Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Kindle for Preachers

I got blessed with an Amazon Kindle recently and thought I'd share my impressions for the benefit of anyone else considering this remarkable device.
First, it's not a smartphone. If what you want is a touch-sensitive colour screen on which you can watch mindless You-Tube clips, make stupid noises, pour virtual pints of beer and play angry birds then don't get a Kindle - get a life. If, however, you want a device that lets you carry an entire library of electronic books and other documents around with you, and lets you read them almost instantly, any time and anywhere, then you want one of these.
Oh, and did I mention it's also about a quarter of the price?
It's about the size of a paperback book but half the thickess and weight. And if you don't count the experimental features (it has a basic web browser, it can read your books aloud to you and it can also play MP3s) then the controls are so simple you can master it in minutes.
The screen is unique. Firstly, it's big. And secondly, it's black-and-white. That, however, is one of it's great strengths because the printed word is generally black ink on white paper and because of that the Kindle is the easiest electronic display to read that I've ever seen.
Rather than being a multi-megapixel LCD the screen is actually e-paper. This means that the background is white, and stays white, but not the kind of white that's generated by some lamp glowing behind it. It's a surface and it doesn't glow from within. Rather, it reflects light just like the page of a book does, which means you can read it just as well in full direct sunlight as you can indoors.
Try that with an I-Pad or a laptop.
The text appears as black e-ink on this white e-paper and you can vary the size, font and layout to suit your eyesight and preference at the touch of a button. This makes it great for both personal reading and as a real-time source for preaching, teaching or public speaking of any kind. All you have to do is upload your notes to it (more on this later) and press the 'forward' and 'back' keys to navigate. It's so well designed for this that you can hold it in one hand and turn the pages with your thumb.
Also, because this kind of display takes very little power, a fully charged battery lasts an entire month. Yes, you heard me - four whole weeks. No remembering to lug some stupid charger around with you when you travel. No plugging it in every single night. No plaintive cries of "Me battery's runnin' out!" when you need it to work at a critical moment. Just like a book, the Kindle will always be there for you whenever you need it.
Capacity-wise it can store hundreds of books and documents which you can group into collections for ease of access. Brilliantly, though, you can re-think your collections as often as you want, and deleting a collection doesn't delete the documents you've stored in it. You can also store a document in multiple collections if you like, or in none of them; it's entirely up to you.
The Amazon site offers thousands of e-books, and a surprising number are free. For example, The Complete Works of John Bunyan, the King James Bible, The Works of Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare's Plays and many other classics are completely free. What isn't free you'll generally find for under a fiver, and very often for much less that that. You can either buy from the Amazon website or browse directly on your Kindle and, assuming you've got internet access, the book will be on your device in moments.
For preachers and teachers though the killer feature is the ability to put your own documents and notes on the Kindle, but before I deal with this I need to explain how it connects to the internet.
The basic Kindle comes with built-in WiFi, so whenever you're in range of a wireless hotspot you've got the 'net. For a bit more outlay you can also have 3G capability so your Kindle can be on-line no matter where you are. In both cases, downloading anything you've chosen from amazon is free - you just pay the price shown in-store, even if that is zero. However with 3G access the download of your own document (as opposed to a purchased one) will cost you a small fee, whereas over WiFi - even onto a 3G equipped Kindle - it costs you nothing. For that reason, for me, there's nothing to be gained by the 3G connectivity. If I'm at home or in church I'll always have WiFi so I can download my notes for free, and I have no need to do so while riding in a speeding car or sitting on a park bench.
So how does it work? When you buy and register a Kindle they give you an email address, and to put a document onto your device you just email it to your Kindle and on it goes. Simple as that. Text files, Word files and PDF files will all work though native PDFs don't make the most of the reader's capabilities. And if your internet's broke and you're really stuck you can still plug it into your computer via USB and do it the old-fashioned way.
Are there any drawbacks? Not really, but there are a few things worthy of mention.
First, the device will auto-power-off after five minutes of inactivity. While this might seem a drawback for preachers, let's face it - if you're still droning on out of the same twenty lines of your notes after five whole minutes then you're congregation might well die and decompose before the end of your sermon. And if it does go off, just flip the power switch and it will be back on - showing exactly the same place in the text as when you left it - in less than two seconds.
Secondly, when you 'turn the page' there is a momentary flick of the display. When I first saw this I thought "That's annoying; I'll never get used to that." But within five minutes of using the thing I'd stopped noticing and it's never bothered me since. Trust me, you will too.
And thirdly, If you're planning to get one I would strongly recommend you shell out the extra for the proper Amazon case. It opens like a book and protects the screen really well, it's also solid but light enough to sit nicely in your hand. You can get them in different colours and you can also get them with a little pull-out LED lamp in the corner that will let you read in darkness (it's e-paper, remember - there's no backlight).
So, what do you think of the Kindle? Do you have one? Are you thinking of getting one? If you've tried preaching from one, how did you find it? Got any tips?
Post a comment and let us know.

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