My Review: Kindle 3G
I’ve been using my Kindle 3G now for close to 4 months, it’s a great little revolutionary device that a lot of people have interest in but are still a little reticent to purchase because of it’s seemingly steep price and percieved draw-backs.
Hopefully, by sharing my thoughts on the device, I can help some of my readers to figure out if it’s really worth their hard earned dosh or if they would prefer the butchered tree variety of informational transfer.
I’ll keep the technical jargon to a minimum and write from the perspective of the general layperson, since that’s what I am.
Also, as a note, the Kindle comes in 3 distinct flavours: Kindle Wi-Fi, a Kindle 3G + Wifi and a Kindle DX.
I will mainly be discussing the 3G version since that is the product I own.
Perfunctory Introductory Background
Books are my drugs! I’m not kidding, I’ve spent close to $20k on physical books and they are the primary source of learning and inspiration for me. I love the smell, their feel, their texture, I like the sound a page makes when it’s flipped, but most of all I like that they make me smarter.
I suppose you could say that purchasing an e-book reader was a logical step for me? Well, not quite, and I’ll explain some of the reasons for my delayed uptake of this device.
Back in 2007, the Kindle 1st gen was released on Nov 19 for about US$400…and was sold out in five and a half hours.
It really wasn’t even a blip on my radar back then since most of the books I was purchasing were art books as opposed to text books like I purchase now. Art books by their very nature, generally require real estate only afforded by large page size, and more importantly good colour reproduction — this clearly wasn’t the market the Kindle was targeted at, but it was the sole demographic I was part of.
Because of my narrow view on books, I couldn’t really understand why they were so popular to be honest, it was an ugly device, I was reading documents on my laptop anyway, it just seemed like a filler device with overlapping functionality to existing devices. I’ve never been a big gadgets kinda guy, so it didn’t really have the features to justify the price tag to me at the time.
Also, having never used one, I assumed that not having the tactile feel of turning would impact me greatly, and there is a certain part of me that actually LIKES a wall of books in my living room.
The third generation Kindle came out mid last year on July 28 2010, it was a much sleeker looking device and boasted a range of improvements that really made me sit up, take notice and I finally caved in for one.
The benefits, for me, now definitely outweigh the cons and I’ll go through the greatest impact features now in no particular order.
- Good looking: This made the designer in me scream with joy. Yes. Scream. Easily the sleekest generation to date. Sure the look isn’t a huge thing, but it helps to actually want to use it out in public and not hide it in a brown paper.
- Amazing battery life: If you turn off wireless connections, this baby lasts for a month or more depending on how much reading you do. The only comparable device I own for reading are my iPhone which will last a few hours and my laptop which struggles to get to an hour. So a month seems like a bloody eternity! The reason it is able to last such a long time, is because of the E-Ink display technology, which basically only uses power when it is refreshing the E-Ink particles. If you’re not actually turning the page, it’s not actually using any power (assuming you have wireless functionality turned off).
- Direct sunlight reading: I don’t always want to read in a slightly darkened room with no light source behind me, but that’s what you kinda need to do with today’s highly reflective LCD screens. Not so with the matte finished E-Ink screen of the Kindle. Because E-Ink displays actually use electronically charged ink particles, as opposed to light to display graphics and text, you can read the kindle anywhere you can read a physical book. If you purchase the Kindle leather cover with inbuilt light (and I highly suggest you do spend the extra $50), you can read it anywhere.
- Inbuilt dictionary: At times, we all read books which like to use more than it’s fair share of jargon or words outside the regular conversational sphere…such as discombobulate (I LOVE that word!). When this is done in a book, it can be pretty frustrating to have to check a dictionary every few minutes in order to fully understand what the heck the author is babbling on about. The Kindle solves this with an inbuilt dictionary function that is easy to access — simply use the directional pad to put the cursor next to the offending word, and you’re presented with a short snippet of the word’s meaning. Click another button and the cursor disappears for you to keep reading, it’s simple, fast and unobtrusive. When you get used to this function, it becomes an automatic reaction and is a HUGE advantage over paperbooks. Definitely a game changer feature.
- Free 3G globally: You just read that right. Free Internet access anywhere you can get a 3G signal. Absolutely no ongoing fees and relatively fast. How does this help? Okay, so I was browsing a Lonely Planet guidebook on Cambodia with my girlfriend, we’re reading some information on the country and we’re not really sure about the currency they use. One button click later, I’m on the web on Wikipedia looking at the information on Cambodia and the currency is called the Riel. How much is a Riel in USd? Hop over to XE.com and it’s approximately 4000r = US$1. A button click later, I’m back on the Lonely Planet guide continuing my reading. How. Fucking. Awesome. Is. That? And I did it bare-assed in bed without moving. I don’t know how Amazon offer free global 3G coverage…but it rocks hard. Game changing feature.
- Free book samples: I’ve been purchasing books online for a while now, and one of the things I do to reduce the likelihood of buying a dud is that I like to read samples, just to make sure I enjoy the author’s writing style and personality. With the Kindle, every book you can find on the Amazon Kindle store, which is just about all the books available for physical purchase, you can download the first chapter free of charge. It centralises the place I need to go to browse, sample and purchase. Efficiency +100xp.
- Simple purchase and download: Amazon has always understood that the less hassle and barriers to getting their products into your hands, the less hassle it is for you, and the better their bottom line will look. The Kindle has taken a lot of the lessons they have learnt from their site and integrated it into the Kindle. 1-Click purchases are even more streamlined on this product since it is directly links to your amazon account, no tedious entering of credit card or personal details, just click buy, and approximately a minute later, the product is there for you to read. Instant knowledge gratification. A nice feature is that if you accidentally purchase an e-book (easy to do on the Kindle), you can return it and get a refund rather painlessly, nice.
- Cheaper books: The books you purchase on the Kindle are generally 20%+ cheaper than the physical equivalent on the Amazon store which is great, plus there is no shipping cost. In some books, they are even cheaper, I was looking at a tome of a book, it cost $100+ physically, while the Kindle version cost $30 since there was no associated printing costs involved for the product. If you buy from Amazon a lot, they is a real cost saver.
- Simple PDF loading: Loading PDFs on you Kindle is easy, it connects via the USB and it effectively becomes a USB memory stick. Drop your PDF in the PDF folder, and you’re ready to read it. Simple.
- Good annotation: The annotation process is painless and straight forward to use. You place the cursor in the text where you want to add an annotation, and begin typing. Once you’re done, you press save and the Kindle will insert a reference mark. When you want to read what the note says, you can either access it by placing the cursor over the reference mark, or you can view all your notes and their locations in the “My Clippings Folder” or you can view a links page of notes and books marks through the menu button.
- Instant Download: With the 3G version of the Kindle, you have the amazon store connected to your account details which allows one click purchasing and in most cases, if the e-book does not have a lot of images, it will be downloaded next to instantaneously wherever you can find 3G coverage. Instant gratification!
- Large capacity: 3500 books! Whoo! Obviously it depends on the types of books, graphic heavy e-books will obviously take up more space, but seriously, that is a lot of books.
- Cross Platform Reading: The Kindle has cross platform reading, meaning that you can load your purchased books onto your iPhone, your laptop, your iPad, your Android and a bunch of other places. The cool thing is, that if you have an Internet connection, it will update the “last page read” bookmarking, and when you load up the same book on another device, it will take you straight to that page. Simple, but awesome feature.
- Lightweight: It weights next to nothing, but still has a nice robust feel. It means I can travel with a crapload of reading material without needing to feel the impact of lots of dead trees.
- Good image reproduction: The greyscale images look gorgeous, and this is coming from a trained eye. The tonal gradations are fantastic and highly detailed. I loaded a few Loomis art books onto the device, and even at the smaller reading size, you could still pick out everything and still read the words too.
- Free books: You get free downloads of a large selection of classics that are not part of public domain, like Frankenstein, Wealth of Nations, Sherlock Holmes, etc. Cool feature, but my personal reading tastes don’t really coincide with this collection. A nice to have, but I wouldn’t miss it.
- Book lending: You can purchase books and you can also lend them to a kindle ladden buddy for a limited amount of time. Cool feature, but I don’t use it much since most of my friends don’t have kindles. Evolve dammit!
- Wi-fi: Yeah, you get wi-fi but since I prefer to transfer files via usb cable, or download stuff via 3G, I don’t find I use the wi-fi functionality at all.
- Social network integration: Easy to use and rather unexpectedly cool since I’ve been engaging the social web a heck of a lot these days. It allows me to annoy people with even more awesome quotes. Click a button to engage highlight mode, highlight the word, press the key combination require to tweet (there is an onscreen context sensitive display that pops up to aid you) and click share…simple! Only caveat is that this only works for Amazon formatted e-books and not PDFs as well.
- Good price point: As of this writing, the Kindle retails from the Amazon store for $189 and in my opinion, a fantastic price for what you are getting. Just make sure you pick up a cool leather cover with built in light as well for an extra $50, well worth it to save your device from being mangled, plus the inbuild light-source links up to the kindle battery. No extra batteries for the reading light makes me very happy.
- Speedy Postage: Everyone I know, including me, who ordered their Kindle received it within a week of placing the order. Nice!
The Not So Good
- Buying books is a little too easy: As I mentioned before, I’ve accidentally purchased a couple of books before, simply because it is so easy. The good news is that these accidental purchases are instantly reversible.
- Some books are region blocked: I really don’t understand why, seriously, this would be one of my pet peeves, why on earth would you have a global company release a global reading device, only to lock you out from certain books because of your account registration location? Makes no sense whatsover. The upside is that there aren’t too many books that are region locked.
- Buttons too small and clacky: One of my major purchase drivers was “I can update my blog on the go!” and if we’re talking technically, I am actually able to do so, all the tools are there for me to do this. However, the biggest factor stopping this from happening is that the keys are absolutely useless for doing so, they are awful for typing, so they are thankfully only used to search for book titles and make short notes. The other annoying thing is that numbers are not represented by tactile buttons, instead, they are relegated to a secondary function which requires you to access another menu. It’s a minor gripe, but it is annoying and unintuitive.
- No color: This really wasn’t a major factor for me to be honest, I knew full well that this device does not support color, and because of the inherent e-ink technology limitations, it likely won’t for a long time, or at least support it in any way that resembles the rich colors of glossy magazines. The nature of the books I read — mainly business books with little or no graphics, means I don’t really miss it in any way.
- PDF reading isn’t that fantastic: A majority of the PDFs I come across are not created with the small screen of the 6″ Kindle in mind. The screen size isn’t a problem with Amazon kindle e-books as they have text that scales, however, PDFs don’t — they are of a fixed size, which means that if you have terrible eyesight for close up reading, you’re going to struggle as the pages are displayed at a small size. The Kindle solution is to magnify the page as-is, which would probably be okay, except that the side-to-side and up-to-down page scrolling isn’t smooth and is instead discreet shifts which can be jarring. If your eyesight can read tiny text though, it shouldn’t bother you too much.
- The robo-voice reader sucks: The electronic voice isn’t especially listenable. I spent more time thinking “the cadence and pronounciation is all wrong!” than listening to what it was actually saying. I’m sure if I spent enough time with it, I would soon forget it, but if I really wanted an audio-book, I’d buy an audio book read by a real human, not Robby the Robot.
- UI takes some getting used to: Seeing as I am often heavily involved with user interface design and user experience in games, there are just a bunch of things that make me say “What the fuck were they thinking?!” For instance, the aforementioned numbers relegated to a secondary function, page scrolling on the homepage navigation can be a bit confusing, and functions that should probably be logically grouped are sometimes separated.
- Lack of tactile feel: Since we’ve been Pavlov’s-dog-trained to flick our fingers across hand held device screens, we naturally want to get our grubby fingers all over the Kindle to flick the page over. Or flick a bunch of pages over back to the start of the chapter. Unfortunately, because of the inherent limitations of the technology, this will likely be an impossibility. For now.
- Angry stares from atheists: If you purchased the black leather case with in-built reading light, people think you’re a church minister.
Despite my gripes, this device has really proven itself to be insanely awesome, a real game changer if you will. It makes my reading (if not my blogging) experience better than it is with physical books for the most part and it becomes obvious that this is the future of the printed word and a big stake through the heart of physical bookstores down the line.
My verdict, is that this is a fantastic product and within a few days of purchasing one and showing it around to people at a previous workplace, a number of folks sprang for it immediately who had been considering it for a while, it really is that good. If you’re into reading, get it.
Keep kicking ass,
Buy the Kindle: