The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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The Kindle abroad

On a recent long jaunt around the Aegean, I realized something important about the Kindle: it’s the ultimate travel gadget.

I honestly didn’t expect this. I just brought mine so I’d have something to read! But here’s the deal:

  • The Kindle has a web browser. It’s simple and slow, but solid enough to check Gmail and In fact, it works beautifully with the mobile versions of most sites.
  • It’s almost miraculously connected. The browser wouldn’t mean much if Whispernet—Amazon’s set of carriage agreements with cell networks around the world—didn’t work everywhere. It does, and it’s also free. I was using Edge and 3G Whispernet reliably in remote-ish provinces and on sleepy islands. In fact, my Kindle generally got a stronger signal than my iPhone.
  • It’s light and durable. There’s a big difference between older Kindles (which I’m toting) and newer ones in this regard; I’m considering snagging one of the latest simply because they’re so much smaller, slimmer and lighter. But any Kindle is more portable than any iPad, and I also felt a lot more comfortable tossing the Kindle into a bag or dragging it across the beach. (I had my iPad on this trip, too, but barely used it.)
  • The Kindle works in direct sunlight. Especially when you’re traveling, this is a big deal. Standing on a busy corner or sitting on the beach, the Kindle is always totally usable. And this provides another contrast to the iPad, which always sends me scurrying to the shadows. (It really is a resolutely indoors device, isn’t it?)
  • The battery lasts forever. You know this already. My Kindle was on a once-a-week charging schedule, and that’s with lots of reading and regular internet checks.
  • Your Kindle is your itinerary. Using the Kindle as a virtual folder for travel documents was perhaps the biggest aha; it was my traveling companion who figured this out first. We got into the habit of forwarding tickets and reservations straight to our addresses, which all Kindle owners have. (Oddly, this is the one part of international service that’s not free, but the price is negligible: $0.99 per megabyte for documents delivered this way.) It feels so good to have all of your information right there, in a format that’s so legible—not just to you, but to others. Once, in Turkey, I simply passed my Kindle to a ticket agent to help her understand where we were trying to go.
  • Travel guides on the Kindle work great. I was a little skeptical about this—I think of the Kindle as being bad at random-access material, and a travel guide is definitely one of those books you want to be able to flip through freely. But as it turns out, we got a ton of use out of a Lonely Planet Kindle edition—purchased mid-trip, natch—and by the end of the trip, I felt like a dope for having bothered with a physical guide (which weighed in at about five Kindles).

Honestly, even if you are not ever going to read an e-book, but want a device to help you stay connected and organized while traveling—especially if you’re going a bit off the beaten track—the investment in a Kindle (barely more than a hundred bucks at this point) can’t be beat.


I had the exact same travel experience! Best decision I made on the trip was bringing my kindle.

I think you make a great case for why it’s #2, but still don’t see the advantages to make it #1 over iPhone other than battery power — or maybe that’s it? 🙂

Yeah, if I was forced to choose between the iPhone and the Kindle, I’d def choose the iPhone. I guess I almost don’t think of the iPhone as an optional gadget at this point; it’s like an extra limb.

But the international data fees on the iPhone are a killer. I bought the biggest pack you can get (200MB for $200, jeez), was careful in my browsing & mapping, but still maxed it out during three weeks traveling. Compared to that, the Kindle’s free internet feels sort of magical.

Agreed, especially for international travel.

Not sure how apple devices push to it but Chrome has a push-to-kindle extension I use frequently.

Tim Carmody says…

I use Instapaper in a pretty similar way — the functionality is pretty much totally seamless now (wasn’t last year).

I like sendtokindle but tend to use firefox, and a very good tool that’s useable with most browsers is sendtoreader. See for feedback on how that one has worked for Kindle users.

The photo you took of your Kindle, worn from use and travel, is also a compelling point—it’s durable and cheap enough that you don’t need need to treat it delicately.

Thought you might be interested in a project I hacked together a couple of weeks ago. Kindlegraph ( lets authors sign your Kindle. One fewer reason to actually own the print version of a book.

Tim Carmody says…

Love this post (only way it could be equally attractive Tim-bait is if it referenced redheads, Westerns, and the history of linotype or something).

This is what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately:

There’s a big difference between older Kindles (which I’m toting) and newer ones in this regard; I’m considering snagging one of the latest simply because they’re so much smaller, slimmer and lighter.

I’ve got one of the newer models, and it’s my first. And the other day, I was thinking, short of coming out with a full-fledged tablet, what could Amazon offer with a Kindle 4 that would make me want to buy a new one? A super-zippy processor? A Mirasol screen? 4G connectivity? A better keyboard? A touchscreen? A trackpad?

Forget about the Amazon multimedia tablet for a second — what’s the company’s next dedicated reading device going to look like? The 2010 Kindle 3Gs sometimes seem like they’ve taken the hardware design about as far as it can go, in both looks and function — kind of amazing, considering how fugly and awkward everybody thought the first Kindles were. It’s worth toying with the idea of what will be next, and what would make a fan/reader like me pull the trigger (or make one like Robin wait to upgrade).

Ooh, you made me google “mirasol.” I like it.

Yes: for all the elegance/utility of the current E-Ink screen, it’s got serious flaws, too. The invert-on-refresh thing is like the crackle of an AM radio between stations. Or actually, more like if AM radio crackled between verses.

A Kindle 4 w/ an even better display that was designed around reading of *all* kinds — that is to say, web pages, longreads, tweets, emails, etc., as well as e-books — would be the device for me.

Oh and I want it to be flexible, so I can roll it up and put it in my back pocket. Maybe I have to wait for the Kindle 5 for that, huh? 😉

I’m a little torn around the idea of better “reading of all kinds”. As someone who suffers from the endless distractability of the net, having a device where it is possible, but just a little bit clunky, to do the web thing is nice. It makes you need a reason to turn wireless on and move into that flow.

I like that the focus of the Kindle has, to date, been on those things that make reading better, rather that pushing it into artificial competition with devices that do apps.

Oh, and absolutely agree about the travel aspects. It’s become an indispensable addition to my pack:

So wait, is Mirasol a cross between color e-ink and video display? I’m too foggy brained right now to penetrate through the marketese of that website.

If so, that’s basically what I’m holding out for. I want to be able to read and annotate in color. I don’t really even care about ebooks, just pdfs. Otherwise, your travel arguments would all be extremely convincing if my first view of a Kindle (shown off in a travel companion’s arms on the way to the airport) wasn’t followed up by my second view of a Kindle (screen shattered upon arrival, despite the carrying case). Is it really that durable, or are you emotionally tuned to the needs of you gadgets? Because I am a klutz. I have been impressed with how easily people seem to get them replaced: some sort of Amazon insurance policy that’s not too expensive? Is that still around?

I’d say better input is the big improvement I’m looking for — both for typing and pointing. The keyboard is still a horror show for typing anything more than a word or two, and navigating around the page (like in the web browser, or in a book’s TOC) is still very clunky. But yeah, it’s quite an advance over the first gen.

And the new Nook announced today — with a touchscreen, lighter — might be it.

Tim Carmody says…

Yeah, but no 3G on the new Nook. So no free global internet.

B&N did not bother with a web browser at all in the new Nook, not even for WiFi use, even though the first Nook had a decent one, for eInk.

They also are not including the music player. A few other things that are important to me are not included, and I list them at

That touchscreen technology must be expensive for them.

In some parts of the world (hello Thailand), the Kindle costs more than the iPad. Mainly because everyone here wants an iPad, and nobody wants a Kindle. I’d love a nice Kindle, but for the same price, I’d choose iPad…

When I was travelling last year the Kindle actually saved me thanks to its international 3G access! Love it 🙂

I bought the current Kindle in January primarily for the international 3G — I’m a total cheapie on paying money to make my phone work overseas, and knowing that I can have Internet access pretty much anywhere in the civilized world is huge. Worked beautifully.

The last couple of trips I’ve bought the cheap Lonely Planet city guides (~$5) for the Kindle app on my iPhone, since I have that everywhere, even when the Kindle stays in the bag back at the hotel. Any search function makes a travel guide better.

(Oddly, this is the one part of international service that’s not free, but the price is negligible: $0.99 per megabyte for documents delivered this way.)

If you send the email to instead of, it will only download it next time you pass a wifi point, which is free.

It also saved me once in Greece 🙂

RANGER says…

If I give a kindle to my friend in Mongolia, will she be able to download books from Amazon there?

Even though Amazon’s new kindle lineup seems poised to crush B&N, here’s a quick plug for the eInk Nook. They have really continued to make improvements to the firmware since I got mine close to the original release date. Last time I did side-by-side page turns against a Kindle 2 (~1yr ago) the Nook was slightly faster.

On eReaders for travel, one last perk is that an old school 1D bar code scanner can read a 1D bar code off an eInk screen (as long as the resolution is high enough), whereas off an LCD screen only 2D readers will work (for 2D or 1D codes).

Sandy says…

Would you tell me what version of the Kindle you took on your travels? Many thank!

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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