Monday, September 06, 2010

I’ve been Kindle-ated

My Kindle arrived this weekend!

When Amazon released their 3rd generation Kindle e-book reader and significantly reduced the price point (the Wi-fi only version is $139, 3G wireless is $189) I took the plunge.

Those of you who’ve been following my more recent posts on the e-book developments (click here and here) know that I’m starting to favor Amazon’s Kindle model over Apple’s iPad model for ebooks. Here are the 3 basic reasons:

1. Amazon is platform agnostic. Yes, I can get a Kindle, but I can also use my PC, my netbook, my Blackberry, or even my iPod and iPad to read Amazon Kindle books. Amazon wants the ebook channel; the money is in the consumables (as it is with iTunes). Not every Kindle book has to be read on a Kindle device ahd Amazon recognizes this.

2. Amazon has the channel already. Selling books over the internet for years they have been dealing with book publishers for that long, and they have pull with publishers due to the volume of books they sell online.

3. They get the pricing, both with device and the content. This is especially true with the latest generation Kindle readers. They are not trying to compete with the iPad; instead they are trying to offer a slimmed down device, but a highly improved reading experience. And the book prices. Kindle editions are all normally 30%-50% off of the regular Amazon list price. If I save roughly 5$ on every book purchase I will have paid for the device after only 30 purchases.

So here are the things I like about the new Kindle.

  • e-paper. Any LCD screen has always been a readability compromise for me. I can only read on my netbook for an hour or two before feeling it. The Kindle display is amazing. I read today for almost 8 hours without any sort of fatigue. The newer display boast a higher contrast ratio, and resolution than previous models and the white is a bright white that is visible even in dimly lit situations (although you can’t read in the dark with it.) In fact, the Kindle arrived with the screen on! The screen boasted a high res image of a famous author and it took me a few seconds to realize that it wasn’t a vinyl decal I had to peel off, but rather it was the actual display.
  • Size and weight. The 3rd generation Kindle has decreased both size and weight by about 20% in each dimension, without reducing the screen area. At only 8 ounces and not much larger than a trade paperback, the unit is amazingly comfortable. It reads with the comfort of a think paperback, and I can hold it easily with two fingers. My netbook weights 2.2 lbs and the iPad weights 1.6 lbs. No comparison on the reading experience. The Kindle is the only one that’s comfortable to hold for extended periods. It’s hard to get a sense of actually how comfortable the Kindle is until you’ve compared it.
  • Multi-platform sync. If I bookmark or write a note in the Kindle “margin,” it syncs with all my other versions of the Kindle software. Boot up my laptop and open up the same book and all my notes and my previous location have been updated. I can even see notes that others have made in the same book.
  • Annotation. While the Kindle keyboard and note functionality isn’t great for extended annotation, it is great for “marginalia.” In fact, if I’m actually going to “study” a book, I prefer this as it lets me “mark and go,” and then later sync to a platform that is much better for note taking or broad synthesis of multiple notes across multiple chapters.This is the way I study paper books. I make prolific marginalia as I’m reading, but focus on the flow; only later sit down with a pad of paper to synthesize major points and broad themes by reviewing my margin notes. I even get all my marginalia in a separate note file with references, which I can then export and edit on my laptop.
  • Battery life. A huge Kindle plus. Because the e-ink display uses batter power primarily only when it’s changing pages, the battery life is up to a month (with wireless turned off). This makes it truly more like a book than a computing device. My netbook will give me 4 max with the screen contrast turned down. The iPad claims more like 10 or 12 hours. With both you have to worry about charging regularly. With the Kindle I can take it on vacation and not worry if I forget my charger.
  • Amazon conversion of personal documents. I can email personal word, text, html and pdf documents to an email address set up for my Kindle and Amazon will convert them automatically to the proper format and put them into my download queue. If you’re wi-fi, then download is free (wireless download incurs a charge).
  • Social networking. I can quote a passage, along with my marginalia comments to Facebook and/or Twitter. Great when you find a juicy quote you know others will appreciate.
  • Onboard dictionary.  Let’s face it. I don’t stop to find out what a new word means. It’s rare that I absolutely need it. With the Kindle just move the cursor to the word and it’s definition pops up. I now know what a “daube” is.

Downsides. There are a few, although rather than restating how the Kindle is not an iPad, I’m going to focus things that could be improved qua the e-book reader that it is.

  • Keyboard. The keyboard is a small QWERTY keyboard at the very bottom of the unit. I type on it more like my Blackberry (unit held with two hands, using thumbs to type). This works ok, but I find that the keyboard is a little two low on the unit and as a result is a little top-heavy as I’m trying to type. Also, to reduce keys they have added a “symbol” menu but typing symbols requires you to move the cursor amongst 4 rows and 10 or so columns of optional symbols to select each one individually. Not so bad if they were less frequently used, but even basic punctuation can only be accessed via this clunky menu. Numbers can be reached by key combinations on the keyboard (although they aren’t marked). It would help is at least a question mark, exclamation point, and comma were also accessible in this manner. I also find myself expecting cell phone-like text shortcuts and am remiss when my “u r” doesn’t change into a “you are” automatically like it does on my Blackberry.
  • Interface. It’s basic. You can put your books into file folders or “collections,” go shopping at the Kindle store, search relatively easily but that’s about all.
  • Extras. The extras are curiosities at best. There is a web browser. You can listen to music via mp3’s you load on the unit, and text to speech is neat. However, none of them are particularly highly functional. Text to speech is a drone monotone that misses most unpunctuated turn of phrase. Buy an audio book instead.

The take-away for me is this. In the spirit of “sticking to it’s knitting” the Kindle lets you do one thing and one thing superbly well: read books. It does so at an unbeatable price point, and gives you access to the best-priced selection of ebooks on the market. I’m sold.

I do plan on posting pics shortly.

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