Amazon Kindle - Two Week Review

When the Kindle was released late last year, I was skeptical. I like the idea of an e-book reader, but it's so expensive. Eventually, a few things occurred that convinced me to order one:

  • I contemplated having instant access to major papers like the NY Times and Washington Post each morning, as well as local papers like the Denver Post.
  • I took a family trip and packed a bunch of books to take with me. I typically have a few books that I'm reading at once -- some fiction, a non-fiction, and a technical book. I can't two of the same type at once, though, lest I get facts or characters mixed up.
  • I saw the screen in person.

So at the end of March, I placed my order and started the backorder wait. It arrived a couple of weeks ago and, since then, it looks like Amazon's manufacturers are caught up. My total wait was almost three weeks (18 days), but at this point, the Kindle product page on Amazon.com says that it's in stock and available for shipping... they're even showing photos of an Amazon warehouse with pallets of Kindles.

Short Review

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the device. I'm not yet 100% convinced that I'll always be a paperless reader (when content's available), but if I have a choice between paper version and Kindle version, I think paper will be a rare exception rather than the norm.

Longer Review

Some other thoughts (in no particular order):

  • The design's general "look" an aesthetics are not terrible, but not great either. I'll call it "functional." Some of the reviews and feedback out there have really bashed the industrial design of this thing -- calling for Amazon to hire some Apple designers and that sort of thing. I actually don't think it's quite that bad. It certainly is smaller and lighter than I expected it to be (both are good things!).
  • The design's high points are the screen (the e-ink is AMAZING. No, seriously... AMAZING!), providing an integrated keyboard (vs on-screen "soft" keys), and the main navigation element -- the scrolling wheel/button. The wheel is a very easy way to move through your library, look things up, bookmark, etc. I don't know what the material is they're using to indicate the scroll position along the right margin, but it's pretty cool and works well even in low-light (the Kindle is NOT backlit).
  • The design's main low point is the fact that 75-80% or so of both sides of the device are dedicated to buttons for Next/Prev page. It's WAY too easy to hit those buttons accidentally. I'd have preferred to see the top 50% of both sides dedicated to buttons so that there are more ways to hold it without accidentally hitting them. Also, the device can play MP3 and audio books - but the volume buttons and headphone jack are on the bottom. If I'm reading in bed, I'm usually holding it from the bottom or resting it on my chest as I read. Also not great - the power on/off and wireless on/off buttons are on the back of the device, which make them hard to reach when its in the cover. On the cover front -- it's not bad, but lots of people seem to have flakey covers that don't really "grip" the reader as it should. Mine seems fine... I definitely prefer reading with it in the cover as that gives me more flexibility in how I hold it. I can see getting a different cover later, though, that holds the Kindle in place at all four corners.
  • From a software/functionality perspective, I'm very impressed. With the wireless turned on, it's very easy to search and navigate the online Kindle store. You can buy material right from the device and it shows up within a minute or so. Very slick. When looking at a book's product page on the device, you have the option to "Save for Later" (essentially bookmarking the product page) or you can download a sample chapter. When browsing the Kindle store from your PC, you can send a sample chapter to your device with just one click. In either case, the sample is on the device in less than a minute. When viewing your library on the device, you can change how things are sorted and set filters for books, periodicals, or both. Personally, I'd also like the ability to organize things into folders and show/hide downloaded samples.
  • The "lookup" feature is slick - you can choose "lookup" on any line of text and it provides quick definitions for each of the non-trivial words in that line of text. You can further dive into each word for a more in-depth definition, or search the web and/or Wikipedia for the word.
  • Speaking of the web, there is an experimental web browser on the device... it seems similar in capability to the Pocket IE browser I have on my Windows Mobile phone. Plain HTML pages are fine -- but sites that use any sort of Flash, JavaScript, or fancier rendering will suffer. Still, it's good enough for occasional basic use.
  • The keyboard is usable enough for searches and quick notes, but not something I'd want to compose long email messages with. Conveniently, it's got a dedicated "Search" button that calls up a context-sensitive search bar from anywhere (i.e., if in the Kindle Store, the Search bar will search the store for your criteria). There are also shortcuts you can use in the search bar to search other contexts - @wiki searches wikipedia, @store searches the Kindle store, etc. There are a few other shortcuts, such as ALT+T, which displays the current time in the corner (humorously, it often shows it in plain English ("six minutes till four").

There are some things I'd like to see changed down the road, either through firmware or in a later hardware generation:

  • It seems there's no relationship between my on-device "Save For Later" selections and an Amazon wishlist. I'd much rather have a Kindle-specific wishlist that I can add to and manage from both the device and the Amazon.com site. Even if I create another Wishlist on the site and force myself to use it just for Kindle books, I don't see a way to get at that wishlist from the device. And while I can use the "Send Sample Chapter" option from the site, I can't add something to my "Save for Later" list from the site.
  •  For subscriptions, such as the New York Times, I'd like to be able to tell it how many days I want to keep on the device by default. Currently, it stores several days of periodicals... choosing NY Times from the "Home" list displays all of the publication days so I have to make another selection. Since all of my Kindle content is backed up and available from Amazon (should I delete it from the device), I'd like an option to only keep the most recent issue of a periodical. It's rare that I'd want the Saturday paper on Sunday... so delete it when Sunday arrives and I can manually download it if the need arises.
  • I want to see more content, particularly with magazines. The list of available magazines is pretty slim... I'd love to see Wired, Esquire, Inc, and a few others become available. I recognize that the lack of color and quality photos would be a sacrifice for magazines, particularly for something like Wired, but I'd forego that for the convenience of having the article content with me all the time.
  • No "Chronicles of Narnia" in Kindle form?! There's also little in the way of Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and classic Stephen King (if you're into those authors).
  • You can subscribe to blogs on the device, but most of them are $1.99/month. Not a freakin' chance, Amazon. Between Newsgator Go on my phone, FeedDemon on my PCs, and the basic web browser built into the Kindle, I can't imagine paying for content that is available for free in so many other ways.
  • The price has GOT to come down... I thought long and hard about this purchase. Ultimately, I figured I could Ebay the device if I decide I don't like it and recoup most of my cost... so I went for it. If it were $100 cheaper, though, I think it'd be more of a no-brainer. I suspect a lot of the cost is tied up in the "Whispernet" wireless service (provided by Sprint) - which doesn't cost the customer anything after the initial purchase.

Again, I'm very happy with the purchase and haven't had any buyer's remorse at all. The Kindle has been with me constantly over the last couple of weeks and... so far, at least, the convenience of having lots of different reading material on me all the time is worth any of the drawbacks I've run into.