Recently I received a Kindle as an early Christmas gift. Given last week’s talk of e-readers and comic books (and John’s inexplicable urge to put anything I write on this website), I thought I’d give you some impressions.

Overall: The new Kindle is about as thick as a cheap pocket calculator and roughly the size of a larger paperback. For an easy reference based on this audience, roughly the length and width of the paperback zombie survival guide. The viewable screen is about 2/3s of that, meaning you can get as much on a page as you would with a cheap paperback. A large version is available, which has more buttons and such, but that’s about all I got on it.

Cases are available, but I’ve had mine bouncing around in my manpurse with a netbook and a number of notebooks, power adapters, etc. and it’s held up just fine. The screen is slightly recessed from the outside casing, meaning that something is much more likely to come against the white plastic case or (relatively scratch resistant) metallic backing. Overall the device is pleasing to the eye and inoffensive, which is what you want from something you’re going to stare at for hours. I got a number of impressed comments while reading in line.

The USB cable with power outlet dongle is also slim and easy to store. Kindle can charge off the wall socket or your PC. I let the power adapter live on my nightstand because I never really plan on merging my Kindle and PC.

Use: The other 33 and 1/3% of the Kindle is taken up by a small thumb keyboard (which is surprisingly useful and comfortable, even to a relatively new thumb-typer such as myself), and page-turn buttons are present on both sides (to accommodate you right-handed mutants out there). Navigation is done with these, and a home button, as well as a menu, back, and 5-way digital nub placed on the lower right. All of these work quickly and easily in conjunction with the keyboard and page buttons, and the functionality is very intuitive. I never glanced at the manual before I was up and running with books. Navigating a book is very easy, and the Kindle pretty much always saves your place (I even archived and re-downloaded a couple to test this. It still had my place covered). Battery life is almost indefinite, particularly if you turn WiFi off (running with wifi and reading heavily I ran a full charge down in about four or five days), and powering off and on (which disables input from the buttons for travel and changes the image to something arty and literary) is both fast and virtually impossible to do by accident.

Shopping on the Kindle is dangerously easy. Once amazon 1-click is active (the Kindle can do this for you at registration, as a way for amazon to leech the moneys form you with greater efficiency), all you do is select a book and hit buy. There’s even an “oops I screwed up” button to un-buy a book you just mistakenly bought. Shopping looks and feels just like the regular amazon format, complete with reviews. The Kindle’s 3G network isn’t stunning but it serves the purpose. I had some delay loading menus (and one connectivity hang on a busy college campus), but every purchased book arrived in well under a minute. Amazon’s touting the Whispernet technology on the Kindle everywhere, and it is pretty much witchcraft. Pricing runs from free to $10, which I feel is fair. Yes, I can get some of these books used for $4 or less, but Xbox classics downloads says hi. If you’re the guy who’s going to save two or three bucks buying used paperbacks, you aren’t shelling out the price of a Wii for an eReader to begin with.

Stuff to use it with: Selection on newer books is pretty decent. The latest Stephen King book is showing up in my Kindle on Christmas Eve, and the new Jim Butcher (as well as his back catalog) is available. Most bestsellers are out there, but more obscure titles are a crapshoot. My test search (Glen Cook’s The Black Company) returned no results, though Neal Stephenson, Crichton, King, etc. all turn up with a number of works. Anything within of the public domain is available, though, with one of two options. A professionally formatted version is made available cheaply (I picked up all of Mark Twain’s writings for $0.99, for example, and Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, etc. are available in similar settings). A number of free editions of these books exist as well, put together by volunteers. One could very easily run through the classics for next to nothing, and have enough material to read for years, if not decades. A number of new books are released with temporarily low sale-prices (some for free) as well. YMMV on these.

I was asked by many people about adding ebooks to the Kindle outside of Amazon’s proprietary (and heavily DRMed) format. The Kindle does support .MOBI, .PRC, and .TXT natively, and adding them is as simple as dragging and dropping into the right folder after connecting the Kindle to a computer via USB. Amazon also offers a file conversion service for .Doc/DocX, PDF, RTF, structured HTML, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files. These all involve a bizarre process involving emailing files to amazon that seems oddly like attempting some kind of alchemy. For this to go directly to your Kindle, a fee is assessed, however that can be avoided by receiving the e-mails to your PC and transferring them via USB.

Like a savage.

The Kindle does other stuff, none of which I (or you) should care about. My iPhone is already a better web browser and .MP3 player (and I have no intend of clogging the Kindle’s 2gb of storage with audio files). Text to voice is an interesting feature, but is as yet untested on my device. Most of these features are classified as experimental, so expect a bit of jankiness.

Final Thoughts: Ok, 900ish words on functionality, it’s time for some opinion. For me this device is fantastic. I’ve picked up about half of my books for the semester on it, and the idea of taking a svelte 10 oz reader to class instead of a stack of novels is appealing. I also read a lot, and while stanza on my iPhone is lovely, it does not do the blog, magazine, or newspaper subscriptions the Kindle does (which generally run $1-$3 a month and provide a ton of new content. Newspapers can be significantly spendier, stick with an AP feed on your phone unless you need the post). I also work off of my phone, and being able to read without sucking that battery dry is useful. I also like the lighter load for travel.

For the average gadget-enthusiast on this site, you might prefer the nook or the Sony reader. While both have their own share of gripes, they tend to be a bit more open than Amazon’s offering formatwise, which is exchanged (from what I can tell) for ease of use. If you’re looking for a gift or something that just goes without a lot of thought, this device totally does that.

My final opinion, recommended, though test out the other readers and make sure 1: you don’t fall in love with one of those 2: you wouldn’t be happier with a library card and $259 in other gadgetry. For the audience that will use it, this is a great little device.

Now, I need to finish reading Metagame.


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11 Responses to On Kindling

  1. Ian (DJI) says:

    “Amazon also offers a file conversion service for .Doc/DocX, PDF, RTF, structured HTML, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files. These all involve a bizarre process involving emailing files to amazon that seems oddly like attempting some kind of alchemy. For this to go directly to your Kindle, a fee is assessed, however that can be avoided by receiving the e-mails to your PC and transferring them via USB.”

    Hooooly fuck, really? And I thought Media Go was bad.

    2011: PNY assesses a fee to transfer anything to their USB drives….and charges .02 every time their RAM is accessed on any PC.

  2. Lard says:

    Have fun getting your books yanked while don’t notice (ala Animal Farm)

  3. Hilden says:

    Damn it. I’ve been on the fence with this little gadget for a long time now. Your article has got me leaning more and more to picking one of these up. Damn it.

  4. Lard says:

    Something that may be of interest

    Effs Ebook Buyer’s Guide

    Regarding the EULA of the Kindle

    “In other words, your Kindle will periodically send information about you to Amazon. But exactly what information is sent? Amazon’s wording — “information related to the content on your Device and your use of it” — reads so broadly that it appears to allow Amazon to track all content that users put on the device, regardless of whether that content is purchased from Amazon. Some security researchers have indicated that the Kindle may even be tracking its users’ GPS locations. Is this the future of reading? “

  5. John says:

    Oh noes!

    *rabble, rabble, rabble*

  6. phneri says:

    Dear god my Kindle is letting Amazon e-stalk me! Kill it! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!

    …wait, that’s retarded and any actual serious tracking would turn that 4-5 day battery life into something like a PSP’s.


    Yeah, the DRM thing happened. I find it no less ridiculous than any other thing that has occurred with DRM. I didn’t stop buying iPods because Apple’s DRM borked mine for 3 weeks before they updated the firmware. I also don’t refuse to buy Steam games even though they could in theory do exactly what Amazon did here.

    They gave everyone a “whoops, our bad” and promised not to be as trigger happy when people use their device to steal stuff. Meh. Lame, but no more than anything else that’s happened with gadgetry lately.

    Hilden, it’s totally not a device for everyone, and Stanza is quite awesome in its own way. But yeah, if you like the idea and want to lug around a mountain of books all the time it’s great. I love it for those random 20 minutes between appointments. Having an instant copy of whatever my students are reading available is kind of handy, too.

  7. Arvandor says:

    I love my Kindle oh so very much. Carrying a library of nearly one-thousand books around with me in such a compact device is very awesome, especially if you go on long motorcycle cruises like I do, where storage space is a premium and 2-3 books might not last you for a two-week trip.

    There are a couple minor things I love about my Kindle that I don’t think would get talked about much, so I’ll do it instead.

    -Ever finished a book only to realize it’s the first in a series with no way to get to a bookstore anytime in the near future? I have, and it sucks. Unless you’re in BFE without cell-phone reception, you can just download the next book straight to your kindle.

    -Goofy position friendly. If I “sit down” to read a book. I might start reading in the recliner, but soon may be laying on the floor on my stomach, then partially upside-down on the beanbag chair, then on my back in bed, then in the banana-chair. Being able to easily read the kindle with one hand has been quite a boon for this style of reading =)

    Oh, and for those of you without some irrational and strange aversion to connecting your Kindle to your computer, Carbonite is an amazing (and free) little program. It’ll convert many different filetypes to Kindle compatable .mobi files. Handy for those with massive collections from public domain sites such as Guttenberg. It’s also handy for keeping track of more massive electronic libraries.

  8. Brian Pederson says:

    Hilden, definitely look into the Kindle 2 over the Kindle DX. I have the Kindle DX because of work (at the time it was the only Kindle that had native PDF reading capabilities) and it’s a fine device but a bit unwieldy to handle one-handed. The Kindle 2 should have the same PDF reading abilities now with a friendlier button setup, better weight, and a slightly smaller screen.

    Personally I use it for popcorn reads such as the aforementioned Jim Butcher novels and it’s wonderful for that kind of stuff. Occasionally a publisher screws up and goes with a weird font or formatting decisions but they seem relatively rare.

  9. Lard says:

    Come on John, cut me some slack.

    It’s better to have an idea about these sorts of things *before* you buy a piece of technology, isn’t it?

  10. John says:

    Just busting balls, sir. But truth be told, what you quoted in the EULA doesn’t bother me at all. If the thing sprouts a camera and starts watching me while I poop, then I might be concerned…or aroused.

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