Best e-book device on the market. For now. This is not an iPad. Nor is the iPad a Kindle (updated: Oct 20, Nov 11, Feb 26 2011)
Combination of product and price make it perhaps the e-book device on the market. Just don't confuse it with the iPad. Rest of 1700 word review is first impressions and more. Updated Oct 20, Nov 11, and Feb 26 2011. Comparison with/of iBooks, iPad, Kindle Apps.
I had never used an e-book reader before. Not even a borrowed one. My closest encounter had been in an airplane, seeing a passenger seated with an e-book reader (most likely the Kindle, or perhaps the Barnes & Noble Nook reader) as I walked up the aisle to my seat. So there was a lot to see and take in when I got my Kindle device (Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest Generation).
1. First impressions.
The device is small and feels very light in your hands. Dainty might be one word to describe it. Though this is not to suggest that it is flimsy. It feels well-built and sturdy. This is important because you do not want to feel that the seemingly bargain bottom price of $139 means the device is "cheap" or that build quality has been compromised to meet that price. Whether or not the device is actually going to last is quite another thing, but first impressions are first impressions. The page buttons, two on either side of the Kindle, are easy enough to operate, and silent. No deafening 'click' to resonate in the room every time you flip a digital page. There is a small keyboard at the bottom. The keys are circular. And tiny. But enough spaced apart that typing is easy enough. But requires a little practice.
There is a micro-USB slot at the bottom of the Kindle that you can use to connect to your computer. The other end of the cable that ships with the Kindle allows you to plug the device into the computer for charging or for transferring content. The other end also connects into a power adapter that you can plug into your wall socket to charge the Kindle. Neat. Also present is a slot for the headphones to listen to a book, or to music, and a power-sleep-wake slider that also serves as a battery level indicator. Yellow when running, and green when fully charged.
If you have never seen "e-ink" on a device before, then be prepared to be surprised. Why? Because it does really feel like printed paper. Almost. The words almost feel printed on semi-glossy paper. They are that crystal clear. And sharp. You are almost tempted to poke at the words to see if they will peel off. Don't. You don't want to be messing up the display. Leave that bit to the dog. Or the kids. Or that accidental coffee spill. The e-ink display also means that there is no glare. You don't have to adjust the device to avoid the glare of sunlight or even the room light. If the room is well lit then the display appears bright. Not washed out. If the light is low, then you feel the need to turn up the light. This is not a backlit display, so it has to rely on external light to make the text visible. Which also means less strain on the eyes. That has to be a good thing.
One quirk of the e-ink technology is that when you turn a page, the whole page turns 'negative' for a mili-second before the new page is displayed. It's disconcerting at first, but after a few times it sort of recedes into the background, and you don't notice it. When reading a book. However, if you are using the Kindle for other purposes, such as changing the settings, or synching, or adding books to a collection, you will notice that there is a slight flicker as items and text and pictures on the page refresh or change. This is likely a function of both the e-ink technology as well as the processor speed on the Kindle. Again, not an issue if you are reading, but a little bothersome otherwise.
4. Reading On Monitors, Or Not
Over the past several years we have got used to doing a fair bit of reading on computer screens. On CRT monitors to begin with, and for close to 10 years now on LCD panels. These are all backlit, and the glare can be irritating, and it can be stressful to the eyes. Yet we all spend 10 hours a day or more with our eyes glued to these screens. Whether coding, or emailing, or creating spreadsheets or documents or presentations, or surfing. One thing we don't still do on computer screens is read. Read sequentially that is. We peck and surf. Read a few lines in an email. Hit the reply button. Type in a reply. Hit Send. Alt-tab to the presentation. Add a few lines of text. Hit Ctrl+M to create a new slide. Add more text. Alt-tab to Facebook. Read the latest posts. Click the "Like" button. Alt-Tab to email. And so on. When was the last time you opened a PDF of the user guide that you have been meaning to read for the last one year? And spent an hour going over the manual from the first page onwards? Not very often. And even when you really, really needed to read the guide what do you end up doing? Print the first two chapters and read the paper copy, don't you? Or that 15 page requirements doc? Print it out, read it, red-line it as needed, jot some points, note some questions. Do you really use that Microsoft Word "Review" feature? Well, sometimes. But not very often.
5. Reading on the Kindle
So how is the reading experience on the Kindle? Once you have got over the excitement of having a new electronic toy in your hands? Surprisingly good. To begin with I read a short story, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", which is available for free as a Kindle book. The wonderful thing is that I got the book on my device in under a minute, and after fiddling a bit with the settings, like changing the text size, I started reading. Less than an hour later, I had finished reading the book. And I now finally understood what Cypher really meant when he told Neo, "It means fasten your seat belt Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye." (The Matrix (1999) - Memorable quotes, The Matrix (10th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray], The Matrix). And I also realized that the reading experience had been very unobtrusive. No glare. No strain on the eyes. This was good.
6. What can't you read on the Kindle?
Simply put, there are certain kinds of books that you should not read on the Kindle. Firstly, books with color in them. Color photographs. Color graphs. Color not for color's sake, but color that is relevant. The Kindle renders only black, white, and gray. No color. Secondly, books with lots of illustrations. True, the Kindle renders graphics. And does a neat job of them. But the Kindle is really not the device for illustrations.
7. The Kindle Vs the iPad
The Kindle is no tablet computing device. It's no iPad. It cannot, and should not aspire to be an iPad. It does not either, which is good. The iPad is not a Kindle either. You can get the Kindle reader for the iPad. But the iPad is not really a specialized reading device. It's fabulous for a hundred other things. And if one of those hundred things that you do on the iPad is also reading, then fine. No issues. You will get by. But if you require a specialized reading device, then go for the Kindle. If you want your Kindle to be also your web browsing device, then it's not going to work out. Even though the Kindle contains a Webkit browser, it's best avoided. The flicker that I described above is going to render browsing pretty much a futile task. And yes, you will miss the swipe, the flick, the pinching, the double-tapping on the Kindle. You may **want** these gestures on the Kindle, but you probably do not **need** them.
8. Do you own your books?
The Kindle features DRM (Digital Rights Management), which means that the books are in a proprietary format on the Kindle. When you purchase a book for the Kindle, it comes with restrictions. You cannot share that book with others. Ten years from now you are reasonably sure to still have that first edition Harry Potter hardcover, but there is no guarantee that you will still have that book on your Kindle. Of course, one could argue that firstly, your paper book is going to yellow with age, it is going to get dog eared, it is going to deteriorate with time, none of which is going to happen to your digital book, which is going to be as new and as crisp on its hundredth reading as the first. Secondly, Amazon is more likely to be in business ten years from now than some of its competitors, so there is little reason to believe that Amazon would go and do something silly to hurt its image and customers. On the other hand, the whole concept of DRM goes against what printed books have stood for for centuries. A book can be lent to friends, loaned by a library, resold, all without restrictions, and without fear of an overarching, overbearing big-brother looking over your shoulder. Maybe Amazon wants to sell digital books without DRM, and the publishers are the villains in the saga. Or maybe not. It doesn't really matter in the end. The end is still the same. You buy the book, but you never really own the book.
In summary, the Kindle is perhaps the most perfect e-book reader on the market today. However, five years from now, whether it will survive as this standalone, dedicated e-book reader is debatable. Also, five years from now, the e-book reader itself will likely look very different from the Kindle of 2010. It may have color. It may have zero transition irritants. It may not have DRM.
The combination of the device and the price make it, in my opinion, a very, very good product from Amazon.
10. UPDATE: OCT 20, 2010
Task Usability * *
For certain tasks, there are usability irritants with the Kindle:
- If you have several items in your "home" screen, and you want to move them to different folders, you have to do it one at a time. This means, scroll down to highlight a book; click the right button on the navigator button; select "Add to collection..." and press "Enter"; scroll down to the collection; press "Enter"; press the "Back" button; press the "Back" button again; and do this for every single item you want to move to a folder.
- You cannot manage your Kindle items from the Kindle app for Windows. Which is too bad, since these tasks would be much easier done on a computer.
- You miss tags. You may want to categorize a book based on several tags. For example, I may want to mark a book as a "sample" and "fiction" at the same time. With a foldering metaphor for organizing content, you are stuck.
Reading Experience * * * * *
The reading experience, after more than a month and several hundred pages (or is it "locations"), I will reiterate: the reading experience is "invisible". The Kindle retreats into the background. It's the e-inked word and you.
11. UPDATE: NOV 11 2010
11.A Kindle App for the iPad vs. iBooks on the iPad
- Little to choose between Kindle App and iBooks on the iPad as far as interface is concerned.
- Both allow you to flip through pages using the tap or swipe gesture.
- Both have menus that disappear as you read, but popup at a tap.
- Both allow you to place ribbon shaped bookmarks.
- Both have sliders that you can use to jump to any place in the book.
- Both allow you to change the font size and the brightness of the display.
- However, when it comes to font size adjustment, you can select from a list of font sizes on the Kindle app.
- On iBooks you basically tap the larger font icon to successively increase the font size, and the smaller font icon to reduce the size. Works but not as intuitive.
- iBooks has a beautiful bookshelf metaphor as its library interface. Every book you add to your library is placed on this virtual bookshelf. Looks very nice.You miss this on the physical Kindle.
11.B Kindle Device vs. iBooks and iPad
- The iPad is so gorgeous a device. It allows you to do so many things with it, that I suspect others, like I did, fiddling and getting distracted with the device than actual reading, which may well take a backseat.
- The temptation to multi-task when reading on the iPad is simply be too great.
- The Kindle device lets you read; the iPad is more suited to surfing.
- I miss touch gestures on the Kindle. I would like to use my finger to tap on a specific location on the page to start highlighting it, or to mark an annotation, etc... The navigation button is not as convenient.
- Page flipping and reading:
-- The iPad is most certainly heavier than the Kindle.
-- You absolutely cannot expect to read a book by holding the iPad in your hand for any length of time.
-- You cannot hold the iPad in one hand and maneuver your fingers to flip or swipe to the next page. Just won't work.
-- The weight of the iPad and the slipperiness of the glass screen will cause the device to slip through and clanker to the floor. Goodbye iPad.
-- With the Kindle, holding it in one hand and flipping to the next or previous page is very, very easy.
-- Because the Kindle is light enough for you to do this, and secondly because the next and back buttons are very conveniently placed close to where you hand and fingers would be when reading, and thirdly because the matte finish of the device means it won't suddenly slide and slip from your grip.
- Reading strain: the e-ink technology on the Kindle makes for a very, very stress free reading experience on your eyes. Backlit LCDs are just not that good for reading. That we still spend 10+ hours a day in front of such screens is quite another thing.
- In summary, for reading books, the Kindle wins hands down over the iPad. The Kindle does the best job when it comes to reading. For other purposes, even for browsing and buying books, or social networking, etc... the iPad beats the Kindle every single time.
Update Feb 26, 2011
Some likes and dislikes after almost 6 months of usage:
--- Reading books is really a joy. You can read for hours without feeling the strain.
--- I have read on the Kindle app on the iPod Touch, iPad, iBooks on the iPad, and in every single case the **reading** experience on the physical Kindle trumps these apps.
--- Lightweight. A big plus here. You can read holding the Kindle in one hand without feeling the strain.
--- The absence of a good UI to manage your library on the Kindle. If you download and have 100 books or more on your Kindle, and want to arrange and tag them, the Kindle software sucks. It really offers no usable way to do so. Imagine you download Jane Austen's works, and want to place them into three collections: fiction, classics, and Jane Austen; you will likely give up the task in frustration before completion. This is a HUGE drawback presently.
--- No sub-foldering/sub-collections.
--- The Kindle sometimes takes as long as 5-10 seconds when you highlight a section and press "Enter" to save it. Not always, but sometimes. And it is inexplicable.
--- Absence of color. For certain types of books the grayscale photos simply don't work.
--- No support for specific fonts. No matter what the font face of the original paper edition, the Kindle renders it in generic font faces like Seriff, Sans-Seriff, Courier etc... Which takes away from those things that gives books some of their uniqueness.
--- No easy way to navigate within the book. Say you want to flip ahead 50 pages, or 150 locations. The absence of a touch slider hurts. You have to go through the menu and use "go to".
--- Touch interface. In some cases a touch interface would help. It will likely appear in the Kindle v4 or v5, but that's cold comfort for current owners.