So, about six weeks ago, I bought an Amazon Kindle. How do I feel about it? Let me cut to the chase:
The first week or so, I wasn’t sure it was the life-changing thing Jeff Bezos and Oprah made it out to be, but man was I wrong. I love my Kindle (and, just to be clear, I’m not being paid to say this, have no connection with Amazon and have no stake in the Kindle’s success in any way, shape or form — I’m just a newly minted True Believer, won over by a seriously cool piece of hardware).
If you do a lot of traveling, just go buy one. Now. If you love books, at least consider it, even if you never spend any time in airports. If you have the scratch, go buy one even if you hate to read. Yes, it’s that cool.
The fact that you can carry around an entire library everywhere you go is just incredible. Heck, the fact that you can carry around all of George R.R. Martin’s Ice and Fire series (well, as much of it as he’s written so far!) without giving yourself a hernia is amazing. Miraculously, all books are now, for me, the same size and weight (which probably drives designers mad but now means I don’t have to think about whether I want to lug some meaty tome around in my backpack — I just read what I want, when I want).
I mean, I just love this thing.
- For starters, it makes it easy to buy books — almost too easy, if you’re as weak-willed as I am. Yeah, yeah, you can go to Amazon, turn on 1-click and get a “real” book pretty easily, but there’s nothing that compares with downloading a sample chapter of a book (takes about ten seconds), reading said sample, ordering the whole book and just, well, reading.
- If you’re feeling cheap, there are several websites that offer tons of books in Kindle format for free — the usual Project Gutenberg fare, plus some legit publishers clearly trying to get authors in front of readers by offering their work for free. (You know, the “first one’s free” concept…)
- If you wear glasses shout a few hosannas ’cause you can adjust the Kindle’s font size at will.
- If you tire of the book you’re reading, open up another one. You can skip from book to book as mood and whim dictate.
- If you want to immerse yourself, the e-ink stuff (which I now think of as pure magic) allows you to read for hours. Just like a real book. Try THAT on your cell phone or laptop. I’ve done it. It doesn’t work. by contrast, you can stare at the Kindle screen for hours without eye strain. The only downside to the e-ink screen is a distracting reverse-image flash that appears every time the screen updates (i.e., when you “turn” the page). However, to my surprise, I stopped noticing it completely after just a few days — the virtual page-turn happens quickly and it’s almost as if you just naturally blink when you update the screen. The annoying flash isn’t much more distracting than turning a page in a “real” book and, for me, is no longer an issue. In fact (and I know this is heresy) I think I actually prefer reading on the Kindle to reading a “real” book… And I’m a guy who LOVES real books. (Just ask the folks who’ve had to help me and my wife move all of our books. It ain’t pretty…)
- The battery life is good enough that I couldn’t tell you how long the battery lasts — I’ve never run it down far enough to have a clue.
- You can add notes, highlight sections of text and look words up in the included dictionary or online.
- Plus, the Kindle works pretty well as an audiobook player and general music player. Nifty secondary features, to be sure.
So, is the Kindle perfect? No way.
There are some wacky UI and form factor issues that should have been addressed before the product shipped.
- It’s simply way too easy to press the Next Page or Previous Page buttons by mistake (though, to be fair, I got used to the buttons pretty quickly and now find this to be much less of a problem than I expected it to be).
- The keyboard, split in half, with the space bar on one side, is a total hack and not very useful.
- The scroll wheel takes some getting used to and having to access menus and use the wheel and the keyboard (sigh!) certainly makes it tougher to take notes or highlight stuff or look things up than I’d like.
- Deleting content should be a one-step process but it actually takes several steps, which is a royal pain.
- Determining how much space stuff takes up on the device is still a mystery to me.
- A lot of people think the Kindle looks clunky (though I kinda like it, and it feels good and fits nicely in my hands).
- Graphics are not good. It takes a longish time to change pages when the contents of the page you’re going to contains a graphic. And once the screen loads, images don’t look good at all. Graphics display — slowly — in grainy grayscale only, which is at best suboptimal.
- Finally, who thought it was a good idea to put the tiny on/off switch (and wifi switch) on the back? That’s a real pain, especially when the device is in its protective cover, which makes reaching the back difficult, at best, and far too often results in the battery cover falling off. (And, for the record, the battery cover is always coming off — probably my biggest peeve.)
Let me be clear: All of these problems don’t, as they say, amount to a hill of beans. For a first generation device, they add up to “minorly annoying” at most. The Kindle’s downsides are trivial and far outweighed by the pluses outlined above. And there’s still that one, great, unprecedented thing about it that trumps everything else: You Can Carry An Entire Library With You Wherever You Go! This simple fact makes the Kindle one of the coolest devices I’ve played with since I got my first iPod.
If you’re still not sold, let me just put this into perspective for you by sharing what’s on my Kindle right now: The complete works of Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. P. Lovecraft, Carey Rockwell (i.e., the Tom Corbett: Space Cadet series. Hey, it got me started reading SF books…), Mark Twain and S. S. Van Dine (author of the Philo Vance mysteries).
Oh, yeah, I have a few other books on my Kindle, too:
- Doc Sidhe by Aaron Allston
- Edge of the Jungle, The Log of the Sun by William Beebe
- Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm
- One Shot by James Blish
- My Own Kind of Freedom by Steven Brust
- Sketchbook: Concepts from the Virtual World by Don Carson
- Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin (I’m reading this right now and so far so fascinating.)
- Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
- The Beautiful and the Damned, The Great Gatsby, The Pat Hobby Stories, Tender is the Night, This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Walt Disney: American Dreamer by Neal Gabler
- Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (Read this. Now. Not quite up to the standard set by The Tipping Point, but very, very close, utterly fascinating and better than Blink.)
- Space Prison by Tom Godwin
- Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
- Conan the Barbarian Omnibus by Robert E. Howard
- Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
- The Cosmic Expense Account by C.M. Kornbluth
- Retief! by Keith Laumer
- The Aliens by Murray Leinster
- Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig
- Fevre Dream, Game of Thrones, Storm of Swords, Clash of Kings, Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
- Inside Straight edited by George R.R. Martin (and including a story by my lovely wife, Caroline Spector.)
- Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- Vintage Murakami by Haruki Murakami
- The Antichrist, Beyond Good and Evil, Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
- Common Sense by Thomas Paine
- Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess by Bruce Pandolfini
- A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink (Please read this! Terrific, terrific book. If you’re a game developer, it will likely change the way you think about what you do — at the very least it’ll confirm that what we do is right in line with changing cultural needs.)
- The Cosmic Computer, Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper
- Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds (another book I’m actively reading, which should make everyone who’s had to sit through one of my bullet-point and text-heavy talks very, very happy!)
- Adaptation by Mack Reynolds
- Topper, Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith
- TOON: The Cartoon Roleplaying by Warren Spector (!)
- The Big Bounce by Walter Tevis
- Have You Seen by David Thomson
- Anna Karenina, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- The Coming Technological Singularity by Vernor Vinge
- Metropolis by Thea von Harbou
- Dream Factories and Radio Pictures by Howard Waldrop
- Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
- A Damsel in Distress, My Man Jeeves, Right Ho Jeeves, A Wodehouse Miscellany by P.G. Wodehouse
- Gladiator by Philip Wylie
If you’re counting (and I admit I’m guessing here), that means I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 books on my Kindle. And, on top of all that, I have a bunch of sample chapters from a dozen or so other books lined up and ready to read — novels, non-fiction… just a ton of stuff.
I expect a psychologist could have a field day with people’s What’s On My Kindle list but I didn’t share mine as an act of self-revelation. I shared it simply to make the point that I Will Never Again Be Bored As Long As I Live.
Used to be, I could scour the sagging and double-stacked shelves at my house until I happened upon Just The Right Book To Read Right Now, but away from home, I was out of luck — stuck with whatever I happened to have on hand. Now, I carry my library with me — to the doctor, on a plane, at a restaurant, everywhere — and I’m loving it.
Much as I love “real” books, I think Amazon’s discovered the future of reading in this e-ink/wireless download stuff. And the future is good.