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Kindle Review

November 20, 2007

Got my Kindle today and have been playing with it for a little while. FYI, I’ve owned a Sony Reader since the day it shipped, too. I’ve always loved to read, and as a result, I’m usually reading multiple books at once. I think I’m currently partway through at least 10 of them, so when I travel, it’s hard to know what kind of mood I’ll be in and I have to pack lots. And they’re heavy. A device like the Kindle or Reader is the holy grail for someone like me, plus I’m a gadget geek, so I’m always an early adopter.

I’ve loved my Sony Reader, the device itself, since I bought it. But the Sony Connect software is so unbelievably bad, I can’t really bring myself to use it. Combined with a terrible selection of books, the Reader has been mostly worthless, despite being a fairly great device. Which is really sad. When I heard the Kindle had the ability to just buy books with a click, no software required, I knew I had to at least give it a try.

Here’s a brief rundown of my thoughts so far:

  • It’s not ugly. I’ve been moaning to everyone who would listen that it’s an ugly device for awhile now, but in person, it’s actually small, light, and understated. It’s certainly not an Apple-designed wonder, but it’s hardly ugly, either. And I find I enjoy reading on the white device (Kindle) more than the black one (Reader), probably due to the contrast or maybe just the white gets “out of the way” more easily, letting me slip into the book.
  • The display is gorgeous, just like the Reader. I have zero problems with it. I’m already used to the lag when you change pages from using the Reader, and I found that after just a few days of using the Reader, I was already hitting the Next Page button early enough so the page turned just when I wanted it to.
  • The scroll thing is very cool and fun to use. I got some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here at the office as worked it’s magic.
  • The Next/Prev page buttons are much nicer than the ones on my Reader.
  • The EVDO works like magic. Buying books online with a click, no software required, is the killer feature here, and it’s perfect.
  • It comes pre-associated to your Amazon account, so there’s no configuration. Just pick it up, turn it on, and start browsing & buying. *Very* cool.
  • The book selection sucks. There are big gaps, even for well-known bestselling books. Having worked in the book industry before, I put most of this blame in publisher’s laps. They’re just a nightmare to deal with, and paranoid about their content. Apparently they don’t want my money or yours, and even Amazon doesn’t have the weight to make them see reason. Shades of the music, TV, and movie industries, anyone? This must be incredibly frustrating to Jeff and everyone else at Amazon.
  • The web browser worked surprisingly well in the few minutes I used it. But at Amazon.com, I was getting some strange results. Using my Mac’s browser, I searched for a product and quickly found it. But on the Kindle, it failed to turn up the same results, even when I searched for very specific words in the title and description. I was hoping to buy it from my Kindle, but alas, I had to do it the old fashioned way.

More about the book selection… Wanting to have a reference library on my Kindle, I started looking for some of my favorites I refer to often. I searched for Good to Great, my all time favorite business book, first and instead managed to find a weighty tome of eight papal social encyclicals that I could buy for the low low price of $100.80. Built to Last isn’t there either. Pour Your Heart Into It? Nope. Innovator’s Dilemma? Nope. They did have The Wisdom of Crowds and The Culture Code, both of which I bought.

On to a personal favorite category of mine, historical fiction, I knew they’d have James Clavell’s Shogun – but it wasn’t to be. Nor most of Colleen McCullough’s awesome Masters of Rome series, though luckily The October Horse is available (and now on my Kindle). Fine, how about history – Guns, Germs & Steel. Bzzt, no joy. How about the best book ever written on health & nutrition – The China Study? Nope, none of that either. (They did have another excellent book, the Omnivore’s Dilemma). Luckily they did have my favorite fantasy author of all time, George R.R. Martin, and his Song of Ice and Fire books.

There were some strange ones, too. For example, they do have The Daring Book for Girls – but not The Dangerous Book for Boys. And you would be surprised at how many of my search terms turned up weighty, expensive scholarly works rather than the books and novels I was looking for.

Bottom line: I love the device, I love the Kindle Store interface, I just wish the selection was better. I believe it’ll be a permanent resident in my laptop bag, going everywhere I go, but it looks like I’ll still be forced to lug around some dead trees. 😦

UPDATE: Spent quite a bit more time with it last night doing what it’s really supposed to be used for – reading – instead of playing with all the whiz-bang features. I curled up on the couch with Jedi and the Kindle and got lost in The October Horse. And I’ve gotta tell you – it’s a much better device than the Sony Reader in lots of subtle ways:

  • The Next Page buttons are in *much* better places and are much easier to use than the Reader. I tend to curl up on my side to read a lot, switching sides every 15-30 minutes, and the Kindle is easy and natural to hold in such a way that turning to the next page is very easy.
  • I was right about the white color – it makes it easier to sink into reading as well as read the text. The device does almost get out of the way better than the Reader because it’s white.
  • The flicker when you turn pages is still mildly annoying, just like it is on the Reader, and distracts you from completely sinking into the book… at first. Just like the Reader, though, a couple of pages in, your brain has magically figured out the right timing to turn the pages at precisely the right time so the flicker happens as your eyes are traveling from the bottom-right to the top-left of the page. Then the flicker feels no more jarring than turning a page on a dead tree.
  • The cover sucks for reading. Seems like it’s probably great for when I throw it in my laptop bag, but the Sony Reader’s cover is a much better fit, less bulky, etc. I guess the Kindle’s cover needs to be sorta bulky so it can prop the book up for optimal EVDO range, but it still sucks. Take it off to read – it just gets in the way.
  • The text, just like the Reader, is just as easy to read as any book. I have the font on the smallest setting, to minimize page turns, and it’s beautiful and legible. That part of the experience is literally almost indistinguishable from reading a book.

More as I get it… 🙂

Categories: amazon, personal
  1. November 21, 2007 at 5:36 am

    Great review, Don. Good to hear from someone who own (and loved) the Sony reader. Thanks.

  2. Joel
    November 21, 2007 at 8:04 am

    WOW finally a good review. I ordered one and reading all the negative feedback from sites I respect, I have already printed out the return label. Perhaps I should have it a try….

  3. K Allan Ward MD 'alwynbilly"
    November 21, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks, good review! I am interested in how this unfolds. I am a power reader, a huge Amazon customer and travel a lot, so I am looking for the “ultimate” pocket rocket: mp3 player, web browser, reader, small camera/motion recorder with GPS, and (maybe) voice communication, built into a watch format. So far, the closest thing to what I want was the late, great IPAQ 3715, which had some but not all in a transportable, friendly package, but not a great screen or keypad. In the words of Allen Toussaint, “am I expecting too much?”

  4. Faramarz
    November 21, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Hi There. I followed through Michaels link at TechCrunch to read your review and I have to be honest. Your white-on-black theme is making my eyes bleed. I stopped reading after the ‘Sonny reader…’

    Sorry to rant like this but it’s a criticism I hope you take constructively. Cheers

  5. Aboga
    November 22, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    Why has everyone overlooked Amazon’s greedy requirement that you must PAY to convert PDFs etc to a format which can be read by this device? It is not possible to simply put a PDF etc on the Kindle. For this reason alone – though there are others – it should be avoided.

  6. Danno Bonano
    November 22, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    I can view PDF’s on my iPhone. Plus, as a web browser, it is truly horrible. For novels, newspapers and magazines, it may be worth a marginal try. Unlike something like the iPod that can play any MP3, you are tied in directly to Amazon. Wait until Apple reveals it’s ultralight touch tablet that will have an eBook app as well as office, web browsing, etc.. And you won’t be tied into one eBook format as it will accept PDF’s and other open formats. This is a novelty for most and a costly one at that.

  7. November 23, 2007 at 11:40 am

    The lack of PDF is a huge loss for me……

    I’ve been using Skim on OS X to edit and mark up PDFs and it’s a BIG win for me… having this on a Kindle style device would be a life saver.

    In fact.. Skim with a directory of .PDF files is BETTER than a kindle IMO….


  8. rick gregory
    November 23, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks for the review. The selection issue is my major concern with any reader… the comparisons to an iPod usually ignore that I could load music from my own CDs onto the iPod and with little effort have hundreds of songs. I can’t do that with an ebook reader. Now, if the silly publishers would get out of the way and let me download an ebook version of anything I’ve bought (at least through Amazon and other online stores) we might get somewhere.

    The lack of PDf support doesn’t bother me – PDFs are a terrible way to read ebooks precisely BECAUSE the replicate a printed page. ebooks need to work well on a variety of devices with different screen sizes and even aspect ratios.

  9. Steven
    November 23, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    You guys are wrong about the PDF support. It’s available, but it’s experimental, and requires conversion to MOBI format, and you can do that conversion on your computer and transfer it to the Kindle via USB or SD card.

    From what I’ve read about PDF on the Sony Reader, it sucks, and for that reason it’s probably better not to have it at all because PDF doesn’t work well for eBooks due to the specific way that most PDF documents are formatted for 8.5×11″ sizes. This was originally a dealbreaker for me too, but I just ordered my Kindle and I’m excited to get it (when it finally comes, since they’re backordered since it’s so freaking popular!).

    Since the Kindle is built on Linux, it will be very easy to hack/upgrade, so it’s only a matter of time before it becomes everything that it currently isn’t. And for a device $100 more than the Sony Reader, it’s pretty amazing that it has free, always-on broadband internet. No device has ever done that before, so it’s pretty revolutionary. Maybe someday we’ll see an iPod with an always-on EVDO connection included.

  10. Jen
    November 25, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    Just wanted to say the newest version of the reader (PRS 505) comes in dark blue and silver, the silver might be a better choice to “fade away.”

    I’ve also been toying with the Reader vs. Kindle decision, can you buy books from Amazon on your pc and then transfer them to the Kindle?

  11. Darryl
    November 27, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Huh — I was thinking about this earlier — surely O’Reilly & Associates has made their vast collection of technical books available? Because c’mon, wouldn’t an an e-reader filled with a bunch of O’Reilly books make sense for a system administrator, hacker or programmer?

    Remarkably, a search in the Kindle Store (via the web, for I refuse to be an early sucker, er, adopter) for ‘cookbook’, turns up nothing in the Computers & Internet section but “Switch-Mode Power Supply SPICE Cookbook”. And what about the venerable Perl books? Nope, not there either.


  12. November 27, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    Just thought you might want some insight from a publisher (albeit a small one) as to why you’re not seeing a much deeper range of content on the Kindle.
    The most obvious reason is that the publisher may not have the relevant rights. While recent contracts might cover ebook rights, when you’re talking about a decades-old book it may still be being published under a deal which predated that consideration. Those rights would have to be negotiated with the copyright holder, and when you have a big backlist that can be a lot of work.
    Plus, even when you have the rights, getting the book’s files and converting them over may not be trivial. This is even true for recent technical books, where you may have a variety of diagrams that don’t convert over easily. It’s easy to wait until the device proves to have a market.

    –Nat Gertler
    About Comics
    (And we’ve just put up our first Kindle book – a collection of cartoons about teenagers buy the creator of Peanuts! Schulz’s Youth )

  13. Annoyed@trolls
    November 28, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Annoyed@Don, take a long walk off a short pier, loser.

    Don, you said:

    And I find I enjoy reading on the white device (Kindle) more than the black one (Reader), probably due to the contrast or maybe just the white gets “out of the way” more easily, letting me slip into the book.

    I have to say, I sort of laughed at this sentence considering the white text on black background here. Someone above mentioned “eyes bleeding.” Well, yeah. Mine too, except I squinted to stop the bleeding. I assure you that if the Kindle had white on black, nobody would buy it. Just some unsolicited constructive criticism.

    I wish the Kindle were (a lot) cheaper, because it definitely has my interest–but I won’t be an early adopter at this price. (I sure wish I got to beta test it, though!)

  14. booklver
    December 1, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Great review! You are right about the selection,but it does have a wider range than the sony reader. hopefully they will expand in the future.my cousin has one but i think ill wait to buy one untill the price goes down.

  15. Computer User 10
    December 10, 2007 at 10:43 am

    White text on a black background (inverse mode) would be welcome on the Kindle; that’s how I normally read online. It depends on what a person is used to.

  16. Aerogal
    December 21, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I am considering a kindle for my husband – we are both avid readers and he is enamored with anything new, small, electronic. What I must truly thank you for is not only the thorough review, but your BOOK list. I recognized several of my husband’s books, and I have always bombed out choosing for him. I printed off your review and now also have a great list for the next few years of shopping for him. Thanks so very much.

  17. Jo
    January 20, 2008 at 11:32 am

    why would anyone buy this? won’t hold a charge more than a day. you can’t read charts or graphs or view most pictures. mine was a gift. wish the giver had saved their $400.

  18. March 1, 2008 at 2:00 am

    I read the review twice and write a review myself also. Considering buying second kindle for my friend. 🙂

  19. nightswade
    March 1, 2008 at 9:14 am

    People need to just take the KINDLE as it was intended and made for and that is as “Jeff Bezos” says “A BOOK READER” !! not a juke box, not pc, it was made for one purpose and that was to read a book. why do people always have to try to change some thing into some thing else. if you want a music player stick with a mp3 player, if you want your emails and word documents stick with a pc. it vary simple as black and white ,day and night.. nobody being forced to spend $400 as my self i bought my kindle because i love to read. now when i want to listen to music i turn on the radio and if i want to send an email i turn on my pc ,when i want to see beautiful colors i turn on the TV and DVD player, but when i want to read i either pick up a book as was intended or my kindle and i READ the WORDS. sorry if this may insult people but it just seems like every other post about the kindle is about some one trying to turn the kindle into some thing it is not, and the sooner people except it and give it a chance the better people will realize it is a good reading device and work superbly at what it was made to do.

  20. Tomek
    June 11, 2009 at 2:57 am

    Uhh, Man. They charge .10 cents. Its not greed. Consider the device cost 4,000 conversions. You should be targeting your moral standards towards the fact the kindle ebook store is kindle locked in. That's unfair.

  21. December 16, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Great review! You are right about the selection,but it does have a wider range than the sony reader. hopefully they will expand in the future.my cousin has one but i think ill wait to buy one untill the price goes down.

  22. December 16, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    i like it for this post. thanks for this share

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