Thursday, 30 December 2010

First impressions review - Amazon Kindle

Semi-relevant preliminary spiel:

I love my iPod. Since I got my first iPod (Wikipedia informs me that it was a ‘classic’ fourth generation black & white), I’ve never thought about getting a different portable music device. I love my iPod because I don’t think about it: I automatically slip it in my bag or my pocket when I’m going somewhere; I use it quickly and reflexively; it just does the job it’s meant to do.

Since e-readers first became available, I’ve wanted an iPod for ebooks (disclaimer: this is not the iPad for reasons too numerous to enumerate). It would be a single device that does its job smoothly and blends into the background of your life. The Kindle –
received this Christmas – is a damn sight closer to that imaginary device than the Sony Reader (all subsequent comments are directed towards the PRS-505).

First impressions:

In terms of design, the Kindle is nicer to hold than the Reader. The Kindle’s plastic isn’t as cold as the Reader’s metal, the corners are nicely rounded, and it’s slightly lighter. The button placement is better as well with the ‘turn pages’ buttons larger and more naturally placed. The Kindle also has more memory (3GB) than the Reader (256MB without an SD card: newer models have more).

The randomly generated screensavers automatically make it look like 
you keep a picture of John Steinbeck next to your bed

The Kindle is also better for reading: the contrast is by default better and has the advantage of being adjustable; various aspects of the text itself can be changed (which makes sense for digital text) including size, font, line spacing, and words per line. All this makes the Kindle much better for people who have difficulty with text ie. people with reading difficulties or poor vision.


Reading, particularly non-fiction, is more complex than simply looking at words on a page and the Kindle allows for increased levels of interactivity with the text. Rather than passively reading, it allows the user to highlight, make notes, share highlights on Twitter, check a word in one of the two dictionaries included, or look up a Web address from the text.

Another advantage – a decisive one for non-smartphone owners like me – is the free Web access. I got – or rather, Santa got me – the 3G model because it allows much wider wireless coverage for access to the Web through the experimental browser. It’s slow, clunky, black & white but it’s free and massively increases my ability to access the Web.


The Kindle store is good: wireless access to books is a plus and the prices are mostly reasonable. New Kindle owners will discover a wealth of free titles – public domain works and such – but these tend to be poor quality, poorly formatted files: despite the added effort, it’s better to use a reliable source like Project Gutenberg or the Google ebookstore’s public domain PDFs. It seemed appropriate that my first Kindle book should be The Case for Books by Robert Darnton which downloaded easily and is functioning perfectly well.

If you don’t do so already, use Calibre to manage your ebooks. Putting personal documents and non-Amazon ebooks on the Kindle without software is a fiddly process. Calibre is easier, allows for more consistent metadata, and automatically converts non-compatible formats (ePub) to compatible formats (MOBI, PDF, RTF, etc.). This won’t work with DRMed files and so means that public library ebooks are unavailable for the Kindle which is unfortunate: it doesn’t mean I won’t use my public library (free ebooks!) but it means I’ll have to read them off another device/PC.

I didn’t get a cover for my Kindle. I asked Santa for one but I was either naughty or Santa reads Slashdot and got linked to the same articles as I did. Turns out that covers either break your Kindle or cost half the price of the device itself. I’ve ordered this which ought to allow Kindle transportation at a fraction of the cost.


Ideally this device should become as indispensible as my iPod. I asked my Twitter followers if I should write a Kindle review now or after the honeymoon period and a lot of people suggested that I do both. Expect a longer-term Kindle review in 2011.


mmp said...

hey, i'm still out of sorts with my ipod.........

Rob said...

I'm similarly smitten with my Kindle. Due to already being in the middle of a couple of books prior to Christmas, i've still not read a huge amount on it (a few short stories, sample chapters and articles), but i've found it really pleasant to use. I like downloading stuff straight from Gutenberg and Feedbooks from within the Kindle browser, too.

Whilst not as swish as the iOS apps, it's proving to be really handy for getting through stuff i've saved using Instapaper, too.

Simon Barron said...

Same here Rob. I've been trying The Case for Books by Darnton but been getting distracted by the piles of (print) books I got for Christmas.

It's proved useful for reading blog posts, news articles, and Google Reader though. I find I can concentrate better when I'm not reading at my computer.