This continues the review of the 3rd generation Kindle. Today, the dislikes. Read the likes here.
- Having to buy a cover is silly, and a too-obvious attempt at nickel and diming the customer. Amazon could have provided a cheap paper cover for practically nothing; more than enough people would still have spent the $35+ to buy a custom-fit cover. I’m using a piece of cloth (towel) folded in half, which is adequate but not sexy.
- Amazon is touting, I swear to God, Mine Sweeper and other game “apps” for the Kindle. This is an an attempt to make the Kindle sound like—well, to sound like it’s a device that can have apps. Books don’t have apps! Neither should the Kindle. The screen repaints slowly owing to the peculiarities of the e-ink. Any app that requires anything more than modest graphical interaction will thus fail. The danger lies in Amazon wanting to tweak the ink and screen so that the device becomes more iPad-like. Big mistake.
The Kindle already has an experimental web browser. Resist the temptation to use it! Cease the experimentation, Amazon! Barnes and Noble has already added color, ability to play videos, surf the web, check email, do everything, that is, except read. Do not let the Kindle become a Nook or iPad. The extended battery life is one of the reasons to buy a Kindle. Don’t waste juice on unnecessary color! Books don’t have apps!
Previously, nobody would have said they were carrying another “device” is they toted a laptop and a book. But the Kindle is the same size as a small paperback. It is no more trouble to carry it than a real book. Reading on it is orders of magnitude than reading on any kind of computer. Leave apps to computers.
- I have large hands, too large for the Kindle. When I grip a real book, I do so across and on the pages, either the bottom or top, depending where my eyes are on the page. This can be done on the Kindle, but that means placing your thumb on the screen, which leaves greasy fingerprints. The page-turning buttons block the sides of the device (and which are extremely sensitive!), and the keyboard lives at the bottom. The only place left to grip is a small strip of plastic in the small space below the screen and above the keyboard. This space is narrower than the width of my thumb. I still have the feeling—perhaps the device is too new—that I have to approach it delicately, lest I break it.
- PDF support stinks. There is no other way to say this. A page from, say, a PDF book will appear just as it would in a full-screen view on a laptop. The fonts are all rendered fine, including mathematical equations, pictures, and so forth. But because you are looking at a full page at once, the fonts are tiny. I even took to wearing reading glasses to see them. There is an option to zoom, but only 150%, 200%, or 300%.
A small box opens over the page to show you the window of the zoom; that is, the zoom will not let you see more than a portion of a page. And that includes left to right. So if you zoom, you have to scroll back and forth to read across a line. This is too painful for real reading. Then you have to scroll down the page and begin all over, scrolling line by line. When you are finished with the page, you have to turn it, obviously; but that operation is slow in zoom mode. It can take seconds. This makes casual reading impossible.
The solution to this is to have Amazon convert the document for a fee, or to input the book to Calibre and have it convert the PDF to mobi format. This will not be an error-free process. I have tried it with several books so far, and each time errors are introduced. Calibre is fond of stripping off all ‘f’s, especially double-‘f’s, or ‘fi’s, and tuning them to capital ‘W’s and ‘V’s. It also usually includes an enormous header across each page; if the original PDF had one, that is, as most do. Still, this process does make the book readable.
- Amazon, like Apple, is also stingy about supporting non-Amazon formats. There is no ePub file reading on the Kindle. Hacks exist for conversion: do a search to discover these.
- I have only had the Kindle for two weeks, but already the paint is wearing off the most frequently used keys. The arrows on the “five-way” controller were the first to go; but the Back and Home keys are already fading. I suppose new marks could be painted on with nail polish. Amazon used cheap paint.
- Large books load slower than a bureaucrat admitting an mistake. I copied the King James Bible from Project Gutenberg as one document, and it takes just over two minutes—stop and read that again: two minutes—to open each time. And each page turn takes about one minute! Of course, it is possible to break the Bible up into separate books, but that’s a lot of work, too.
There is some page delay for books not purchased from Amazon to load for the first time as the Kindle creates a database entry for it. But these delays disappear upon subsequent opens. Not true for long books: the delays are interminable and never disappear. This is a major flaw in the Kindle software. My advice: large books should not be loaded into memory all at once, like small books are. Books that are provided by Amazon do not suffer the same flaws, so clearly fixing this is possible.
- You often hear that sales of ebooks are outpacing real books. But I wonder. I “bought” over three dozen books from Amazon, but all but three were free. I received a sales-confirmation email for each “sale.” My guess is that these free books are being counted in the official totals. This is a dislike, because one reason to buy the Kindle is belief that publishers will release more titles for the device. Right now, the books just aren’t there.
Like Rumpole, I try never to read anything I haven’t read before (at night). But I can’t find the early, and the best, Rumpole books for the Kindle. Nor can I find Patrick O’Brian! Luckily, they do have P.G. Wodehouse, but so does Gutenberg. Unless this thing takes off, most books will never be available. That is, you will always have to buy real books in addition to ebooks.
- You do not own the books you buy. We’ve talked about this many times, but it’s worth restating. You license books, you do not buy them. And Amazon is free to fiddle with that license to their benefit.
Bits and bytes don’t last as long as pages, especially when those bits and bytes are under a mysterious DRM. And just ask anybody with an eight-track player how they felt when they had to re-buy the music on CD. And then had to re-buy it again on iTunes. All because of format change. This will happen to the Kindle and other ebook readers. The books you license will, someday, disappear. You will have to repay for the same content again someday. Ebooks are not permanent. This is why I will not buy any book on the Kindle that I want to keep: because, of course, I want to keep it.
- There are no used books!—thus it is impossible to discover new authors cheaply. More readers discover new authors by reading used than new books: all common experiences attests to this. Given what we have seen in the music industry, publishers will tend to think their material dearer than it actually is (for example, they actually charge money for people to listen to Bruce Springsteen). We can thus expect that ebook prices to be artificially inflated. This naturally will lead to a decrease in reading and in books bought. Lows sales will then prompt publishers to keep prices high, which will lead to fewer books bought. Etc., etc.
Amazon and publishers must find a way to create used books. For example, ebook licenses can expire once sales decrease past a certain point. Or publishers could simply lease ebooks for a very small fee, much like people lease videos.
- Libraries have not sorted out, nor have even come close to sorting out, how to loan books and periodicals on ereaders. Publishers’ irrational fears of piracy will work against reading. I say “irrational” because we have, just yesterday in the “likes” portion of this review, seen that pirating a book is no more difficult than walking to a copier and scanning the damn thing in. And it will only take hours to have somebody re-type an ebook. Piracy cannot be eliminated. It can be mitigated by setting the price such that piracy isn’t worth the effort. Given our experience with music publishers, book publishers will not understand this.
- Flipping back and forth through a book quickly, or having two or more books open simultaneously is an impossibility. The casual reader will not care about this, but for scholars, it is an enormous detriment. And there are other problems. For example, I often remember the book and page I want by the note I took on it. This can be done, but not easily: it involves opening your My Clippings file, locating the note, memorizing where it was you took it, closing the clippings, opening the relevant book, then keying in, via use of the “Sym” key, that being the only way to type numbers, punching in the book location. Page numbers don’t exist on ebooks, so you have to type in a percent location. Again, all this is possible, but I’d rather watch a Windows computer boot up than go through this process each time I want to refer back to a note.
One can also look at the notes inside a book, and that brings you to the proper location faster, but finding the note is still a burden (if you have many, like I do). Using a Kindle for scholarly work is a complete bust. Print copies are a must. I predict real, physical books will not go away, but will only be bought by a small and shrinking minority.
What’s my overall view? If you’re rich and have a hundred and forty bucks to blow, buy one. Especially if you enjoy reading novels, or you travel a lot. The Kindle is very good for books which you read in a linear fashion. It stinks for reading any other kind of book: math books, reference works, physics texts, other scholarly material, and so forth. I would hate to use in the kitchen as a cook book.
If you don’t have the cash, don’t despair: download Gutenburg files on your computer, or buy physical copies of books at used bookstores. I’m still doing that for books I want to keep.