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Kindle First Impressions

February 1, 2008


My Kindle arrived last night, and I’ve had just enough time with it to form some early impressions.

Physical

Yes, the thing is butt ugly. It badly needs a pass through Apple’s industrial design group. Or even Dell’s. But that’s okay, it’s early days, and you buy it to read ebooks, not look cool. That’s why you have the iPhone.

I’m a little more concerned about the build quality — the buttons, particularly the Previous/Next/Back paddle buttons, feel a little fragile. I’m not sure if they are, but I’m a little nervous about how many times I’m going to click them before they stop responding.

Worse, you can’t avoid the things. Between the big navigation buttons, and the keyboard, there is very little room to grab or hold the unit without hitting a button.


While the keyboard might be useful, it’s not something you’re using a lot; this thing just begs for a slider keyboard, and a bit of shrinking of the navigation paddles to allow for more gripping room.

Outside of that, it’s light and reasonably comfortable to hold, and you can do most reading with either hand.

Functional

The E-Ink is exactly what I’d expected — fairly easy to read in low light, although I’d still like a lighting option of some kind. Characters are crisp and clean, and it (as has often been said) is much like reading a paper book.

The page turn flash / delay is fairly minimal — it seems faster than the new generation Sony that I’ve played with in the stores. It’s a bit disconcerting the first few times you turn a page, but after that I didn’t notice it.

The add-ons are interesting — you can look up words in a fairly comprehensive dictionary, or on wikipedia, and you can browse and purchase books from right on the device, but the navigation involves using the goofy “scroll wheel” built into the unit. Again, it’s nothing difficult or that you won’t get used to, it just feels a little clunky and not-well-thought-out.

Online and Purchase

I haven’t had much of a chance to play with the EVDO connection — I get essentially no reception in my office. I had to carry it into another room to get my first book order (from the web store, not the device) delivered.

Speaking of the web store, Amazon’s still got a bit of sorting out to do. I went down through my “to buy” wishlist and found several books that I’d been meaning to pick up that had Kindle editions. I’d then click the Kindle edition link, and click “buy it now”.

As a result, I was surprised when a book got delivered that wasn’t on my list. It turns out the Kindle Edition link for that book went to the Kindle Edition of another book entirely. I’ve submitted a complaint to Amazon, and they’ll hopefully get it sorted out.

Non-Amazon Books

I’m an ebook fan, and have been reading them on and off on a variety of PDAs and phones over the years. As a result, I’ve got a pile of old books, most of them in my preferred format, Mobipocket.

Happily, Mobipocket appears to be the Kindle’s native format (the books you buy from Amazon are Mobipocket with DRM enabled). No real surprise there as Amazon now owns Mobipocket.

Hooking the (included) USB cable up to the Kindle and my computer, I was able to drag a handful of (non-DRM’d) Mobipocket books into the “Documents” directory of the Kindle. Unplugging it, all of my books turned up and were indistinguishable from the ones bought from Amazon. Excellent.

The Damn DRM

There’s a lot of moaning and gnashing of teeth right now over the Kindle’s DRM, about equally divided between those who think it’s the equivalent of the iPod / iTunes Music Store, and thus evil, and those who feel that it’s not analogous to Apple’s offering — and thus evil. Both groups seem to feel that this means the death of the ebook (as if most people ever realized it was alive to begin with) and contrary to (Amazon head) Bezo’s public statements against DRM.

Baloney.

I don’t like DRM any more than the next guy, but face it, anybody launching a service like this is going to have to offer the publishers DRM to get them to start offering content. By locking it down so that DRM books can only come from Amazon, they may be doing us all a favor.

Assuming the Kindle actually catches on (if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter anyway), this means that all of the other ebook outlets are going to have to offer non-DRM’d content in order to get access to the Kindle market. There are more than a few excellent niche ebook outlets that already do so, and if the economic incentive is there, you can bet there will be more of them.

If that should happen, then Amazon will have the kind of leverage and incentive to remove DRM that Apple is trying to exert on iTMS content providers.

This is a good thing, and reason enough alone to cheer the Kindle on.

The Experience

Clunky looks, wonky design, DRM, warts and all, the whole point of this device is to read books.

So how is it?

Actually, it’s quite good. I dove into the new Charles Stross novel, and (aside from accidentally hitting a nav button when I didn’t mean to) I found that the mechanics of the device were quite unobtrusive, something that’s not usually the case when I read ebooks. It was a pleasure to use, and I didn’t give it any more thought than I usually give a paper book.

Which is how it should be.

Summary

I’m still a bit nervous about the fragility of the device, and it’d be nice if it had looks and an interface that didn’t actually register in negative numbers on the “cool” chart. But it’s a nice book reading experience, and that’s really the bottom line.

I’m happy with it — although I suspect I’ll be happier with its descendants, should it live long enough to have any.

Amazon Kindle Ebook Reader

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Comments

3 Responses to “Kindle First Impressions”

  1. Jessica on March 3rd, 2008 9:15 am

    Thanks for the detailed review.
    I want one even though it’s not very pretty. I like the functionality–and getting away from using so much paper.

  2. carldec on March 6th, 2008 8:51 am

    I played with one of these at Launchpad the other day… and I was not impressed. I cant touch the darn thing without hitting a button. Yikes.

    Your right. I would love to see what Ives at the apple design center could produce in about 24 hours of hard work.

    But…

    the good news is I am sure that Apple is going to do something in this space… but its going to be on the iphone/itouch platform. Amazon and Apple are not as tight as Apple and Google so I doubt they will adopt the Amazon way of doing this task.

  3. Chuck Lawson on March 6th, 2008 9:27 am

    About the buttons thing… Yeah.

    But the funny thing is (maybe 40 – 50 books read on it now), I don’t have a problem with the buttons anymore. Typically, the buttons are a problem when you’re picking it up or putting it down, but you very quickly get in the habit of locking the screen when you put the thing down anyway, so the issue goes away real fast.

    Yeah, I expect Apple to get in this space too — it’s getting to where Jobs saying that he sees no value in a market has almost become an announcement of intent (portable video, phone, etc.)… lol

    I love the iPhone screen, and it’d make a great book reader, but for longer sessions, I really do prefer the e-ink screen on the Kindle. OTOH, the iPhone is always with me, the Kindle isn’t.

    What I’d love to see (not that we’ll ever see it) would be Mobipocket (my favorite ebook reader for years now, and the underlying format on the Kindle to boot) ported to the iPhone / iPod Touch, with iTunes used to sync both it and the Kindle, along with “last read” pointers in the same manner as they’re done now with audiobooks and podcasts.

    That way I could just pick up whichever device was handy, and continue reading where I left off.

    Not that it’ll ever happen.

    Oh well. If the Kindle gets obsoleted, no problem; I’ve dropped more money than this on various devices to read ebooks over the years, and this time (with the discount on books in Kindle format), I’ve probably come close to saving back the investment already.

    – Chuck

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