Amazon Kindle – Mini Review

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I’ve had my Kindle for a little over three weeks now and I thought I’d jot down some notes on what I think of it.

As some of you may know I had a Bookeen Cybook Gen3 eReader device on order but Bookeen was having a lot of supply problems so I decided to cancel my order and purchase a Kindle instead. I was ready on the morning the Kindle went on sale and was one of the first to place my order. Unfortunately Amazon decided to ship my Kindle Fedex Ground despite offering free 2-day shipping so it took me a couple of extra days to get my mitts on one.

Since receiving the Kindle I’ve use it to read a variety of material and I’ll report my opinion of each.

The Device

In general I find the design of the Kindle to be a little ugly. Some might call this retro, I call it ugly. This doesn’t really bother me that much, I’m more interested in using the Kindle than looking at it.

As many reviewers have pointed out probably the biggest design flaw of the Kindle is the placement of the huge next/previous page keys. If the device is active it requires an effort to pick it up without changing the current page. Robert Scoble is probably one of the Kindle’s biggest critics and revels in handing his Kindle to an unsuspecting person and then pointing out to them how they change the current page. Scoble has a point here but, frankly, he is pretty much of an ass about it. Don’t get me wrong, Scoble is a very smart guy and he has a big heart – I just think his expectations for the device go well beyond anything Amazon ever claimed.

Aside from the paging buttons my complaints about the physical device are minimal. I feel like the A/C plug on the bottom of the unit is a weak point and I’m constantly afraid of damaging it when plugging in the adapter. I’ve read of one individual who managed to bend the small pin inside this hole and had to have the unit replaced because he could no longer charge it. That leads to another point – the unit can be charged via USB but it takes a loooong time. The Kindle must be completely shut off as running it draws more energy that the USB provides. After shutting the unit down it will still take 24 hours to fully charge via USB. I’m surprised that Amazon didn’t use a USB A/C adapter as the charging device. I have several of these but I afraid to try them on the Kindle for fear of damaging it. Maybe when they’re back in stock and easily replaceable.

I very much like the screen on the Kindle which, for all intents and purposes, is the same as that on the Cybook and Sony’s PRS series of devices. The scroller bar on the right of the device is used to make selections and it really very innovative. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and, given that there is no touch screen, it serves its purpose very well.

It is a good design feature that the Kindle has a user replaceable battery. The battery is reasonably priced too at about $20. If you ever had to send a device away and pay $80+ to have the battery replaced this is a refreshing feature. Plus if your a real road warrior who spends a lot of time away from electricity you have a cheap option to carry an extra battery.

I also like that the Kindle has a keyboard. I don’t do a lot of text entry but it is very nice for making annotations and entering search terms.

The EVDO wireless capability of the Kindle is fantastic. Sure you can add content (even content purchased from Amazon) via the USB but receiving content wirelessly from out of the ether is just, well … cool. I find myself looking forward to finishing a book so I can make another selection and have it magically delivered to me. I think this was a very smart move by Amazon.

The content selection for the Kindle is very good. Most newer fiction books are available from Amazon at reasonable prices. In addition, the device accepts Mobipocket non-DRM books which allows conversion of PDF, HTML, RTF, and text. I am disappointed that Amazon chose to introduce yet another form of DRM protected content. I think this was a mistake. It would have been much better if they had stuck with Mobipocket DRM which is owned by Amazon. Many book publishers, particularly technical publishers, are going to balk at supporting yet another digital format. Also, having the Kindle use Mobipocket would have opened the 100,000+ digital books Amazon has available to all the devices that support Mobipocket including Palm, Pocket PC, and other eReader devices. Amazon needs to decide if they are in the content business or the gadget business. I think it is a sign that Tim O’Reilly has stated that his technical books will not be converted to the Kindle format unless the device is an overwhelming success.

One thing I really like about the content offered by Amazon is that free samples are available for almost everything. In the case of a book this provides the first chapter or two for free with an option to buy the book if you so desire. For newspapers, magazines, and blogs a 14 day free trial is offered. Two suggestions I have for Amazon related to samples:

  1. When I buy a book that I have a sample of please replace the sample with the purchased book.
  2. After doing #1 above please do not lose my place in the book!

I also like very much that the Kindle comes bundled with The New Oxford American Dictionary and makes looking up words a snap. I’ve actually been surprised at how often I use this feature.

Finally what I think is the killer feature offered by the Kindle is search. You can search all the content on your Kindle, the Wikipedia, or the web in general at any time. This is an unbelievably useful feature, particularly if you use your Kindle to carry reference material.

Reading Fiction/Novels

So far I’ve read four books on the Kindle. Three were purchased from Amazon and one I converted from a PalmDoc (text) file using Mobipocket Creator. The books I’ve read are:

In general I enjoyed reading all of these books on the Kindle. I did not encounter any eye strain during these reads and, frankly, enjoyed these books more than reading paper versions. One complaint I have is that “Mangoes” contains images of maps that are very difficult to read on the Kindle. I’ll have more to say about that later on. I will say that “Mangoes” is a wonderful book and that Ann and Steve are my new heroes. I can only hope if they sail of to the Caribbean again they’ll ask me along. Ann??? Please!

Reading Technical Books

I’ve read several technical books including one purchased from Amazon, a PDF file converted by emailing to my Kindle (conversion done by Amazon), and a PDF file converted by Mobipocket Creator. The technical books I’ve read on the Kindle are:

I found that reading technical books on the Kindle does not even approach paper versions, or for that matter, reading digital versions on a computer. Technical books tend to have a lot of tables and figures and the Kindle handles both of these horribly.
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In the case of the Mac OS X book purchased from Amazon I found most of the figures unreadable. This was mostly due to how the image is shrunk to fit on the Kindle’s page however, in one case a big black box appeared over the figure. Ironically, this figure looks as if it might have been readable. Click on the images to the left to get an idea of what I’m talking about. I also found this problem with the converted PDF documents although in general the images in PDF’s seemed to come out much better than the purchased book. Most were very readable but some were too small to read. PDF tables on the other hand were a complete loss. The table text came out all jumbled up so that it was impossible to tell which columns were associated with which rows.

I did not notice any difference in the PDF that was converted by Amazon and the one I converted myself using Mobipocket Creator. In both most of the images came out surprisingly well and all of the tables were unusable.

I think the Kindle currently has some severe shortcomings with respect to technical books and Amazon need to address them:

  • The device should support PDF as a native format.
  • Kindle should have a zoom feature to allow portions of images and tables to be enlarged to a readable size.

All in all I will probably continue to convert technical PDF document to my Kindle. It is not ideal but it’s nice to have a portable copy with me everywhere I go. I doubt I will be buying any more technical books for the Kindle from Amazon. They are not much cheaper than the paper versions and are far less functional. In fact, I think Amazon should offer the Kindle version of a technical book at a modest price (say 80% discount) when the paper version of the book is purchased. Some book publishers do this with digital content and I usually spring for the extra $$$ to have both versions. As Amazon has it now I have to chose between the digital and paper version and, for now, that choice will be paper. Sorry Al Gore.

Magazines

I subscribed to two magazines via the Amazon site – Forbes and Readers Digest. I didn’t care at all for Forbes. There were no images at all and I kept getting lost in the magazine. I think this may have been because I sometimes accidently hit the Back button which seemed to act as a hyperdrive, warping me to some random place in the magazine. I cancelled my Forbes subscription before the 14 day trial period expired.

Reader’s Digest on the other hand was a very enjoyable read. Many of the images from the magazine were present and looked pretty good. As near as I could tell all of the content was present too. I’m keeping this subscription for now but if that hyperdrive starts kicking in who knows.

Blogs

The only blog I subscribed to was the Amazon blog which is free. I’ve actually been enjoying this blog and intend to keep it. The blog is updated several times per day (I’m not exactly sure of the schedule) and contains some interesting articles.

In general though I don’t see this pay for blog service being very successful. Sure it’s only a buck or two a month for each blog but it adds up and I spend most of my day near a computer where my RSS reader picks these up for free.

Newspapers

I haven’t tried any of the newspapers Amazon offers. If you are a newspaper person this might be a great service. I’m not and it isn’t.

Summary

That’s about it. I’ve tried to be objective in this review. Overall I’m happy with my Kindle. I’ve not even considered selling it even though they are currently going on eBay for upwards of $1000. Amazon made some mistakes with the Kindle. They also did some things right. I hope they learn from Kindle 1.0 and come back with a much stronger option for Kindle 2.0. I’m setting my pennies aside Jeff.

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