Friday, December 19, 2014

The Voyage is Over, I mean, Here

Up until now, I've been saying that anyone who loves to read will always prefer a hardback book as the ultimate reading "device." Not any more. The best way to read is the on the new Kindle Voyage. And not just when traveling. Anywhere.

Sorry, Mr. Gutenberg.


  • Screen resolution- the Voyage is the first e-book reader to match the resolution of the printed page, 300 dots per inch (dpi)
  • Adaptive frontlight- as on the Paperwhite, the frontlight lets you read under any lighting condition from total darkness to bright sunlight, but on the Voyage, the frontlight adjusts automatically to the ambient light. You just start reading
  • Covers with automatic wake- open and start reading
  • Last page read- all Kindles remember your last page read
  • Page turn zones- a slight squeeze of either bezel does forward and backward page turns, so you can read with one hand- either one- and get haptic feedback
  • Dictionary look up- quickly look up any word while reading. Try that with a dead-tree book
  • Translation- highlight and translate any phrase
  • No interruptions- no email, web, games, apps, text messages, or phone calls
Amazon's goal with the first Kindle, released in 2007, was to make a reading device that disappears in your hand, just like a paper book disappears and lets you become immersed in the story. The Paperwhite nearly got there and the Voyage has arrived.

The screen resolution is huge. For the first time ever, an electronic reading device has matched the resolution of offset printed book pages. (I'm not counting backlit LCD screens as found on the Fire, the iPad, and on Android tablets. Although tablets passed 300 dpi a couple of years ago, their screens generate images by backlight, which is much harder on your eyes than the frontlit Voyage. Front lighting is what our eyes evolved in- the world is frontlit.)

The adaptive frontlight means that if you have a cover with automatic wake and sleep you can just open the cover and start reading, just like a paper book with a book mark. On the Paperwhite you had to manually adjust the frontlight for the ambient light, but the Voyage turns the light off in bright sunlight, which saves power. In dark rooms, the light matches the conditions and then slowly dims as your eyes adapt to the low light. If you find the automatic light level to be too high or low, you can still manually adjust the light- but then the Voyage remembers your preference when it encounters similar ambient light levels in the future.

Except on the Kindles, the bookmark too is automatic, since all Kindles remember the last page read and automatically open the book to that page. All of your books, not just the one you're currently reading. So unlike a paper book, you never have to fumble around for your bookmark before closing your book. 

On the Paperwhite and the previous Touch, page turns were done by tapping or swiping the screen. I found this to be more obtrusive than clicking the page turn buttons on the bezels of the non-touchscreen Kindles. I'm not sure why- turning physical pages is even more obtrusive. But the good news is that on the Voyage you can turn pages any way you like- by squeezing the page turn zones on the bezel, or by swiping or trapping the screen. Paper books limit you to just one page turn method, and you have to use two hands.

I'm so used to the dictionary look up on the Kindles that I've actually found myself tapping a word in a paper book to look it up, and then experienced a brief flash of annoyance when it failed to work.

And unlike reading on a tablet or a phone, there are no built-in interruptions on the Voyage (or any other e-ink Kindle). You can't check your email, get interrupted by a phone call or text message, be tempted to play a game. The Voyage doesn't make a sound. Because it can't. And that's a good thing.

To be fair, the Amazon Fire tablets have a great feature called Quiet Time. This lets you turn off notifications manually or during a set time period so that you can read undisturbed.

Of course, I'm primarily talking about reading fiction and non-fiction without photographs and color illustrations. Illustrated books are best read on a color tablet or even (gasp!) in physical, paper book form.

So I've had it with people who say they only like to read "real" books. The Voyage is more real. Really. Just don't forget to mute your smart phone while you're reading.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mobile Hotspotting

When I preordered my Kindle Fire HD 8.9, I originally ordered the 4G model. I've always enjoyed the 3G E-Ink Kindles so I just assumed I'd want the 4G connectivity on the Fire HD. Meanwhile, I received a 7" Fire HD, which of course is Wi-Fi only.

After using the Wi-Fi Fire for a while, I realized my use patterns are different on the color tablet. I primarily use it for reading color magazines, non-fiction books with illustrations and photos, web, email, and sometimes listening to music. Work or play that requires Internet connectivity can wait until I'm at a Wi-Fi hotspot. When the details of the 4G data plans came out, even though the prices are reasonable, I felt that was lot of cash to tie up on one device.

Getting a 3G Kindle Paperwhite was a no-brainer, on the other hand, since the only cost is the $60 price difference on the initial purchase. There's no data plan or monthly payment- the 3G data access is for the life of the Paperwhite. While Amazon no longer allows unlimited web surfing over 3G as they did on the Kindle Keyboard, the 3G connection is still very useful. Not only can you shop for more reading material, you can also use Wikipedia freely. And Amazon keeps your current place, as well as all your bookmarks, highlights, and notes, synchronized in all your Kindle books on all your Kindles and Kindle reading apps.

Enter the smartphone. As the date when I could get a discounted phone upgrade approached, I became aware that virtually all smartphones can act as mobile hotspots, providing Wi-Fi Internet to several devices. Also, data plans are now tiered for different data amounts per month and shared with other phones on a family plan. So I got one.

Now I can connect to the Internet just about anywhere while traveling. Of course, for email and minor web surfing I just use the phone. But when I'm sitting down to do some work, I can connect the Fire, the Paperwhite, and my laptop to the net at the same time. It seems to work very well. The only catches are that the phone uses a lot of power when acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot, so you really need to keep it on the charger. Also, you can't make or take calls. But that's why Alexander Graham Bell invented voicemail.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Leaving the Kindle

After this post, Travels with Kindle will no longer be available as a paid subscription on the Kindle. Kind of ironic, but I don't have time to post as often as I'd like and it's not fair to those who are paying for a subscription, even at 99 cents a month.

But you can still keep up with Travels with Kindle on the web at, and of course subscribe to the RSS feed so you will automatically see new posts in your news reader of choice.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Power for the Travelling Kindle

How to keep your Kindle charged while on a trip? Although the Kindle E-readers- the basic $69 model, the Keyboard, and the Paperwhite all have battery lives 15 to 30 hours, the battery life drops if you have wireless on and if you use the frontlight on the Paperwhite. And the Fire and Fire HD tablets have a battery life of 5-10 hours, depending on how you use them. So you're going to have to charge them- even if only once a week for the E-readers and

All Kindles come with a USB cable which can be used to charge the Kindle from a computer USB port or any charger with a USB port. Amazon doesn't include an AC wall charger, apparently assuming that everyone has a USB charging port available.

There's a couple of problems with that when you're on a trip. In order to save the computer's battery, most laptops don't provide power to the USB ports when they're off, even if connected to a power outlet. And leaving your computer on all night to charge a Kindle is overkill.

Also, computer USB ports produce limited power. The most common USB port, USB 2.0, produces 500 milliamps (ma). That's enough to charge a Kindle E-reader overnight but the Kindle Fire needs more power. Also, computer USB ports don't always provide the maximum amount of power- the power available depends on other devices that are requesting power, some of which may be internal.

The solution is an AC charger with USB charging port. A charging port, unlike a computer USB port, always supplies the maximum amount of power. Amazon sells two USB chargers that are designed to work with the USB cable supplied with your Kindle or a replacement cable. The Kindle US Power Adapter provides enough power, 1000 ma, to fully charge the Kindle E Readers in about 4 hours. The Amazon Kindle Powerfast produces 1,800 ma and charges the Kindle Fires in 3 to 5 hours, depending on the model.

Note that the Kindles maximum charge rate is set by the device to prevent damage to the Kindle battery, so if you charge a Kindle E-reader on the Powerfast, you won;t damage the Kindle but it won;t charge any faster than it would on the Kindle US Power Adapter.

If you own both a Kindle Fire and and a Kindle E-reader, get the Powerfast because it will charge both Kindles as fast as they can safely be charged.

If you'll be in remote areas away from AC power, there are other ways to charge Kindles, including car USB chargers and solar chargers- I'll cover those in a later post.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Working on the Fire HD

Before my Kindle Fire HD arrived, I bought an Azio KB334B Mini Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard.  Since the Fire HD models all have Bluetooth, I wanted to give the Fire a try as a work device.

I already knew that I wouldn't like the Fire HD for serious writing- I don't like to write on my Acer netbook either. The minimum computer for serious writing for me is my Dell 15" laptop.

But writing books involves a lot of documents that are not book length, such as photo shoot lists and caption lists, map revision notes, and just plain notes of all kind, not to mention a lot of Internet research. Maybe the Fire HD plus keyboard would work for that- the same kind of work I do on the netbook.

It doesn't. At least not yet. The keyboard works better than I expected, especially since the last Fire HD software update. The main problem I have is that it's difficult to cut and paste- there's no consistency between apps such as Mobisystems Office Suite 6 which have an awkward menu-based cut and pastle, and the Silk browser, which has no cut and paste, as just one example.

In contrast, my three computers which all run Kubuntu Linux, cut, copy, and paste are very consistent across the desktop and applications. (I still have a couple of Windows applications that have no Linux equivalent, so I run those in VMWare Workstation and Windows XP on my Dell laptop and my desktop computer. I intend to switch to Virtual Box, an open source alternative to VMWare, but it will takes so long to re-install Windows XP and my applications that I've been dragging my feet.)

Cut and paste are consistent on Kubuntu Linix and Windows XP- all use the common keyboard shortcuts CTRL-X, CTRL-C, and CTRL-V for cut, copy, and paste, and I use them without thinking.

That's just one example- there are other little things that interrupt my established workflow. So for now, I'll stick to my laptop and sometimes my netbook to work while traveling.

To be fair, the Fire HD is not intended to be a work computer- it's an entertainment tablet. Still, the third party app developers have added a lot of capability to the Fire HD. It's great for checking and replying email, browsing the Web, and even reviewing documents.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Kindle Paperwhite Covers and Cases

Wow! I've been using the Kindle Paperwhite for a couple of days and I'm really impressed. The frontlighting is beautiful and the touchscreen is really responsive. I'm not a huge fan of touch screens so I was reluctant to switch from my Kindle Keyboard to the The Kindle Touch, but the Touch won me over. It "disappeared" while I was reading just like the older, button-operated Kindles. The Paperwhite is even better.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the very effective lighting on the Kindle Paperwhite means you don't need a lighted cover or reading light. But most people are going to want a protective cover or a sleeve.

As I've said before, sleeves tend to be lighter and cheaper while covers tend to be more convenient. i use both, depending on my mode of travel. When I'm backpacking on a wilderness trip where every ounce counts and I want the Kindle to have as much protection as possible, I use a sleeve. For ordinary travels by car or plane I use a cover. The main difference is that the Kindle has to be removed from the sleeve to be read, while with a cover you can just flip the cover open and start reading. On the other hand, sleeves protect the Kindle on all sides, but covers usually leave the USB connector and power button exposed.

Some readers also like the feel of the Kindle Paperwhite better when it's in a cover, saying that the bare Kindle is almost to light and thin to hold comfortably. The cover makes the Kindle feel more like a "real book"-  that is, a dead-tree book.

The Amazon Kindle Zip Sleeve weights just 2.4 ounces and zips closed on two sides to fully protect the Kindle. On wilderness trips where I expect to encounter wet weather, I'll enclose the sleeve in a zipper plastic bag for extra protection. This sleeve also fits the non-touch, basic Kindle and the discontinued Touch, and comes in several colors.

My favorite cover so far is the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover. It weighs 4.6 ounces and the   Paperwhite just pops in and is gripped securely by the edges- there are no straps across the corners of the Kindle. A magnetic catch holds the cover closed. When you open or close the cover, the Paperwhite wakes up or goes to sleep- no need to use the power button.

Amazon's sleeves and covers are a bit pricey but there are plenty of alternatives. The official, made for Kindle sleeves and covers that you find by following the "accessories" link in the Kindle Store tend to be more expensive that the unofficial accessories you can find by searching in the entire Amazon store and then selecting the Electronics department. Here's a few of both:

The Timbuk2 Kindle Plush Sleeve is $19.99 and completely enclosed and protects the Kindle.

The Marware Atlas Kindle Case is just $19.95. It uses elastic bands to hold the Paperwhite in place and also to keep the cover closed. It comes in several colors. I've used a couple of Marware products for my two Kindle Fires and I like their products.

The Marware Jurni Kindle Case is $17.17 and combines the protectiveness of a sleeve and the convenience of a case. It zips fully closed but opens to let you use the Paperwhite without removing it.

The Acase Leather Case is just $9.45 and is getting good reviews. It comes in a variety of colors and snaps closed.

And for those who like to have the Kindle Paperwhite propped up, there's the Timbuk2 Kindle Dinner Jacket. Although this case doesn't protect the edges of the Paperwhite very well, it does flip open at the top, allowing the cover to serve as a stand to the Kindle can be viewed in portrait orientation. (Some covers with stands only hold the Kindle in landscape, which is great for tablets but for E-Ink readers, not so good.) There's a hand strap as well as an accessory pocket.

For use in really nasty environments like river trips and the beach, have a look at the
TrendyDigital WaterGuard Plus Waterproof Case for $19.99. It is waterproof and protects the Kindle from sand as well. Though there's no impact protection for the screen, the company claims you can operate the touch screen through the case. Reviews agree but point out that touch operations are harder than on the bare screen.

The same applies to screen protectors- some people report that the protective layer is hard to put on, traps dirt and bubbles underneath, increases glare, and makes the touch screen harder to operate. I'm in that camp, but others like them: amFilm Premium Screen Protector Film Matte Clear.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Covers and Sleeves for the New Kindles

Travelling with a bare Kindle is not a good idea- you need a protective cover or sleeve to protect it from damage. As I've mentioned before, tho two choices boil down to a cover, which lets you keep the Kindle protected while using it, or a sleeve, which you have to remove before using the Kindle. Which one you choose depends on how you use your Kindle.

I've always been a fan of the lighted covers for the E-Ink Kindles. Even though expensive, the convenience of a built-in light powered by the Kindle's battery made it worth it. Now, the impending release of the Kindle Paperwhite with built-in front lighting makes a lighted cover unnecessary. But Amazon has upped the ante with new covers for the Paperwhite and the new Fire HD tablets that wake up your Kindle when opened and put it to sleep when closed. These covers also serve as a stand, which is especially handy for watching movies or TV shows on the Fire.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7" Standing Leather Case

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9" Standing Leather Case

These are Amazon accessories- you can save money by getting approved Kindle covers made by other companies, and even more by buying a generic cover. But the selection will remain skimpy until the manufacturers design products to fit the new Kindle models.

Sleeves are a lower cost alternative to covers that you may prefer if you like to use your Kindle bare. I've always liked the extra grip I get from a cover, but that may change with the 8.9" Fire, which is likely to be hefty enough without the addition of a cover's weight and bulk. I'll have to wait and see.

Amazon makes basic zip sleeves for the E-Ink Kindles and other companies make sleeves for the Fire tablets.

Amazon Kindle Zip Sleeve

This sleeve fits the Kindle Paperwhite, Touch, and basic Kindle. I've used it with the basic Kindle and like it. I bought it primarily for hiking and backpacking when I want the Kindle to have more protection than a cover provides. A cover leaves the Kindle exposed on three edges, and for the dirty, often wet environment of a multi-day hike, I want the Kindle completely enclosed. In wet conditions I'll put the sleeve in a gallon zipper plastic bag for even more protection. This sleeve is also lighter than a cover.

Timbuk2 Plush Sleeve Case for Kindle Fire HD 7"

AmazonBasics Netbook Bag with Handle, Fits 7- to 10-Inch Netbooks, iPad, HP Touchpad

I have a netbook sleeve similar to this one that I've used with a 10.1" netbook. It should work well for the 8.9" Fire, and has room for accessories such as earphones and a USB cable and charger.

Speaking of which, Kindles used to come with a USB charger, but now come with just a USB cable. Since most of us have computers with USB ports as well as  USB chargers lying around, Amazon is probably right to assume that most of us don't need another USB charger. Computers and most USB chargers out out the standard 500 milliamps of current specified in the USB 2.0 standard, and that's enough to charge the E-Ink Kindles and the original Fire in just a few hours. But the new HD Fires have larger batteries to support those beautiful HD screens and faster processors, and take much ,longer to charge. For travel, you might want to get Amazon's Powerfast Charger, which charges all rthe new Fire's at a higher rate.

Amazon Kindle PowerFast Charger for all Kindle Fire Tablets

I'll follow up with hands-on comments once I've had a chance to use the new Kindles. As an avid reader on backpack trips, I'm especially excited about the Paperwhite. With its built-in front lighting and  eight week battery life, it should be the ultimate backpacker's reading device.