I haven’t used this blog for much recently. Most of my time is going to twitter or my niece’s blog. But I was asked last night about my new Amazon Kindle and tried to write a review in the comments section of Facebook. So I copied what I wrote there and expanded it a bit.
The summary of my review: I really like the Kindle. It is a very good ebook reader. But it is also only really good at being an ebook reading and I had hoped for a bit more.
The screen is very nice, but it has a slight gray tone. Because of the technology used it looks best with lots of light. The more light the whiter the screen looks. It also cannot be backlight because the point of E-ink is that it doesn’t have a backlight so the screen won’t strain your eyes. The negative of that is that you actually need light. I have been reading primarily on my phone (currently an HTC Mogul) or PDA for years now. I like the convenience of having your book always with you. So I am used to straining my eyes by looking at a very small backlight screen. This screen is much larger than what I am used to. I also like the ease of changing font sizes. I have been changing them fairly frequently depending on my light, the time of day, etc. Also unlike my phone it looks really good when I am outside sitting in my hammock.
The Kindle is light and close to a paperback size but just too big to be really portable (for a guy that doesn’t carry a purse or bag.) This is one of my issues with the Kindle. To be useful you need to have it with you to read. I have yet to figure out how to carry it. It does come with a serviceable cover. The cover provides some protection (both from dropping it and from looking too much like a geek when reading in public.) I do quite often have a diaper bag with me these days, but when I have the diaper bag I usually don’t have time to read the Kindle.
The audiobook function works really well if you use Audible.com. I have been using Audible.com for about 5 years now and have built up a fairly large library. Using it on my phone meant that I haven’t needed to transfer books from my computer to my phone since they came out of Over the Air downloads about 2 years ago. However, even though Amazon now owns Audible and the Kindle has wireless, you are prevented from directly downloading the Audible files. They claim that they are too big. That seems like an excuse for lack of integration. So I still have to connect it to my computer to transfer files. It does have an external speaker, which most ebook readers don’t have. It also plays regular MP3 files, but I haven’t tried that yet.
On the negative side, I think it would be a much better device if it was about $100 cheaper. It is still expensive. You can get a good netbook, iPod or Smartphone for about the same or cheaper. All of those devices do many things well. So it seems a stretch to have a device that really only does one thing well. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good ebook reader. But that is all that I have found that works really well. Battery hasn’t been as good as I like so far, but it is still lasting a couple days with some audio and some wireless. But that is not the month on a single charge that some ebook readers (without wireless and audio) claim.
I wish the browser was a lot better. It is really nice to be able to search Wikipedia and Amazon for a new book but it was optimized for that and not much else. I would like the browser to be MUCH, MUCH better. But I have a phone and my phone has a pretty good browser. There are some hotkey combinations with the browser that use cell tower locationing to show you Google maps, local restaurants or gas stations, etc., but this hasn’t worked for me yet. I just am not getting the locationing feature. I don’t know if it is that I don’t have enough towers in my area or that it just doesn’t work. Overall using the browser is hard. The screen is not touch sensitive and you just can’t tab between fields. So you have to use the joystick to highlight and area, then choose what you want to do (enter text, hit enter, etc.). This makes using the browser very slow. Think of a very limited cell phone browser (it is actually Netfront 3.3 if you are familiar).
Another major issue is DRM. This is not a Kindle specific problem, but Amazon is among the worst DRM systems right now. This is ironic given the fact that they are a major DRM free music store and have suggested that they will remove DRM from Audible.com soon. I am a bit concerned buying too much from Amazon because if I go with another device then all the books that I bought for the Kindle will likely be lost (or I will have to figure out a way to break the DRM which is technically against the law). If I buy books from stores other than Amazon I can’t wirelessly download them. If I buy Microsoft formatted books they are easy to break the DRM but they won’t be formatted as well as books formatted specifically for the Kindle. Buying any ebooks is fraught with danger. I bought 3 books about 18 months ago from Paperbackdigital.com. The store closed about a year ago and those books are now lost. They have to be re-authorized for each reader, which is fine as long as the authorization servers exist. But when the stores closed the authorization servers went down. Mobipocket, the owners of the format, have tried to contact the former owners of the store to transfer the info on the authorization servers but the owners have not responded and as of now I still can’t read the books. I didn’t lose much, maybe $20, but it makes me hesitant to buy much that I can’t crack. Luckily I like Science Fiction. Baen.com believes in DRM free books and I have purchased a lot of books from them. But they are only one publisher. If you are happy with Amazon and not concerned about DRM, then Amazon will keep all of your purchases in an online bookshelf that you can download at any time.
One nice thing is that you can attach up to 6 Kindles to the same account and share the books between them. If one person buys a book, then they all can share that book. But you have to have a single Amazon account and figure out how to do that with sharing payments, etc. And you want to make sure that anyone that you share with would actually be buying books that you might want to read.
The final issue is that the Kindle isn’t all that good looking. Many, if not most, ebooks are better looking. If you don’t want wireless then I would get the Sony Reader. The 505 is $299 retail and can be purchased at Target. (So you can touch and feel it before purchasing unlike the Kindle.) But if you are willing to open up a Sony credit card you can get it for $150. That is much closer to the price I think ebook readers should be. In the end I went with the Kindle because of the potential of the browser. On the way to church last week I bought a bible. That convenience is worth something. If you are paying full price, then pay the extra for Kindle. If you are willing to do the credit card deal, the decision would be much harder.