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Amazon Kindle 2009-01-05
My parents gave me an Amazon Kindle ebook reader for Christmas this year. I hadn't previously purchased one because I'm unsure of the whole ebook reader thing, and every once in a while I don't buy the latest gadget when I'm not sure about the utility of the whole market. Plus, there's the whole DRM aspect of ebooks that I'm not that happy to support. Hey, if I bought every gadget that came out, then I'd be like a junky with a habit, but if I (very) occasionally think first, maybe I don't have a problem...

One solution for that is gifts, then its like a free hit, and who can say no to that? I hadn't actually asked for the Kindle because they'd been out of stock and were expected to be out through the holiday season. My guess is they have a new version on the way, but missed the holiday deadline and got caught between models, which I'm sure sucks for Amazon. I had neglected that my parents shop really early, however, so my parents managed to pick up three Kindles for the kids this year.

I started out with a test subscription to the New York Times newspaper. At the airport, I was reading Google Reader on my G1, and came across a book recommendation, so I used my Kindle to buy the book and started reading it on the plane. I continued reading it on my walk/subway to work this morning. The Kindle is fairly easy to use and pretty easy to read on. My notes so far:

  • The "next/prev" page buttons are really annoying. As in, there's almost no way to hold/move the Kindle without hitting these buttons. Once you have the Kindle in your hand and are reading, they're really convenient and work well, but you will hit them at in-opportune times and have to go back.
  • The display is really really slow to refresh. Flipping a page on a book isn't that fastest either, of course, but I have a completely different speed expectation here, and its not met. Combined with accidentally hitting the next page button, it makes it all that more annoying to wait to flip back. Another odd thing about this is that it feels slower to flip the page on the reader than actually going from page to page on the internet... though maybe not on my mobile phone, definitely on the computer.
  • The built-in web browser is next to useless. I'd rather use my G1, and did this morning (to check NextBus). Well, maybe if I was comparing it to any mobile browser besides Android or the iPhone...
  • Documents are partially hyper-linked, but poorly, partially because using the links is very slow (See slow refresh) and partially because the weird jog-dial to menu interface. With the newspaper, there are links to the next article, to the article list, and to the section list, but no easy way to jump to the next article when I'm "done" with an article half-way through, and going to the article list starts me back at the beginning of ~10 page list (see again the slow page time)
  • No page numbers. I have no idea how long the article I'm reading is, how far though the newspaper or book I've read. There are some bizarre numbers and progress meter on the bottom of the screen, but I certainly can't understand them by using the device, maybe I'll have to look at the guide to figure it out.
  • No clock. Seems silly, but so's having an electronic device in front of me and not being able to get the date/time from it. Ok, it does have it on the settings page, maybe that's enough.
  • Battery life seems fine. It lasted the first week on the charge from the factory, and that was with reading the newspaper every day.
  • On/off switch location, which is on the back, is weird, especially if you're using the case that it comes with. Just having to use the on/off switch seems weird, this thing should be almost no power even with the screen on, and it could just sleep completely. Instead, it has a screensaver which changes every couple minutes, which seems even odder.
  • Pricing. These things aren't cheap, and books on them aren't cheap either. Amazon is still discounting them (they show the publisher's digital price compared to their $9.99 price), but $10 for a book you can only read on their device seems expensive. I don't have access to any of the books I've recently purchased, I can only buy them through Amazon. The NY Times sub is $15/month, which is probably higher than its worth (when I'm not on vacation, I get all of my news from the web), but I'm happy to help subsidize the times. You can use the Kindle as an RSS reader, but at $1-2/mon per feed, that seems insane. You can send images and documents to your Kindle via email... but it costs $0.10 per document.
I'm most weirded out, still, about the DRM. The book I bought, if I'd bought the actual book, my wife might have read it next... or I might have passed it on to someone in my family. Can I do that with the ebook? No. And why isn't Amazon becoming the defacto ebook store instead of going the iTunes locked route? I guess it worked well for Apple, except they claim that less than 5% of music on ipods is from iTunes.

Overall, my main need for "real" books and the Kindle is that over half of my commute is underground, and I have no internet access there. Or, the rare times I'm on a plane, no internet access and often no electronic devices. So the Kindle was only partially good for the plane ride (well, 5 hours out of 6, so mostly good). I still feel that if there was a good e-reader solution for my G1 or iPod Touch, I'd probably never buy a specific e-reader, even though clearly the Kindle is better for reading large amounts of text than either of the smaller devices. The thing is, I always have my phone with me, though. Anyways, I'll probably continue to use the Kindle for a while, and if you have the money to spare, it might be worth your while to try it out.


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