One day recently I landed on the shores of the Italian island of Ischia without a guidebook or a paperback novel. I was forced to depend on my Kindle for reading on the beaches, the ferry rides, and around town.
Our editors have road-tested Apple's rival device, the iPad, before, and the iPad is certainly a cool tool. But the Kindle is now less expensive. In the past year and a half, Amazon has dropped the price of its e-reader by 63 percent to a reasonable $139.
The two e-readers have different personalities. Amazon's Kindle
is like the Mitt Romney of e-readers (dull and bookish, but also reliable and high class), while the iPad is more like Sarah Palin (playful, populist, and the one you would feel more comfortable asking for directions when you get lost).
I'd give the Kindle a B- when it comes to travel friendliness. The latest Kindle with built-in Wi-Fi ($139, $189 for 3G) is quite handy for travelers. But it still has several flaws to fix.
If you're like me, which no doubt you are, you do not like the idea of having to carry huge piles of guidebooks, beach reads, and magazines with you on your trip. When you set out to pack your bags, you want to travel light. The latest Kindle is a neat solution to the weight problem for sure. It weighs a mere 8.5 ounces, or roughly the same as an in-flight magazine.
KINDLE PROS AND CONS
You can store up to 3,500 books and documents on it. You no longer have to decide which guidebook to bring with you, the city one or the country one or the restaurants-only guide. Take them all!
Amazon delivers the Kindle to you naked. Travelers will want to buy a cover for protection during a journey, and that cover will add a ridiculous $30 to the cost.
Screen is easy to read both indoors and out in the bright sun. It's not reflective.
The affordable version lacks color for photos and maps, and it doesn't reproduce maps well. You can't zoom in on a map, which makes it nearly useless for directions.
Super long battery life. I used the device for several hours a day for more than a week and didn't need a recharge. Amazon says its Kindles have one-month battery lives if you leave the Wi-Fi turned off.
The device never "shuts off." It continually refreshes its screen, even when you're not using it. This habit can exasperate flight attendants who don't want you to have any electronic devices operating during takeoff or landing. UPDATE: My mistake, as the commenters have pointed out. You *can* turn the Kindle off with the top button. The battery life is excellent, though, so few people probably do.
Font size is adjustable. So if a book's print is too small to read, you can just make the text larger.
Page size isn't fixed, which means that the index to any guidebook is useless because you there is no corresponding page number.
You can search text, such as guidebook, for a word or phrase you want. There's a basic English language dictionary built in, too.
There's no spelling suggester, unlike in Google search results. ("Did you mean to spell Iskia "Ischia"?) If you don't know how to spell the name of a town or a restaurant, you're out of luck.
(Another problem: Kindle returns search results from the start of the book, not from your current page in the book onward. If you want to find a plaza in a particular town, let's say, your Kindle will search for every mention of the word plaza in your book. Ugh.)
Its built-in Web browser lets you surf the Web in more than 60 countries for free.
The refresh rate was so s-l-o-w that I found the free Web surfing is only useful when you have absolutely no other Internet option.
More than 700,000 books are available on the Kindle. Guidebook publishers are increasingly publishing individual chapters from their guidebooks. You can spend less and get precisely the information you want.
Merely 7,400 of those books are travel-related, and your favorite guidebook might not be available in a digital edition.
MAX OUT YOUR KINDLE
Save magazine and newspaper articles to your Kindle. Whether they're destination planning guides or just something good to read in the ski lodge, you'll want to set up the following process for saving good info for later. (Hat tip to Cool Tools.)
1) Register at Instapaper.com, a free site, via your PC or Mac. Instapaper will let you add a button to your browser for saving articles. Whenever you see an inspiring article, click the "Read Later" browser button and the article will be saved.
2) Write down your personal Kindle e-mail address. It usually looks like firstname.lastname@example.org. You can look up yours on your Kindle by clicking "Menu" and then "Settings."
3) Download Calibre eBook Manager (calibre-ebook.com/) to your PC or Mac. Let Calibre know your personal Kindle e-mail address.
4) Link Calibre to your Instapaper account. Calibre has easy to follow instructions for doing this. Sign up for a "feed" of all the articles you clip and save to Instapaper as you surf. Be sure to schedule how often you want your clipped articles to download. For example, you can check "autosend" in the sharing preferences on Calibre.
5) Surf the Web. Click the "Read Later" button on your browser whenever there's a travel (or other article) you'd like to read on your Kindle later on. Need something better to read on vacation than Confessions of a Shopaholic Part 13? Visit TheBrowser or LongForm.org and then click to save articles.
[MORE: When you download something other than an Amazon book to your Kindle, and you use a 3G network instead of WiFi, you may be hit by a small charge from a telecom company. Paul Kline has a tip on how to avoid the small fees that telecom companies may charge you. It involves adding the word "Free" to your personal Kindle e-mail address: Calibre + Instapaper + Kindle = Reading Goodness]