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Gadget Review: Amazon Kindle

In the last few months, 2-Speed Labs has been inundated with a virtual tractor-trailer load of new gadgets.  I hope to review many of these over the coming weeks for your dissecting pleasure.  Having just completed my second book on Amazon’s new Kindle, though, and with thoughts about the device fresh on my mind, I thought I’d start with this uber cool gadget.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Kindle, it’s Amazon’s take on an e-book reader.  It has many of the same features of other e-book readers – storage for many books; nice electronic ink (E-Ink) display; searchable content; etc.  It has phenomenal battery life, even better (much) with the radio off.  I read a book plus a variety of downloaded articles on a single charge – and I read at the speed of a kindergartner. 

What’s really cool about the device is that it adds what Amazon calls Whispernet.  Basically, it’s a one-way cell phone (EV-DO radio service using Sprint) built into the Kindle to download books, periodicals and some other web stuff.  While you can’t place calls on the Kindle, the data browsing and download capability is very cool.  There is no periodic charge for use, either.  Projected use is loaded into the up-front cost of the reader.

Of course, this always on (well, optionally on) data connection makes it super easy to browse Amazon’s library of books in Kindle form (there are a surprising number of books already available – well over 100,000) and to download them instantly.  Since the most expensive book is $9.99, this probably won’t break you.  Although the hefty $359 (recently reduced from $399) outlay for the device might.

One can also subscribe to a few magazines and newspapers (for a fee, of course) and have the journals automatically sent to their kindle as soon as they are available.  Newspapers are delivered early in the morning so even early birds don’t have to wait on the front step with slippers, robe and coffee for the newspaper delivery person to show up.  From what I can tell, the New York Times works well in its current Kindle format, others have a bit of catching up to do.

When you register your Kindle, you get two email addresses.  As you send certain documents to these addresses, Amazon will convert the documents into a format that the Kindle understands and either email the resulting document to your computer or pass it to your Kindle over Whispernet.  There is no charge for the document to be emailed to you (you can transfer it to the Kindle yourself once you get it), but Amazon charges $0.10 for each document sent directly to your Kindle.

There are several blogs that also can be subscribed to, if you don’t mind paying to read blog posts.  There are also a few “experimental” features that include a web browser and an MP3 player.

The problem with the web browser and blog reader is that the Kindle is set up to work with pages – like those in a book.  It doesn’t handle HTML frames, or large web-oriented page information nicely.  Even though there is a scroll wheel of sorts, it doesn’t move a cursor or viewing area up and down like you think of in a mouse and browser paradigm on a computer.  Instead, the previous and next buttons are used (as in previous and next page).  It’s difficult to explain, but it’s just not what you’re used to doing in the context of a normal web browser or blog reader.

None of that should detract from the experience of reading books on the device, though.  The bottom line is that I really like reading with the Kindle.  I like carrying multiple books in limited space (and weight); I like the ease of acquiring new books; and I like the idea of saving a tree here and there.

I think there can be a few improvements made, though . . .

  1. I still think in paper pages and there is no indication of what page I’m on.  That is, a page number corresponding to the page in the actual, printed book.  Since the text size can be changed you don’t necessarily see a page as it was originally set in the bound book.  There is a visual guide (dots) to give you a sense of how far into the book you are and a “location,” that is an index of where you are (although the index is not with respect to the number of locations in the entire book).  Neither of these indicators correspond to the actual book, though.  I’d like the Kindle to tell me what page I’m on from the book.  Since the text size I like is fairly large, I might be on the same book page for several kindle pages.  Until I am a complete convert, this type of indicator would be nice.
  2. While paying for blogs seems absurd, I understand that there is variable airtime involved using Whispernet.  I’d pay for a few, select blogs that I read if the price were reasonable (read: minimal) and they were available.  The selection right now is very limited.
  3. Well, I should note that 2, above, would be true if the blog browsing/reading experience were better.  Let me use the scroll wheel to navigate up and down the page and the experience will be more natural.
  4. The same thing is true for web browsing but, additionally, links have to be easier to “click on” and CSS styles/HTML frames need to be rendered better.  Again, I understand that Amazon doesn’t want to encourage more airtime use, but offering a broken browser doesn’t seem to the the way to control it.
  5. Some .doc and .pdf files aren’t very readable when translated by Amazon and sent to the Kindle.  A few of mine even got to the Kindle in hexadecimal format.  Since the Kindle is a great device for reading business stuff on the run, it would be great if this was working better soon.

Again, for it’s main purpose, though, I love this thing.  If you’re even a casual reader, the Kindle is a great addition to your library.  If you’re a traveler, you’ll quickly become an addict.  Highly recommended.

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 July 21st, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 7 Comments

7 Responses to Gadget Review: Amazon Kindle

  1. Pingback: Pages tagged "the frames"

  2. I looked at one of these, I think, at Costco. I am especially intriqued by the device’s use of electronic paper. What I noticed though, and what put me off buying it, was the hysteresis in the display. Not really bad, but noticeable enough, to make me think, wait for the next generation version.

    So apparently (according to you) the readiblity is good enough for the long haul. I was a little concerned about that.

    Though I like the tactile characteristics of a good book, it can be quite a chore hauling around a Tom Clancy novel and one or two other smaller books when traveling.

    I think that the newspapers should seriously look into porting their content to this device. It does have many of the qualities of paper based reading, but can probably help them cut many of their variable costs in delivering said content.

  3. I looked at one of these, I think, at Costco. I am especially intriqued by the device’s use of electronic paper. What I noticed though, and what put me off buying it, was the hysteresis in the display. Not really bad, but noticeable enough, to make me think, wait for the next generation version.

    So apparently (according to you) the readiblity is good enough for the long haul. I was a little concerned about that.

    Though I like the tactile characteristics of a good book, it can be quite a chore hauling around a Tom Clancy novel and one or two other smaller books when traveling.

    I think that the newspapers should seriously look into porting their content to this device. It does have many of the qualities of paper based reading, but can probably help them cut many of their variable costs in delivering said content.

  4. John,

    Virtually no hysteresis, although the display needs to be erased during each page turn. This involves the entire screen flashing black for a split second. A bit weird, but you get completely used to it and look forward to it as a page turn.

    I totally agree about the feel of a book. Like you say, though, one can probably get used to the change if it might prevent you from getting tendinitis.

    I forgot to mention that the Kindle probably won’t work well on the beach or for reading while on a treadmill/stairclimber/exercise cycle. Sand and sweat are notoriously bad with such devices.

  5. John,

    Virtually no hysteresis, although the display needs to be erased during each page turn. This involves the entire screen flashing black for a split second. A bit weird, but you get completely used to it and look forward to it as a page turn.

    I totally agree about the feel of a book. Like you say, though, one can probably get used to the change if it might prevent you from getting tendinitis.

    I forgot to mention that the Kindle probably won’t work well on the beach or for reading while on a treadmill/stairclimber/exercise cycle. Sand and sweat are notoriously bad with such devices.

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