Advantages and Disadvantages of Reading with a Kindle

Over the past month or so I’ve acquired a bunch of PDFs of books on finance and investment, and stared with the first one, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre, a fictionalised biography of the legendary trader Jesse Livermore, who was notable for shorting the market in the Great Depression.

However, reading it on laptop is the damnedest way to read anything that was designed as a book or other long-form document. I learned to read before I went to school, so I have a higher reading speed than most people. However, probably because I didn’t learn to read from a computer screen, my reading speed drops dramatically on the laptop, and it costs me 20 W of power just to hold the page on my screen. I can’t read it in anything other than a sitting position, the whole thing is a pain.  Paying for Stock Operator in book form almost starts to look attractive, but I have another 20 or so books to read like this. The reading experience needs to get better, and a Kindle could do it.

I’ve come across the Kindle before, though I hadn’t seen one, and my first reaction was along the lines of

this is like a games console or similar consumer thneed designed to create a locked down consumer space to part the simple-minded from their money.

If used as intended, that’s exactly what you get. You can get a Kindle version of Reminiscences of a Stock Operator for £9, and off you go. That’s not bad for this book if you compare the dead-tree versions, though the secondhand market will come up with the goods in real form for £6.42 at the time of writing. My copy is a PDF, and was the result of a Google search. The book was from 1923.

Monevator’s Kindle books on investing article made me think about this again, particularly as I have now collected even more PDFs from the fascinating period between 1900 and 1930 when the Haber-Bosch process of creating artificial fertiliser from natural gas hadn’t been refined, and all sorts of bizarre methods were tried in agriculture using electrical discharges.

At the same time Martin Lewis’s moneysaving expert website warmed me up to how to get a WiFi Kindle for £75-ish so I figured it was time to revisit this, so I bought one, and loaded it with PDFs. You get a 30-day trial during which you can return and get your money back less delivery if you don’t get on with it, so I figured I could take a flyer.

Kindle on a paperback book set in 10.5pt
the total Kindle area is similar to the book, but the screen is a lot smaller

As the picture shows, a Kindle isn’t the same as a paperback, because the screen is smaller than the page of a typical paperback. And though I am middle-aged I can see easily enough that the resolution of the screen isn’t the same as a paperback, but it is far, far, closer to it than my laptop.

It’s good enough. I’ve got my normal reading speed back, it’s a lot more convenient and I can read anywhere. I’ve only read PDFs on the Kindle apart from the instruction manual, and the image quality of the result with PDFs isn’t as good as with a true Kindle book. To get a whole A4 page onto the Kindle screen results in a small and ill-defined font. However, you can spin the Kindle through 90 degress and read in landscape mode. It doesn’t reformat automatically, I would have thought an orientation switch would have been an easy win, but it can be done manually. The result is much sharper than reading the same PDF on my laptop, even though the screen is physically much larger on the laptop.

Landscape mode is easier to read on this PDF
Landscape mode is easier to read on this PDF and matches the book font size more closely

So I’m a convert – but I won’t be buying from Monevator’s list yet. I don’t like paying for what I can’t touch in terms of media, and there’s no used market for Kindle books, because they’ve presumably stitched things up so you buy a license and not a product. Embodying your media in Real Stuff has the advantage of giving such monoplistic control freaks the shaft, they surrender control of the secondhand market as soon as they let go of the physical embodiment. Hoever, if I don’t buy ebooks I don’t get to eat that crow. The Kindle works well for PDFs, and Google can turn up all sorts of good stuff.

The go anywhere appeal is the best part of the Kindle, in all sorts of surprising areas. At the electronics bench, once upon a time you could have databooks with device pinouts and application data. Since the 1990s you had to print out the PDFs, and datasheets aren’t concise. With a Kindle, all the datasheets are to hand at the bench. That go anywhere feature is what makes this transformational. For other people it will be having recipes in the kitchen to hand, or workshop manuals in the shed – all places where taking a laptop is doable, but a right pain.

Oh an if you haven’t got a PDF creator, Google docs creates PDFs if you want to print something, as the cloud hasn’t got access to your print drivers. The Kindle can take these too, so you don’t have to pay the Adobe corporation for the privilege of using your Kindle. Two proprietary closed shops designed to part the punter from their money circumvented at a stroke 🙂

The Kindle works for me. I have my reading speed back, I don’t have to put up with the intermittent noise of a fan and I can focus on what I’m reading as I used to be able to with paper. There are things wrong with the Kindle, colour would be nice, the screen could be 1.5 times bigger, the sturm und drang on the screen associated with a page turn isn’t so great, though it is over quicker than a page turn. It would be nice if it would slowly scroll the page itself as you can do in Word. But I’m carping here – the overall experience delivers.



17 thoughts on “Advantages and Disadvantages of Reading with a Kindle”

  1. So, you’ve cracked 🙂 I use it mainly as a PDF reader too. It is good, but it won’t replace the physical book.

    I agree the screen needs to be a bit bigger and colour would be nice. It has other faults too: no proper filing system and slow navigation, but the concept is here to stay.


  2. @Monevator

    Sorry, think you’re SOL on that. The moneysavingexpert article I followed went to refurbed kindles @£71. I would have been too tight to pay £111. MSE seems to indicate more stock may come in, so it may be a case of watch this space…

    @SG I hadn’t spotted the no filing system – they seemed to talk about collections which gives me some hope to keep my financial books away from the agricultural and really wierd turn of the century stuff. It seems to have a flat file structure with no respect for directories 😦


  3. @ermine, the collections are just identifying tags really. If you try to dump a big folder tree of PDFs from Windows, they’ll all go into the home “folder” and then you need to add them to collections one by one — doable, but a bit of a pain.


  4. Nice article, thanks. Was there any noticeable quality impact from buying a refurb? (i.e. physical scratches or whatever?)


  5. @lemondy Not that I can tell, looked pretty much A1 to me. You don’t get a USB -> mains PSU so you have to charge off the PC and eject the Kindle. Or use a 12V PSU as I do off my solar system 🙂 Certainly no detectable scratches, either on screen or case.


  6. @monevator

    > try to resist calculating the difference compounded over 30 years.

    Big spender 🙂 Actually had I tried it first I’d have stumped up even @ £100+. Yes, it should be bigger, but it’s close enough. It is hard to define what you get by being able to focus on what you read. I’d pay for it 😉


  7. I love my Kindle. I got the larger DX version from the US for Christmas.

    The kindle format books are much easier to read than PDFs and you can get a lot of books for cheap or free if they are out of copyright.


  8. I was really enamoured with the kindle until the screen on mine became unreadable after 3 months. Googling indicated that lots of folks had similar problems, just arising out of normal use. Some had obtained replacements which then developed similar fault. I returned my kindle and amazon were happy to replace, but less happy to refund. They initially insisted on replacement, then reluctantly offered 80% refund, but when I queried how this fit with the sale of goods act, they then increased offer to 100%. I guess that the refurbished kindles mentioned on moneysaving arise from returns from people like myself. Just watch out for the length of warranty you are offered from amazon on a refurbished kindle. Hope you have better luck than I did.


  9. @Shandi yes, I discovered Calibre which can munge all sorts into Kindle format and even trawl the net for titles. PDFs are harder ot read, I had to give up trying to read the Tullet Prebon report that Monevator found and having to give up, the resolution ain’t all that good. Paper scored there!

    @Halfretired Yep, as soon as I opened mine I thought to myself this is one seriously fragile beast, basically a sheet of glass in a very thin plastic case.

    The warranty is for a year on the refurbs, well it was on the offer I used.


  10. @ermine
    Have you checked out Project Gutenberg? They have a ridiculous amount of free books in any format imaginable. I’m a voracious reader so I was thrilled when I was able to take 70 titles off my wish list and onto my tablet. For free. Legally. Must have saved myself between 700 and 1400 Euros.


  11. @Dutchie, yes, Calibre will even search Gutenberg and munge the files into a kindle-friendly format (so you get to change font size etc) which is makes it even more fantastic. Plus some of those classics stand the test of time, so they’re actually worth reading.

    As you say, a fabulous saving on costs 🙂


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