William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Guest Post: Amazon Kindle review by Ari Schwartz

I received a Kindle this year as a Chanukah present, courtesy of my delightful fianc´e. Since e-readers had come up on this blog a couple of times, I thought I might provide a first-hand review of the device. Putting some niggling complaints aside, I am happy to say that I am increasingly pleased with it.

It’s not perfect, but at $260 (free shipping with Amazon) I can safely say that many people would find it quite useful.

As evidenced by my previous comments on this blog regarding the Kindle, I was skeptical of e-readers. Although I am a gadget geek by nature, I was turned off by what I saw as the Kindle’s closed, proprietary nature. It didn’t help that Amazon committed a serious gaffe in July of this year by remotely removing copies of 1984 from the devices due to a copyright issue.

Amazon has been fairly contrite about the 1984 “issue,” with CEO Jeff Bezos saying that it was a “stupid mistake” that “will never happen again.” I don’t know if I believe him, but it’s a step in the right direction.

But enough about my misgivings, what about the device? From a purely technical perspective the Kindle performs wonderfully. It’s responsive, intuitive, and generally well-designed. The e-ink screen is enjoyable to read, and the various buttons all seem to make sense to me. I never had to open up any readme files in order to understand its use. Very cool. Also, unlike nook, which seems to be awfully slow at times, the Kindle is almost always quite zippy, and suffers very few software hang-ups.

Oddly enough, the 3G on the Kindle seems to be faster than the 3G on my iPhone, despite the two of them both using the spectacularly dismal AT&T network. It may be because of the lower data needs of the Kindle, but in any case it’s nice. The battery also lasts seemingly forever, assuming you turn off the 3G. I have charged it once since I got it, and the battery isn’t even half drained.

Reading books on the Kindle is a generally pleasant experience… IF you are a front-to-back kind of reader. I am, and it works great for me. However, my fianc´e, who is a bit of a “skipper,” would find it frustrating. If you like to skip around a book, reading notes and forewords as you read the main text, you may not enjoy the e-book experience.

The Kindle is not textbook friendly, nor is nook or any other e-reader. If you are reading textbooks, just don’t bother. Also, no color, so don’t expect to use it to read graphs any time soon.

Buying books on the Kindle couldn’t be easier. You go into the Kindle store on the device itself or on your computer, find the book you want, order it, and the book is sent straight to your Kindle through 3G magicks. Putting free books on the device is as easy as going to Guttenberg on the Kindle or on your computer, and using USB to transfer them over.

Most books come out to about $10 USD a pop, which isn’t bad. Nonetheless, when I amortize the cost of the device over its lifetime, I don’t expect huge savings, which is supposedly a selling point. Oh well. It’s really convenience over money in this case.

Ultimately, the Kindle is best for people who commute and enjoy reading casually. However, I don’t consider it to be a “game changer” or a “paradigm shift” or any of that nonsense. It’s a convenience, and a way to carry large amounts of written text with you in a small and portable package.

I would recommend it to anyone who travels a lot or commutes a lot. If you’re a magazine reader or solely a newspaper reader, don’t bother. It’s really meant to be a book device. In the spirit of the Internet, here’s my + and – list:

   + Easy to read screen with a fantastic battery life

   + Intuitive controls that don’t get in the way of reading

   + Kindle Store and 3G make it easy to buy books anytime, anywhere

   + Large collection of free books on Guttenberg Press

   + Now with native PDF support

    Still not cheap, and you have to be a really big reader to break even

    Even though Amazon appears contrite, they still possess the ability to destroy your collection with evil wireless powers

    No color

    PDFs read natively, but many are formatted badly for the device

    The most textbook unfriendly format ever devised

Overall, however, I am pleased. I hereby overturn my verdict of “e-readers suck” to “e-readers are nice for a certain segment of the population,” and of those, I believe the Kindle 2 is still the best of the lot. Now, back to my scotch and Too Big to Fail.

Merry Christmas (and a belated Happy Chanukah to you Members of the Tribe), and a Happy New Year!

7 Comments

  1. I’ve noticed an increase of NYC subway riders with their Kindles on display. I would say that in morning rush, that there is one active Kindle reader on the car that I am on (as compared to a few months ago when the average number was zero). In the morning, newspapers (English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian) still win hands down with a few physical book readers (from my informal observations it seems that NYC commuters are big fans of the public library—are Kindles able to interact with the public library?), some paperwork perusers, a few gamers/videoheads, and maybe one magazine reader (altho many have The New Yorker or the The New York Times Magazine visible in their bags, presumably for moments less interesting than a subway ride). On the way home, readers of physical books win out (likely due to distinct lack of afternoon paper in NYC). I’ve never noticed someone reading a Kindle on the afternoon subway commute. Nevertheless, if this trajectory follows, Kindles are gaining ground, and are expected to pass the Us Magazine subway readership sometime in the first quarter of the New Year.

  2. I agree with most of the review, but I am disappointed by the low contrast ratio of the display. I would accept a shorter battery life for an optional back light. Also the first several books I looked for were not available. Yet it is an amazing device. I wonder what e-readers will be like in five years?

  3. Katie,

    To see the real Kindle action you have to get on the Metro-North. They’re everywhere!

    Mike44,

    It’s true that the selection is not quite as extensive as dead tree, but it’s growing quite a bit. I’ve never had a problem with the contrast myself, but I’ve heard that some people dislike the Kindle 2’s display compared to the Kindle 1. Having never used a Kindle 1 I can’t say much.

    You may be able to find books you want outside of the Kindle store, by the way. As long as it’s in mobi format or PDF, you can get it on there.

  4. Briggs

    December 22, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Ari,

    What always worries me is format creep. I don’t want to buy the same book more than once just because the device has been upgraded. We already have to do this for every movie and piece of music we own. It’s ridiculous.

    But as a device to just store and read public domain books, it might be just the thing. That way I never have to worry about feature creep, but I get to carry about a copy of Plutarch.

  5. Ari, if one can’t have an author sign a flyleaf for posterity how can the Kindle can be a long-lasting solution? Thank you, though, for your valuable review and comments. The technology is probably not for me – mostly because of my orneriness, I suspect – but it could also be because I’m retired and no longer commute. And now I need larger screens.

  6. Format creep is definitely a huge issue, and one that I think is somewhat mitigated by the fact that you can use open source formats for books, via Guttenberg.

    It’s also definitely a concern if Amazon, by some strange trick of fate, goes under. Do I get to keep my books? Does the .azw format get transferred to someone else? Does the device become a huge paperweight?

    I don’t know, and it’s definitely a concern. That’s one reason why even when I put music on my iPod, I still buy the CD and just rip to MP3.

    As for the movies: boy do I know that. I don’t replace old DVDs with blu-ray, though, mostly because I can get them from Netflix. Once there’s a Netflix for e-books, I think we’re going to see a big change.

  7. how do i take my ipod songs and hear them on my kindle?

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