Sunday, June 08, 2008

a new toy: the amazon kindle

I'm a pretty fast reader and spend a lot of time traveling, so I end up in the annoying situation of carrying multiple books to cover me for a complete trip. As a result, I've been keeping an eye on e-ink based portable readers, especially the Amazon Kindle. A friend from Linden recently got one and has been twittering her support, so I decided to take the plunge. Now that I've had it for a few weeks, I thought a review was in order.

First off, the ergonomics and build quality. It's ugly and feels cheap to me, especially when compared to -- say -- Apple products. It's supposed to snap into its book-like case, but mine sometimes pops out or pops the battery cover open instead. On the plus side, it is very light, which matters when you're curled up late at night reading in bed. I suspect this is something Amazon will improve on greatly with their 2.0 version.

The screen, on the other hand, is delightful. If you haven't seen an e-ink screen, it's a little hard to describe how nice it is to read off of. My only minor complaint is that the smallest test size isn't small enough. The screen has to flash to black, then white, between page changes, but I found that I stopped noticing that almost immediately. I've habitually read on both laptops and mobile devices and really do like the Kindle more -- although when iPhone gets an ebook application, I'm curious which one I'll spend more time reading on.

I've only purchased a couple of books from Amazon. The delivery is quick and easy, the selection good, but knowing that I'm getting a DRM-ed book that I can't use anywhere else is really annoying. I have, however, paid Baen books just about every way I could, including a $500 Andromeda membership to Baen's Universe, since between that and Baen's free library, I'm able to get nearly half of the science fiction books I own as bits. Bookmooch will be getting a lot of additional books in the next few months! None of the Baen books have DRM, so I'm much happier to pay to get bits. Plus, since their service tracks what I've purchased, I know that I can always recover the books if I lose them. To Amazon's credit, it's not like they're going to go out of business, so I suspect that the ease of purchasing may overcome some of my concerns. We'll see.

Kindle has great tools for annotating and highlighting material in books, which I've really enjoyed for books that I'm studying. In most situations, when you pull up your notes, there is a shortcut to then take you to the section in context.

One problem that's been really bugging me so far is that you can't organize books. Especially with series I'm rereading, I never remember which order the books are in and Kindle doesn't do anything to help me. I suspect this will be a software upgrade at some point. Another minor quirk is that if you drain the battery to zero, the Kindle does nothing, so it's easy to end up a little stumped the first time it happens. Most control inputs are incredibly high latency, so its easy to enter multiple commands before any get executed. Finally, annoying to not do charging via USB. It means I have an extra cable to carry around.

All-in-all, despite the quirks, I'm pleased with the purchase. I get to have hundreds of books with me all the time in a format that is very comfortable to read on. I'd much rather buy books as bits, so this should continue driving the ecosystem in that direction.

(Edit: almost forgot to mention Feedbooks. Great FAQ for getting piles of free books onto Kindle!)


Andrew B said...

Thanks. I've been looking for a good Kindle review.

Prince of Design said...

I, myself, am a Kindle champion as well, and I think that there are a number of intangible "cost" savings and benefits to consider for you skeptics out there.

First of all, think of the convenience the Kindle provides you. Now, you can read all of your favorite newspapers, blogs, books, magazines etc. anywhere and everywhere. You do not have to worry about the weight and size of your reading material and about how you will transport it on the move.

Second, you can do and learn more with what would have been wasted down time while you wait for this or that. You can just pull it out whenever you have a few minutes here and there.

Third, think of the environmental cost savings. If we, as a collected whole, begin to do more and more of our reading from "paper-like" digital devices, we will be cutting down less trees, maintaining and even increasing oxygen levels and perhaps even fighting global warming.

Fourth, you begin reading content that you may have otherwise missed and will become more and more educated/cultured as you seek out new and different reading materials.

All in all, while $359 for this device plus the cost of the books etc. seems high, you are getting a great deal of value out of it, be it value from convenience, value from supplementary education, value from environmental protection or other value.

I still would reccommend this to anyone! Please visit!