me and my kindle

August 19, 2009

in Books,Other reviews

I love high tech gadgetry. I can, and have, come up with elaborate rationalizations for purchasing redundant electronic doo-dads. For instance, I have both a netbook and a laptop, and five digital photo devices (including the fabulously fun but limited use Dinolite).

It took me quite awhile to spring for an electronic book reader. Although it would be extremely handy when I travel, since I hate to schlep along all the paperbacks and magazines I like to read in airports and on planes, I don’t even have a vacation planned this year. I am a fairly voracious reader, and especially like to devour a good British mystery or police procedural before hitting the hay. However, I’ve cut way back on my fiction book buying. I usually pass my novels on to friends, but it still seemed wasteful to buy a dead-tree book for one-time reading. Wait! That’s it!

I bought Amazon’s Kindle 2 to prevent trees from being harmed for my recreational reading pleasure. (Update: this turns out to be true!)

Everybody and their brother is asking me what I think. So here is my Kindle 2 review. (I’ll call it the K2. There is also a larger Kindle called the DX. When I talk about material applicable to both, I’ll just write “Kindle.”) You might first want to take a look at the description and videos on the Kindle’s product page. They are thorough and tell you most of what you need to know. I’ll concentrate here mostly on my impressions.

The K2 arrives in stylishly understated packaging, and comes loaded with the Kindle user manual. I referred to it a couple of times, but for the most part the limited controls and menus were very intuitive and easy to use. It also comes loaded with a dictionary. Point to any word on any screen, and the definition is provided at the bottom.

The K2 has to be charged for a few hours when you get it, but it can be used while charging and it rapidly downloads anything you ordered as soon as you turn it on. You can order books and such before the device even arrives at your doorstep. Content just queues up until the K2 is connected.

Speaking of the battery, it is said that one charge lasts 4 days with the wireless on, or 2 weeks with it off. I’m not sure how that translates into hours, as apparently Kindles only use energy for the wireless or page turning — at least 3000 pages is one estimate I’ve seen. I generally leave the wireless off unless I’m downloading something, and the charge on my Kindle lasts for weeks of bedtime reading. I don’t even bring the charger on vacation.

The K2 is roughly the size of a trade paperback, but the screen itself is about the size of a page from a mass market paperback. The K2 is as thin as a pencil, so it isn’t clunky or awkward, but at 10 ounces it has just enough heft not to feel cheap or flimsy.

I find it easy to hold, ergonomic, stylish, and modernistically appealing. People tend think this device is very attractive or very ugly. Geez, if you think it’s too plain, there are a ton of skins for them.

The buttons on the K2 perform the essential functions, which are pretty obvious, and are just the right size and in the right places. Even though the keyboard keys are very small, they are simple to use with your thumbs, even for someone like me who has never owned or used a texting device. Frankly, I don’t want to be distracted by an array of things to push, touch, and fiddle with. For that, I have my universal remote control. I just want to read a book, and have a few tools to help me do it.

The display is not a backlit LCD-type display, but uses E Ink technology. I found it very easy to read, with less glare than most magazines. I’ve heard the complaint that there isn’t enough contrast on the Kindle screen because it is dark gray text on a light gray screen. I’m not sure I would have noticed this right away, given the wide variation in text and background colors in print media these days. I think the Kindle screen simulates most books quite well — if you think all books have bright white pages, grab a sheet of office paper and compare. I’d guess the K2 screen color is akin to the color of newsprint. If it still bugs you, you can experiment with some text adjustments.

Graphics and photos are in 16 shades of gray. My intended reading is not graphic or photo heavy, but the stuff I’ve seen is okay. You can use the zoom tool if you wish. I tried it with a table in one of my e-books. It was sufficient, but don’t buy a lovely picture book for a Kindle.

Enlarging text is also an option; you can choose among six text sizes. I found that in non-default text sizes, there would occasionally be a line that was not right-justified, a tad jarring. Even with the smaller text sizes, you don’t get as much text on a K2 screen as you would on a book page. At first it seemed weird to be “turning” the page so much, but I got used to it very quickly.

When you turn the page, the screen goes to a negative image for an instant — more briefly, I judge, than the time it takes to physically turn the page of a book. We’ve adapted to the visual disruption of page turning. Who really “sees” that any more? After a couple of hours of reading, I no longer see the rearrangement of the electronic ink on the K2.

Reading in bed is awesome. You can hold the K2 and “turn” pages with one hand (there is a “next page” button on each side of the device; the “previous page” button is on the left only). It’s much more comfortable and easy to read than holding a book open.

I’ve never been good at reading “just one chapter,” and I’ll admit it’s even harder with the K2. You don’t go to bed with just one book, you have your whole library, plus the Kindle store and even the Internet. If a chapter starts out boring, you switch to another book. If you finish one and it’s really satisfying, you go on to the store and see what else the author wrote, instantly, and order and begin reading immediately, if you so desire.

Speaking of available content, there’s plenty. Most books are $9.99, including hardcover bestsellers. Some are a little more, many are less (especially books out in paperback), and there are even free books. Not every book is available in a Kindle edition, but you can see what is and request what isn’t on any Amazon book page. One great feature is that you can get a free sample. So far, I’ve found that book samples are the table of contents and typically the first chapter or a big hunk of it. Certainly sufficient to judge whether you’d like to buy the book. In fact, just as good if not better than the “Look Inside” feature of many Amazon print book pages.

You can get samples or order books online from a computer as usual, and they are delivered within a minute of turning on your Kindle. Or you can order directly from the Kindle. When you look at a book’s page from the Kindle, beware that the “buy” button is highlighted when you are viewing the description. It is easy to accidentally order a book. However, the next screen immediately allows you to cancel a mistaken order.

Nonetheless, ordering books for the Kindle is way too easy. The act of placing items in a shopping cart and choosing a shipping method and then receiving a physical product isn’t difficult, but…mindful. Just clicking one virtual button and having content appear like magic on your Kindle doesn’t even feel like spending money. You’ve been forewarned.

Newspapers, magazines, and blogs are also available for Kindles, and subscriptions are automatically delivered when new content is published. Due to Kindle’s graphic limitations, Kindle magazines (at least the ones I’ve looked at) don’t contain photos or illustrations. Most of them have 14 day trial periods.

What else can you do besides read on a Kindle?

  • You can highlight passages, bookmark entire pages (Kindle remembers where you stopped reading, so you can use bookmarks to mark important pages instead), and annotate text in any publication. To take notes/annotate, just place the cursor where you want, start typing, then save the note. It creates a “footnote” of sorts. The note is associated with a superscript number; notes renumber themselves if you insert more before previously saved notes. All the bookmarks, notes, and highlights for each book or publication are available under the “My Notes and Marks” menu item for that content, as well as aggregated across content in the “My Clippings” folder. That folder also contains entire articles you may have clipped from periodicals. You can download this folder to your computer and edit the items, or view them on the web.
  • Kindle can read to you. With a very mechanical voice that lacks emotion or the ability to properly pace itself. It’s quite weird and I’m looking forward to utilizing this otherwise useless feature when I encounter a steamy love scene, just for laughs.
  • You can also download music and audio books. I’m sure the speakers aren’t super, but you can plug in headphones.
  • Amazon will convert all sorts of other documents and file types to Kindle-friendly files. You set up an email addy for your Kindle, mail the files there, and Amazon converts them and sends them to your device for a small fee. Or you can avoid the fee by using a variation on the email addy, which will require you to download the converted files to your computer, and upload them to your Kindle via USB.
  • Surf the Internet, for free, in the U.S. via Amazon’s wireless network Whispernet, part of Sprint’s network. Surfing isn’t really the right word. Web pages you see are stripped down to the very basics. Some that are formatted for Kindle are only a little better. It’s like going back to the way the web looked like in the early 1990s! If the web site you want has a mobile edition (e.g., m.facebook.com; m.yahoo.com), use it. Getting and sending email is a little tricky, but possible. See this tutorial.

What I don’t like

  • When I’m browsing the Kindle store on the device, I can find a book and add it to my “save it for later” list. I can’t do this when browsing the Kindle store online from a computer. In both venues, I can download a sample, but I’d prefer a list of titles I want to explore later, versus having a chapter in my device. Minor quibble.
  • In your content, there’s a progress indicator and “locations” rather than page numbers.  Can’t they tell me what page in the book that corresponds to? Of course, which page it corresponds to would depend on which print edition. So it’s really irrelevant and I’m not even sure why that matters to me, especially when I’m reading fiction. It just seems weird. (I think this has been fixed in later versions.)

That’s a short list of minor complaints. I have no big beefs with the K2.  We’re still getting to know each other, but my crush is turning into a real relationship.

Kindle accessories and customization

  • First and foremost, Kindle needs a cover or sleeve. You don’t want to toss it in your purse or bookbag unprotected. You will be flabbergasted at the number and variety of items available to dress your naked Kindle.
  • When the Kindle is asleep, rather than turned off, it has a screen saver of sorts: an image of a famous author such as Poe or Twain. But this site offers a hack so that you can add your own images, as well as some samples.

Other Kindle reviews and resources

In addition to Amazon’s own Kindle community, there are a lot of web sites and blogs devoted to all things Kindle. Here are just a few I found handy.

I’m happy with my K2. If there’s something I haven’t covered here, leave me a comment, and I’ll try to address it.

If you’ve been thinking of getting one, try it. You have 30 days to return it if it’s not for you.


{ 2 comments }

John August 19, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I hope you didn't have 1984 in your library.

Interesting review. I don't own one, since my laptop would make one redundant for my purposes. But I'm still interested in the technology.

Aydin August 25, 2009 at 8:12 am

I didn't know until last night that a litter of kittens is called a kindle.

Can you read pdf files with the Kindle?

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