Kindle 3rd Generation Review: Dislikes

This continues the review of the 3rd generation Kindle. Today, the dislikes. Read the likes here.

Dislikes

  • 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.

15 Comments

  1. I have found that the best way to view a PDF on my Kindle 2 is to rotate into portrait mode. It still isn’t a great experience, but is much better than zooming in.

  2. “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. ”

    While it is technically easy for Amazon to do this for you, there are probably copyright challenges to this approach. This is especially true if they charge for it.

  3. I suffer from bibliomania. This device does little to address my problem. Perhaps they need to add a disclaimer to their advertising like the FDA insists for all those alarming pharmaceutical ads.

  4. I gave up on the pdfs. Obviously graphic pdfs which are photos of the subject pages will only work if the original was close to the size of the Kindle Screen – hence the availability of the larger screened version for such purposes.

    I’ve found that such things as camera manuals and handbooks which frequently start out as pocket-book size or smaller work quite well. These would be the pdfs that come on the cd’s which accompany most gadgets today. Anything bigger, for me is unreadable.

    I tried Amazon’s text conversion and was unsatisfied with the result. Calibre’s conversion of text based pdfs seems satisfactory although sometimes the original pdf file is screwy enough that the result is poor.

    An example is the Marine Corps’ Smal Wars Manual which is available in text based PDF from the Marines but requires a lot of massaging to turn into something that you’d be comfortable reading on the Kindle. I did it, though but there were complaints from SWMBO about my being lost to the world for the several days it took to complete. Patreus’ book is another such challenge – but maybe it’s in Epub by now.

    Calibre cannot convert graphic pdfs to text-based anything. For that you need an OCR package and unless you get a very good one, and the original has the resolution it needs, the results will be lousy. I’ve had to do a fair amount of this in the past and my attitude toward the relationship between effort, time, and the result is negative.

    Calibre contains the software to convert Epub to Mobi, it works well and it’s easy to do.

    Possibly unlike you Briggs, I break things. I read Kindle in bed and it winds up between me and the bulkhead when I finally pass out. It also travels in a back-pack when I expect to be stuck somewhere waiting for something or other, so it’s the thought preventer and the Kindle. But then the thought preventer is full of Lester Young, Django, and Handel. I’m convinced that I would already have cracked the screen on the Kindle had it not had the substantial cover which I was (gasp) forced to pay extra for.

    If you are able to buy or borrow in paper what you want to read, then this thing doesn’t make much sense and I wouldn’t have one. But I can do neither of the above and am still working my way through the list of books which was recommended to me in high school as worth the effort.

    I should add, that I thought this list was a good one until I got to Thomas Carlisle whose history of the french revolution seemed to me one continuous parade of inside jokes for people who already know the stuff. If anyone reading this has read him, I’d love to hear a conflicting opinion.

  5. From the victory of yesterday’s positive review, to today’s agony of his negative press. Mr. Briggs pulls off a spectacular feat of convincing me to buy the Kindle one day, and return it to Amazon the next.

    I have no direct experience with the Kindle, but do read Kindle books on my PC and iPhone. I never buy ebooks I might want to keep after a first reading. My Kindle library is littered with books I will never read again. It is a downer that I cannot give them to someone else. I wonder if there is a hack for this?

    I usually consider my technical books as reference material, and will only buy a hard copy. However, Safari Books Online does offer an alternative. Many of the technical books are published in and ebook format. Additionally, you can print an online chapter to pdf if you have the credits necessary.

    The question is, “Will Briggs return his Kindle?”

  6. Damn comprehensive critique. Love the various ways you looked at this. My favourite is, ‘no used books!’. Given that there is hardly any cost in materials, print, transport, etc, one also wonders why the hell the books are so damned pricy. Something like CDs being sold on itunes without the cover, sleeve, cost of transportation,(bandwidth and harddrive space cost is negligible) etc, etc, and on top of that, you don’t get the ‘wav’ quality you get with CDs but lower ‘res’ versions.

    Sometimes i wonder if ‘piracy’ is just another term for an effort to redistribute ill-gotten gains, or if ‘piracy’ is just an effort to get around corporate piracy.

  7. Hi,

    what would would recommend then to scholars? I am writing a lot and each time I want to buy a new book on amazon, it costs me 100 euros at least for the paper version, whereas the online version is sold at sometimes 15 times less… (between 7 and 15 euros)

    I don’t want to waste my money but I feel that I have no other option that to buy it. In my specialty (IP law) books are too expensive not to buy them online…

    what do u think? *

    Jérôme de Meeûs

  8. All,

    I received this as part of an email from an interested fellow, who must remain anonymous (not the same as M. Anonymous):

    Amazon seeks to broaden the Kindle’s capacities because book margins are crap. A $10 book might net Amazon 5% after network costs, publisher costs, and other variable costs are subtracted from the book. Publishers whine up and down that they’re getting hosed by the pricing, but their Kindle margins are quite good– probably even better than through book stores.

    By making the Kindle into a sort of weak tablet, Amazon can increase the opportunities to profit from the platform. You’ll notice that “Kindle” is no longer just a device, but a platform across tons of different devices– iPad, Android, iOS, Win, Mac, BB, etc. This is because the device alone is really just a beachhead strategy.

    Also, and this shouldn’t be surprising, it’s no wonder that the paint has come off of the buttons. Is it any surprise that as the device’s price comes down Amazon uses cheaper suppliers? The internals of the Kindle 3 are practically the same as the Kindle 2, and I promise you that they haven’t gotten 50% cheaper since the Kindle 2 launched. Amazon just made it more efficient and cut some corners. Like button paint.

    I hear a clear coat helps keep the buttons from fading.

    de Meeûs,

    I guess you’ll be stuck clicking back and forth a lot. I suppose you can buy two Kindles to have two books open simultaneously. But since books are tied to the device, you’d have to buy two copies if you wanted on both. In short, there is no solution.

    bob,

    He will not. It was given to me as a gift, so I am out nothing.

    j ferguson,

    Yes, Carlyle’s history is more aptly named “An Analysis of the French Revolution for Those Who Know Its History.” It is certainly not an introduction. You probably haven’t, but don’t forget Burke here. You have to be careful about books on this subject, because many in the academy are sympathetic with the idea of the guillotine.

  9. Thanks, Briggs, Burke’s on the list. Guy who gave my dad the list had read all this stuff, but he had a photographic memory and could absorb what he’d read in a single reading which I can’t do.

    I agree with you on the wisdom of using the Kindle for technical or textbook purposes. I have a 2, bought a statistics book for idiots and found the formulae didn’t display well enough to read – and this in a book perverted to the Kindle by Amazon themselves.

    Maybe the big Kindle would work for Jerome. I haven;t seen one.

    But for anything you will want to come back to often to find things, Kindle is terrible.

    In its behalf, though, I can read for hours on the Kindle but not on computers – my eyes get sore.

  10. Pirating, or at least copying, Kindle books is easier than you say. Install Kindle’s PC reader then open a book on it. Hit the “print screen” button for every page. There are free PC apps that will automatically convert the screen image into a JPG and store it in the folder you specify. Just keep paging through the ebook and hitting print screen every time and voila, you have JPGs of every page, numbered in sequence.

    I actually did this for only about five pages of a book I wanted to quote and cite in an essay, but it sure was easy. If I was actually worried about Amazon yanking the license, I’d probably do a few whole books this way. But most of the Kindle books I have are read-once volumes, so what’s the point? Like you, I want to buy physical books of those I want to keep.

  11. I suspect the “ownership” issue will have to be revisited at a future date, in the meantime I really really like my Kindle.

    I’d have to agree on the keyboard wear issue – I suppose a little bit of prophylactic varnish or enamel might help there; in a way, though, the idea that the reader is *disposable* is a little bit heartening – when the really nice 3rd gen color versions are marketed I can toss the worn out b/w and buy the new one with a clear conscience.

    Another source of free reading matter is the California Digital Library, at http://www.archive.org. They have, for example, “The Log of the Snark” in PDF, ePUB, Kindle, Daily, txt, HTML and djvu.

    It looks like the same type of web server that the Smithsonian uses.

  12. The best is to get the Amazon Kindle DX. It is bigger, reads pdfs and justifies the expense of a cover, seeing as how expensive it is, to begin with. 😉

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