Ken’s Kindle Review – Did it light my fire?

I am a proud owner of an Amazon Kindle.  I really wanted one the day in November when Amazon announced it – and about a month ago I finally got mine as an early birthday present from my wonderful wife who is still waiting to borrow it.  I have finished my first book, read the Wall Street Journal on it daily, and played around with many other features.  I’m a gadget freak, so of course I wanted one – but the question was whether I’d actually like it.

I’ll go into details below, but let me start with the punch line.

The summary

I love my Kindle, but I can’t wait for version 2.

I love the novelty, the vision of the future, and that beautiful screen.  I will exclusively buy books on it whenever available.  But, if you’re not a gadget-obsessed person, I wouldn’t recommend it for you yet.  The expense and the quirks will bug you too much.  I have total faith that Jeff Bezos and his Amazon team will iterate on this and in ten years we will start thinking of printed books as loved relics of the past – as we do today typewriters, vinyl records and even CD’s.

Likes

  • Screen clarity – especially in sunlight
  • Seamless browse and buy experience
  • Eco-friendliness
  • Weight, size and battery life

Dislikes

  • Awkward cover
  • Usability problems
  • Tables/graphics display

The gritty details

The packaging and first-run experience were as beautiful as a freshly purchased iPod.  It’s amazing how much the details of that first experience impact my feeling of being lucky to own this new gadget.  Within minutes I had purchased and downloaded my first book.  I chose to read Ken Follett’s World Without End as my first book – which is no short order, weighing in at 3 pounds and 1024 pages.  I was pleasantly surprised when the book downloaded in what seemed like seconds.

The form factor of the Kindle seemed perfect to me right out of the gate.  Instead of lugging a 3 pound monster to the beach and Starbucks – I was packing a sleek, leather-bound 10 ounce Kindle.  Nice!

But, it wasn’t all rosy — a usability problem hit me right from the start and it took me a while to retrain myself.  Somebody tried to be way too tricky when designing the next/prev/back buttons and blew it.  I was silly enough to think that after pressing the “next page” button, I could just press the “back” button located right under it to return to the previous page.  Sorry, wrong answer!  Despite the fact that everyone is trained that pressing “back” in a web browser takes you back to the previous page – on the Kindle it takes you back to the previous “object” you were looking at.  So in this case it would pop me out of my book entirely and take me to my list of books on my Kindle.  I need to use my left hand and press “prev page” for that – not “back”.  Huh?

The leads me to another gripe I have.  The book I was reading had 1024 pages, and the Kindle totally hid from me what page was on.  The Kindle has a foreign concept called “locations” that won’t be intuitive to anybody who is used to reading books.  The fact that I was on location 7,698 out of 20,762 in the book just didn’t cut it for me.  I wanted a mapping back to page numbers so I could know what page I was on.  I often felt disoriented in an endless stream of words and locations.  I realize there are user-settable font sizes and different print editions of book, but just mapping back to a standard hard-cover or paperback edition would have worked great for me.  Please bring back page numbers!

The screen on the Kindle is nothing short of beautiful for text.  I was pleasantly surprised when I took it outside in the bright Arizona sun and discovered that the screen looked even better than it did inside a building.  I’ve never seen a screen that didn’t look anemic outside – but this electronic paper does the trick.  Sure, I wish it was bigger, had a built-in light, didn’t flash annoyingly on a page turn, and had the ability to display color, but the clarity of text more than makes up for it.

Amazon’s “Whispernet” is huge.  I have yet to hook my Kindle up to a computer, and I may never get around to it.  Browsing the Amazon store is seamless and downloading books is surprisingly quick.  Based on my ten years of purchase history with Amazon.com, my Kindle came out of the box knowing what books to recommend to me!  I was literally sitting on an airplane getting ready for a flight and quickly downloaded two newspapers to read on the flight.  All in about one minute.

The leather case the Kindle comes with is a must-use accessory to keep the Kindle protected, but it has a couple of annoying flaws.  The worst flaw is that my Kindle constantly falls out of the case.  The little plastic tab that is supposed to keep the Kindle from falling out just does not work.  Worse, it sometimes pries the battery cover off of the Kindle and my Kindle falls out of the cover in two pieces.  The other annoying flaw I’ve noticed is that if you’re not careful, the Kindle cover can push the scroll wheel when you close it and drain your battery.  I learned to always push “Alt”-“Font Size” to power down my screen before closing the case, but that just should never happen.  The case isn’t all bad – the little strap that closes it is a nice nostalgic tie back to a fancy bookmark.

Battery life is excellent for just reading, but I recommend turning off your “Whispernet” connection or it will drain your battery quickly.

If you’re a gadget-geek, you really should go and buy a Kindle today.  If you’re a normal person – you should wait for the next version.

My top wish list for improvements in V2:

  • A bigger screen at the expense of the keyboard
  • An integrated cover that works
  • More fit and finish (like page numbers and tables that are legible)
  • Cheaper initial purchase price.

But, don’t get me wrong.  I love my Kindle – and I’m sorry to say that my wife is going to have to wait a long time if she wants to borrow it, which means I’ll probably be buying one for her shortly…

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Comments

  1. Great review Ken. I was fast-on-the-draw when the Kindle was announced as was able to score one for Debbie, and a second for my mother, as Christmas presents (2007).

    We are all enjoying the Kindle a great deal (after seeing the Kindle in action, I got one for me as well – so I now have 3 Kindles associated with my Amazon account).

    The Kindle really shines when traveling. It’s so great to be able to carry many books and get current newspapers when on-the-road. One downside is that that Whispernet does NOT work outside of the US (just got back from Japan where I had no access to my newspaper subscriptions).

    Having multiple Kindles I can add some notes to your review:

    The quality of the cover construction is very inconsistent. Debbie’s cover works and fits great – mine exhibited the flaws you mention. This bugged me so much I decided to figure out why. I ended up physically removing the plastic tab in the cover binding, and then re-gluing it in place. Just about 1mm difference in how the tab is positioned makes all the difference. It also helps to give it a little “bend” upward. With this adjustment, the Kindle goes in and out of the cover with ease, and is held snugly in place with no fuss.

    While the Amazon titles all use DRM, you CAN share books with others in your family. As long as all your Kindles are registered to the same Amazon account, you can all download the same books if you like. So there is a little pass-along value to Kindle books (although not for newspaper/magazine subscriptions) [good news when you get your 2nd!].

    It’s great to be able to email public domain books (as text files, or now, PDF’s) to your Kindle. This gives you thousands of free books to choose from, say, Project Gutenberg (lot’s of “classics” available).

    The Amazon book selection is far from Universal. Lots of niche books are NOT available on Kindle – but you can count on all the best sellers to be for sale on the Amazon store.

    Subscribing to Blogs seems like a rip-off – when the same content (actually better content) is available online for free rather than a couple bucks per month.

    The experimental browser is very unstable, and frequently crashes. But it IS there in an emergency and works OK on Wikipedia and a few other select sites. I expect this to improve over time.

    I am sorely tempted to just disable the right-hand Next button. It’s just too easy to hit accidentally, as you’ve noticed. I could live with the Next/Prev buttons on the left, and the small Back button (more like an “up” navigation button) on the right.

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