I’ve had my eye on eBook readers for quite some time, but I couldn’t justify buying one back when they cost more than my netbook. Now, the Amazon Kindle 3 with wifi is a reasonable $139 (less than the cost of a textbook), and I finally decided rather than taking constant trips down to the Barnes and Noble (oh how I miss the Borders that used to be next to ASU, but closed down…) that would I embrace my gadget loving geek side and take the plunge into eBooks.
On the outside, the Kindle 3 is about the size of a typical paperback novel for height and width, but is extremely slim. Page turning buttons are provided on both the left and right side, and a simple keyboard rests below the display (which can be oriented any direction you choose). I went ahead and got a leather case for it (not the official one with the light, a cheap $20 knockoff of it), which I’d highly recommended as it actually makes holding onto the Kindle somewhat easier and protects the screen when it’s not in use.
The Kindle 3 is basically a tiny embedded Linux box. Amazon provided an experimental web browser, MP3 player, and text to speech feature. There is a hidden game of minesweeper and image viewer, and Linux hackers have managed to get themselves into a root shell by jailbreaking it and running software not written by Amazon as a Kindle update.
As fun as those little features are, the Kindle 3 is really not good for anything besides reading. The eInk screen refreshes way too slow to be useful for browsing the web or any sort of animation, but is very good at what it’s designed for: displaying text in an easily readable way for a very long period of time without draining the battery.
Just how good is eInk? I had the same experience when I pulled the Kindle out of the box that a lot people do. They look at screen showing the little Amazon image and think, “is that one of those plastic stickers they stick over LCDs to protect them? Whoa, that’s not a sticker, that’s really what it looks like.” It’s a common reaction, because the text almost seems to be real ink printed on something above the display rather than on it. The display draws no power whatsoever except when it’s changing images. Unlike your cellphone and tablet that you have to charge everyday, the Kindle 3 can happily be stuffed in your backpack and read for weeks without needing to be charged. The downside of the eInk display versus real paper is that there is a slight amount of unavoidable glare if the light is at just the right angle.
Such a simple device, is it worth it? Well, the number one plus side for me is instant content. Going to the bookstore or the library and digging through shelves trying to find what I want, and quite often finding the book I want is sold out or checked out is a frustrating thing. With the Kindle you just browse to the Amazon shopping page, find the book you want, and within seconds it’s purchased and downloaded to your Kindle. Out of the box to reading a Verner Vinge novel I’ve had my eye took only as much time as it took me to enter my WiFi key and search for the title. It’s also useful to have dozens of documents and books at your fingertips all the time. I’ve already gotten in the habit of sticking school related PDFs on it so I can easily pull up assignments without having to dig my netbook out.
- Book organization is limited to a flat list with only one level of folders (called collections).
- Slight glare if light hits it at the wrong angle. Not a show stopper, but certainly a downside compared to real paper.
- PDF reader is somewhat limited. I’ve had several diagrams and technical PDFs not render correct on it. Furthermore, the scroll distance when scrolling is very large and it can be difficult to zoom to the part of the PDF you want.
- No more growing a large bookshelf of science fiction and technical books. There’s just something about buying a physical object such as a book that is more compelling than pressing a button and watching a download bar for a split second.
- Instant content. This is the main reason I got the Kindle. From opening the box to reading the latest Vernor Vinge novel I’ve had my eye on took only as much time as it required to type my WiFi key and search for the title. For someone who can read a book in a weekend and doesn’t like having to order books or take a trip down to the bookstore all the time, the Kindle is great.
- Free content. Have you always wanted to read Dracula, but never gotten around to it? How about Alice in Wonderland? The Count of Monti Cristo? The Time Machine? Flatland? There are hundreds of out-of-copy classics that can be downloaded legally and free.
- Easy to carry around. Smaller than a book, but has more content. Doesn’t quite fit in a normal sized pocket, but still easy to grab and go if you have some sort of bag/backpack/purse you carry anyway.
- Dictionary to look up words, especially useful for the classics filled with their immemorial and magniloquent vernacular. Lets face it, how often do you really dig out a dictionary when you’re in the middle of a book and don’t know a word? Basically never. With the Kindle, it’s so easy to scroll down to the word and see the definition, why not?
- Increased reading privacy. May or may not be a good thing, but if you happen to be reading a controversial book don’t want to be bothered with arguing about it with the bored people on the bus, it can be useful. Doesn’t even have to be controversial, I once had a drunk guy ramble for 30 minutes about how I was wasting my life and should be reading War and Peace instead of a guide to Verilog Programming. Just imagine the grief you get when reading something political or religious.