Sunday, March 29, 2009

I heart

Amazon recently released a free Kindle e-book reader for the iPhone, and I love it. Normally I don't shill products, but I was pretty skeptical about this one and have been pleasantly surprised at how good it is. I've been reading Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke on my iPhone over the last couple of weeks -- mostly at the gym but also during a few long flights. It's a long book -- over 600 pages -- and having it in my pocket at all times has made it much easier to read bits and pieces whenever I get a chance.

The app is dead simple to use: you simply flick left or right to turn pages, and it automatically remembers your place so that when you relaunch the app you are back where you left off. In the current version, you have to buy e-books via the Web, and the next time the app launches it downloads the content to your phone. I guess this is not so great for spur-of-the-moment purchases while getting ready to board a flight, but my understanding is that a future version will let you buy content directly from the iPhone. As far as I can tell, it eats very little power -- not surprising, but nice to know in case you're worried that spending a few hours reading will drain the battery.

Amazon is definitely undercutting their own Kindle e-book reader by providing this app, and they claim that it was mainly intended as a stop-gap for Kindle owners who want to do a bit of reading in places like the supermarket check-out line. (Is anyone so impatient they really need to read a book while waiting to buy groceries?)

What's it like to read a book on the iPhone? Well, the app lets you pick the font size, which is nice. For reading on the elliptical machine I crank it up fairly large, which means flicking to the next page every 10-15 seconds. When I can hold the phone close and steady I use a smaller font. Actually, I tend to prefer the narrow column of text as it helps me keep my place through saccadic movements -- not unlike some speed-reading techniques -- as I tend to get lost on a large page of text. As it turns out, I actually prefer reading on the iPhone rather than a paper book -- odd.

The best part is that more than 250,000 titles are available and I can use a device I carry in my pocket at all times -- no need for another gadget, charger, USB cable, what have you. I was sorely tempted to buy a Kindle before this app came out, but now there's really no need.

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