When my friends helped me build my PC a few months later, I decided to borrow a keyboard and save up some money to buy one of these fancy mechanical fellows later, as they seemed to cost a minimum of Rs.5000 (yes, yes, I was broke).

I normally spend a minimum of a month researching products I'm going to buy, unless specific tech-savvy friends of mine are involved. And a couple of them recently (conveniently) embarked on a quest to find the best mechanical keyboard. This resulted in me walking into a conversation involving an open Amazon product page, someone saying "Wow, that is a REALLY good keyboard for the price, you should buy that!" and someone else saying "I can just add it to the order for you and my cousin will bring it down". To which I replied, in my usual eloquent and well-thought-out fashion, "Ummm, okay!"

This keyboard happened to be the Azio Levetron Mech 5, of which I knew nothing. The reasons I said yes, on merely viewing the product page from a distance, went thusly. a) Volume-control knob. b) Removable numpad. c) Arjun and Vijay gave it a thumbs-up!

After my order was placed, my friends found a really awesome Indian-brand mech keyboard at half the price, the TVS Gold. You can read my friend Vijay's review of it here.

Because they are awesome friends, they offered to give me a TVS Gold instead (since they'd found it after I placed my order). But I hung onto my suddenly-expensive Rs.3800 Azio, because I think I have finally found true keyboard love.

I am not trying to say "This is the most perfect keyboard ever built. All the people should buy it!" I'm saying that this is the perfect keyboard for me. Here's why...

1) There is a button to disable/enable that damn Windows key. I think it's for gamers, to ensure they don't accidentally minimise games (which I've done before) but my main reason for loving it is because I no longer find myself staring at the Windows 8 Start Screen while using Illustrator or InDesign. Not having to glance down every time I use kb shortcuts is a BIG bonus.

2) Volume control dial. Satisfyingly big one, top right corner. Means I don't have to lean forward and reach behind my speaker for volume control (I know I can do it on the system, but that doesn't always cut it if the volume is set to max and I want to increase it, etc.)

3) REMOVABLE NUMPAD. No, scratch that. The numpad comes separately. Now, I have a rather large CPU that sits on my desktop to my right. Next to it is my mouse. An average keyboard with the built-in numpad, due to its length, sits off-centre to my monitor and, for that matter, myself, and makes typing uncomfortable. And I don't think I've ever used a numpad in my life. This keyboard sits perfectly in the centre and typing is now AWESOME.

4) Obviously, the mech keys are the main reason typing is now AWESOME. They sit on Cherry Black mechanical switches, which my friends assured me (and I later read) are the best for typing+durability (you get something like 50 million keystrokes out of them). I can pop out the keys and replace them when I'm cleaning, as with any mech keyboard, and a bunch of spare switches are provided - which is awesome in case I drop/break one, or if the cats steal it.

5) Water. Freaking. Resistant. Well, to a point, anyway. If I spill my drink into the keyboard, and control myself from flipping out and overturning or shaking it, the keyboard will just properly drain itself. After which I can open it up and clean up any stickiness. For me, this is a massive relief - I haven't dropped a drink into a keyboard for over 6 years but who's to say I won't do it tomorrow.

6) Fully programmable keys. This is a gaming keyboard, and it's really awesome for games, but what it's also really awesome for is graphic design. I haven't experimented with programming the keys yet but I suspect I'm going to get some serious use out of that feature.

7) It's symmetrical, and heavy (it was described as 'ultra-durable'). This means that I can lean back, put it on my lap and lean it against the edge of the desk, and type away, without it wobbling or moving a millimeter. I don't have the most ergonomic desk (it's a big desk, but doesn't seem to account for computers at all) so this is a major relief comfort and posture-wise. It's also really solid and well-made despite having additional/removable parts.

There are some other cool features as well, but I've just listed the ones that make it my One True Keyboard. If this has got you interested you should definitely check it out for yourself.