It’s a Kindle World Now

Kindle 2
Moments after I first saw a spy shot of the new Kindle 2, I placed an order for one. I'd seen a couple of the first generation units out in public and loved the screen, but the rest of it looked clunky and the new design fixed at least the outside visual aspects of it. I received my Kindle soon after they began shipping and now that I've used it for a month, I figured it'd probably be high time for a review.

The Great

First off, the screen is great and though a subtle backlight would be handy, it's not too hard to treat it like a book and just keep a small bedside lamp on when reading. In the outdoors in direct sunlight, it's really amazing and crisp in a way you'd never expect a computer screen could be.

Before I got a Kindle, I would typically buy 1-2 books every month and only finish reading a book every 3 or 4 months, starting a lot more than I ever completed. It may just be the novelty of this device, but I've read (and completed) 2 books/week since I got it. The other day I read an entire book in one day, something I haven't done in almost ten years. I haven't read this much since college.

I think there may be a few reasons for the uptick and enjoyment in reading. I really love how you can read the Kindle in the same position. Like most people, I read a bit before going to sleep and I have to say reading a paperback or hard cover book is a little uncomfortable in bed. I love that with the Kindle I can get all warm and snuggled under the covers and I don't have to turn to read opposite pages. I can just lay sideways and I don't have to crane my neck to see opposing pages like I would with a book. I really like the simple % done status in the lower left. I occasionally glance at it every ten page refreshes or so, and it's a motivating metric to see you're actually 27% done with a book or 74% done and it makes me more inclined to complete books after I surpass 50%.

I love the flexibility of getting material to the device. It's easy to buy books online at Amazon.com with a web browser (already whenever I hear about a book, I rush to amazon to see if it's in the Kindle format) and the search within the Kindle is fast enough and usable enough to work (I bought a book on the runway before a flight after hearing about it from a friend, and I got to read it on that flight). I loved that I could buy books for it while it was being shipped by UPS to my door, and when it arrived they showed up on the Home screen.

I'm really impressed with the text conversion via email feature. I've been dumping long blog posts and essays I find online to Readability to trim all the sidebars, navigation, and ads from them, then I copy and paste into a text file that gets sent (as an attachment) to my kindle.com email address. 30 seconds later, it shows up on my Kindle ready to read. It goes without saying that when I copy a 10,000 word piece from a magazine site, I feel bad for stripping the ads so I can full read the article, but I'd also gladly pay $0.25 or $0.50 for the article sent clean to my Kindle without all the copy/paste/email hassles if sites offered an instant "Send to your Kindle for a quarter" button. Hopefully Amazon gets on that.

I've also had the "Send random attachments to your Kindle" feature come in handy for early book reviews. I've gotten two preview copies of books written by friends sent to me as Word documents, which were easily emailed to my Kindle for comfortable reading.

Oh, and as SBJ mentioned on twitter, the Kindle makes it easy to read a book while eating lunch in a way most paperbacks and many hardcover books make nearly impossible without smashing the binding flat to keep them stable.

Lastly, the battery life is amazing. I charge my Kindle once a week and even with reading an hour or two a day in between charges I don't get below 50% battery life with the wireless connect left on. Turning the networking off on the device, I've gone over two weeks without a charge. It's nice to not have to take a charger along if I'm heading out for a trip because I know the battery can hold up for at least a week of normal use.

The Fair to Middling

I have to say that I'm not entirely happy with the button layout on the device. Along the right side (middle) there is a Home button that goes to a central contents menu and below that is a Next Page button used while reading books. On the left side of the device opposite those buttons is a Previous Page and Next Page set. Since I usually hold the device with my right hand, I use the right side, and on more than several occasions when I wanted to go back a page, I accidentally hit the Home button, dumping me out of my book entirely. I guess I wish the Home button was in a prominent place, but not up against the Next Page button in a spot I intuitively think a Previous Page button should go.

There are no real page numbers on the device (due to varying font size you set), just some numbers attached to a book describing its total length and a small indicator of which parts the device is currently showing (like a page might say showing "234-244" at the bottom with a total book length of 3572). I personally like the % done number on the lower left, but the content location and total length number in the bottom middle and bottom left are meaningless data junk to me. I'd personally prefer a clock in the lower right that I could glance at every few pages to see if I'm up past my intended bedtime. It's actually kind of a hassle to figure out what time it is because it's not shown by default while reading a book, and I usually hit the menu button to see the time and hit it again to return to my reading.

Overall, the experimental web browser support is about as good as your average cellphone browser. Gmail kind of sorta works but text wraps badly and the joystick navigation is slightly clunky. The keyboard is seldom used and the buttons are small and require more effort than they should. I've never been in a situation where I used a Kindle over my iPhone's superior browser but it may come in handy in a pinch.

The Bad

I'll admit my biggest problem with the Kindle is imaginary. I have to say that I trust Amazon and I love books, and the Kindle is the most convenient device on earth for any book lover, but deep down, I know it's a dangerously convenient device. There's a central point of control (Amazon, which I trust to do the right thing for now, but in the future, who knows), there is DRM, it isn't the most open device (PDF support can be shaky), and you can't really share e-books with anyone like you can an actual book. I say this as a book lover — I have walls of bookshelves and I love to loan stuff to friends, and I love that my nightstand no longer is crowded with a dozen titles stacked next to it, but I fear for some future 10 years from now where libraries suffer from people no longer having huge amounts of physical books to donate and share, or something awful happening to Amazon and books being banned from the device, or even if the central servers fail and I lose my fake electronic books. I wish there were more free public domain options and I wasn't just lining Amazon's pockets any time I pick up the device. Deep down, I know there's something wrong about abandoning 500 years of beautiful history of the printed word to embrace an electronic commercial text reader but I guess I haven't read enough Sci-Fi to fully articulate why I should be more afraid than I already am at the ramifications of the device.

I know it's a bargain for the device if you think about a lifetime free 3G connection comes along with it, but I have to say the $359 price tag seems too high. At $99 or $199, I'd give these away as gifts to everyone I know and I would hope many more people would buy them. I've already read a dozen books and I purchased those along with at least a dozen more so hopefully in the future they could treat the Kindle as the free razor with the ebooks as the razor blades that make up for the hardware costs. I'm sure over the next year I'll eventually match the sticker price of the Kindle and over the next few years I may end up spending thousands on the device.

I guess lastly, I kind of hate the name Kindle. It doesn't make me think of a brain getting excited. My first association wasn't "oh it kindles your interest" but rather "kindle, you know like kindling, like how paper is used in a fire." It's probably just me, but the first thing I think about when I hear the word "Kindle" is book burning and censorship and every ugly mental image from Fahrenheit 451.

Conclusion

I love the hell out of the Kindle 2. I wish it were cheaper and I wish there were open APIs to the device and tons of free book options, but it's really simple to use, the screen works great for me, and I'm reading tons of books without having to send a UPS truck to my door several times a week. I can't recommend it enough.

18 Comments

  • You can put public domain ebooks (and the websites of various magazines and newspapers) on your Kindle via USB with Calibre.

  • Instapaper support for Kindle is now in beta. Definitely worth checking out.

  • Yeah, I’m looking forward to instapaper support, it just might be what I need.

  • Wait, no PDFs? Amazon.com says it supports PDF. I was just remarking that it’d be great to read manuals and such that were only available on disk or in PDF on the web on the Kindle.

  • I’m gonna try a few more PDFs, but the support was listed as “experimental” for the past year so I figured it was just not possible to do effectively.

  • I love my Kindle 1 — almost so much that I haven’t been motivated to upgrade to Kindle 2 yet. I think I’ll wait for Kindle 3.
    I pretty regularly (once a week?) use the email PDF to my Kindle email address; it’s a great way to read long magazine articles that you find on the web, since almost by definition when you sit down with the Kindle you’re giving yourself to long-form reading…
    What I haven’t been too impressed with, though, with my Kindle 1, is magazine subscriptions. It works for long form stuff from The Atlantic, but Time Magazine is pretty much unreadable on the device (pictures matter!) and MIT Tech Review falls somewhere in between. I’m a New Yorker print bigot, so there’s probably no way I’ll switch that subscription to the device…
    But I’m with you — I read more books in 2008 than 2007 because of the Kindle; it’s on my bedside table when I’m home and in my bag when I travel, and even though I’ve always been a book addict, the Kindle feeds my addiction pretty well.

  • Nice review Matt. I’m on the fence about buying a Kindle–which shows just how far I’ve come as I wasn’t impressed with Kindle 1 at all. But today, I’d really like one, and the only thing I’m on the fence about is that it feels sort of like this device in terms of where it is in the product development cycle. One more generation and it’s out-of-the-park.
    Frankly one of the things that appeals to me, and has caused me to really want to join the Kindle Kamp, is the central point of control. I think you need that in a new(ish) device. It was the central point of control (and interface of course) that really helped the iPod take off. The central point of control ensures that you can easily get good content onto a device that relies on intellectual property owned by a variety of others. Speaking of that: I’d love to hear more about how well or poorly magazine subscriptions work. Especially if you could address Sippey’s point about layouts.
    Finally: I find it hard to believe books will ever go away completely. I think and hope that day is still a long way off. While paperbacks may be doomed in the long run, I think there’s still going to be a place for a collectible, hard-bound volume on the shelves of our grandchildren.

  • Yeah, the central control definitely helped get this thing out of the door with regards to all the stakeholders involved and their fear of new tech. I’m just worried in the same way people are slightly worried that Google controls too much of our lives now.
    As for what Sippey said, yeah, photos and charts and graphs and figures kind of suck on the Kindle. I’ve only seen basic photos and line drawings in some books, so a magazine would be pretty spartan on the device.
    I think my worry about books going away is the same as Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo post about the Kindle. In the same way my first listen of a mp3 file eventually lead me to think displaying your CDs and DVDs as furniture was dated, wasteful, and stupid, I may start to feel the same way about bookcases and that kind of scares me a bit.

  • Great review – I agree about the name and the “dangerously convenient” part.
    Also, if you’re interested, a sorta funny trick with the Kindle for books that aren’t so well written:
    http://www.goodexperience.com/2009/01/a-kindle-trick-to-cha.php
    -mark

  • I guess I haven’t read enough Sci-Fi to fully articulate why I should be more afraid than I already am at the ramifications of the device
    Read 1984.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memory_hole

  • I really don’t know.
    I’d been reading books almost exclusively on my ancient Thinkpad for about a decade — usually about 4 per month — until it died a few months ago. While re-rereading the few dozen paper books I’ve been carting around the world with me over the years, I’ve been casting about for replacement. The form-factor was somewhat suboptimal, sure, but not more so than reading in bed with a heavy book. Using ubook configured just how I wanted let me read almost everything but pdfs, and the Adobe Labs app covered that nicely. Pressing the spacebar was the only interaction necessary, and putting the laptop to sleep when I went to sleep and waking it up the next night, right at the page where I left off: well, I didn’t need anything else. And I could use the laptop for web surfing, watching video, listening to music, whatever, as well, at a comfortable 1280×1024. People complain about Cleartype sometimes, but I found I got less eyestrain from reading on the laptop than I do from actual books, at least in bed.
    It’s possible that I don’t fully understand the Kindle, but it seems kind of ludicrous from a user perspective that you have to email files to yourself (and pay for the privilege? Is that correct?) to put non-DRMed files you haven’t bought at Amazon. And that’s leaving out the vendor lock-in, of course. It all makes sense from the company’s point of view of course, and it’s clear what their priorities are.
    The price seems outrageous to me, as well for a single-function dedicated device. I’ve been looking at (but can’t really afford right now) convertible laptops that you can fold down into a tablet form factor (like the Gigabyte M912 and its successors, soon to be released), and they seem, for a couple of hundred bucks more, the best of all possible worlds — no DRM, no fiddling around trying to send my massive library of ebooks to Amazon to try to get them on the device, a machine I can use for an awful more than just reading, but which has a comfortable reading form factor with the right apps, the ability to load up the machine and convert my own documents as necessary, as I like, right on the device, the ability to read on the web with an actual browser and color and all that, multimedia… I dunno. The list goes on. Even a cheap netbook would be a vastly better choice, as far as I can see, leaving out how much I’d like to have a nice flat tablet convertible. If I can afford one, eventually.
    So I guess I agree with your negatives, Matt, but I don’t really see any of the positives, particularly because, as I understand it at least, the device won’t even actually work properly here in Korea.
    But I am happy that the gadget-lust furor over this particular device will presumably push developments in the ebook ecosystem, and more and better and cheaper choices will result.

  • Well, to clear a few things up stavros, you can transfer ebooks to the device via USB for free, but I prefer to use the wireless connection because I don’t typically have the kindle attached to my computer. You could technically drop a ton of downloaded stuff onto the device without a charge.
    As for the single-use aspect of it, I see that as a positive in that it does the screen reading thing really well, better than any laptop for long periods of time (I suspect a bright backlight screen would tire my eyes out much sooner).
    I also don’t get how reading on a laptop is comfortable. I actually can’t imagine myself holding up a 3-5lb box with a giant keyboard in bed and thinking that was something I could do for hours. The kindle weighs just a few ounces and it’s about a quarter inch thick — it’s a pretty amazing form factor.

  • I’m really curious on contrasting this with the iPhone/iPod touch Kindle app. I realize there are some immediate and large differences (screen size, buying through MobileSafari v. in-app) but a co-worker pointed out yesterday that there is some degree of overlap between the two devices.
    Matt, have you tried out the iPhone app? Any thoughts on that?
    And thanks for the review. You won me over on Goggles4U via your article on 43folders and you’ve given me much to consider with the Kindle too.

  • I’ve tried out the iPhone app — actually read a couple chapters of a book I was reading on the Kindle (it syncs to your last page, which is nice and kind of like “books via IMAP”).
    The iPhone screen reading is a little more tedious because you have to change pages more often and the screen is maybe too bright.

  • Amazon should add a very simple preference to the iPhone Kindle app to allow users to reverse the colors – i.e. make the reading white text on black background. The (free) Stanza ebook reader for the iPhone already offers that, and it works great.

  • Thanks for this info, I just sort of stumbled across the review. I have not purchased a Kindle, and honestly wondered if I would ever use one. I have to admit they intrigue me and I may have to look closer after reading the comments.
    It’s probably my age, but I’m not sure that anything will compare to curling up with a good book!

  • A friend recommends Savory on the kindle. It’s starting to look like I’ll end up w/ kindle before too long.

  • Matt, your reactions to the Kindle 2 are much like my own. But Amazon doesn’t actually have much of a a stranglehold on what we can put on it.
    I have links on the right side of my blog to things like an Amazon forum thread that they ‘allow’ which talks about a million or so books you can get for the Kindle (much of it directly downloadable to your Kindle) and how to do it with the various sites, all above board, most of it free.
    PDFs: I have an entry on Savory, which is a utility that is actually an app for the Kindle but a ‘hack’ which you have to uninstall before doing new Kindle update-installs and then you can put it back on etc (same with personal screensavers and with one’s own fonts, a big issue with users right now).
    The app converts PDFs it sees on the Kindle (and somehow allows for their download when ordinarily one can’t download a PDF to the Kindle directly) and the author is doing two conversions now, one that is text-based and one that is image-based so you can decide to keep one or the other or both.
    Cutepdf is a utility that ‘prints’ any webpage info to a pdf that you can then send to your Kindle but it of course does best with non-complex webpages.
    There are many utilities now that convert to PDF, and I think PDFReader is one that handles the image-based ones better.
    As for news online, I tend to just highlight a long web article I want to keep or read later and then copy it to paste into Winword, saving it into a doc file and then I send it to my Kindle address so it winds up on my Kindle in very readable format.
    I try to keep up with what is happening with the unit, at http://kindleworld.blogspot.com
    as I am ever fascinated with the device.
    I was getting The New Yorker RSS feed for free via kindlefeeder.com (which will send to your Kindle in one file each day a set of feeds from periodicals you choose), but I opted later to subscribe to the Amazon edition at $3/mo because it is so well organized with articles directly listed off the Section areas when you click on the number of articles, and they have the cartoons in that set.
    One reason I want any periodical in Kindle format is that it is searchable, something I can’t do with the print copies.
    There already are hacks in place to remove that DRM so I’m not so worried about the future should Amazon go bad. I’ve addressed the matter of a humongous variety of books we can get from other sources, but one easy one is that the entire Gutenberg Project is now available in a catalog for your Kindle and from that catalog you can choose a book and download it the way you’d do with an Amazon book.
    I think it’ll just get better in that aspect. In the meantime, like you, I’m reading far more than I did before. I think of it as a magic tablet :-)
    To be able to highlight and annotate and have those stay with the book and also be put into a separate clippings file is a real plus for me as is the fact I can redownload the book and my annotations after I’ve decided to ‘delete’ the book from the Kindle. Ah, well, I could go on :-)

Comments are closed.