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On the Spot: Taking your Kindle to Europe

Amazon promises easy downloading overseas for its e-book reader. Some iPad users will want to have an international data plan, so downloading e-books before leaving is advised.

February 05, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • Can I kindle?
Can I kindle? (Scott Garrett / For The Times )

Question: I love reading while on vacation. In the past, I have been known to bring — and read — five to 10 hard-cover books for a one-week trip. I am going to Europe this summer, and I have no idea if my electronic-reading devices will be able to download anything. Should I purchase and download all of my reading material in the U.S. before I leave, or is it possible that my gadgets will be able to hook up?

Bryan S. Jick

Pasadena

Answer: The Kindle and the iPad are changing (or have already) the way we read, and for many people, they also are changing the way they pack (lighter, reducing overweight fees). They're also improving the way I keep house, reducing the stacks of books by the nightstand, but that's another, uglier story.

For now, Amazon's Kindle, introduced in 2007, has captured about three-quarters of the e-book market, according to published reports. (Kindle declined to verify that number.) Amazon announced late last year it had sold more Kindles (which begin at $139) than copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

"Kindle has built-in Wi-Fi, so you can always download books wirelessly, no matter where you are," said Kinley Campbell, a representative for Amazon.com. "Plus, Kindle 3G has built-in global 3G wireless [3G works in more than 100 countries], so you can take your Kindle 3G everywhere and still download books over 3G and be reading them in under 60 seconds."

Kindle is said to hold its charge for as long as a month if you turn off Wi-Fi (not my experience), so you may be able to avoid taking the adapter with you. (If you can't, Campbell directed me to http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002Y27P5K for the European adapter.)

Besides the books you download, Kindle also has, its spokesman says, 10,000 travel guidebooks available. Whether you're using Kindle or iPad, you'll no longer have to rip up your guidebooks and pack those disemboweled pages, then live with the guilt of destroying a book — if you're the kind of heartless person (I am) who has done that.

People who are iPad conversant say the reading experience is superior to that of Kindle because, like many things Apple, the iPad reading experience borders on sensual. Reading is more tactile than it is with the Kindle, which is the way it should be, they say.

It also could be more expensive. A big difference between the Kindle and the iPad is cost of 3G, if your device is so equipped: Kindle doesn't require a data plan for 3G and an iPad does. For 3G use abroad, iPad requires an international data plan. A 20MB international plan starts at $24.99 through AT&T; a 200MB plan is $199.99, also from AT&T. If you're trying to figure out how much a book is going to consume, AT&T has a data calculator at http://www.att.com/standalone/data-calculator/index.html?wtSlotClick=1-003W97-0-1&WT.svl=title. How much data a book download will consume depends on the book, but an Apple spokesman said 2MB is a fair estimate. For the lowest-priced international plan, you'll get about 10 books (plus, of course, the cost of the book).

My advice: If you're taking both, download on Kindle while you're in Europe, but download on iPad's 3G before you go to avoid the expense of a plan. And be sure that you don't, as I often do, leave your "book" in the plane's seatback pocket — definitely not a happily-ever-after ending.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we can't answer every inquiry.

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