Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kindle eBook Review

I have been pumped on ebooks for a long time. I want to be able to carry all of my books with me in a lightweight form, take notes digitally, look up words in a dictionary instantly, and allow trees to stay in forests. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a model released yet that I liked enough to buy.

Amazon recently released their ebook called the Kindle selling at $400. It is currently out of stock, but appears to be popular as it is currently the #1 best seller in Electronics on Amazon and they are going for between $500 and $600 on eBay.

I haven't purchased one yet, but I have taken a look at reviews at Engadget, Forbes, and Newsweek among others (and a Charlie Rose interview). Here is what I think about it.

1) All the standard reasons to buy an e-ink device. They are easier on your eyes and you can read them for hours without strain because they reflect light rather than give it off (as a computer screen does) and they have a high pixel density (167 ppi). They require no power to display a page, only to turn the page, so the battery lasts for a long time.

2) EVDO wireless connection. The Kindle uses Sprint's cellular data network, so wherever you can get cellphone access, you can access Amazon's system and download new books to your Kindle. You can be sitting on the beach and still get that new book you really want. You don't need a PC or WiFi access to use the Kindle. This is one of a new breed of devices that connect to the web and don't require a PC at all. Expect to see more.

The device only holds 200 books, but who cares because Amazon backs up everything you bought on their servers, and since you can access the internet wherever you are, you have access to all of your books.

3) The Kindle has a built in dictionary, search ability, and allows you to highlight passages of text and add notes. These are all great features that I was disappointed to see that the Sony Ebook reader was lacking. These are all abilities that you can't get with a regular book so this really adds value to those who are willing to give up on dead trees.

4) Download any book in less that 60 seconds. I know that some people look for books at a Barnes and Noble and then go home and buy it on Amazon to save some money, but that was never me. I am the exact opposite. I use Amazon's customer reviews and recommendations to find a book that I really wanted to read. But then I don't have the patience to wait 3 days for it to arrive in the mail, so I go to Barnes and Noble and buy it that day. Being able to hear of a new book and then have access to it a minute later is insanely great.

5) $10 price point for new books. Finally, digital prices that are significantly lower the physical version. New books cost about $25, while the Kindle version is only $10. I think this is a fair price. Digital books should be cheaper because you can't sell it to someone once you are done as you can with a physical version. The price for books on Sony's system was too high.

Older books don't drop down in price enough though. Something in paperback should be $3-5 rather than the $7-9 Amazon is charging. There are some older books at a cheaper price, such as Walden for $2.39, but that pricing should be extended to a lot more books.

6) Access to newspapers, blogs and magazines. While the selection is sparse, being able to read the newspaper and not have it take up your entire table would be nice. This makes reading the newspaper on the bus and other forms of public transportation so much easier.

Now you can have one device to read all of your written material on. And with the EVDO connection, your newspaper is delivered automatically to the device every morning, and you get the latest blog posts whenever you check.

7) Small LCD screen for selections. The one problem with the e-ink is that it can take a second or two to display a new image. The Kindle added a small LCD section that allows you to change font size or do a search without having the delay of e-ink. From the reviews it looks like Amazon nailed this.

Room for improvement:
1) Screen is too small. There just isn't much text that shows up on the screen. You will be turning pages like crazy. If there are images or graphs, they will be scrunched down and hard to view.

2) Book selection is too small. I wrote about the short tail of selection previously, but worth stating again that the 90,000 books available for the Kindle are just 2.4% of Amazon's 3.7 million book inventory. There is no Harry Potter, no Lord of the Rings, and few books older than 5 years old. This is better than Sony's offering but still not good enough.

With an iPod you still had access to your old library of music by ripping your CDs to MP3 files. There is no way to do this with books, so you might not have access (even if you are willing to pay again) to books that you have already purchased (though you might be able to find a version through file sharing).

3) Looks like ass (no offense to Arnold Schwarzenegger and other ass lovers out there). This thing wouldn't have looked good even in the '90s. Seriously, Amazon you need to steal a few engineers from Apple and make something that people want to show off to their friends. Philippe Starck calls it "a little sad".

This is not really surprising given that Amazon is an internet retailer, not a hardware manufacturer. What they ought to do is allow other companies to create devices that are compatible with their system, such as Apple (well ok, not Apple), HP, or iRiver.

4) Better support for .pdf and other open source formats. Currently you have to email your .pdf file to Amazon which they convert and send to your device wirelessly for 10¢. Because Amazon uses their own proprietary format, this conversion doesn't always work well (and because the screen is too small, it is hard to convert 8.5" x 11" material to begin with). There is tons of .pdf content out there and it would be great to view them on the Kindle rather than having to print them out or view them on a computer screen.

5) Ability to check out the Kindle in person before buying. Right now the only place to buy one is Amazon. They should get these things in every Sprint store out there and maybe another retailer like Sharper Image. I really want to get my hands on one, but the only way to do that is to buy it or to hope a friend buys it and lets me check it out.

6) Flat fee for newspaper and blog subscriptions. Instead of charging per newspaper, give access to all newspapers in the US for $15 a month. Add in any and all blogs you want for another $5-10. You are limited by time anyway as to how much you can read. I laid this idea out before in my One Stop Online Newspaper Viewing post, and really the Kindle is the perfect device to implement it with.

I would also like a subscription plan for unlimited access to books, similar to what Netflix does for movies or Rhapsody does for music. Pay $20 a month for access to any book that Amazon has in its library. If you average 2 books or more a month then it works out in your favor. But, it also works out in Amazon's (and the author's) favor because you are likely to read a lot more and pay more in total (but less per book) then you would have if you paid by the book.

7) Add WiFi. The EVDO wireless connection is neat, but it is also expensive to use. So, you are charged for getting a blog on the device, where you can get the same content for free on the internet. I would rather have free blog updates that I had to sync via USB cable to get, rather than spend $1 to $2 a blog a month to have them automatically downloaded via EVDO.

Also, you must be in an area with access to Sprint's EVDO system in order to use it. If you happen to live in a dead spot, like my apartment or all of Montana, you are out of luck. If they added WiFi to the device, you could still access the internet, but do so in a less expensive manner and have access in more locations.

8) Integration with Google. Ok, I am probably the only one who wants this, but I would love to save the notes I take on the Kindle into Google Notebook. And it would be great to be able to view blogs either on the Kindle or on a PC and have Google Reader know which posts I have already read. Using these tools would also save Amazon from having to create them themselves.

I am torn. On the one hand, the service Amazon created is pretty cool, giving you access to books and blogs in a portable fashion with access wherever you are and a decent price on content. You have a dictionary and an encyclopedia available and the ability to take notes digitally. You can easily take many books with you when you travel. On the other hand, the screen is too small, the selection of books is too small, and it doesn't really work with .pdfs.

I am on the fence as to whether I take the plunge now or wait another year hoping they fix some of the problems and lower the price. Hopefully someone I know will buy one so I can check it out and decide which way to go.


multiple addresses for one contact. said...

Take my advice -- order one post haste. It'll take six weeks to arrive anyway and you can always cancel the order, or for that matter return the Kindle to Amazon (in original box & packing please) for a full refund if you really don't think it was worth it.

In my case, I love my Kindle, and would protect it like I would my own life. I carry it everywhere -- to the john, to bed where it is the only "book" I have ever found I could read in bed (and I charge it every night right next to my bed so I can leave the wireless on at all times). I love to take it with me to a restaurant, where I usually can read undisturbed before or after I get my food.

I now have 72 books on my Kindle, and I will download hundreds more for free of out of copyright ebooks with the world's classic from, which I can now actually own although long out of print. Fantastic!

So order your Kindle -- you will love it and won't ever regret the purchase price. It's really worth it.

Charles Wilkes, San Jose, Calif.

Anonymous said...

I bought an Eee PC instead. I'm using it now to read the RSS feeds in bed. Is that decadent?

multiple addresses for one contact. said...

I bought an eee asus pc at the same time as I did my Kindle, and got the eee first. I worked with it until I just gave up in disgust. The keys are too small, I don't know how to use linux and missed everything I could do in Windows, and the battery didn't last any length at all before dying.

Then my Kindle came. The battery lasts for 10 days, it was totally wireless and din't need a wifi hot spot or anything else. I could hold many books that I got both from Kindle, and for free from which has out of copyright ebooks for free.

As soon as I understood both, I sent back my eee asus to Amazon where I bought it, and have already gotten my refund. And as far as I am concerned, good ridance. Of course I have a regular PC at home and didn't need the eee except for traveling, where it was just no good. But my Kindle works everywhere, and I love it.

Charles Wilkes, San Jose, Calif.

Fat Knowledge said...


I love my Kindle, and would protect it like I would my own life.

Wow! Can't get much more of a positive review than that.

Ok, you sold me. I went ahead and ordered one. I also clued in and realized that if they are selling for $5-600 on eBay, even if I don't like it, I can just turn around and sell it for an extra $100. Sounds good to me.


I think the Eee is pretty cool, but for me they handle different niches. I want something to read books on for hours at a time. For my eyes I couldn't do that with the Eee or any other LCD screen. But, being able to browse from bed does sound cool. :)

Oh, and would it be too much to ask for you to add a full text RSS feed to your blog? I like reading your stuff, but I hate having to go from my RSS reader to your site to read each post.

Anonymous said...

That's funny. I prefer full text in the feeds I read, but for some reason I thought people would only want a heads-up on what I was thinking. I flipped a switch, but apparently I need to go find a plugin later to cure a Wordpress idiosyncrasy.

On the equivalence of Eee PCs and eBook readers ... I was considering both, and Charles was considering both. When two things compete for the same dollars and the same customers, that's kind of the definition of "competition."

I could use some battery life, sure. But I also like watching Youtubes as I read. I like the notebook style screen. So it is a trade off, perhaps one shaped differently for me because I can touch-type on this thing (I wear size "L" gloves, but maybe have small fingertips).

I visualized an eBook reader full of books, but ... I don't really know why that doesn't concern me so much. Because I'm finding so many excellent blogs? Economists are really getting into it.

Maybe it's just because the city library is too good.

Fat Knowledge said...


Thanks for changing your RSS feed. I appreciate that.

As for Kindle vs. Eee, for me I am looking for a way to digitize what I am reading. I do read a lot of books, and I would really love to have a dictionary available for words I don't know, to be able to copy passages out of the book, to take notes on the book right as I am reading, to be able to read on the device for hours without my eyes getting tired and to have instant access to any book I want to read. So the Eee is really not a competitor for the features I am looking for.

At the moment I am happy with my laptop for browsing the web, viewing blogs, viewing youtube and writing emails. It is portable enough for me. But, maybe in the future I will want something more portable than a laptop, but more functional than a cellphone. Then I will definitely put the Eee on the short list of things to buy.

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