We've spent a lot of time discussing the ideal electronic device for reading books. Some swear by the iPad, others are convinced an e-ink reader such as the Amazon Kindle is the only answer. And a growing number of keen readers are perversely attracted to the iPhone or iPod touch as the always-in-your pocket solution. What you don't hear a lot about is reading books on a Mac or PC. Enter the new updated Kindle for Mac* application which, for the first time, adds double-column reading.
Strange, this: Research by Forrester last week showed that 35 percent of electronic book reading is done on a laptop, followed by 32 percent on a Kindle, 15 percent on an iPhone, 12 percent on a Sony e-reader and ten percent on a netbook. If you combine the netbook and laptop figures you have 45 percent of book reading being done on a computer rather than on a dedicated reader or phone/tablet.
Kindle readers rule the roost, though, because they do 66 percent of all their reading in digital form. In my case it's probably nearer to 99 percent.
The first thing to bear in mind is that the Amazon Kindle eco-system works on almost every computing and mobile platform known to man. Thanks to Whispersync, your Mac, your iPhone, your Kindle and anything else you own will be in sync. You can read a chapter here, a few paragraphs there and all your devices know precisely where you are up to.
Previously I've tried reading my Kindle books on the iMac or MacBook Pro and it wasn't the best of experiences. The text is clear enough, but to achieve a satisfactory line length it's necessary to run the app in a window rather than full-screen. That has changed in the latest version of Kindle for Mac and the two-column view (similar to that in the pioneering iBooks app) makes a world of difference. Now, with adjustable line length, font sizes and side-by-side columns, the app can be customised to fit a near-full screen window. There's also a handy full-screen button which hides the Mac menu bar so all you see is two pages of a book.
This is a revelation and makes reading on a computer completely viable for the first time. I even find that reading on my 24in Cinema Display is restful and thoroughly practical. While popular prejudice holds that a book must be held in the hand and at a reasonable distance from the eye, the new convention is that books can be read from a distance in the same way you watch a video. It just needs a bit of attitude changing, in the same way that reading on the iPhone is against convention but equally attractive.
My new 11-in MacBook Air with its 16:9-aspect screen is just about perfect for the Kindle for Mac app. Reading in double-column view with full-screen turned on is very similar to the experience on the iPad and it's just another reason why the Air is gradually edging out the iPad as far as I'm concerned. Truth be known, what I really needed from the beginning was a Mac netbook and now I have it.
The Kindle for Mac application is straightforward and has basic options including, as outlined here, the choice of one or two columns. There is a button for full-screen mode and a font menu which includes sliding scales for font size, words per line and brightness (it makes for more comfort to turn down the brightness when reading on a monitor or laptop screen). Finally you can choose white (black characters on white background), sepia (back on sepia) and black (white on black background). That's it, simple.
Unlike the software on the Kindle itself, there is no way of categorising books nor the ability to create folders (collections). All you have is the Home screen which shows the books that have been downloaded to the particular computer and an Archive button which takes you to your library stored on the Amazon server. You can delete books from the computer and they remain in the cloud; it's actually sensible to keep on the device only those books you are reading or intend to read soon. The collections facility on the Kindle device is extremely useful and I really don't understand why it is missing from all the Kindle apps for other platforms. I hope it will come in the next update with, ideally, synchronisation of collections between devices. On the Kindle, which I now use for library housekeeping, I have a collections for books to read, books finished and reference material (such as the dictionary or Kindle manual).
The unique selling point of the Kindle family is that you can read your purchases and maintain your library from all popular computer and mobile platform. I read regularly on my iPhone, on the Kindle and increasingly on my MacBook Air. If I decided to buy an Android tablet or a PC I could be sure that my library would go with me. When you are buying books that's a comforting thought. In contrast, when I used a Sony reader I spent nearly £500 on books which are now lost to me.
* Although I haven't tried the Windows version of the Kindle app I believe most of the above comments would apply equally to the PC app.
Finally I hit on the Empire Builder. It is billed as a briefcase but is in reality a very versatile overnighter, laptop case, carry-on bag and faithful travel companion. In the past six months it has served me on over ten excursions, including two long-haul flights, and I love it to death. It’s as near to my ideal as I think I’m going to get.
Too much broadband can damage your brain? An old surfer of my acquaintance reports that his wife read in a newspaper (probably this one in The Times) that broadband can damage the brain. She had banned constant use of the internet and my friend, a computer user for the past 25 years, was reduced to a surreptitious toggling of the modem switch every time he wanted to check his email. I was able set their minds at rest. The article clearly referred to wireless networks rather than the broadband service itself and, even then, nothing has been proved. Since they didn’t have a wireless router attached to the modem, I assured them that the USB cable is harmless. However, my iPhone disclosed two strong wireless networks in adjacent properties, so I suppose they are doomed anyway. In my home I have seven nearby networks; it seems that even the dogs have WiFi these days.