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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.