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Why the Kindle isn’t a complete P.O.S.

June 14th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Let’s face it. I’m a gadget guy. I like shiny new machines, sometimes because they are shiny and new. I have an Iphone, an Xbox360, 2 Playstations, two Macs, five PCs (4 of which I built), 3 flat-screen TVs, 2 Tivos, 4 Ipods, 3 Digital SLRs, 4 digital point and shoot cameras — well, you get the idea. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a luddite, or anti-technical. I am not averse to change, nor am I nostalgic for the “old days” that never really existed. Neither am I evangelical about technology – I don’t have any unnatural affection for my Macs, and I don’t have any built-in revulsion for my PCs, or vice-versa. I like stuff that works, and I get pissed off at stuff that doesn’t. Okay. Just so we’re clear.
So, despite my misgivings about E-books, which I’ll go into in a whole different blog, I bought a Kindle from Amazon. My history with the electronic book reader is this: I tried to demo the Sony reader three different times in various book stores and there was never one that worked long enough to actually tell what it was like. But it was obvious that electronic paper had some possibilities.
Then, about two months ago, Amazon’s Kindle PR division contacted me and asked me to do a blog for them, which I linked to here. I started looking into the Kindle machine, reading reviews, asking friends, checking out the specs. After all, you couldn’t sign on to Amazon without being hit in the face with another Kindle promotion, and I sign onto Amazon a lot. (Note ridiculously long gadget list above.) So, even through Amazon had sent Kindles to my friends Neil Gaiman and Daniel Handler for review, and not to me, and I had done a blog for them (for fucking nothing, despite the fact that I actually get paid to do this – a lot) I ordered a Kindle. And eight hours later (I’m not kidding, eight hours) they lowered the price by $50.
So, you know, good start. So, here are my observations. And yes, this does go on a bit.
First, the good:
Kindle delivers available books in about 60 seconds through a free cellular data network, anywhere in the country. It’s fast, there’s a pretty good selection, and the screen is easy to read, with scalable fonts. It’s light, and the battery supposedly lasts a pretty long time, as power is only required to turn/change a page, not show text (it’s not back lit). They ship it with a very nice leather cover, that almost completely negates the size and weight advantage, but does protect the Kindle if it’s strapped in, and you can surf the internet, search Amazon products, and subscribe to and read blogs, magazines, and newspapers that are available from Amazon. You can also mail Word or other text documents to yourself and for ten cents a piece, Amazon will convert them to Kindle format and send them to your Kindle. These are all cool things. With a cheap SD memory card, you could easily carry 200 books with you in this little machine, and it highlights, clips, makes notes and bookmarks text.
Which means that the Kindle is not a complete P.O.S. It is, however, at least in this generation, a partial P.O.S.
The Not So Good: 1. No place to hold it. Every place you grab it does something — activates some function.

2. No page numbers. They have reference numbers, but not actually page numbers. There’s no way to find something or tell someone else how to find it. If you change font size, the reference numbers change. So, for instance, you might say, “Oh my God, there’s the funniest line in that new Sedaris book!” “Really, what page is it on?” “Uh, 2023 of 4432 in the second biggest font.” “Oh, yeah, that means something to me.”

3. There’s no place to clip the light they sell you to clip on it, and without the light, it’s dark. Of course you can clip it to the cover they sell you but…

4. It falls out of the cover. There’s a tiny “ledge” that’s supposed to keep the Kindle in place, but it doesn’t work. Yes, I could put a piece of stick-on velcro on the back and solve this problem, but I just paid $400 for this thing, I shouldn’t have to add velcro to make it functional.

5. It shuts down. I took it to Los Angeles for a weekend trip. I’d charged it before I left, and it’s supposed to be good for 7000 “page turns” on a charge, but even with the wireless off, it just stuck on a page on the second day, so I had nothing to read. I’ve never had a real book, “lock up”.
6. Reading on the screen is disorienting. I read a lot on a screen, more than I read on paper, but reading a novel on a screen is disorienting. The screen is still pretty small, and a full page of text from a book isn’t displayed. You never have a feel of how far along you are in a book. You don’t know how far from the end of the chapter you are. There is a little line of “progress dots” along the bottom of the page that’s supposed to indicate how far along you are, but it doesn’t feel “real”. It think if you could make it default to page numbers that mirror the real book, and you knew you were on page 44 of 400, you’d have a better idea. The progress numbers aren’t always right, either. I loaded the manuscript of my new book into it. The reference numbers keep showing things like, 2483 out of 98. Which, you know, is confusing.

So, the Kindle, in my opinion, just isn’t quite there. And understand, I think there’s a certain inevitability to electronic books, so this is not a rant against the form. For some things, particularly college courses, I think e-books could rock hard. But until there’s a generation who has never read or worked with paper books, the “analog” aspect of the reader has to be a lot better. You’ve got to somehow simulate the good things about paper books (and I don’t mean the smell or the fact that you can tear the pages out and wipe with them if you’re stuck dropping dooky in the woods), while taking advantage of the assets of e-books.
I’ll have a whole new blog on e-books soon, in which we’ll explore how you can decorate your garage to accommodate your own homeless author guy, who just got Napstered out of a job.
Meanwhile, e-book owners, share your thoughts.

Tags: Stuff

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dannie // Oct 10, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Yup, definitely noticed the problems you point out, especially the annoyance of no place to hold. I sprang for the leather cover, which holds the Kindle a lot better. I found that by folding the cover around and tucking in the flap, I can slide my hand between. This works pretty well, though I do still hit buttons many times I don’t intend. The leather cover is way overpriced though.

    A feature I really love is the ability to order samples. They give enough material to let me pretty much decide how I like a book, and whether or not I want to buy it. Of course, reader that I am, I tend to want a VERY lot of them once I’m a chapter in, and it is so easy to order you don’t really feel like you are spending money!

    So…. a pricy toy, and I know I could have saved a lot of money and likely gotten a better edition had I been willing to wait a year or two, but patience is not my forte, and I’m having a lot of fun with mine, so I don’t regret jumping in.

    BTW: My battery seems to be doing fine. Do you turn off your internet connection when you aren’t actively using it? That is a big battery drain, and might be why yours went as fast as it did.

    2nd BTW: Isn’t Cinque Terre fantastic?! Ishie and I were there the beginning of August. We stayed in Riomaggiore and hiked the trail to Monterosso, had dinner and took the train back. It was one of the highlights of our vacation!

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