How to improve the Amazon Kindle

My history with the Kindle

I remember the early days of ebooks, back when I read PDFs of bestseller novels that fell off the back of a truck on my 14″-inch CRT monitor. When the original Kindle came out, I really wanted one, but I was young, out on my own, and broke most of the time, so I stuck with library books, used paperbacks, and additional PDFs that fell off of trucks on my lousy monitor.

I eventually bought a Kindle Touch in 2011 and fell in love. I bought a handful of books from the Kindle Marketplace, and soon had a Kindle app on my PC and smartphone. I began liquidating my dead-tree books and was glad to get rid of most of those doorstops.

Kindle Touch, circa 2011 – Image Source: CNET

After another year or so, I mostly read on my smartphone app and put the Kindle away in a drawer somewhere. For the most part, I continued to read ebooks on my phone.

When I went back to college in 2017, I read How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler, originally written back in the 1970s. His advice for absorbing information through markup and marginalia made a lot of sense to me, and I once again began to prefer paper books. The experience of writing in a paper book is so much nicer than trying to badly make annotations within an ebook Kindle. On my phone, I can add annotations without too much trouble, but I would still prefer to just use a pen to highlight, circle, draw exclamation points, and write notes in the margins.

See the post on Marginalia and the Yin-Yang of Reading-Writing on Brain Pickings for more excellent thoughts on the subject.

I found a workflow of obtaining pdf copies of various books I needed for my courses and using my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil stylus to mark up the pdf as I saw fit. I very much liked this solution, but I have the big iPad which is bulky for travel, and I can’t easily export highlights and margin notes from my iPad like I can within the Kindle.

When I started traveling regularly for work in 2018, I once again found my aging Kindle Touch, recharged it, and loaded it with a few books. I really like the size of the Kindle for reaching on planes, on the subway, or eating alone at a restaurant. It is lighter than most paper books, can hold many volumes, and the e-ink screen is great to read and still has great battery life even after eight years.

How to improve the Kindle

I’ve thought about upgrading to newer Kindles–honestly, I bought a 1st-gen Kindle Paperwhite a few years ago and I’m not quite sure where it went. I don’t think I ever read more than one book on it before it disappeared.

I’ve been reluctant to buy another Paperwhite for several reasons.

  • No stylus – now that I’m used to making annotations and highlights on my iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, I never want to go back to using the Kindle’s touch interface keyboard again for making annotations. I will admit that highlighting text is pretty simple, but every other interaction is horrible.
  • I only have two gadgets left that use Micro-USB charging cords, my Kindle Touch and my Plantronics ANC headset. I don’t see myself upgrading until Amazon upgrades the Kindle to USB-C.
  • No options for color – don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a Kindle Fire. I want a Kindle with an e-ink screen, but it would be nice if it could support a handful of e-ink colors for highlighting in multiple colors, basic illustrations (look at the style of Gray’s Anatomy or early naturalist guides – you mostly have hand-drawn or woodcut illustrations with a touch of color.
Wouldn’t it be great to get a bit of color on an e-ink screen? Source: Bartleby

I don’t see Amazon adding an option for a stylus anytime soon, which is a shame. I spent a week with the reMarkable tablet last year and found that it was brilliant for taking notes but was horrible as an e-reader. Jeff Bezos could easily buy reMarkable and integrate their technology into the Kindle Paperwhite.

For me, the reMarkable didn’t live up to its name

If it worked well and allowed me to take notes that synced with third-party apps and cloud services, I’d happily pay $300 for just that capability. Especially if it had a USB-C charging port. If it also had a limited color palette e-ink display, I’d probably spend $400.

If you’re an ebook reader, what do you like about your e-reader of choice? What do you hate? Do you just use the mobile app on your phone instead? I’m curious!

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