I’ve been waiting roughly 10 years for a good eBook reader. In fact, I’ve even tried several times to make them myself out of ultra-mobile PCs, tablet PCs, various Linux-based devices, phones, and old disused laptops. Once I accepted that I would probably never come up with a solution that I could stick with for more than a few days, I started eyeing technology from Sony and Seiko. And then just as I came to the conclusion that the world simply wasn’t ready for eBooks yet, Amazon launched the Kindle. I had one in my cart and scheduled for next day delivery before I even fully knew what it was.
The Kindle is Amazon’s new wireless reading device. Interestingly, they don’t call it an eBook reader. They use the term "wireless reading device" which is actually very accurate, and much more descriptive. All marketing and buzzwords aside, Kindle is a device for wirelessly downloading and reading eBooks, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. It uses electronic ink for a high-contrast and power-thrifty display, and it even hints at music and web browser functionality, as well.
I’ve only been using my Kindle for about four hours, and most of that time has been spent reading, but here’s what I have to report so far:
- The screen is nice. This is the first time I’ve seen electronic ink, and I’m impressed. The contrast is good, although not as good as pure white paper. It’s more like a newspaper which, for me, is sufficient. There’s no color, and since it renders in grayscale, images are not especially exciting. But purely for reading text, it gets the job done.
- The Kindle uses "free" EVDO from Sprint to deliver your content wireless. I put the term free in quotes because to me, it feels more like the cost is built in. Yes, Amazon is the one paying Sprint (the Kindle doesn’t require any type of data plan — it’s ready to go right out of the box), but it feels to me like the bandwidth costs are built into the content you download. This isn’t a criticism of Amazon, however. It’s much better than having to pay yet another monthly subscription fee.
- All the content you download is recorded on Amazon’s servers so if your Kindle is damaged or it needs to be replaced, you can easily re-download everything you purchased (even your annotations and bookmarks are backed up!). Since the storage capacity of the Kindle is limited (180MB of internal memory which they say will store about 200 book and newspaper files), you can even delete content from your Kindle, but re-download it again later for free (the iTunes Store could learn a thing or two from the Kindle). You can also use SD to expand the Kindle’s memory essentially infinitely.
- The processor in the Kindle is a bit pokey. At least, I assume it’s the processor that is responsible for the pause when you turn pages or type. It might also be that electronic ink takes a while to render. This is my first experience with electronic ink, so I have nothing to compare it to. Regardless, I don’t find the slight sluggish feel of the device to be a detractor (although I’m sure future versions will be noticeably faster). In fact, once you get into the rhythm of reading, you know to hit the "next page" button as you start the last line of text on the page so by the time you’ve read it and your eyes are back up at the top, the page has refreshed.
- I haven’t used it enough in the real world to comment on battery life yet. Amazon claims about a week of use with the wireless turned off, and with the wireless going, you’ll need to charge it approximately every other day. I’ll probably get in the habit of plugging it in at night so I never have to worry about it, and/or turning off the wireless if I don’t think I’m going to use it for a few days.
- The Kindle isn’t all about eBooks (hence the term "wireless reading device"). You can also download newspapers (11 newspapers are currently available, 8 in the US), magazines (8 are available), and blogs (307 are available). Periodicals are automatically delivered via EVDO as soon as they are available, so your newspaper is waiting for you in the morning, and new magazine issues hit your Kindle before they hit the newsstands. Kindle also has The New Oxford American Dictionary built in so you can quickly and relatively easily look up words you don’t know. Of course, you can also bookmark, annotate, highlight, and virtually dog-ear.
- If you dig deep enough, you’ll find that the Kindle also has a few other tricks up its sleeve. You can email Word, text, HTML, or image files to your Kindle (each Kindle account gets it own email address), and for 10¢, Amazon will convert them into a format your Kindle can render, and send them to your device. You can also do this yourself for free simply by connecting your Kindle to your computer via USB and copying your Word, text, HTML, or image files into the appropriate directories on your Kindle. PDF files are experimental which means they might partially work, and they will probably work better in the future after some firmware upgrades. You can also copy MP3s over and use your Kindle to play music (this feature is no doubt in preparation for selling audio books), and there’s even a built-in web browser that you can use to pull up a few sites. The speed is more than acceptable, but the rendering is poor enough that I think sites will have to be designed specifically for the Kindle to make them worth viewing.
- The Kindle has a built-in keyboard for things like searches and annotations. It looks kind of cheap, and feels kind of cheap, but I’ve found it to be surprisingly usable. In fact, after just a few words, I found I could type much faster than the Kindle could render, however input is buffered, so eventually it catches up.
- The scroll wheel (jog dial, as Sony calls it) makes navigating relatively easy, though it could use some texture. My finger often slides on it instead of spinning it. The next page, previous page, and back buttons are conveniently placed on the sides of the device, and they feel fairly robust, though I will try my best never to drop my Kindle. The one criticism I have of the button layout is that it’s hard to pick up or handle without hitting a button that navigates away from what you wanted to look at. Buttons cover so much of its surface that it almost feels booby-trapped.
- The Kindle’s navigation system is reasonably good, though it takes getting used to. The inclination is to scroll up or down to get at previous or next pages which doesn’t work (and rightly so — this is supposed to be a book!). And the back button doesn’t work like a browser’s back button. In other words, back doesn’t take you to the last page you looked at; rather it seems to take you to the last navigation juncture, or menu. Although this is confusing, once you understand how it works, it’s pretty efficient.
- I mentioned above that the Kindle is ready to go right out of the box. I mean that quite literally. You take it out of the box, plug it in, turn it on, and start using it. Kindles are even pre-configured with your account information, so you don’t even have to enter your Amazon credentials. This was probably the simplest and best initial experience I’ve ever had with a device. It blows my mind that this Kindle was configured with my account information, boxed up and shipped to me, and I was reading the Washington Post in less than 12 hours. Amazon has this process perfected.
- Ok, so now the cost. The device itself is $399 which I frankly think is too expensive. I know Amazon is trying to both squeeze the early adopters a la Steve Jobs, and recover the millions they put in to the Kindle in R&D (for the record, I don’t have a problem with either of these tactics — they’re called "good business"), but I think they are going to find a lot of resistance at that price point. Videos on their site have testimonies from well off authors gushing about the Kindle, but the average reader is most likely going to think pretty hard before dropping $400 on something they didn’t even know they needed ($400 buys a lot of books which, incidentally, can be traded with friends). Anyway, the price will undoubtably come down once sales stagnate. The more interesting question is the price of content. Books go for $9.99 and less, newspapers go for about $9.99 per month, magazines seem to go for about $1.49 per month, and blogs cost $1.99 per month. I think all those prices are quite fair with the exception of blogs. There are a lot of things Amazon got right with the Kindle, but the decision to charge a monthly fee of almost $2 per blog is not one of them. Not only does charging to read a blog come pretty close to violating the very definition of a blog (in my liberal interpretation), but reading blogs on the Kindle isn’t even practical since you can’t follow links in any kind of a sane way. And since I read about 50 blogs on a regular basis, the idea of paying $100 per month for the privilege of reading them on my Kindle rather than for free in my very powerful RSS aggregator just isn’t appealing. I know we all want to create sustainable business models around blogs, but I don’t think this is it.
- So now the other big question: DRM. Amazon’s DRM story makes perfect sense to me. First of all, in all the videos I’ve watched and literature I’ve read on the Kindle, I haven’t seen a single mention of DRM, and quite frankly, that’s how it should be. I can see books and newspapers on my Kindle’s file system when connected to my computer via USB, but presumably if I were to copy them to another Kindle, they wouldn’t work. Fair enough. They shouldn’t. But once I’ve purchased content, I essentially own a license for it which means I can re-download it to my own registered and authorized device as many times as I want. In my experience, this is as good as DRM gets. The fact that you don’t even have to mention DRM, but it all just sort of makes sense, says it all to me. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind seeing an "all you can read" option for one monthly fee (like Rhapsody for literature), but I’m happy with the current model.
So what’s my overall impression of the Kindle? I’m very intrigued. It’s not perfect, but it would be unfair to expect it to be. The Kindle is amazingly complex when you consider the technology, content, and the business behind it. And it’s amazing how simple it all seems from the perspective of the end user. I think Amazon has outdone even Apple on this one.
The day will come when we will all have multimedia pads: devices with bright and colorful 12"-15" multi-touch flexible screens that are capable of very high contrast, very low power consumption, video, animation, etc. When that day comes, the Kindle will look like a Palm III next to an iPhone. But that day is many many years away (probably 10 to 20), and I applaud Amazon for taking the first solid step in that direction.
For the time being, I think the Kindle is going to be most successful with books. Probably not children’s books, cookbooks, field guides, or technical manuals with lots of diagrams, but simple fiction or business books which are nothing but words. I’ll use it for reading newspapers, but I’m fairly certain that condensing a newspaper down to a 6" screen just isn’t going to resonate with many newspaper readers (with the exception of people who travel frequently). Most people I know are very attached to their newspaper reading and coffee drinking ritual. Or they’re happy reading newspapers online for free. And since most magazines are more about the ads, graphics, and pictures than they are about actual content, I don’t think magazines will do particularly well, either. I’ll be shocked if more than a handful of people are willing to pay to read blogs, and you’d be crazy to browse the web or listen to MP3s on a Kindle since you probably have an iPod, iPhone, or another 3G wireless device currently within reach.
But the Kindle makes perfect sense for good old-fashioned books. I think everything that we’ve become attached to about books can be successfully replaced with the Kindle. And then, of course, there’s everything about the Kindle that is far better than standard books (on demand delivery, bookmarks, annotations, built-in dictionary, font adjustment, huge capacity, etc.). In my opinion, the biggest barrier to the Kindle becoming the best way to read books right now is the number of titles available. Of my current "to read" book list, only one title is available for the Kindle. I’m sure I’ll find plenty to keep me entertained in the meantime, but eventually the Kindle will need to become more than just a conduit for best sellers. Eventually, I’m going to need to get any book in the world on my Kindle in 60 seconds or less, or I’ll have to go back to killing trees.
Doss seem like a neat device. The biggest problem that I have with DRM is trusting that protected content will always be accessible: It’s very cool that Amazon keeps back-ups for you, but what happens to my purchases if Kindle dies in the marketplace?
“Amazon’s DRM story makes perfect sense to me.” Are you out of your mind?? If I buy a CD I can play it on any device I want (home stereo, car stereo, convert to various formats and play on an iPod, Zune, whatever). If I buy a book through Amazon, I can’t do anything except read it on my own Kindle. I can’t even read it on my home computer (if the Kindle breaks), convert it to another format (in case the Kindle tanks and Amazon drops support), print the book I want, nothing. Do I own it or not?? It’s also between difficult and impossible to put your own content on a Kindle. Why would I invest $1000’s in a digital book collection that I can’t read using anything else, or rebuy books I already own just to get a digital version? Amazon’s Kindle is a closed system and a bunch of crap until 1) they UN-DRM the content and 2) allow users to read whatever they want on it. Otherwise you don’t own a single thing in this scam. Oh I forgot you have to ‘register’ your Kindle too. Funny… that’s also what Ceaucescu did with typewriters in Romania
Great post Christian! I’m looking forward to trying this when it is available in Canada. It’d be great if it supported PDF out of the box and hopefully we’ll see non-experimental conversions soon. Are there may O’Reilly and other tech books available?
Thanks for the candid remarks. I actually don’t disagree with much of what you’ve written. In an ideal world, we would be able to have complete freedom with everything we purchase, whether it’s hardware, software, or media.
Saying that Kindle’s DRM makes perfect sense to me is different from saying that I think it’s perfect, or that I believe it gives me all the freedom I think I’m entitled to. What I mean is that it’s simple, straightforward, and frankly more flexible than I thought it would be.
It can certainly be better, but it could also most certainly be worse. Books could timeout. Content could “deactivate” after a certain number of views. Media could only be good for a single Kindle device, forcing you to buy everything again when you upgrade or replace your Kindle. Amazon didn’t have to let you sample content. Rather than keeping records of your purchases on their servers which allow you to re-download it whenever you want, Amazon could have told customers that backing up their media was their own problem, and if that media were to get lost, the only option is to buy it again.
Given how bad the Kindle’s DRM could be, I tend to think of it as pretty middle of the road. If Amazon had waited until all the parties involved (authors, publishers, customers) were ready for a completely open and DRM-free system, we would probably have to wait at least another 10 years to see anything come out. At least Amazon was able to pull something together, and it’s up to the market to determine where things go from here.
Also, keep in mind that media on the Kindle costs less than physical media. I tend to think of the rights that I’m giving up as being proportionate to the amount of money I’m saving. It’s true that I can’t do anything I want with media purchased through my Kindle, but it’s also true that I pay less for it, and it’s far more convenient than traditional media. To me, it’s probably worth it. Time will tell.
The only statement of yours that I flat out disagree with is this: “It’s also between difficult and impossible to put your own content on a Kindle.” So far, I’ve found putting my own content on my Kindle to be very simple. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support all the formats I’d like it to, but it supports several common formats, and I believe that other formats will be better supported in the future.
There are currently 4,566 technical titles available for the Kindle. You can view them here:
It doesn’t look like any are O’Reilly books. I’m hoping Amazon is working with O’Reilly to make their entire library available very soon.
Content availability is definitely the biggest problem with the Kindle right now, but to some extent, it’s to be expected this early on. As long as new titles are added on a regular basis, I willing to give them time to expand their offerings.
on the contrary I would love to use it for cooking recipes and knitting instructions! I could see it being used very well for either. I can image there are other crafts or hobbies others might have use to put instructions in it as well.
Christian, I would be really interested to know about the content you’re putting on the Kindle. What are the source formats, are you emailing them to Amazon for auto-conversion, and in particular, are you emailing PDF’s? I’d like to scan my own paperback books into PDF format and read them on the Kindle. I’ve seen mixed feedback on mobileread.com about doing that. Some say no problem, some say the converted files contain errors. Also, can you get content OFF of the Kindle and onto your PC and read it from your PC? I want to have a backup on my home computer. I’ve also read that if you rename an .azw file to .mobi, you’d be able to open it through the free Mobipocket reader (see mobipocket.com). Thanks for any feedback on that subject. I am dying for an ebook, but I can’t do it unless I can convert my own content and read Amazon-purchased content on something else e.g. my home computer (and even print it if I choose).
Eventually, Im going to need to get any book in the world on my Kindle in 60 seconds or less
Ive been waiting roughly 10 years for a good eBook reader. In fact, Ive even tried several times to make them myself out of ultra-mobile PCs, tablet PCs, various Linux-based devices, phones, and old disused laptops.
a must read re…
Actually, the refresh rate is slow. Very slow. That’s why it has the separate LCD strip running up the side of the page. No way to make something like a mouse cursor work with eInk.
pixie wrote: Also, can you get content OFF of the Kindle and onto your PC and read it from your PC? I want to have a backup on my home computer.
A Kindle has 256 MB of flash memory, plus whatever SD card the user installs. If that is enough memory to serve as a backup for your computer, a thumb drive could do the same job for much less.
I love the idea of the Kindle, don’t get me wrong, but it probably won’t do for backing stuff up.
As an educator, I am intrigued by the possibility of using e-books to replace standard textbooks in the classroom. I have been ever since the first e-book readers were introduced back in the early ’90s. The idea of unburdening student backs and eliminating locker congestion sends shivers of pure joy up my spine! But $400 is a stiff price to pay for this possibility, especially since textbooks from Amazon will probably be just as expensive as the print equivalents, namely, more expensive than any other print media. Textbook publications provide the widest margin of profit available in the publishing world. And, as your review points out, graphics and illustrations do not fare well on the Kindle. I would love to see development lean toward a larger screen with color potential, the ability to display PDF documents, easy import of personal content, and other useful features for making e-textbooks a reality, alongside some of the great features the Kindle is offering. Like the Hiebook reader that died a marketing death after about a year of sales, the screen should be able to rotate its display, but with e-ink this may not be feasible. It would be great to sit in on the planning and designing of one of these!
I was quite interested in this. The purchase price is a bit steep. Once I saw the high price of the books and that they were infected with DRM I knew I wouldn’t be getting one. $10 for an electronic book? I’ll take a physical book I can lend to others any day.
What if you can’t find a physical copy of the book you want at a price you’re willing to pay? I’ve spent so much time tracking down used copies of out-of-print books, and there are some title by some authors that I’d gladly pay $5-10 to be able to read right this second. That’s what sells it for me.
My use of magazines, periodicals and blogs is to clip the interesting articles and throw the rest away. To echo a previous question, have you found it possible to get content (i.e. clippings) off the kindle on to the PC?
One thing about “owning” a paper version of a magazine or newspaper is being able to clip the article for archival.
You can “clip” content and archive it on the Kindle. You can also get at that clipped content by connecting your Kindle to your computer. I don’t know if it’s readable, though. I suspect it’s not since that would be an easy way around the DRM. (Unfortunately my Kindle is packed for a trip I’m taking in the morning, so I can’t verify — I’ll check soon.)
You’re really meant to interact with Kindle content only through the Kindle, just like you’re meant to interact with physical media only through the paper on which it’s printed. You can therefore clip and annotate all you want, but you have to use the Kindle to get at it.
Just a note about “clipped” content. The Kindle saves the clippings in .TXT format, so when they are downloaded to your PC they are easily readable, printable, or whatever.
In fact, ALL your bookmarks, annotations, highlights, and whole pages of clippings are all in the “My Clippings” file.
One more thing you may not know about Kindle: Up to six Kindles can share the content from one Amazon.com account. A family could easily have one account, and download the content onto separate readers for each family member.
“It can certainly be better, but it could also most certainly be worse. Books could timeout. Content could “deactivate” after a certain number of views…”
Making the argument that a particular implimentation of DRM is acceptable because “it could be worse” is like saying that someone who murders their wife is still a “good enough” person, because after all he could have murdered his entire family, but decided to just kill the wife.
DRM is always unacceptable. Period. When you buy a product, you OWN it. Meaning you have the right to use it how you see fit. That doesn’t give you the right to make copies to redistribute, but you most certainly should be able to use it as you please without asking for permission first.
If I buy a physical book at the bookstore, and was told by the publisher that I was only allowed to read it within my home, and never take it outside, everyone would agree that’s insane. Yet when someone sells an e-book with DRM, that’s essentially what they’re telling you — you can only read this when and where we say you can.
The Kindle had quite a bit of potential — if it would read books in standard, non-DRM ridden formats like unencrypted PDF, it would be useful. Moreover, all content should be stored on the device itself, so you don’t have to trust Amazon to support the device forever in order to use it and read your content. Sure, you can use the memory expansion for this, but with DRM and authentication schemes in play, the user can never trust their content to such a device.
I’m with the Free Software Foundation on this one: Amazon’s Kindle is a “swindle”…
man, i really WANT this to succeed. i’ve been a fan and customer of amazon since the early days. the lack info about mac compatibility has me regretfully putting this in the “no, not yet” pile, though. maybe the 2.0 will be the one i want.
Has bought to itself Amazon Kindle, long changed, but after reading reviews was solved and I do not regret. Has come across a site where reviews on Amazon Kindle are collected.
Can to whom it is useful.
Put the newspaper underneath the wood and the paperback books. Light it with a lighter and watch it catch on fire! That in essence describes the Kindle and the future of the publishing industry.
A good movie to watch is Farenheight 411
Libraries should offer free digital books which can be downloaded on the Kindle!