Love them or hate them, Kindles are here to stay.
Everything you need to know to purchase and get the best use from yours.
Updated May 21, 2021
This is something to be glad about, not to worry about.
Paper books are not going anywhere either: there are too many purposes for which paper books are better than e-books, especially when the layout of the book is important. To my mind, the increase use of e-books for texts where the layout and book design doesn’t matter leaves more room in the industry for books where they do. It certainly leaves more flexibility regarding use of resources.
At the end of the day, more reading means the industry can support more publishing, and that is good.
Sporadic readers might be happy enough with installing a Kindle app on their phone or tablet, and even some more dedicated readers like having their reader combined with all the other functions of their phones, which you kind of have to have anyway, or their tablet.
But if you are that person who clings to the old, traditional ways of doing things (i.e. not on your phone), including reading ONLY paper books, a Kindle might be just the device that you don’t know that you need.
Or if you have those people in your life…this may help them enjoy reading more…especially if they are getting to be “of an age” or have other issues that help them enjoy reading.
For all of you who extol the joys of paper books, I am right there with you. I like the smell of books so much that I actually own and use book scented candles. No kidding. And there are certain genres that I don’t like reading on an e-reader, especially graphic novels, and certain purposes for which I find e-readers annoying, such as studying.
But say what you will, e-readers are the winners when it comes to portability and accessibility. These characteristics added to other features of e-readers can actually make reading possible for those who have difficulty, including those who are homebound or have sight issues or even lack the physical dexterity or strength to manage a paper book. For some people, it is a problem, and ignoring that fact is insensitive.
Whether you are thinking of a Kindle for yourself or someone else, here are some questions to ponder.
If you’re already a Kindle aficionado, scroll to the end for tips on some advanced features you may not be using.
1. Why is reading on a Kindle better than reading on a phone or tablet?
The Kindle is lighter to carry around than a tablet and is about the same weight as a phone, depending on what you have of each and the type of cover.
The Kindle is designed for reading in daylight, and it doesn’t get hot either.
The most important thing is that the Kindle is not back lit and it doesn’t have the “blue light” that phones, tablets and computer screens have. Reading on other devices causes eye fatigue. You can turn the light off on the Kindle completely if you want to. Also the background and print is designed for sustained reading. You can even make the print bolder if you need that.
Also, if you have an iPhone or iPad, you cannot purchase Kindle books from inside the Kindle app; you have to open up a browser (Safari), purchase books from there, and then make sure you get it sent to your Kindle app. This process may not seem like a big deal to many people, but if you’re you’re a tech-shy person, it’s too complicated. I find annoying myself and don’t bother. If you want to know how to do it though, here’s a tutorial.
2. How does reading on a Kindle help a person read more easily?
You can easily make the font larger and darker, so you don’t need to use reading glasses.
There are many different fonts, including one designed especially for people with dyslexia, which is a problem with the connection between the eyes and brain that can make it hard for people to see the difference between the letters (b, p, d, for example). You can also adjust the space between the lines and the width of the margins, so each person can find the combination that works best and leave it.
It saddens me to think how many people there are in the world who struggle with reading and believe themselves “stupid” when actually it is more of a physical problem that hasn’t been sorted out. The Kindle can help with that.
As of this writing, all Kindles work with Audible (recorded books), which is a help for people who struggle with reading print or whose eyes tire. Note that there is a separate fee for Audible, but a person with basic “tech” know how can use public library apps to get recorded books for free.
3. Aren’t e-books expensive?
If you buy books, usually e-books are cheaper than print books (not always), BUT these days there are more ways to get e-books cheap and/or free than print books.
The added benefit is that people with limited mobility can easily get free/cheap digital books with a lot of choice. These are the people that can’t easily go to libraries, used bookstores, thrift stores, or yard sales, which is where many people get free or inexpensive print books. Previously, these people have had to live with very limited choice for these reasons.
If you are just getting into reading, the easiest thing to do is to get a Kindle Unlimited account. Kindle Unlimited charges a monthly fee ($10.00US) for access to all the books marked “Kindle Unlimited”. The range of books available changes, but there are a lot, and for each account, 10 books can be checked out at once.
Amazon gives long trial periods (usually around 3 months) on Kindle Unlimited, and if you go in and attempt to cancel your account when the trial ends, you can often get yourself ANOTHER trial or a reduced rate. Amazon is clever about doing whatever it takes to keep a customer; as a consumer, you benefit.
There are also many books on Amazon that are free or very inexpensive on Kindle without the Kindle Unlimited membership. Some of these are junk, no question; it’s easy for anyone who has written a book to self publish on Amazon. But many of the books available are simply in the public domain, which means any book by an author who has been dead 70 years or more, if the estate hasn’t renewed the copyright. So there are many great books!
Older people especially might be pleasantly surprised to find old favorites that have long been out of print available on Kindle for free or next to nothing (maybe $1.00US).
Amazon is very smart when it comes to their marketing: They know that these books are available from many sources, and they go ahead and list them to keep people on the Amazon site. But this approach also makes it very easy for technophobes/newbies to easily access a lot of free reading material.
For Amazon books not on Kindle Unlimited, you can download as many free samples as you want, and they will stay on your Kindle until you delete them. I use downloaded samples as my “to be read” pile, even if I eventually get the book from the library. The free samples aren’t always as good as seeing the book “in person”: I find it particularly annoying that the Table of Contents isn’t always included, and another issue is that sometimes the entire “sample” consists of the book’s Introduction (which is often not even by the same author), but it’s better than nothing. And some publishers are very generous.
Here’s further reading from The Lois Level on why libraries are awesome: Why the American Public Library is the Foundation of our Democracy
And on using your libraries free online services for e-books, recorded books, and other goodies: Subscribe to Your Library! It’s free!
4. What if I accidentally purchase a book?
As soon as you click “purchase” on a Kindle, there is also a button that automatically comes up as soon as you purchase a book that says “bought by accident”, so no worries about that. I’ve accidentally purchase books just because the Kindle slipped in my hand. You click the button, the book deletes and your account is credited.
Also, if you are forgetful and try to buy a book you have bought before, Amazon tells you that you already own it.
5. Do I have to give them my credit card number?
You do need to keep a credit card on the account, but if you have a gift certificate entered into your account, that will automatically be used first on Kindle purchases.
4. Which Kindle should I get?
In trying to appeal to a range of customers, the Kindle market has gotten a little complicated. The three types of Kindles at this writing are “Kindle”, “Kindle Paperwhite”, “Kindle Oasis”, and “Kindle Fire”.
The big difference is between the Kindle and the Kindle Fire.
A Kindle Fire is an inexpensive tablet alternative. You can watch videos on it and download app’s (but not necessarily everything that is available for Apple and Android). The rest of the Kindles are e-readers only. The differences between the “Kindle”, “Kindle Paperwhite”, and “Kindle Oasis” are minimal.
If you want the Kindle mainly for reading, don’t go with the Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire is a lower quality tablet. I actually own a Kindle Fire but I only use it for reading magazines (through the library), books such as graphic novels that don’t work on the regular Kindle, and some video. If you want to use a tablet for the Internet, you are probably better off with a tablet or even large smartphone.
In terms of weight, the Kindle Fire is heavier than any other Kindle but probably lighter than a small Ipad…however, it also does less because of the limited apps.
Out of the other Kindles, I recommend the Paperwhite, which is the standard. I had an Oasis, but I returned it because the extra bulk (and cost) didn’t seem worth the extra features. The “Kindle” is also a good bet.
The biggest difference between the basic “Kindle” and the “Kindle Paperwhite” that you will notice is that the Paperwhite has a totally smooth front, and the Paperwhite is waterproof.
I think a regular Kindle would be ok by a pool, but you might not want to actually float around in the pool with it, or you might (or I might) hesitate to take it to the beach because everything seems messier at the beach.
My biggest concern with all of the Kindles is actually the light although I think the problem is with reading on a computer screen/phone/tablet. Kindles have always been about the reading experience, and they are all good for reasons explained above.
This video below shows you the three different versions of kindle so you can see the difference in how the screens look and the lights, which are of different quality.
I do think the announcer makes too big a deal about the glare on all of the kindles. Since you don’t need the light to read (and for a long time Kindles didn’t have lights), the glare is not a problem. On the Amazon page, they say the screen is glare free, and I agree with that.
5. Ok, I decided which Kindle to get, but there are still a lot of choices on the ordering page!
Depending on the type of Kindle you have selected, you may have some or all of these options on the ordering page. If you don’t see one, it means it isn’t an option for the Kindle you’ve chosen.
Kindle Unlimited: If you know you want it, say “yes”. If you aren’t sure, say “no”. It’s very easy to join once you get the Kindle. Don’t worry about the free trial; they always have that. There is no reason to get Kindle Unlimited when ordering unless you are sure.
Bundle: No. As of this writing, the bundle includes and expensive, and bulky, cover and the wall plug for charging. The Kindle comes with a cord that allows you to charge the Kindle on your computer, but you can use any power adapter that has a USB port to charge with a wall socket, including the ones that come with an iPhone. You do need a cover, but there are many cheaper and better options available right on Amazon. I’ve shared ones I like below, but there are many to choose from. Take your time. Just don’t buy this overpriced one.
Extra storage: No. Digital books don’t take up that much space, and anything that you download onto your Kindle EVER, is retrievable from the cloud…and you can download right from the Kindle. The only reason you would need extra storage is if you will be somewhere with no wifi for, um weeks? Months?
Special Offers: Yes, unless you have no sales resistance at all. Instead of the plain images that will be on your “sleep screen”, you will have ads. Usually the ads are for books and paid for by publishers, but not always.
You are getting a small discount on the device in return for allowing them to place ad’s on it. Why not let publishers (usually) subsidize your Kindle?
If the ad’s bug you, you can remove the “special offers” from your Kindle at any time, but the $20.00 (or so) difference in price will be charged to your Amazon account at that time.
There will not be any ad’s on the screen when you are reading.
Save the money: Who cares what’s on the screen when you aren’t using it?
Note: If you do pay extra to get the “no ad’s” version, as of May, 2021 you can set your “sleep” screen to display the cover of the book you are reading, as a reminder to get back to it!
Wifi only or Wifi+Cellular Connectivity: Probably Wifi only.
Amazon keeps raising the price of its Cellular Connectivity option, but the benefit is that you never have to pay for it again; there is no other charge. The question is whether you will use it as you only need connectivity to download books. Most people primarily do that at home. You can also log onto any public network, and downloading books takes little bandwidth compared to other media, so you don’t need a strong signal.
For example, if you are in an airport, you can probably get enough of a signal to download a book; you might even be able to manage with the free wifi in an airplane cabin, if it is available.
Just be warned that logging onto new networks is a bit trickier than on a phone or tablet.
The bottom line is that you just don’t need to connect to wifi on Kindles that much.
Some people actually use them on Airplane mode most of the time to make the battery last longer (and it does last a really long time, as advertised).
Some people prefer to read on their Kindle over their phone/tablet specifically because there are no distractions, so in that case, removing the connectivity means you won’t be tempted to browse the bookstore instead of reading what you already own.
Extended warranty: Usually not worth the money.
Amazon has a trade in program on Kindles when you want to upgrade, and they aren’t THAT expensive to replace if anything happens.
Spending $10-20 on a cover is a better use of your money (see below for advice).
If I were purchasing a Kindle for a child, I would use this as an opportunity to teach the child responsibility rather than springing for the warranty. Kindles are so inexpensive compared to phones that they make great “gateway” electronic devices (and a Fire does just about everything a tablet does).
I would always tell my daughter what the consequences would be for accidental damage or loss in advance. She knew I wouldn’t back down, and she has always been good about taking care of her things.
6. What other extras do I need to order?
Nothing, except I would have a cover or some sort of protection.
Kindle are not difficult to protect, but I did once break one, even though it was in a neoprene case, when it slipped off a pile of books and the corner of the kindle landed on concrete.
I don’t think the screens are extremely delicate, but you do want to make sure nothing punctures or cracks it (for example in a larger bag) and that it doesn’t get scratched.
I like the covers that flip from the side because it gives me a feeling of closing a book. When you reopen it, your page will still be there (you may have to press a button). Some people like covers that open from the top.
Be careful with the covers that claim to form a stand because they don’t always work well, especially the “origami” kind. I’ve put one below that has a good stand and a hand strap. The hand strap is good because hands have been known to cramp up from holding the Kindle in the corner for a long time. If you use a computer during the day, you may also want a relaxing hold for your hands if you read at night.
I think the strap is probably also more secure if you read on public transit, especially while standing.
The covers without the stand/hand strap are a bit thinner and lighter.
The covers aren’t hard to change, so it isn’t ridiculous to purchase more than one to use for different purposes.
Aim to spend between $10.00-$20.00 US for a cover that will do the job effectively.
Be careful to double check that you have ordered the right cover for your Kindle.
The vendors jam the titles with lots of words to help their product come up in searches, which results in the buyer’s search turning up a lot of covers that don’t actually work on the device you’ve searched for.
Just double check.
7. Where are the extra tips you promised?
Here are a few tips and tricks to save money on content that experienced users either don’t know or forget about.
If you belong to Amazon Prime, you get one free book a month through Amazon First Reads. You get a choice of several books from different genres, and the book is yours to keep. The books are $1.99 for non Amazon Prime members.
There are book credits built into shipping fees, but you have to opt in.
That’s right, book credits. When you order any physical item from Amazon that is going to be delivered, check the shipping rates. Often there is an option that asks you to agree to a delayed delivery in return for a $1.00US credit on digital merchandise. That means books!
If you can wait a couple of extra days for your item, take the option. $1 here and there add up, especially around the holidays. The credit will stay in your account until you want it and will be used up before your credit card is charged unless you say otherwise.
It’s nice to have that credit when there is something expensive you really want.
You can loan some Kindle books, with restrictions.
This video shows you how. If you do not see the option for a certain book, that book is not available to loan.
3. You can share books with the readers in your life through Amazon Family. Officially, you get one adult, but you can easily set up teenager’s accounts for any other adult (up to four).
The difference between children’s and adults’ accounts is that an “adult” has to set the level of freedom the “teen” can have, but there are options that would be acceptable to an adult.
There are also “children’s” accounts that do not permit shopping. You can also set limits (for Kindle Fire) or goals for your children’s reading if you want to.
This option might be good if you have an elderly parent who is just starting out with Kindle, especially if that person isn’t comfortable with shopping online or entering a credit card.
It’s also a good option if you are sharing an account with adult children so you don’t have to pay for everything!
If your living circumstances change, your books and other digital content stay yours.
4. You can download PDF’s to your Kindle to read.
This is a handy option for ANY kind of PDF’s or documents that you want to read. It’s an especially nice feature to have if you have work or training reading that you want to do on travel.
Using a Kindle also gives a much nicer impression than using a phone at work.
This video shows you how to do that, and it also shows you how to convert a Word document to PDF if you don’t know how.
Guide to the Goods:
These candles are the ones I have. I actually prefer the “New Book” smell because the other strike me as a bit musty, but you can start with the set and decide for yourself.
This is a regular Kindle…not waterproof.
A nice, slimline cover that I like. Lots of colors and designs are available.
This one is waterproof.
This case is relatively thin and comes with a hand strap, a good stand (that works…not all do), and a slot for cards. I could see myself using that for hotel key cards when I travel, especially inside the hotel. This one comes in lots of colors and designs.
This one is a thinner option with no stand or hand strap if you really want to keep your bag lightweight. Also comes in lots of colors and designs.
This is the Kindle Oasis. It’s a bit heavier than the Paperwhite, and it’s supposed to be ergonomic, but I didn’t like the uneven weighting and returned mine.
It is the only Kindle with a warm light, if that’s worth the extra money to you.
The cover I had (purchased separately) started to fade in less than a year, too.
As of this writing, all Kindles come with a cord for charging but not a plug. You can use anything you have that accepts a USB plug, but if you ever need one, don’t spend $20.00 on the Amazon one. The one below is $8.99
If you do choose to read on a phone, computer, tablet, or Kindle Fire, you should wear blue light glasses to protect your eyes.
These are just samples; there are a lot of options although I would choose largish frames so you don’t have to constantly adjust them.
I use them for all computer work. When I started, I noticed a decrease in eye fatigue right away, and now I can feel my eyes relax when I put them on.
Please put any tips you have in the comments, and enjoy your reading, no matter how you do it!