By Clare Richardson-Barlow
Whether it’s waiting for delayed planes, avoiding bad movies, long cab rides from airports to hotels, or sleepless jet-lagged nights, my Amazon Kindle has more than paid for itself when traveling. It has prevented me from dying of boredom and aided me in work-related tasks I would be unable to otherwise complete.
However, on a recent international trip (from California to China via Japan) I was forced to adapt to using my Kindle abroad, outside of the scope of America’s wireless Internet luxury. We all know the effectiveness of Amazon’s wireless book within the comfort of our own country, but what is the Kindle’s effectiveness elsewhere? Does the Kindle continue to do what its clever marketing promises, or are there international glitches that still need to be solved before jetsetters can justify the investment?
The answer to whether or not the Amazon Kindle remains effective outside of the United States is two part: yes and no. This review will focus on Asia, as that is where I recently traveled, aided by my trusty electronic book.
At the outset let me establish that all of my previously downloaded books were lifesavers. There is no feeling for a book lover like having 4 or 5 books at one’s disposal, being able to switch between books at one’s own convenience, and escaping the isolation of traveling long hours on an airplane.
However, when it comes time to download a new book, or dictionary in my case, what does one do? If you are stuck with a long layover in the Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan, downloading a new book is not as easy as simply switching on the Kindle’s wireless and browsing the online bookstore.
Amazon’s Whispernet wireless technology, available anywhere in the United States, is not accessible outside of the US. For this reason Kindle users must rely on other wireless Internet access sources while traveling. Since Narita International Airport claims to have easy wireless Internet access, I had thought my Kindle would continue to be useful before even arriving at my destination. However, connecting to wireless in airports is rarely as easy as simply turning your wireless on. A computer can open multiple windows and simplifies the connection process. Then you can usually download wirelessly to the computer. The Kindle, on the other hand, cannot open multiple windows, so trying to sign on to the Narita Wireless via Kindle’s Internet was futile.
While repeatedly trying to sign on to the Narita system, the Kindle’s Internet (which was in its “experimental” phase in January) continually crashed and froze my Kindle. Restarting a Kindle can be nerve racking the 5th time around, especially when you know that almost a month’s worth of your reading and research materials are available only on it! Narita: 1. Kindle: 0.
In general, downloading books to one’s computer via wireless is easy, as is transferring those downloads to the Kindle. However, travelers be warned: travel with the appropriate cords at all times in the event that the Kindle cannot connect to a wireless source, and thus cannot download purchased books. In this case, you must download to your computer, and then connect to your Kindle by USB. This is hardly the ideal set-up.
My traveling companions, one of whom owned a Kindle, one who had an iPad, and one who had recently purchased the Barnes and Noble Color Nook, rarely faced the same problems as I. They had either downloaded enough books prior to their trip or, in the case of the Nook holder, had no problems downloading via wireless access that required multiple internet windows to connect.
Another problem I faced when trying to download books in China in particular was getting books that may be banned in that country. I had thought that simply copying materials that I needed to read for my studies to a word document and then transferring the word document to my Kindle via my computer would easily amend this problem.
However, Microsoft Word documents often crash the Kindle, most notably when there were tables or complicated charts that need to be viewed more clearly. PDFs do not do much better, but very simple word documents pose no difficulty for a Kindle reader.
Were Amazon able to fix the glitches in the Kindle web browser so that Internet access was possible in areas where there is an Internet key required, my Kindle would have been far more useful. The bottom line: Kindle users must be prepared if they are traveling to Asia—have your books downloaded beforehand and bring all your computer and Kindle cords with you so that transferring documents will be more accessible.
Also, if you are traveling with a Nook or iPad user, make sure that you have some truly interesting reads—the lack of entertainment provided on a Kindle, outside of your books or magazines, can be magnified when surrounded by those with media devices that provide more visual interaction, such as our group’s main entertainment, “Angry Birds.”
A Kindle add-on that I highly recommend is the Kindle Lighted Leather Cover (http://amzn.to/lI0MeU). This provides a great light that is a savior on dark buses or when sharing a hotel room with a traveling companion. In fact, my one complaint would be that the light is almost too bright, but does serve as a nice flashlight when needed.
So, Kindle users who travel abroad: plan your trips accordingly. A Kindle can be a wonderful companion, but without the right preparation, can cause many frustrations. Oh, and don’t forget: all electronics must be shut off before takeoff.