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.