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Review of the Amazon Kindle: first impressions

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My Kindle arrived today.  Ordered at the beginning of the week with “Super Saver” delivery (read: free) my Kindle sat in a “Shipping Soon” state at Amazon for 3 days.  Then it shipped via “Ensenda”.  Not UPS.  Not US Postal Service.  It shipped “Ensenda”.  I know what a UPS truck looks like; I know what a US Post Office truck looks like.  If you see a beat up wreck of a personal car deliver your package…  In any case, it got here.

When you open the box it looks like there is a plastic overlay on the display with an image and some writing.  That’s not a plastic overlay.  That is the Kindle display and it arrived “awake” telling you it needed to be charged.  You can charge the Kindle from a USB port or from the supplied AC adapter.  My Kindle charged to full capacity in about 30 minutes.  Off to the races.

Here are some first impressions

    1. The display is e-ink technology and it takes some getting used to.  There is no backlighting and you need to make sure you have a good light to read the Kindle.  In fact, best case would be to read the Kindle outside in full sunlight.  Reading indoors, you are going to have some good light and adjust to as needed.
    2. Although the ads for Kindle say there is no reflection like a traditional display there is a glare depending on the angle of the light source as it hits the Kindle.
    3. I use an Apple iPod Touch a lot.  If you are a touch screen user you will soon come to realize the benefit of this technology.  The Kindle uses buttons and menus.  Navigating menus with arrows and buttons on the Kindle is a step backwards.  The Barnes and Noble Nook has e-ink technology plus a touch screen for navigation – a much better solution.
    4. Acquiring books for the Kindle is near effortless and a good example of frictionless commerce.  Buy a book (some are $0.00) at Amazon and it will be instantly delivered to your Kindle over wireless Internet.  Amazon keeps track of all your books and will allow you to read these books on any Kindle reader that is linked to your Amazon account (iPhone, iPod Touch, PC, Mac, iPad, etc.)
    5. Your kindle has its own e-mail address.  Send the Kindle a supported document type and it will appear on your Kindle devices
    6. The Kindle can talk.  Some books are voice-enabled.  For these, Kindle has text to speech in your choice of male or female voice.  The voice is robotic sounding, but acceptable.  In a sense, any book you have on the Kindle  can be an audio book.  If you listen to audio books on a regular basis you will come to appreciate what a professional reader can bring to the experience of hearing a book read to you over a robotic voice.
    7. Browse the web.  This is experimental.  “Point and Click” on the web can turn into a large number of button-press cursor movements to get to the desired location on the web page.  Touch screen is the way to go.
    8. The five-way button which will be used a lot as part of navigating menus on the Kindle is way too small.
    9. You have a choice of eight font sizes,  three typefaces, three-line spacings, and three choices for words per line.  If you have poor vision this device has some combination that will work for you.
    10. The Kindle display can be used in portrait or landscape mode.  I found that landscape mode is better than reading in portrait mode since the width more closely approximates the width of a real book.
    11. You can add bookmarks, highlights, and marginal notes to any page of a book
    12. You can share your book mark-ups with social media – Twitter and Facebook
    13. I bought the WiFi version of the Kindle.  I was able to connect my Kindle to my secure home wireless network in about 1 minute.  All I had to do was enter the password on the Kindle Keyset.  You can enable or disable the wireless radio in the Kindle.  Turn wireless off to conserve the battery.
    14. The Kindle can play mp3 files.
    15. The Kindle can play audio books.  But with only 3GB of memory my Apple iPod Touch is better suited for audio books.  (Audio book files are very large)
    16. The Kindle has stereo speakers – located on the back of the device.
    17. The Kindle (without a case)  is slippery and hard to handle.  The Nook has a corner that you can grab or hook a lanyard.
    18. The Kindle has 3GB of usable storage and is not expandable.  The Nook can take an external memory card to expand memory
    19. When you plug your Kindle into a USB port on your PC you will see three folders – documents, audible, and music.  Drag and drop files of the appropriate type into these folders to make them appear on the Kindle.  Double click on a book on the Kindle and if you have the PC Kindle reader this application will launch and open to the selected book.
    20. Amazon claims the battery life is 1 month if the wireless if turned off and three weeks with wireless on.  Very nice.
    21. Buying a book on the Kindle is way too easy.  Impulse buyers beware.
    22. Anybody can publish a book for Kindle and have it availble on Amazon.  That is good and bad.

The reading experience

When I turned on my Kindle and got it connected to my home wireless network the Kindle proceeded to download the books that I was reading on my PC Kindle reader.  The “Kindle” and all instances of Kindle readers that are linked to your account on Amazon get the same content.  Kindle is sort of a “cloud-enabled read-books-anywhere” solution – read the same books on any device that has a Kindle application and all your books are stored in the Amazon cloud.

It did take some time to get the right light and the right font size for comfortable reading.  The tiny five-way button and the cursor keys to make selections will impose on you and make clear the advantage of touch screen technology.

Presently, my one day reading experience has been with free books that are available for Kindle.  With this limited experience I have some first impressions which you can read below.

The Take

In my opinion, after a lifetime of reading real books, it seems to me that the Kindle and other such readers provide a very diminished reading experience as compared with a physical book – in some contexts.

Acquisition – Solving the inventory and logistics problem

What these digital readers have going for them is the near frictionless ability to acquire books.  Books can be purchased instantly over the web and delivered wirelessly to your Kindle.  It literally takes about 30 seconds to make this transaction.

If you want a book you can have it in 30 seconds.  The book is never out of stock.  The seller has no real inventory to manage.  The cost to produce the N+1 copy of a book is near zero.

Kindle books are priced at about $10 compared to a physical book that may be priced at 50% more.  For example, the Kindle version of Mitt Romney’s No Apology: The Case for American Greatness is priced at $9.99; the hardcover is priced at $16; the paperback is priced at $8; and a used paper back copy of the book is $2.

The real cost of digital books

The question is this: How fast do you want it and what are you willing to give up.  If you want the book “now’ (literally) you can have it now for $10 in the Kindle edition.  If you want a real physical book you will have to wait for the logistics to happen in moving a physical object from one place to another (seller to buyer) – how archaic.  You can choose your price.  I almost always will buy a used book from amazon.

To give up the real paper copy of a book is to give up a lot.  Reading a book on the Kindle (or similar readers) is like looking at the Grand Canyon through a keyhole.  You really don’t realize how much your eyes can take in in flipping through a real physical book page by page.  In reading on the Kindle you really never have the immediacy of knowing where you are in the book or how big it is.  A physical book is flexible – the Kindle is not.  Forget enjoying any book that has graphics or pictures.  The Kindle is only grayscale and is too small to really enjoy any sort of image let alone the inability to display color.

Making a book, “your book”

A physical paper book can be marked up – dog-eared, highlighted, underlined, and scribbled into with a pen or pencil.  You can do nearly the same with the Kindle but only through an excruciatingly painful process or navigating menus and using a keyset that is far too small.  Once you have marked-up a a real book – dog-eared it, abused it, spindled it, and otherwise read it and used it then it’s “your book”.  Reading a book on the Kindle in a Kindle-sort-of-way it will never be “your book”.

The canon of classic books

There seems to be something “wrong” with reading the canon of western literature on a plastic device like a Kindle reader.  I have some classic books from college – all marked up – Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason,  Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Derrida’s Of Grammatology, Milton’s  Paradise Lost, and dozens more.  Can you really enjoy reading Dante’s Divine Comedy on a Kindle?  In the past, books and manuscripts were works of art.  Now they are reduced to collections of anonymous digital bits.  (Read about Illuminated Manuscripts)

I do “get it”.  The Kindle is a great device.  It can hold 3,500 books.  That is more than most people could have in a personal library.  But it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.  The quality and the feel of the book and the experience of reading it.

If I was a service technician on a call and I needed the diagram of a particular washing machine from 1995 I think I might enjoy having 3,500 service manuals, exploded parts diagrams, and other technical paraphernalia at my fingertips on the Kindle.  But, in other contexts – in the context of reading great works of literature, philosophy, history, and science –  I don’t belive the plastic high-tech Kindle can deliver the quality and dignity of the reading experience that a real book can deliver and that these great works deserve.

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Written by frrl

May 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm

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