My Favorite Gadget Costs Less Than $20 and I Use it Every Day

What is your favorite gadget? A bright red iPhone? An exploding Galaxy Note? A rotary telephone?

I’m a gadget whore. There isn’t a nice way to phrase that — I own five tablets, four laptops, a desktop PC, four smartphones (two still work!), and more. But the one gadget I love the most, the one I suspect I’ll always have, is a simple e-reader: my Amazon Kindle. 

And though I, of course, have two different Kindles (I was gifted a newer Kindle Paperwhite a while back), I can honestly say that the years-old $20 used Kindle Keyboard is good enough.

Five Reasons I Love My Kindle

5. My eyes never get tired.

The hype is real people! If you’re eyes are getting tired after a long day in front of a computer, or if you’re sick of squinting at a smartphone screen, an e-ink screen is a godsend. For me, after LASIK, my eyes took a while to build up the endurance to withstand eight to ten hours a day in front of a computer. And years later, that seems to be my limit. Anything more and my vision gets fuzzy. I don’t get that problem with an e-reader. 

4. Read all evening without disturbing my sleep.

There is also the added issue of blue lights and circadian rhythms. The blue lights in computer, television, smartphone, and tablet screens can disturb your sleep, which is why device manufacturers are adding “night modes” to all their devices. Kindles don’t have that problem — the basic model and older models don’t have lights at all, and the newer ones are edge-lit (so light doesn’t shine directly into your eyes) and the light can be turned off entirely.

3. My battery lasts decades.

We’ve all had a smartphone die on us in the middle of something important. I honestly can’t remember the last time my Kindle’s battery died. My old Kindle Keyboard 3G’s battery lasts weeks or months, depending on usage levels and whether or not I have the 3G and WiFi turned on. (I don’t, unless I’m adding a new book.) My Paperwhite has never died, though I tend to charge it every couple of weeks when I’m tossing other devices on the charger block.

2. It’s better than huge books.

I used to prefer paper books. Most people do. But there are two huge reasons why I now would go for my Kindle every time: big books and binging books. Edmund Morris’s absurdly perfect biographical trilogy of Teddy Roosevelt runs about 600 pages each — or 1800 pages total. Reading one of those would make my arms tired.  

Here’s the other thing: I have about 50 books in my Kindle right now that I can’t wait to read. If I want to binge read on vacation, I only have to bring my tiny Kindle. If I wanted to stick to paper, I’d have to bring an extra suitcase. Sure, the smell and feel of an old book beats a soulless e-reader, but convenience trumps ancillary sensory benefits.

1. Free books (see below).

Never Pay for a Book Again?

I am an Amazon Prime member. Prime members get free books from the Kindle Lending Library, which include a ton of great nonfiction reads on productivity, marketing, and business.

I also have a library card. Most libraries now participate in Overdrive, which is an electronic Kindle library — you borrow an ebook on your Kindle and return it, just like real life. (Seems a bit contrived, doesn’t it? After all, should there really be a time limit on infinite copies of books made of bits and bytes?)

Sure, I’ve paid for a book or two. But for anything but the newest of releases, or textbooks, you can probably find a free copy through Prime or Overdrive. For out-of-copyright classics, there is also the free Project Gutenberg.

Which Kindle Should I Get?

For pretty much everyone, a cheap used Kindle is good enough. Amazon regularly sells the old models, direct from their own Warehouse Deals, for around $30. eBay and craigslist always have Kindles in that range as well. Don’t be afraid of used, so long as you can power it on and it works — I’ve known a lot of people who buy Kindles and never actually use them, so there are plenty of nearly new older model Kindles out there. 

What about the new models? Honestly, when it comes to e-ink screens, you won’t notice a heck of a lot of difference between the low resolution and high resolution screens. The Paperwhite and higher end models all have backlights, which is nice to have, but not worth more than an extra $20 unless you are a bedtime reader. Also, don’t buy the Voyage or Oasis — they actually have the same screen as the Paperwhite, and their significantly higher costs yield only a slightly better backlight or thinner profile. Also, rumor has it that the Paperwhite is up for an update this year and will soon be waterproof. If you like to read in the tub, or at the beach, that might be worth looking at.

What About Kobo and Nook and Other E-Readers?

I like Amazon. I’ve been a Prime member for years. Getting free books through Prime made Kindle the obvious choice for me. But there are other competitors out there, many of which are already waterproof and aren’t locked into Amazon’s ecosystem. (The Kindle only reads Amazon’s preferred file format, though you can nerd out and convert ebooks sourced elsewhere to Amazon’s preferred .mobi format.)

Absent an accident (always a possibility with my klutzy dogs, who have a knack for pulling down charging cables), I expect my Kindles will last for years to come — even the early Kindles are still kicking, and unlike smartphone or PCs, they don’t really ever get obsolete.

But I would totally jump ship (or supplement my current collection) for an e-ink Android tablet or a larger e-reader that plays nice with PDFs. In fact, that’s the only shortcoming of my Kindle: they really, really suck at reading PDF files. Not only do they shrink the pages (margins and text) to fit a standard page on a six-inch screen, but the pages render slow. 

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