Despite me writing a rather scathing commentary on the Kindle when it debuted, Amazon recently sent me a loaner to try out for a couple of weeks. Without a doubt, I will say I enjoyed using the Kindle in a variety of locales, and it’s a rather well-thought-out product (more eye-catching action photos are all at the bottom of this post). I’ll also state up front I feel it’s overpriced, the content (books and blogs) are also overpriced, and I still don’t believe books are in any danger of vanishing in the short term.
Let’s start with the good. The packaging is great, it has a very “book-y” feel to it, it’s very inviting, and also looks professional enough to go along with the price of the unit. The OOBE (out of box experience) was also well done, as the first “boot” of the Kindle had a nice “Welcome Jeremy” letter from Jeff Bezos (thought I’m pretty sure it wasn’t unique). While there are a few quirks to the user interface, the learning curve was fairly close to zero, I’d be surprised to see someone needing a lot of help to get started.
Browsing the Amazon store on “Whispernet” works great, I was able to easily find numerous lists of books that were interesting to me from a variety of criteria (most popular, newest, etc). There’s a well-done integration with my Amazon.com account, so I didn’t need to register anything new to pay for titles. Also, the download speed for content (books, web pages, etc) was much better than I anticipated, definitely fast enough to provide a decent experience.
Reading books was also quite pleasant. If you’ve never seen an e-ink interface, it’s much slower than LCD (think about a second per page – it’s definitely noticeable). That’s the con, the pro is that is looks very close to paper-like and uses almost no power. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t change the font density or size, as it used a spacing that ended up making me feel like I was reading one of my 1-year-old’s jumbo books with 3 sentences per page. There’s also no backlighting (not even Indiglo), which I think is an essential feature for a 2nd Edition.
The Kindle is fairly light, and feels nice to hold in your hands. That said, it can be awkward to hold one-handed (ex: on the bus) and I think it should have a strap on the back so you can slide your palm into it without worrying about dropping it. The buttons click well, though I feel the keyboard is in the way a lot of the time, and think it could be better suited as a slide-out or other ‘hidden’ key setup. The primary navigation wheel is nicely responsive, though definitely has oddities in the on-screen menus.
Now for my short list of problems, and they have little to do with the gadget itself. First up it’s a half-closed system. I don’t like Amazon charging for blogs I want to read, especially when they are free on every other platform possible. Secondly is the price for books themselves. While $9.99 is a bargain compared to a $19.99 (or higher) new hardcover, it’s not great relative to $6.99 and less for softcover, and laughable next to used book prices. That plus the sticker price for the device itself and we’re well beyond yuppie territory. At current pricing I’d say the product is really only for those with ready supplies of disposable income.
While I believe the Kindle is probably one of the better e-book readers on the market, I am still (very) squeamish about the category. While it’s nice to have the ability to have hundreds of books with you on a long trip, it’s not nice to worry about dropping a Kindle in the bathtub (or the beach, pool, forest, or basically anywhere else). As the “all the books I want” argument tends to be the big point for those in favor of e-readers, I’ve truly never known that as a real issue. I’m an avid and fairly fast book reader, and even on my three-week honeymoon I didn’t run out of books on the trip, and I wasn’t exactly overburdened in my luggage.
Some specific product recommendations for a “2nd edition“:
- Allow me to customize the font size/weight (will really help users with poor eyesight)
- One word: backlight
- Redesign the front to have the keyboard hidden when not in use (slide-out?)
- Put a strap on the back of the reader that I can slide my hand into for comfort
- Automatically synchronize my wishlist from Amazon.com
- Ship the Kindle with samples of books that are currently popular
- Have the ability to auto-subscribe to certain book ‘feeds’ for sample delivery
- Offer a subscription model for all-you-can-read pricing
- Set a precedent with a peer-to-peer licensed and monetized “used eBook” system (use an open market for it, give a %age of the resale price back to the publisher. it’ll work, trust me)
In summary, I think the Kindle is a good product but trapped inside the wrong price points and business model around e-books. If you are like me, and buy most of your books used, it’s definitely going to seem like a ludicrously priced gadget. If, on the other hand, you buy two or more new hardcover books a month, it’s worth checking out (probably pays itself off in about a year or so). Overall the good user experience combined with the auto-download features with a huge library behind it absolutely make the Kindle a great e-reader. That said, I’m still opting for used books for my personal needs, and I’m still pretty bearish on the whole concept of e-readers.
ps for those expecting me to trash it, sorry for the letdown – the device worked much better than i thought it would.
pps for those wondering ‘whats with the goofy pix’ i figured there’s plenty of detailed pictures out there showing the dimensions, UI, etc – why not have a little fun? 🙂
boy, you’re really working that MAC huh!
Great idea for a hand strap.
Though I’m rooting for Amazon in the digital media space (Unbox, DRM-free MP3s, and of course Kindle), I don’t read enough books to pick this up (and I enjoy reading in the tub without fear of destroying my gizmos).
I did download the eReader App for my iPhone though haven’t found any books to buy yet. The screen isn’t huge, but it’s at least as large as the Dell Axim I used to read books on when commuting via subway.
What about being able to turn the page?
How could you miss the feature for changing the font size? Especially since you complained about it.
Did you ever read the manual?
And you obviously don’t get the concept if you compare the Kindle’s display with LCD and demand a backlight feature. If you have a backlight, you are forced to look into the light and the glare will cause eye fatigue very quickly. Most of the current Kindle users would have never bought it, if it had the feature in the first place.
Regarding being charged for free blogs – Amazon never imposes the user to subscribe them. I read blogs on my Kindle, but I transfer them manually, free of cost. (You can connect the Kindle to your PC and transfer blogs through some free softwares). But if you want blogs to be delivered to you Kindle, it is only fair that you should pay for the wireless connectivity. Amazon gives free wireless connectivity when you browse the web or check wikipedia or send mails from Kindle. They have to cover their costs from somewhere.
You never told why the Kindle feels overpriced? How many other eBook readers do you think are there in the market with book reading capability and instant download feature? Do you know that many authors/publishers promote books for free on Kindle – it has no cost attached and they reach a new audience without spending money. Some give the first of a series of books to entice readers.
There are more than 100,000 public domain books available for free.
You can convert most of your your personal documents (PDF, Word, HTML) and put in on Kindle.
How does the whole deal sounds costly?
It is sad that your article does not show any diligent research done for the piece and should not be filed under Gadgets or Product Reviews.
@Jon + @Wanderer – nope, I did not realize that button changed the font size. Silly me, I just went into every single options/settings screen I could find and assumed that somewhere it would be a setting.
@Wanderer – Wow, where to start. Telling me I “don’t get the concept” because I reference LCD? Please. Consumers DO NOT CARE about technology, they care about how products WORK FOR THEM. So comparing the speed of a screen refresh is 100% relevant, because a potential customer would WANT to know that it takes a bit longer than they are otherwise used to when they click a button. It’s called “helpful information” to the mega-millions of people who have never heard about e-ink technology and, more importantly, don’t care about WHY it’s different.
Regarding paying for blogs – again, consumers are used to free blog posts elsewhere. I don’t think it’s important to them that Amazon has a fee. Sure I understand full well the hows and whys, but that’s irrelevant to the average customer.
I am not comparing the Kindle relative to other products (which was, I thought, fairly obvious), I am comparing it to not buying one at all. So $359 to a guy who reads a lot but only buys used books is “costly”.
Lastly, I never claimed to be a “diligent researcher”. I used the product for two weeks, trying all the features I could find. There are plenty of other deep dives into the product you are welcome to read.
I don’t know who you are, but to take such clear offense with my review, which was not really all that negative (compared with my original post!), puts you into the category that I’ll label “fanboy” – someone willing to defend every single aspect of a product rather than acknowledge there are some flaws.
And it is sad that you feel the need to make such comments with such a tone. Totally unnecessary.
I decided fairly early on to wait for 2nd revision before I jumped in on Kindle and several of the points you raised are reasons I had decided to wait. The omni-present keyboard and the need to “work around” Amazon to get otherwise free content onto the device were at the top of my ‘do not want for Kindle v2’ list. A lack of hand strap will now have to go onto that list as well.
I can live without a back light and would worry about eye fatigue as well if it had one. I will probably stick with a book light type apparatus.
Screen refresh time is something that will improve on v2 I hope as well. I would take 20% less battery life for snappier changes (along with a battery changing experience more like a laptop and less like a cordless phone, and I still want to pay $20 for it. Ok, $22.)
Your idea for creating a peer-to-peer market for second hand e-books is brilliant. That alone might make me overlook most other things.
Also, I would like something different on the Amazon homepage now…
@Wanderer – I would recommend this as a Kindle download: http://www.amazon.com/Anger-Wisdom-Cooling-Flames/dp/B000QUCO6C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=digital-text&qid=1216578839&sr=1-1
All digital media needs a hand-me-down feature of some sort. I bought all of Burn Notice Season 1 via iTunes and Amazon Unbox. But then, of course, could not share with my mom 1,000 miles away. So I paid a second time and bought her the DVD set. Makes me bitter. Makes me want to use BitTorrent in the future. Mari, my co-author, has a new (old) strategy – go to the library and check out DVDs.
I’d kill for a completely open hardware / software eBook reader. YOU, of all people, could pull this off.
None of the reviews mention whether or not you can download books from your local public library and then transfer them to the Kindle. This would make it worth the price!
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