In June I finally decided it was time to buy a Kindle. I had just donated a bunch of books that I didn’t want anymore, and decided I’d rather not add to my physical collection in the future. That, and I also love playing with new gadgets 🙂 So I picked up one of the 3G models for $189. The free, lifetime, worldwide 3G coverage seemed worth the extra $50 to me. I envision that it will be highly convenient at airports, train stations, hotels, etc.
Now that it’s been a few months, and I’ve been able to complete several books, I wanted to jot down my thoughts.
When I unboxed it, I couldn’t believe how light and tiny it was. As you can see from the photo above, it’s not much bigger than my hand. At 0.335″ thick it’s also exceptionally thin.
The next thing I noticed was the brilliance of the e-ink screen. I actually thought that the initial writing on the screen was a plastic overlay…then I looked closely and realized that it was just pre-programmed on to the e-ink screen!
The screen is the #1 reason why any avid reader should buy one of these over a backlit iPad or Nook Color. It looks as good as paper. The words jump off the page. And most of all, it doesn’t tire your eyes out. I can’t really put in to words how great it looks. All I can say is that this is far far better than reading on any LCD/LED screen I’ve ever read on. At the end of the day my eyes are tired from looking at a monitor all day long. I don’t want that fatigue on my reading device as well. I’d rather read on paper than on a backlit screen.
The rest of the hardware is actually pretty brilliant. The buttons to turn pages are perfectly placed. You can tell that they fixed a lot of the issues from previous versions. It just feels right when you’re holding it, and no matter how I’m holding it I never have to adjust my position to flip to the next page.
In terms of not having a touch screen, something that I’ve seen debated quite a bit – I actually prefer it that way. The joystick takes a bit of getting used to, but at least the screen isn’t covered in fingerprints! I hope that Amazon always offers a non-touch screen version.
Lastly, the battery life of up to 2 months is simply amazing. I rarely even think about charging it. I think I’ve only charged it a few times since I bought it, something drastically different than what we’re used to with most electronics.
The software does exactly what it should – it gets out of the way so that you can read. Like any OS it has it’s quirks, but nothing you don’t get used to in the first few uses. When I start reading it picks up exactly where I left off, which is all you could really want from e-reader software. You also get all of the reading features you’d desire – the ability to control font size, highlight passages, change orientation to landscape, the ability to quickly search text or jump to another chapter – plus a whole lot more.
The experimental features, like “read to me” (where it dictates the book to you) and the web browser are OK. They’re fun to play with, but at the end of the day that’s not why you buy a device like this. The browser is better than I thought it would be…but it still sucks. If you need to read a Wikipedia article, or type a quick email, it’s sufficient, but anything more and you’ll drive yourself nuts with the slow page refreshes. To be honest, it’s so much faster to do those things on my phone that I haven’t really used the browser since day 1.
How I Use It
I have two primary uses for it: reading new books and reading articles using Instapaper.
When it comes to books, shopping on the Kindle itself works pretty good, but I still prefer to use Amazon on my computer and just have it sync when I start up the Kindle. The Kindle Store on the Kindle lets you buy right off your wishlist, so if I don’t have my computer handy I usually just buy a book straight off my wishlist. Like everything Amazon does, having my credit card tied right to my account makes it extraordinarily simple to buy something – it’s literally one click and then a minute later it’s downloaded and ready to read.
Once I start reading a book, it really just feels like I’m reading a book. The experience itself is no better or worse than reading a physical book, which I think is the highest praise you can give a device like this. It truly gets out of the way so you can read. I’ll still buy a book from time to time, either because it’s not available on the Kindle, or because it has an artistic component that the Kindle can’t capture (say a large hardcover with brilliant photos), or because I’m heading to the beach as I did recently (gotta keep the sand out!). Otherwise I think I’ll just buy all of my books for the Kindle. It’s just so much more convenient – no need to wait, no need to store it somewhere, no need to return a borrowed book.
The other, potentially more intriguing usage is Instapaper. Any time I come across a long, interesting article on the web, I send it to my Instapaper, which syncs daily with my Kindle. You have to set it up to sync over wi-fi only, otherwise Amazon will charge you a data fee to sync over 3G. Instapaper does a great job of helping you set this up. Once it’s up and running, I just click the Instapaper button in my browser (I installed the Chrome Extension, but there’s a bookmarklet that works in all browsers), and then it shows up on my Kindle to read the next time I fire it up. I recently read the great New Yorker article Getting Bin Laden. It took a solid half hour or more to read. I would not have wanted to read that on my computer – my eyes would bleed! In fact, in the past I probably wouldn’t have read it for that reason. There’s also the added bonus of reading distraction free, without everything else on my computer pulling me away from reading. With the Kindle, it’s just me and the text.
I really only have one wish: color e-ink on a higher resolution screen (OK so maybe that’s two wishes). I say this because I still read a lot of magazines and those still don’t have a viable replacement. To me, the iPad or Nook Color isn’t because of the backlit screens. And the Kindle isn’t because of the lower resolution and black and white screen. I want eye popping color e-ink…and it’s coming. But in the meantime I’ll continue to read all of my magazines every month (I believe I’m subscribed to 5) and then throw them in the recycling bin. Part of the joy of reading a magazine, especially Sports Illustrated or Wired or Fast Company, is that they have beautiful layouts and photography. A device won’t be the ultimate reading device for me until it can translate that as seamlessly as the Kindle handles reading a novel.
This is a device for people who read a decent amount of books. If you only read a book or two a year, or if you don’t read at all, it probably won’t make sense to get one (most people I know who don’t read much don’t seem to “get” the awesomeness of e-ink). But if you read a lot, I think the time to finally buy one of these is now. The price has gotten low enough that it’s worth it to me. Especially when you factor in the instant purchases, the space savings (compared to a huge bookshelf), and the ability to read online content using Instapaper.
In terms of a comparison to the iPad – I don’t really think there is one. If you want a reading device, you’re crazy to pick an iPad over this. And if you want a multi-purpose device that does the web, games, apps, email, video chat, and also has the ability to read a little bit, then you’d be crazy to buy a Kindle over an iPad. They’re really two separate devices for two separate uses, which is why they’re both succeeding.
Update 9/7/2011 – got one of these “official” Kindle Leather Cover cases for my birthday, and it’s amazing. It has a reading light that’s powered by the Kindle battery. Absolutely brilliant!