I love reading; always have. I remember the joy of checking out books from the library when I was a child: the thrill of finding a book that could transport me to other worlds and situations…and the sorrow when the time eventually came to return “my” book. It was as if I had separation anxiety when it was time to return a title I had really enjoyed. What if I wanted to read it again later? What if I couldn’t remember the title or author? I decided early on that book ownership was key.
With that goal in mind, I would use money given to me on birthdays and Christmas to purchase my own books. Once I had a regular job, I also became a regular book purchaser. Even with periodic culling and gifting of the books I chose not to keep, I still managed to amass quite a personal library over the years. Because of the space required by my books, the advent of eBooks was very attractive to me. Early on I committed to theplatform, and over the years I have managed to purchase 503(!!) of them. I particularly like the idea of a virtual library – no trees cut down to support my voracious habit, and no need for additional shelf space. Like many, I wondered why the savings from dead tree books to eBooks were not steeper, but for the most part I kept my grumbling to myself.
When dedicated eBook readers such as the Sony Reader began to appear, I looked at them with much interest, but I never bit. Part of the reason was that I didn’t want to carry yet another device, but the other reason – in all honesty – was because none of them were compatible with eReader and the library I had already amassed; I simply did not relish the idea of moving to another platform.
It wasn’t until Wayne basically said that he was sending his Amazon Kindle to me, and I was expected to try it and give my impressions, that I ever thought I might bail out of the eReader club. Is the Kindle perfect? Heck no. But I found it to be surprisingly compelling.
This review will include not only my experience with the reader, but also Wayne and Ellen Beeman’s. After I cover the hardware, we’ll each take turns discussing this wireless reading device…
The selling points listed on the Amazon site contain plenty of marketing hyperbole, including the following:
* Revolutionary electronic-paper display provides a sharp, high-resolution screen that looks and reads like real paper.
* Simple to use: no computer, no cables, no syncing.
* Wireless connectivity enables you to shop the Kindle Store directly from your Kindle—whether you’re in the back of a taxi, at the airport, or in bed.
* Buy a book and it is auto-delivered wirelessly in less than one minute.* More than 120,000 books available, including more than 98 of 112 current New York Times® Best Sellers.
* New York Times® Best Sellers and New Releases $9.99, unless marked otherwise.
* Free book samples. Download and read first chapters for free before you decide to buy.
* Top U.S. newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post; top magazines including TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes—all auto-delivered wirelessly.
* Top international newspapers from France, Germany, and Ireland; Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine, and The Irish Times—all auto-delivered wirelessly.
* More than 300 top blogs from the worlds of business, technology, sports, entertainment, and politics, including BoingBoing, Slashdot, TechCrunch, ESPN’s Bill Simmons, The Onion, Michelle Malkin, and The Huffington Post—all updated wirelessly throughout the day. (Yes, I have applied to get Gear Diary added… )
* Lighter and thinner than a typical paperback; weighs only 10.3 ounces.
* Holds over 200 titles.
* Long battery life. Leave wireless on and recharge approximately every other day. Turn wireless off and read for a week or more before recharging. Fully recharges in 2 hours.
* Unlike WiFi, Kindle utilizes the same high-speed data network (EVDO) as advanced cell phones—so you never have to locate a hotspot.
* No monthly wireless bills, service plans, or commitments—we take care of the wireless delivery so you can simply click, buy, and read.
* Includes free wireless access to the planet’s most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia—Wikipedia.org.
* Email your Word documents and pictures (.JPG, .GIF, .BMP, .PNG) to Kindle for easy on-the-go viewing.
If what you just read sounds good, but you live outside of the US, then you might want to slow down for a minute and read the following:
At this time, we are unable to offer the Amazon Kindle and associated digital content from the Kindle Store to our international customers due to import/export laws and other restrictions. When you place your order for an Amazon Kindle, both the billing address for the payment method and the shipping address for the delivery must be recognized by our systems as valid U.S. addresses. To successfully purchase digital content from the Amazon Kindle Store, the 1-Click payment method listed on the Manage Your Kindle page must be a credit or debit card issued by a U.S. Bank with a U.S. billing address. We value our international customers and hope to make Kindle available internationally in the future.
So assuming that you live in the US and are able to access a CDMA mobile phone network (like Sprint’s or Verizon’s), we’ll continue…
The Kindle arrives in a whimsical and unique gift box; it is fashioned to look like a book, and it is held shut by an elastic loop wound around a peg.
When the box is opened, the Kindle appears on the right, and the left contains the accessories.
Included in the box are the Kindle wireless reader, a black leather book cover, a power adapter, an instruction manual, and a USB 2.0 cable.
Display: 6″ diagonal E-Ink® electronic paper display, 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 4-level gray scale
Size (in inches): 7.5″ x 5.3″ x 0.7″
Weight: 10.3 ounces
System requirements: Access to a CDMA Wireless network
Battery: 1530mAh Lithium Polymer
Leave wireless on and recharge approximately every other day. Turn wireless off and read for a week or more before recharging. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as shopping the Kindle Store and downloading content. In low coverage areas or in 1xRTT only coverage, wireless usage will consume battery power more quickly. Kindle fully recharges in two hours.
Ring Around the Device: The Kindle is composed of an off-white plastic that in all honesty looks cheap and nasty to me. Perhaps it was my revulsion to its aesthetics that made me even more hesitant to try the device, because well…I can be shallow like that. The 6″ diagonal screen (4.75″ tall x 3.5″ wide) dominates the front of the device, and on the left side are (almost too-easily pressable) buttons for Previous Page and Next Page. On the right is an overly long button for Next Page and a small Back Button. I dislike the placement of the Back button, because more often than I care to admit, I would accidentally press it. Pressing the Back button takes you to the previously viewed menu screen, not the previous page of the book being currently read. A pressable scroll wheel next to the Back button allows you to select between menu options, and a full QWERTY and numeric keyboard allows you to enter information when it is needed. I would have much preferred an on-screen navigational keyboard instead, with the extra real estate being taken by an even larger screen, but that’s just me.
The device has a wedge shape to it: it’s angled to be wider on the left and thinner on the right.
The beveled and wedged design allows the Kindle to fit nicely into its leather cover, as you’ll soon see.
From left to right, on the bottom of the device are: a headphone jack, a mini USB port, a charging indicator LED, and the power port. There are also separate Volume + and – buttons.
Here’s a closeup of the QWERTY keyboard and its angled buttons. Pressing them produces a satisfying click, so the tactile feedback on this keyboard is at least very good. I still wish it wasn’t there, though.
If you are right handed, the placement of the long Next Page button is perfect for easy tapping while reading.
The back of the Kindle has two sliding switches: the first is the On / Off switch, and the second is the Wireless switch. It would have been too cool if wireless in this instance meant WiFi, but as previously mentioned – it’s CDMA. A small speaker sits to the right, mainly for notifications, and there is a large gray rubbery battery cover with a groove to catch on the black leather cover.
Removing the battery cover reveals the SD memory card slot (Wayne included a 4GB card) and the 1530mAh Lithium Polymer battery.
The included black leather cover almost makes up for the cheesy plastic of the device…but not quite. Similarly to a Moleskin notebook, the Kindle’s cover is held shut with a black elastic band.
The cover’s interior is lined in a gray suede-like fabric; an extra bit of protective padding is over the area which covers the screen.
Two of the Kindle’s ends are cradled by the holster built into the cover, and a tab in the cover’s holster also fits into the notch in the battery cover to help keep the Kindle in place.
1. I didn’t want to keep storing books on shelves in my bedroom. Once I read the book, I’m not very good about giving it away or donating it. So I have stacks of books just hanging around. The ability to do away with all that paper was one of my goals in getting a Kindle.
2. Lessen the stacks of books that I take with me on a trip. I have always traveled with several magazines and a couple books. I take a variety not so much because I’m going to read all of them. It’s an issue of not knowing which of the books I’ll be in the mood to read.
3. The idea of electronically ordering and downloading my books was intriguing. I was hoping that there would be a wide enough selection so that I could obtain most of the books I’d be interested in at a moments notice.
I had been a very vocal opponent of the Kindle when it was announced. I thought without back lighting the unit would be worthless and it didn’t seem like reading in low light would work very well.
My opinion at the outset (and to some extent I still strongly believe this) was that the Kindle serves as a prototype device for what someday may be built into different public areas.
Imagine if you could get on an airplane (or a train or bus or doctor’s waiting room) and the table in front of you had a Kindle-like device attached. If you decided to use it, then it asks for your user name and password. Once supplied it provides access to your entire media library. If you wanted to buy (license) more books you could. At the end of your usage all your books were erased and the public Kindle was ready for the next person.
I’ve been using the Kindle for about three weeks now. I have purchased about 8 books and subscribed to half a dozen magazines or blogs.
Ellen – My first impression was positive, looking at a device around the size of a hardcover book, but thinner, with good-sized screen for reading. I was a little surprised by the full keyboard at the bottom of the device, rather than a slide-out, but was guessing that Amazon went for a simple form factor on their first entry into the ebook device market.
And then there’s the screen…
Ellen – The Kindle screen is brilliant. The idea of electronic ink is that the screen doesn’t refresh until you change the content. I didn’t realize how much the screen refreshes make my eyes tired, and make it hard to read a lot of text on a screen, until I saw a screen that doesn’t flicker. That black flash as the screen resets took a little getting used to, but overall, the screen is exceptional.
But for me, the real magic is in the merchandising. Amazon has figured it out… a successful ebook device has to be all about convenience and instant gratification. And that’s not just the convenience of carrying your book collection on a single device, it’s the purchasing mechanism, too. I want a book, I find it on Amazon, I buy it, and moments later, I’m reading it on the Kindle. Amazon has done that extremely well.
Book prices for the Kindle are competitive, especially hardcovers, priced at $9.95. I appreciated not paying a premium for ebooks!
The Kindle arrives already linked to the purchaser’s Amazon account, which is very convenient… no set-up time at all.
Steve and I have also had fun with the highly-usable web browser and the Kindle’s free EVDO wireless. I can’t imagine Amazon will be able to continue that indefinitely, there will be too many power users like us who figure out how to maximize that and do everything from email to RSS feeds, but while it’s free, it’s great.
Battery life is pretty good. We’re recharging the device every few days, though we’re keeping the wireless switched off except when needed.
Turns out that the lack of a back lit screen is not a concern at all. I’ve hardly every had trouble reading the screen. It’s display is always clear and easy to read – even in lower levels of light.
What I like using the most on the Kindle is the electronic delivery. To me this is the “killer app” for the Kindle. At a moment’s notice I’ve bought different books with no problem. The download speed is fast and I am never caught waiting for a book to download. It seems nearly instant (though I’m sure it somehow queues portions of the book for download).
I find that the battery life is very good. There was only one instance where the battery went completely dead on me. In most cases I am charging the Kindle every other day whether it shows that the battery is low or not.
The keyboard is not as bad as the pictures might make you think. While you’re probably not going to write a novel using the oddly spaced keys – they server their purposes and typing with them is fairly easy for short data entry sessions.
I subscribed to the New York Times, Newsweek and Time. Each of the publications are updated automatically over the wireless connection. Even though I could read all three of these publications via my laptop – I really look forward to knowing that if I need something to read that by grabbing the Kindle on my way out the door I’ll have a whole collection of current books and magazines.
Books that you purchase online via the Kindle are cheaper than their paper counterparts. The typical price for a Kindle book is only $9.99 (and that includes electronic delivery to your Kindle). Monthly magazine subscriptions are reasonable – typically about $2 per month for Time or Newsweek.
Judie - First and foremost, I was extremely impressed with the $9.99 purchase price for most best-sellers and new releases. Finally, the price for an electronic book is in line with the savings one should expect from not having to incur the expense of harvesting trees and paying for the binding process. $9.99 is such a lovely price for a brand new book.
When I wasn’t jostling around or preoccupied, reading on the Kindle was a joy. When I wasn’t paying attention, I kept accidentally hitting the poorly placed buttons.
I like the screen; I found it to be very crisp and easy to read from – assuming that the room’s lighting was good, of course. Battery life seemed excellent, and I probably stretched it a bit more by usually keeping the wireless turned off. I remembered to charge the Kindle about every other day, and I never saw the battery meter drop below 1/2.
I downloaded one book (on Wayne’s account, heh!) and was impressed by how quick and easy the process was. I agree with Wayne that it is the “killer application” and I love that access is not an extra monthly fee.
Judie – Oh how I dislike (hate) the placement all of the page and back buttons! I couldn’t help but continue hitting them by mistake. It was completely frustrating, and more times than I care to admit I completely lost my place. Particularly frustrating was hitting the back button…repeatedly. Urgh.
I missed being able to easily read in bed; there has to be some kind of low-level glowing backlight that could be utilized only when needed. I hope that the next version will use one.
I seldom used the keyboard, so I do wish that it had been a virtual one instead of a hardware type.
As much as the cover improved the looks of the Kindle, it was not easy to keep it properly in place. I popped off the battery cover several times when trying to turn the device on or off, and the same occurred when trying to operate the wireless button.
Did I mention that I think the Kindle is ugly and cheap looking? Yeah…that.
The placement of the power and wireless on/off buttons on the back of the device is also awkward. It’s as though they got confused between two user scenarios… one where you’re holding the device naked in your hand, and another where it’s in the nice, leatherette book cover case. The Next Page/Previous Page buttons work pretty well when the Kindle is in the case, but then you can’t reach the power and wireless buttons. And if you use it without the case, the power and wireless buttons are easily accessible, but then you have problems with the Next and Previous Page buttons.
Backlighting is a feature that I wish the Kindle had. That might be a limitation of the screen technology, though, because otherwise, it seems too obvious a feature to be omitted.
The inaccessible memory card slot is also a minor problem. What I’d love is to have this where I can hot-swap out memory cards. In particular, the inaccessibility of the slot means that Audible audiobooks, while supported, just aren’t a good option for the device. I’d love to carry around my large Audible collection on the Kindle, but won’t have the memory for it.
I also think that many of their monthly fees for blogs and magazines are quite high, but honestly, how many people will use that, instead of taking a few minutes to figure out how to do free browser-based RSS? I can see a category of users who will love having the auto-updating New York Times and other newspapers, and will be willing to pay the monthly subscription fee, but I’ll just use a free option, thanks.
There are some magazines that are very attractively priced, such as the science fiction magazines. One small additional service problem is that while most tasks can be done from the Kindle, canceling a subscription has to be done from the Amazon website.
Wayne – Button placement – The thing that annoys me the most about the Kindle is that the buttons to move forward and backward a page are too easy to push by mistake. I’m forever pushing the “next page” button while holding the Kindle in my hands. There’s something really wrong about the button layout . I think Amazon should have moved all the buttons higher on the device so as to leave room at the bottom for gripping the device.
The included Kindle binder is garbage. If you get the Kindle to sit in the binder it can work well for a little while. I used my Kindle extensively at the gym and while I was on the bicycle it was a struggle to keep my Kindle from falling out of the leather binder that’s provided. Amazon needs to completely re-design the Kindle binder. Several online sites have do-it-yourself instructions for adding velcro to help keep the Kindle in place.
Lack of graphics in newspaper/magazine – The graphics in the Kindle stink. There really need to be higher level graphics so that magazines and newspapers that you subscribe to are nearly equal to their printed counterparts. This isn’t a huge deal but I would enjoy being able to see better graphics.
The price – at $359 the Kindle is nearly $100 more expensive than the Sony eReader. For the Kindle to gain mass appeal the price probably needs to be under $200.
Several time when I was at the gym, the backing that covers the batter to my Kindle slid off in my hands. This needs to be a little better attached. If the Kindle wasn’t slipping out of the binder, it was losing the battery cover. This probably can be fixed with just a little more attention to the design details and feedback of users.
Would you buy it again?:
Wayne – Yes – I definitely would buy this again. I would like to see them include a better case, raise the previous/next page buttons higher (to prevent pressing them by accident) and re-design the back of the Kindle so that the battery door isn’t so easily dislodged in regular use.
I think Amazon did meet their stated goal of making the Kindle be as unobtrusive as possible. The whole device is rather bland looking and Amazon has stated that was their design goal. They want the Kindle to fade into the background while you are using it.
For me the electronic delivery makes this device. If I had to cable it to my computer I probably would not be as enthusiastic about buying one.
Ellen – I often “inherit” devices from my husband, when he decides they don’t work well for him. With the Kindle, I keep asking him, “Has it stopped working well for you yet? Can I have it now?” That hasn’t happened. So I’ll probably get myself my own Kindle eventually, though I’ll be tempted to wait for the next version, when hopefully they’ll improve the button placement.
In one of my favorite novels, Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”, John Hackworth spreads out a sheet of blank smart paper and says, “The Times”, and the newspaper instantly appears on the page in front of him. That’s science fiction, at least for now. But the Kindle, with its effortless content purchasing and downloading, is a major step in that direction.
I think when it hits $300… I’m buying myself one!
Judie – Well, as I mentioned, this Kindle belongs to Wayne; I didn’t buy it. Although I liked this version a lot, I will be holding out for v2.0 before I hit the BUY button. If they improve the looks a little, lower the price a little (or at least keep it subscription-free), and remove the keyboard, I’ll be a happy camper. No matter what though, I do see a Kindle in my future, and I am not looking forward to sending this one back to Wayne.
The Amazon Kindle is available directly from the manufacturer.
MSRP: $359.99 includes free two-day shipping; New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases are $9.99, unless marked otherwise.