Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review of the Kindle 2.0

I've had my Amazon Kindle for a week now, and I've been testing it on all kinds of media -- books, novellas, word docs, magazines, newspapers -- even a clinical research protocol (not recommended).

The Kindle's crisp screen and electronic ink technology live up to the hype. It's just like reading a printed page, although the background is more light gray than white. I still can't get over the fact that you can read the Kindle in bright sunlight. Also like print, the pages can't be read in dim light. This is so contrary to every other electronic device I've used my entire life,  it takes some major mental adjustment. Another aspect that takes some getting used to is there are no page numbers on the screen. This is because you can adjust the text size, so it throws off the page count. Instead, it tells you your "location" in the document and the percentage you've read.

Once I adjusted my old way of thinking, and got into a book and started turning (clicking) pages, the device melted away and I was totally into the story -- almost more into the story, because I wasn't flipping forward to see how many pages were left in the chapter, or turning to the back cover to re-read the plot teaser. I got into a rhythm, and after a while I think I was actually reading faster than normal.

My favorite thing about the Kindle is its simplicity and utilitarianism. It doesn't have a color display or flashing graphics or a fancy interface; its main reason for existence is to allow you unbridled access to words. Many reviewers complain that the device lacks a touch screen. I actually see this as a positive. To me, a touch screen on an e-book reader would be smudgy and distracting. The 5-way joystick navigator and page-turn buttons work just fine -- and they don't get in the way of the text. I also love that the wireless is included. This was what put me over the hump to purchase the Kindle in the first place. I was about to order it when I balked and thought, wait, will I have to sign up for yet another monthly service plan? I was ecstatic to find out that the wireless was built in, with no service fees. When you factor that in, the Kindle is cheap compared to many other wireless devices.

Of course, this wireless access makes it almost too easy to buy books. Now, I'm sure I'll be less likely to drunk download an e-book at midnight (like I would an iTunes song), but it's a little scary to have the ability to deliver any NYT bestseller into my hand in 30 seconds flat -- for a mere $9.99.

One of the new features of the Kindle 2.0 is the text-to-speech function, where the device will read to you. This is an utterly useless feature. While the computer is surprisingly adept at recognizing words, it's not going to sound like an audio book because it doesn't know where to place the emphases, inflection and pauses. So it sounds like what it is -- a robot reading words. The only time I could see turning on this feature is if I find myself without the use of my eyes.

The other quibble I have is the slight delay between changing screens. When you push the page-forward button, the screen washes black for a millisecond before displaying the next page. Overall, it's probably less than the delay you cause by turning a physical page, but it still has occasionally caused me to hit the button twice.

I read a lot of other people's work for my writing groups, and the Kindle worked great for this. It saved me from having to print out dozens of Word Doc pages, and I can still highlight passages and comment on the document as I'm reading it.

As for newspapers, I downloaded an issue of The Wall Street Journal to see how the Kindle handled it. It's pretty cool, and would be great if you were on a plane, or eating breakfast at my tiny kitchen table, but it doesn't beat sitting on the couch with that crinkled paper spread over your lap. When I read a newspaper, I like to scan the pages quickly, take in the pictures and graphs; I probably only read a few articles in their entirely but I want to look at the whole paper. The Kindle is just a different experience. There are no pictures or ads. And the articles are categorized in a straightforward, easy-to-navigate menu, complete with word counts of each article. So, if your primary goal of reading a newspaper is to absorb as much information in as short a time as possible, then the Kindle might be your answer. For me, I'll stick to good ol' newsprint -- at least until the bigger, next generation Kindle DX comes out.

A few notes about the hardware. The Kindle looks fantastic and feels great in your hands. The buttons and keyboard are slick and functional. The battery life is amazing -- up to two weeks between charges if you turn off the wireless.

Overall, while the Kindle is not perfect, once you get used to it, it's a remarkable device and a viable alternative to printed books.


  1. Two questions:
    1. On startup do you touch your nose to the screen or to the keyboard?
    2. There are no right or left pages. How do you know when to stop reading for the night?

  2. Ha! Matt's comment is priceless! How will you know which page to end on? How will I know when its ok to interupt your reading? I always wait unitl you are on left page!

  3. long live gutenberg. no, not steve.