Maybe you've seen savvy commuters carrying those Kindle devices around on the train or at the airport. Perhaps some annoying person whipped out her luscious new iPad – what, is she made out of money? – and showed you how neat the Kindle software makes books look.
And then there's the bragging about all there is on offer. Brand-new bestsellers for just $9.99! And now they even have real live page-numbers!
Hold onto your wallet: You may not need to spend a dime to be able to enjoy the joys of reading on a Kindle and feeling superior to the fossils who read on paper. If you've got a smartphone – an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android – Kindle can be yours for nothing. (It works on the iPhone touch too.)
Just drop by the Kindle website and download the mobile phone software for free. Then try downloading the no-cost sample chapters of a few books. There's no stop-them-or-they'll-charge-you hidden fees: There's nothing you have to do after you've read the sample chapters, which typically take you well into the beginning of the book. Then you can buy the book if you'd like or do nothing.
So how's the reading experience on a mobile phone? I can only speak for the iPhone, but it's really pretty good. The screen is bright and you can adjust the size of the letters in case you're at that age when you suddenly realize that print is awfully small these days. (You and me both.)
I read entire books on my iPhone without any problem before I graduated to an iPad for heavy reading. You might not want to go that far. Kindle on a mobile phone is best for reading when you're on the run: in line at the grocery store or the Department of Motor Vehicles, while you're eating lunch at the sandwich shop or during an endless conference call at work.
Kindle will remember where you last left off in your book, even if you switch to your Kindle account on another device: an actual Kindle, an iPad, another mobile phon,e or even a computer. (Free Kindle software is available for laptops and desktops.)
You might be thinking, "I couldn't possibly read on my phone for more than 20 minutes. And besides, I like real books. So sue me." That's fine. But try this: If you hear about a book that sounds interesting, check to see if it's on Kindle. If it is, download the free sample and read it the next time you're waiting for the kid outside school or grabbing a bite in the cafeteria.
If you like the free sample, buy the actual book the old-fashioned way. If you don't like it, try another one. If your local bookstore has closed, this may be the closest you'll get to browsing the aisles. And you'll still get to brag that you use a Kindle.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.