Amazon's Kindle

I wanted to share my thoughts on my new Amazon Kindle.  (If you don't know what  Kindle is, follow the link for some marketing literature on Amazon's pages.)

Overall, I really like the device and am quite pleased with it.  It still has a ways to go in some areas, but there's nothing that can't be overcome with a firmware upgrade (which I assume Amazon can do over the air when they need to rev the software).  While I've never been turned on by the idea of reading "glass" books, my attraction to the Kindle was the EVDO wireless download capability.  Briefly, the EVDO allows you to browse Amazon's catalog and download books over the 3G cellular network (Sprint is the carrier) and have the purchase charged to your Amazon account.  Downloads are advertised to take up to a minute, but mine have all been on the order of a few seconds.  EVDO means you don't have to be at a Wifi hotspot in order to browse the store and/or download content.  Pretty much any location in the US is suitable for downloading a book (unless you're in the middle of the desert).  So if you're about to go on a trip somewhere, you can download a bunch of stuff for the ride and not have to carry a bunch of books and papers.  Nor do you need to maintain a Sprint account -- it is handled by Amazon and the price of the transfer is included in the price of the content.  So while I've read that it is Sprint handling the EVDO, I never actually have to deal with Sprint -- there's no sign of them anywhere on the device.  For all I know it could be Verizon.

Amazon has a pretty good content catalog at the moment (not all Amazon titles are available) and you can also get a handful of magazines, newspapers, and blogs.  If you subscribe to (e.g.) a newspaper, it will download automatically to your Kindle daily (push, rather than pull).  As a bonus, even though a hardcopy book may only be available in hardcover is nevertheless discounted if you buy it in the Kindle electronic format.

Content can also be transferred directly (via USB) or emailed (for a small fee) to the device.  So if you have a pile of docs sitting in your "to read" pile,  it's easy enough to load them from your computer (the Kindle shows up as a USB disk drive).  As has been pointed out in several other places, it is surprising that PDFs are not directly supported.  Amazon has a conversion service where you can email the docs (.doc, .txt, .html, etc.) to your Kindle and they'll convert them to be Kindle-readable. If you want to convert a document yourself, then you have to use other tools (like Mobipocket Creator).  I have had mixed results with putting documents on the Kindle.  For example, the Amazon Dynamo paper rendered fine when I read it on the Kindle.  But when I tried loading up the Scala docs, they did not format so well.  Frankly, I need to be careful about who I malign (Amazon or Mobipocket Creator) because I haven't yet tracked down the exact cause or culprit.  More investigation on my part is needed in this area.

The Kindle uses "electronic paper", not LCD technology, for the display.  So it is black and white only (I don't find the lack of color to be a major drawback, but others have commented on it being a show-stopper for them).  The e-paper is nice because it apparently uses no battery to power the display except when the display is changing.  It is quite readable and probably a better quality display than comparable handheld screen technology.

The Kindle has some built in memory (approx. 180MB) and you can add an SD flash card (I put a 4GB card on mine).  So if you have a ton of content, just move it to your SD card, remove the card from the Kindle and back it up on a hard drive somewhere.  Amazon also knows what you've bought from them so if you delete a book from your Kindle or run out of space, you can get it back from them for free.

The Kindle is lightweight (10.3oz) which is one of the things that I find compelling.  In general I don't like holding hardcover books for long periods of time (it hurts my wrists), but the Kindle is as light as a paperback so I can read books that are only available in hardcover, but without the weight.

You can easily change the font size.  So far, I've found that the small is fine.

Here are my pros (+ below) and cons (- below):

+ Limited (free) web access.  You can do some basic web browsing (over the EVDO network) and there are "presets" for things like Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, Weather Underground, Yahoo Finance, ESPN, Yellow Pages, etc.  This capability is listed as "experimental".  If Amazon is at all thinking of whether to keep it or not, I cast my vote to keep it.  On this note, if you go to Google Maps using the browser, it will not work (Google Maps says that the browser is not supported).  However, the Kindle has hidden "CDMA GPS" capability in it and if you do "Alt 1" at the right place, you'll actually get a Google Map of approximately where you are (or more accurately, where the cell tower you're communicating with it located).  You can then type in various keywords and have Google Maps find the nearest <keyword thing> for you.  While the web browsing experience is not terrific, it is good enough for rudimentary things when you don't have access to a "real" browser.

+ You can play MP3s while you read, but...

- ... the MP3 player capability is limited.  You can play, stop playing, or skip to the next song.  There are no organizational capabilities (e.g. playlists) that you might expect with a player.  It would be easy for Amazon to improve this capability and I imagine they just haven't gotten around to it yet.

- You can't download MP3's from the Amazon store.  Amazon sells DRM-less MP3's.  IWBNI I could purchase them using my Kindle and then play them on it.  This seems like a fairly simple integration and I suspect they just didn't have time to get it integrated in time for release.

+ It has a built in dictionary (The New Oxford American Dictionary) which is cool enough.  But what is cooler is that if you encounter a word that you want to look up while (e.g.) reading a book, you highlight the line that it's on, click on the Lookup menu item, and out pops the definition of all the words on the line.  Hit the Back button and you're right back where you were reading before you went to the dictionary.  It's quite painless and I really like this (albeit simple) feature/integration a lot.

+ The "notes" capability is good.  You can highlight text while you're reading and then refer back to it.  You can also "mark" the "corners" of pages (like you folded them over in a book you're reading).

- The "clippings" capability would be good, but you can't edit the clippings on the Kindle (only on your computer).  I I guess I don't "get it" if there isn't an editing capability.

+ The Kindle is lightweight.  Nice.

- The buttons for Next Page, Prev Page, and Back are on both sides of the device which makes it somewhat hard to find a good place to hold it.  I (and other people who have tried mine) have found that they accidentally press one of these buttons too easily.  I think it would be easy to remedy this by adding a "Settings" control to disable some/all of these keys and to move the next/prev page capability down to some of the "Alt" key bindings on the keyboard.  e.g. If I could set the keys, I would disable the right hand Next Page button and use that side as a place to hold the device.

+/- No IMAP stack.  There's an HTTP stack on the device, so why not an IMAP stack?  If the reason is that the EVDO would start costing real money due to the increased number of bytes, then I guess I'd be willing to pay for the bytes if I could read my email.  That's the reason for the "-" that I've shown.  On the other hand, not having an IMAP stack is also a "+" because it means I won't get interrupted by email while I'm reading a book.  So this is a mixed bag.  When I want the Kindle to be a mobile device then I want the IMAP.  When I want the Kindle to be an electronic book reading platform, then IMAP is a -.

- Lack of organizational capabilities for content.  There is no simple folder (directory) structure for books and articles.  It would be nice to have a simple directory structure where I could file things.  I suspect this is something that could easily be updated with some new firmware.  After all, it is running embedded Linux and Java underneath the hood.  I'm not going to be happy when I have 22 pages of content and I can only organize it in a flat namespace.

- The manufacturing was a little bit weak.  One of the buttons was not properly aligned on my unit (I had one of the ones from the first manufacturing run).  I've been told by my friends that the improper alignment that I'm whining about is not a big deal and that they hardly notice, but nevertheless, I still expect a little bit better.

- The leather case was hidden in the box.  If I hadn't known to look for it, I might have thrown it out with the box.  It would also be nice if the leather case would attach to the back of the Kindle with some some Velcro so that I can read the Kindle with the leather cover on it.  I can't figure out if I'm supposed to be reading with the case on or off.  I'd like to read with it on to avoid the accidental button pressing problem, but it doesn't stay in the case very well so I find I have to take it out a lot of times.  Yeah, I will probably put a piece of Velcro on it myself, but IWBNI Amazon put that on for us.

- The unit can not be password protected.  I have visions of losing the unit somewhere and some joker racking up a big Amazon bill on my account when he downloads a lot of content.  Granted, all the content is DRM'd, but nevertheless, it just doesn't feel right to not be able to lock the device.

- Performance is a little slow.  It's not intolerable, but IWBNI there was better response time when the Next Page key is pressed.  There is undoubtedly a trade-off in terms of processing power vs. battery life that Amazon had to make.

Again, overall I really like the unit.  It's a novel piece of technology that I hope will last for a long time.  Congratulations Amazon.



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