The Amazon Kindle is a handheld e-book reader launched by
Amazon.com in November 2007. Since Uncle Sam was picking up the bill and all, my wife and I decided about two
months ago to pick one up. Well, send off for one. While the price is
fairly steep, it's a pretty slick little piece of gadgetry,
but I can't deny that there are flaws.
My largest concern before taking the plunge was the screen and how
easy it would be to read. Once the Kindle was unboxed and I started
reading its own manual, however, I was nothing short of amazed. The
electronic ink display is extremely easy on the eyes, even
rivaling the ink-on-paper systems utilized by our cavemen
ancestors. It can be easily read in any light, even direct sunlight.
This is very helpful, since the display is not backlit and you will
still need to read by light like you would any normal book. The
electronic ink disply also lends to its excellent battery life. With
the wireless function switched off, the battery can easily last a
week between charges without even being turned off. This is
due to the nature of an e-ink display, which can display a static image
indefinitely without draining the battery. Only page flips use any
New books from Amazon tend to cost $10, and I have never seen a
price exceed this limit. And, as books get older and release into
paperback, you will see a price drop in the Kindle version as
well. This is very good for new books, but you may get the shaft on
older books. An older paperback might cost $8 in print, $6 on the Kindle, but
could probably be found used for $4 or less. Naturally, there is no such thing as a "used" book on the
Kindle. Amazon does sell a number
of "classics" on the Kindle, 1984, The Great Gatsby,
Huckleberry Finn, and the like, typically priced at
$2-$4. Unfortunately, anything bought directly from Amazon will be in
their own, proprietary, DRM protected
format. You won't be able to copy and share your Kindle purchases
however you would like. But, this does lead nicely into my next point.
While Amazon doesn't exactly advertise the fact, there are several
websites out there which provide free, Kindle compatible e-books (in the
.mobi format) of literary classics and anything else licensed under
Creative Commons or Public Domain. The one I have primarily been
using is Feedbooks, which provides a Kindle compatible "download
guide". This reads like any other book on the device, is easily
organized, and provides direct links to all its downloadable
content. Other options include Project Gutenberg, Munsey's, and
Mobipocket. Mobipocket also has new DRM-free e-books available for
purchase, though these will typically be at list price.
Also available are newspaper and magazine subscriptions (as
examples, The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine go for $10 and $1.50
a month, respectively). All subscriptions come with a free 14 day trial. I have not
purchased any subscriptions, so I can't attest to their quality, but it
As of this writing, some 160,000 books are available (through
Amazon) on Kindle. This number is expanding. At release, there were
fewer than 90,000 books, and two months ago when I purchased the
Kindle, the figure had grown to 120,000. Update July 2009: 300,000+ books now available. Update April 2012: Though the rest of this review remains a ridiculously outdated impression of a product no longer manufactured, I can at least point out that there are now some 1.4 million titles available on Kindle. Amazon has stated that their goal is
to make every book available on Kindle. In addition, the first
chapterish of any book is available as a free preview. Upon purchase,
books are immediately downloaded, usually taking no more than 30
seconds. Included at purchase are its own user's manual, and the New
Oxford American Dictionary.
A major plus for us was size. The Kindle is 5.3" × 7.5" × 0.8" and
weighs in at 10.3 ounces. And holds 200 books on 256MB of internal
storage. And supports SD cards up to 4GB. 200 books would fill
multiple bookselves and could easily weigh hundreds of pounds. Being
somewhat of a bibliophile and not ever, ever able to bring
myself to get rid of a book, the Kindle is a major space
saver (or it will be, I can't exactly turn all my existing books into e-books). And will probably get me to read more books.
The Kindle wireless functions through Amazon Whispernet. This
uses the same network as 3G cellphones and is completely free of
charge, so you will never be dependent on finding a WiFi hotspot to
use your Kindle's online features. The main purpose for wireless is
ordering new books through Amazon.com. The online store is very
easy to search and navigate, doubly so due to the Kindle's full
QWERTY keyboard, completely eliminating the need for a computer. (In
the absense of a signal, books can also be downloaded to a PC and
transfered to Kindle via the provided USB cable.) The Kindle can also
be used as a rudimentary web browser, best with text heavy websites
such as Everything2 or Wikipedia.
I've tried to focus on the positives thus far, but there are
naturally downsides to the Kindle aswell. The most common thing I hear
from skeptics is that they believe they would prefer the "feel" of a
real book, or some similar sentiment. Truth be told, the Kindle is
about the size and weight of a typical paperback and (in my opinion)
easier to read. There is no page to hold open, no spine to worry about
creasing, no paper that could be torn or get stuck together. And with
page turn buttons on both sides of the device, it can be held and read
in nearly any position. It may not have precisely the same "feel" as a paper book, but this is not something you will likely find yourself missing.
One major disadvantage over a traditional book, however, is page
flipping. Each flip takes about a second. This is no problem when
reading normally, but when you come across something that makes you
want to flip back 20 pages and reread something else, it's a major
issue. You can, of course, create any number of bookmarks and easily jump between
them, but that doesn't help the usually unexpected desire to jump
back a chapter or two to double check something. Kindle books lack page
numbers (this is because the font size is changeable), opting instead
for "locations". A location, on my choice of font size, ends up being
something like 2-3 lines of text. But, while you might know about how
many pages you want to flip backwards, locations are much less
intuitive and you will be unlikely to know which one to jump to.
This leaves you either guessing, flipping backward one... page... at...
a... time..... or just saying "screw it" and reading on.
Another issue I hear from Kindle owners is the button placement.
The right side of the device features a "next page" button covering the
entire length of the screen, with a small "back" button directly
below. This back button is not a previous page button, instead serving
a function like a web browser's back button. On the left side of the
screen, the "previous page" button covers the upper two thirds of the
device, with another "next page" covering the lower third. Next page
buttons on either side allows for easy flipping no matter how the
device is held. However, a common complaint is that the buttons are too
easy to press by accident, resulting in unexpected page flips. I have
not personally run into this problem, but a number of people have.
Leaving the Kindle in its included leather cover helps combat the issue.
Price is another major difficulty with the Kindle. And, at $360, there
is little I can do to defend it. The lack of tax or
shipping softens the blow slightly, but the Kindle is still
overpriced. Also, due to its reliance on Whispernet, the Kindle is
not currently available for purchase outside the United States.
Public reception of the Kindle has been generally positive.
Amazon's own product page claims a 4 star (out of 5) customer rating,
and the initial offering in November 2007 sold out in under six hours.
My experience thus far has been very good.
If you are considering a purchase, however, I would suggest
v2.0 in the
denies this, but of course they would. People would stop buying the
current version if they knew that the new and improved version was
just around the corner. I only hope that if there's a 2.0 coming soon,
there's some sort of... trade in deal... for us early adopters.
Kindle 2 has been announced. The new version has a slimmer form factor, supports 16 shades of grey (up from 4), boasts 25% longer battery life, 20% faster page turns, and capacity for 1,500 books (but no SD card support). It can also read to you with the new Text-to-Speech feature. Kindle 2 will begin shipping February 24. If you want one, preorder now, as demand will likely be high.