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Why and how the Kindle changes everything
on November 25, 2007
This is less a "pros and cons" review than a hopefully useful commentary about the Kindle compared with other eReaders and what it means for the eBook industry. (I believe that everything has changed with the Kindle's creation.)
For many years I have been an avid reader of eBooks using almost every eReading device on the market. So as an early-adopter of techie gadgets I had been anxiously awaiting Amazon's Kindle since its first rumors. So I immediately purchased it both out of curiosity and hoping for a better "next generation" eBook solution. In case you're wondering whether I'm "that" Steve Gibson, I probably am -- I'm the guy who gets Google's first three or four links when Googling my name.
I was driven to write this review because it is somewhat distressing and, it seems to me, a bit unfair for the Kindle's average review rating to be dragged so far down by Kindle NON-OWNERS who, judging from their comments, seem to be quite annoyed by all of the positive comments about a device that's expensive, monochrome, not a general purpose media player, unable to leap tall buildings, or in some way less than they were expecting, wanting, or hoping. In contrast to non-owners, the people who actually HAVE Kindle's appear to universally love it, though with very valid caveats. I think of this as "The TiVo Effect" since, for the right sort of user, the Kindle will be life-changing ... but it certainly won't be that for everyone. Although it took me a few days to get completely comfortable with it, I am now hooked.
So, for what it's worth, if this posting is discovered by any truly interested pre-purchasers, I hope that the following commentary might place the Kindle in "perspective" and be of some value to you. (And if it is, I hope you'll click the button at the bottom to indicate that, so that this review might be found by more potential buyers ... Thank you!)
I have read many novel-length books on my various Palm's, I owned the original Rocket eBook, and I own both generations of Sony's eInk readers, the PRS-500 and PRS-505. So my clear bias is of someone who enjoys technology for its own sake and who loves the idea of reading books on a "device."
Amazon's first-generation Kindle arguably has a few warts (see below). So depending upon your needs, budget, willingness to purchase a "first-generation" gizmo that you might regret purchasing and want to replace a year from now, and so forth, you might well decide to wait for the next generation Kindle that will doubtless be even better. But whether you choose to jump aboard now or later, Amazon's entry into the eBook market is a BIG deal -- it forever changes the game. I think there is no doubt that for the first time ever, a substantial number of people who were never captivated by ANY previous eBook system will find themselves reading and enjoying textual content on Kindle's eInk screen.
The weird initial love/hate reaction to the Kindle is being compared with Apple's iPod, which was also initially met with striking polarization. We all know how that turned out. :) Although the iPod was far from being the first portable MP3 player, and critics called it a copycat, it was the first portable music player to go mainstream, and it changed the world. I believe that, similarly, the large and tightly interacting collection of Kindle features, that go far beyond those of any other previous eBook attempt, will cause the Kindle to be the first eBook to succeed. By connecting their massive book library, as well as newspapers, magazines, blogs and the Web -- wirelessly -- to a long-battery-life chunk of consumer plastic, Amazon has kicked eBooks into the mainstream.
Is the Kindle perfect? Not yet. Is it expensive? Yep. Does it feel like a first-generation product? Absolutely. Will I purchase the next Kindle too? Please let me be first in line!
Investing in Kindle's future...
From a DRM (digital rights management, aka eBook copy-protection) perspective, my eBook content ownership is already spread around all over the place; from Mobipocket, to Palm eReader, to Sony Connect, and now to Amazon Kindle. Sure, that annoys me a bit, but it's the price one pays for being an early adopter of technology that isn't yet ready for prime time ... as, until now, no eBook system has been. Sony's efforts came the closest, but that all ended for Sony (and everyone else) with the introduction of the Kindle. Existing owners of other eBook formats will certainly continue purchasing content for their devices, but who in the U.S. would purchase a new $300 Sony eReader when for an additional $100 they could have the Kindle ... which is so much more than any of the other "disconnected" read-only devices?
In other words, given that Amazon is Amazon, and the fact that they already, right out of the gate, offer so much more than any other previous solution, I feel comfortable now building up my eBook content ownership with Amazon. Sure, I've been wrong before, but this is where I'm placing my bet. I won't be purchasing any more content for Palm's eReader or Sony's. And I like the fact that the content I am purchasing now for this first-generation Kindle will certainly always be readable on whatever future generation devices Amazon's efforts will evolve into.
Look Ma, no wires!
The huge deal with TiVo was time-shifting and commercial skipping. The huge deal with the Kindle is its wireless connectivity. Being a "traditional" eBook user -- i.e. download into PC and "dock" the eReader to upload -- I didn't 'get' that at first. Now I'm as hooked by that on the Kindle as I am by my Tivo's ability to whiz through endless commercials. The Kindle brings the same sort of freedom and power to textual content that the cell phone brought to voice communications.
Sure, I'll purchase eBooks for the Kindle. But I have subscribed to a newspaper and two magazines ... and it is truly a paradigm shift to have their content "just be there" in the morning all by itself. And the periodical content is clean, blessedly free of ads, unnecessary pictures and distractions.
An ugly duckling in need of forgiveness?
Like many people who worship the infinitely-understated elegance of Apple's iPhone (and many other Apple creations), the Kindle's appearance put me off at first. I was as vocally critical of the darned thing as any of those "one star" reviewers. When the first early photos of it leaked a few months before its release, I thought "No way, what a joke! That must be an early balsa-wood mock-up." Now that weird angular wedggie is sitting here next to me as I type this. And I have forgiven it because something odd happens after using it for a few days: You begin to realize that it really works ... and it works well. (And have you ever tried actually typing on the iPhone's all-screen keyboard?)
Did someone say "warts"?
The Kindle's screen appears to have slightly lower contrast than Sony's second generation reader, but much more than Sony's first generation offering. Also, the Kindle's fonts are *far* superior to Sony's, extremely legible, in six sizes and with real italics, not just algorithmic slanting. I'm a bit annoyed that the line-spacing is so large on the larger fonts since page changing is an "event", but, again, this is just the first shot.
And speaking of page changing, I am not a big fan of the page navigation on this first Kindle. So much of the device is devoted to making page changing easy that it's difficult to pick up and handle the device without inadvertently changing pages. But once you're settled down and reading, the fact that only a thumb-twitch is required is nice. One way or another I'm sure that Amazon will get plenty of feedback about everything ... and the next one will be even better.
You want to charge me what??!!
There's also been a great deal of confusion about Amazon charging for the conversion and delivery of our own content into our own Kindles. Amazon *only* charges for wireless delivery, the conversion is 100% free. If you eMail your content to YourKindleName@kindle.com it's converted and downloaded into your Kindle for 10 cents. But if, instead, you eMail your content to YourKindleName@free.kindle.com it's converted and a link to the converted file is eMailed to your registered eMail address at NO charge. You can then download it and use your PC's USB connection to transfer the content to the Kindle.
Moreover, the FREE MobiPocket v4.2 Creator will convert many formats -- HTML, MS Word Docs, Text, and Adobe PDF into .PRC files -- nicely compressed and encrypted if you wish -- which, when transferred into the Kindle are directly readable. I have converted two large eBooks which I already had in PDF format into native Kindle format and they work perfectly -- no cost and no Amazon involvement at all. And I'm sure that quite soon there will be all sorts of free Kindle content converters popping up all over the place.
So I'm glad that I purchased this first-generation device, and that I'm participating in the first real wave of eBook industry creation. None of my other eBook readers offer nearly what the Kindle does. Thanks to Amazon and their Kindle, eBooks have finally happened.