I’ve had a week to play with the Amazon Kindle (a birthday gift from my wife), and here are my thoughts.
First, the bad:
1. Amazon didn’t see fit to bundle the Kindle with the latest software upgrade, so features mentioned in the digital handbook (5.0) weren’t available without a free upgrade. Amazon says these upgrades happen automatically on a rolling basis, a few thousand at a time, through the wonders of wireless technology. But if you’re an impatient user like me, you can download the upgrade (again for free) from the Amazon website, using directions that are totally inadequate for the technologically compared.
2: Four days after my wife ordered the device, Amazon entered into a price war with competitors, dropping the price. This was such dirty pool that I sent the company a letter; our account was credited the $70 difference. This should have happened automatically for all buyers, not only those who took the time to complain. Not a good way to do business, although the credit shows goodwill on the company’s part.
3. I’m concerned that I don’t “own” the books I buy for the Kindle; the same Whispernet technology that delivers titles so effortlessly can also take them away, without the buyer’s consent, should Amazon get into a skirmish with a publisher. I also wonder about compatibility issues if I switch from a Kindle to another device: Are my books forever bound to Kindle, or can they go with me elsewhere? And what if Amazon goes out of business? Do I lose my collection?
Now for the good:
1. Despite being skeptical about the whole e-book movement, the Kindle quickly won me over through its no-glare screen and ease of use. Within minutes, I was reading a book on the device. A few minutes after that, I forgot that I was reading on the Kindle and not from a traditional book. That’s really cool.
2. The Whispernet technology makes buying books easy — maybe too easy. I can easily find dozens of books that I would like to read, priced anywhere from free (for out-of-copyright classics) to $9.99 (for NY Times bestsellers) to sky’s the limit. Since it’s all available at the touch of a button, the buyer has to exercise restraint.
3. I love the note-taking capabilities of the Kindle. I like to highlight and notate as I read (although this preference is often at odds with my compulsion to keep books neat and clean), and Kindle makes this easy to do.
4. It’s fun to see passages that other readers have highlighted. This makes the solitary act of reading more communal. If I want to disable the feature, I can do so. The latest upgrade allows readers to share quotes on Twitter and Facebook. Since my Twitter and Facebook accounts are linked, I need only update to Twitter.
5. The varying font sizes allow everybody to read in comfort. The newest software offers eight sizes, two more than the previous update, which is one reason why I was confused when comparing my Kindle screen to the images in the instruction manual.
6. The Kindle syncs wirelessly anywhere I read a digital book, so I can close a chapter on the device, open it again on my iPhone to exactly the same page, read a bit, then return to the Kindle, which “knows” where I left off. Neat.
7. The battery charge lasts a loooong time. The initial, out-of-box charge lasted seven days with fairly heavy use; the company says that with wireless Internet turned off, a reader can go two weeks between charges.
So far, the positives outweigh the negatives. I’m still a traditionalist, but given the convenience of carrying around multiple books on one thin device and the price savings (not to mention ecological benefits), it doesn’t take a genius to see that the e-reader is quickly coming into its own.