Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Using the Kindle 2 Overseas (with no WhisperNet)

Finding the Right eBook Reader
In November of 2008, I started itching for an electronic book reader. After doing a little research, I found that there are really only two major products that were right for me: The Amazon Kindle and the Sony digital book reader.

The Sony product is cheaper, looks nicer, has a (rudimentary) back light, has touchscreen support, and has support for PDF files. On the other hand it also has less capacity, no wireless capabilities, more expensive books and a crappy name (on Sony's site, they call it the "Reader Digital Book" or the "PRS-700BC").

I admit that I am a sucker for good marketing. In the end, I went with the Kindle because it appears to have much more support from Amazon. I know that Amazon is dedicated in their persuit to make the Kindle line the number one product of its category. When you go to Amazon's web site, it's right there on the home page above the fold. If you go to Sony's site, it would probably take you a few minutes to find the PRS-700BC by just clicking around.

This post really isn't about the differences between the two readers though. It's about some of the frustrations that I have experienced using the Kindle outside of the United States.


Buying the Kindle 2
I made my decision to get the Kindle in November of 2008, but there were rumors that a new Kindle was coming in the first quarter of 2009. I decided to wait and I put in my order the day the Kindle 2 was announced.

I am an American national living in Ireland, so I still have an American credit card and an American mailing address. The product was shipped to my mother, who re-shipped it to me. If you do this, I would suggest opening the box and making sure that it doesn't look like you are going to resell the product. This way customs won't slap any duties on the shipment. My mother put "books" on the box and I received it with no hassle.

If you don't have an American credit card, it's probably a deal breaker for you. Not only will it be difficult to purchase the Kindle, it will also be a pain in the ass to purchase accessories and books. Amazon won't even ship any of the leather Kindle covers outside of the US. I have heard some stories about non Americans using Amazon Gift Certificates to purchase the Kindle, but even if they were true, you run the risk of having that branch cut from under you at any time.


Using the Kindle 2 Abroad
The biggest problem with using the Kindle 2 outside of the US is that you do not have access to WhisperNet, the free wireless internet service that is included with the device. Without WhisperNet, you cannot do the following:
  • You can't purchase books/periodicals from Amazon and have them magically appear on your Kindle
  • You can't access the free book samples at all
  • You can't shop for books using the device itself
  • You can't use the "Sync to furthest page read" to synchronize the page you're on across multiple devices (like the iPhone Kindle app)
  • You can't backup your bookmarks, clippings or annotations
  • You can't register your Kindle on the device itself
There's really only a work around for the first issue. You can connect your Kindle 2 to your computer using the included USB cable and manually upload the files that you have to download from Amazon. Finding these files for the first time is no easy task either. For the first week, I was going through a link on Amazon's web site that said "Your Media Library" and through that vein, I would eventually end at an error page that said "We're sorry, this title is not currently available for download." Eventually, I found the right link (under "Manage Your Kindle") and got the books on the device.

This process is a little tedious, but not that big a deal for downloading books once every few weeks or so. What really makes this a pain in the ass is if you want to subscribe to magazines or newspapers. It would be great to wake up, eat a bagel, grab your Kindle and start reading today's issue of the Wall Street Journal on the train. No, you have to log into Amazon, download today's file and upload it to your Kindle like a douche bag. This pretty much makes magazine and newspaper subscriptions out of the question for me.

Not having access to the free samples or the Kindle book store is not a big deal to me. I mostly read technical books and I usually know which books I want. Not having web browsing access is not a big deal either. I would rather browse the web using my iPhone anyway. The screen refreshing on the Kindle really isn't meant for scrolling down a long web page.

The lack of the "Sync to furthest page read" feature is a little annoying. I also have an iPhone and you have to do a little dancing around to figure out what page you're on. It's kind of like having two copies of a book and reading one on the train and one on the toilet, where you have to flip through pages to figure out what page you're on. In reality though, I don't read much on my iPhone. I really only do it when I'm in bed and I can't sleep, since the Kindle doesn't have a backlight and my phone charges next to my bed.

The lack of backed up bookmarks and annotations is a little scary, but not a big deal on a day to day basis. You have to bookmark PDFs a lot because whatever table of contents existed on the PDF usually doesn't work after it gets converted to Kindle format. I haven't annotated much, but I probably will, as I read quite a few tech books where annotations help out. Since I get to the States every few months (I haven't been there yet since receiving the Kindle), I guess they'll get backed up when I bring my Kindle there. Let's just hope if my Kindle needs restoring that I'll be there too or else the backup will be worthless!

One annoying thing about the lack of WhisperNet is that the device thinks it is unregistered. This means that when you go into certain menus, the Kindle will stop you and ask you to type in your Amazon login information. This means that I can't access the "Settings Menu" on my Kindle until I fly back to the States and register it there. I don't even know what's on that menu! I've never seen it because the Kindle won't give me access.

Don't get me wrong. I really love my Kindle and I'm quite happy with the purchase. I know I'll eventually move back to the States in the next year or so and I'll be able to use the Kindle the way Jeff Bezos intended.

Cheers

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