I got a Kindle. It’s mostly awesome.

I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, but since I had a little bit of extra money to spare (thanks in large part to Maid RPG) I bought an Amazon Kindle. My home life has increasingly felt like a losing battle against clutter, so while I do appreciate the beauty of a book made of paper, I just have too many things, especially when it comes to books I’m not likely to read more than once or twice. I really want to take the opportunity to cull my book collection and have more room for stuff.

I get eyestrain a little too easily for a backlit display to be an option for serious reading (doubly so when I work in front of a computer all day), so frankly I find it kind of baffling to hear people saying the iPad is somehow superior to e-book readers despite having a display that shoves light into your eyeballs[1]. I already read half of the Harry Potter novels on a monochrome Palm Pilot back in the day, while on my iPhone I got through only two or three pages of Cory Doctorow’s For The Win (pictured on the Kindle below, and a great read so far BTW).

I specifically got the new Kindle 3, which is much improved (and much cheaper) compared to its predecessors. It is phenomenally easy to use, at least for things that are readable on its 6″ display. Books in .azw or .mobi format use the Kindle’s built-in font, which is eminently readable. There’s also text-to-speech, which is about what you’d expect. When you plug it in via the included USB cable it just acts like a drive, and you can drag and drop any supported file type into the documents folder. If you buy an actual Kindle book from Amazon it’ll be delivered to your device automatically via wireless at the next opportunity. (Its “whispernet” thing can also grab software updates and such.)

3x3 Eyes, Volume 1 (of 40)

Reading manga scanlations is shockingly easy too. You can put a folder of jpg files or even a .cbz file into the documents folder and it’ll read them more or less fine. (When it first starts up it sometimes fails to render part of the right-hand side of the image, but fiddling with the back and forward buttons fixes that.) The resolution is just about right for the big and breezy panel pacing of manga, and I would be worried about how well it’d work with more compact Western comics (or anything by Ken Akamatsu or Masamune Shirrow for that matter). There is a simple program called Mangle that can take files and put them into a numbered folder to make sure they show up on the Kindle and get displayed in the correct order, which seems to help a lot.

I don’t think the Kindle is going to have all that much to offer for RPGs in its current form. Although the Kindle 3 significantly improves the time it takes to turn pages, the kind of quick navigation you’d want to do for a typical RPG isn’t really there, as it’s more aimed at leisurely novel reading. (Though it would help if more people making PDFs would include bookmarks and so forth.) Thus for most RPGs it’s better as a way to read the book than as a format for having it at the table, though from what I’ve heard A Penny For My Thoughts can be played while reading the book from front to back, and thus might sidestep this problem.

The PDF reader works very well as long as the pages are small enough to fit on the Kindle’s screen. The above image is of Ben Lehman’s latest game, On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon, and as you can see its small pages (5.5×8.5″), relatively large text, and simple monochrome art look awesome on a Kindle screen. Things get more difficult with larger page sizes and smaller type, and I found the PDFs of Blowback and FreeMarket all but unreadable. You can zoom in and pan around, but it’s probably the single most cumbersome aspect of using a Kindle. It is possible to convert a PDF to a .mobi file to read as an e-book with programs like Calibre, but I suspect an RPG is exactly the kind of thing what could trip it up and become difficult to read.

It also features a web browser, which is pretty decent considering it’s on a device that’s not quite meant for that kind of thing–e-ink is at its best when stuff doesn’t move around much–and unsurprisingly it doesn’t support stuff like flash. It can also play mp3s and audiobooks, but since I already have that kind of thing taken care of with my iPhone I don’t have much reason to bother.

The Kindle is a device that’s meant to do this one thing, and does it incredibly well. It extends to a few other things, but it doesn’t try to be an all-in-one thing like the iPad. I don’t really see it becoming much of a thing for RPGs, at least not until the e-ink technology improves and navigation becomes dramatically faster, so the iPad and the Android tablets and such that are just hitting the market are probably legitimately better for such purposes. On the other hand if I ever decide to self-publish fiction (say, a Slime Story novel as an “accessory” to the RPG), the Kindle will definitely be a part of it.

[1]Though this seems to have more to do with publishers wanting to charge $14 or so for e-books instead of $10 or so, despite both price points being significantly more than a paperback, much less a used or clearance copy of a popular book. On the other hand, Amazon’s 70% share of Kindle e-book revenue is pretty painful, and I’d be seriously tempted to offer my own works in DRM-free mobipicket and epub formats.

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