Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Kindle II

Kindle 2

A geek review.

I've had my Kindle for about 2 weeks now. Long enough to fall for it. There it is. You need read no further if all you are looking for is a recommendation. Assuming you are still reading here are my impressions and probably some stuff you haven't read anywhere else.

The un-boxing. Out of a possible 5 point score - I give it a 3. At first blush I was impressed with the packaging. Like any good tree-hugger I loathe over-packaged products. I think that there should be a tax on every layer. Increasing by 100% for each successive layer and set initially by the material (Styrofoam and plastic bubble/clamshell pack starting in the $100 per ounce range). We have all seen the glamor packaging of Apple's sexy products. The kindle in many ways falls into that glamor hardware category so I was bracing myself for some flashy acrylic display quality thing. Somehow the package for the kindle manages to hit the just right mark for this aging hippy, with one large wart - while still being suitably impressive and keeping the unboxing experience fun.

I expected it to arrive, like most electronic shipments - by itself a box big enough to hold a Jack Russell and two soccer balls - and for the books I had also ordered to show up separately. Amazon ships the kindle signature required. Very annoying if you are having it delivered to your home. I suggest having it shipped to your office if such things are ok with your employer. To it's credit UPS did call me the day before with a warning that they would be attempting a "very important" delivery. Being that I'm currently a home worker made that OK but I generally find signature required shipments to be a really huge pain in the ass.

To my surprise, the total shipment showed up in a box that would almost hold two 2l bottles. In it - the kindle in a box the size of a largish hard cover. The three dead tree editions I had also ordered and a couple of those low impact balloons to hold everything in place. The Kindle box was sealed. Interesting since I had heard that they custom setup your kindle and register it to your amazon account before it ships out. There was a nice zip pull on the side - that actually came off neatly in one pull.

(Here's a slide show of my unboxing photos )

Inside of that is a glossy black paper board package - also with a working zip pull. The paper board turned out to be just a wrapper holding a recycled, pressed cardboard (like an egg crate) black tray and it's lid together. Removing the lid reveals the Kindle - in a cradle of plastic. Hard plastic that could be the same stuff as the kindle case itself. The plastic tray has a big recycle logo pressed into the back that identifies it as polypropylene. This is the stuff that makes up the lid of a soda bottle. Almost no recycling centers take this stuff. This is the big looser of an otherwise great package. Amazon, this tray should be made of the same pressed cardboard as the rest. Under the tray you find a "getting started" pamphlet and a really nicely designed power adapter / usb cable.

The device ships with a getting started page displayed on the device itself. This is your first introduction to e-ink. Since the display does not require any power to hold an image Amazon can set it and leave it. After plugging it in to charge the device wakes up and you can begin playing. It comes with a users guide and a welcome letter from Jeff Bezos on the unit. It is physically smaller than I expected. It's about the same height and width as a paperback from Penguin or Oreilly. It's about the same thickness as a first generation Iphone.

Controls - at first I was a little put off with the controls. They seemed clunky and hard to press. Especially the 5 way "stick". Users of touch screen devices will find themselves trying to touch on-screen buttons. In fact, I still catch myself doing that even after a couple of weeks. You quickly realize however that having a touch screen would be a bad thing on the kindle. Whenever I've accidentally put a fingerprint on the screen I'm immediately "huffing and buffing" to get rid of it. Also when you inevitably fall asleep reading in bed - the kindle usually falls to your chest screen down. With a touch screen you would end up god knows where in your latest book.

The controls eventually won me over. You rarely use anything but the page turn buttons that are nicely placed and by far the largest buttons on the device. The page turn buttons require a firm press and click nicely when you do. A frequent complaint from the version 1 users was that it was too easy to turn the page when picking up, setting down or handing the device to someone else. I've managed to do that only one time in two weeks of reading on the II. Now I mostly put the device to sleep when I set it down or carry it, avoiding any chance of a miss-press.

Use - It's not entirely intuitive. Most anyone should be able to get the basics without reading the manual but there are things that bear some investigation and RTFM. Using the kindle store is quite simple. The only complication I can imagine would be payment method - this is tied to whatever your default address's 1-click payment method is set to. Even if you don't use 1-click. Changing this on the Amazon web page is not the simplest thing to do. The second is that it's fairly easy to purchase a book even when you don't mean to do so. Amazon does give you a second chance - immediately after you mistakenly click the purchase button. After that - you own the book.

Other things like putting your own documents on the device bear a quick read of the sections that cover those topics. Amazon offers a nice service that will convert common formats like .doc and .pdf to work on the kindle. There are two ways of going about this. One will cost you a quarter for each document. The other is free. The difference is which email address you send the documents to. One will convert the document and automatically send it to your kindle wirelessly. The other will convert it and send you an email with a link where you can download the converted items. You then need to transfer them to the kindle yourself via USB.

Putting your own stuff on the kindle is simple via USB. The kindle shows up as a standard USB storage device to any modern operating system. If you are still running windows 98, OS9, or a Linux distro older than 5 years - you have no business owning a kindle. Besides the kindle format it can handle about 5 other e-book formats (without DRM), MP3 files (player is in the "experimental" menu) and two formats of Audible books. For those of you that don't know - Amazon actually owns Audible.

Whispernet - it works. It runs on the Sprint pcs network but Amazon has apparently worked out roaming agreements. With the Kindle II it's available in most areas of the country. Even very rural areas without Sprint coverage (I've tested. Belive me). While we are on this subject - there is now an experimental web browser on the kindle. It's serviceable. The kindle screen is only capable of limited grey scale. Not sure if it's 16 or 64 shades. Most photos don't render very well. It's enough to read most blogs or to do a quick google though. I understand the experimental stuff is NOT on the version 1 and that the wireless coverage remains only in sprint covered areas. Not sure if this will change with future software updates.

I've not tried the mp3 player as it seems mp3 players are the new digital clock. The come on everything. Plus I don't want to fill space on the Kindle with music when I have devices that are dedicated and much more pocketable. The text to speech is interesting. I guess if I wanted to continue a book in the car for example I would make use of it. It's not going to threaten good audio books at all. It would be useful as an accessibility tool if it worked in the menus but it doesn't.

What the Kindle does - and does really well is work as a book reader. I've read books on various PDAs - phones and even laptops over the years. I really like e-books but this is even better than paper as far as novels are concerned. Convenient page turns, nice size, readable non-glare screen. At least as portable as a small paperback. You can write notes. Highlight passages. Look up unknown words in the built in dictionary and even search Wikipedia directly from the Kindle. You can carry pretty much your whole library with you (about 1000 books) and the best thing - you can get new stuff RIGHT NOW. Instant gratification! Better than overnight or going to the local bookstore and almost always for $9.99 or less. You don't even need that stupid little hunk of toilet paper as a bookmark (you know you do it).

The downsides are that you can't line shelves with books and you can't loan what you have read to friends. It also isn't particularly great for magazines and newspapers. Most people don't read papers and magazines in a linear format. Also photographs in magazines don't translate well and if you are interested in the ads - they are usually absent. The Kindle is is only marginally better than paper for reference material as the search function is a little clunky. The main advantage is in portability.

Overall you will have to pry this gadget out of my cold dead hands. A device that indulges my ADD (having a lot of selection), my impatience (Immediate delivery), and my insatiable appetite for reading material - WOW!

Many user photos of the kindle including menus / notes / the dictionary etc can be seen on Amazon's user photo page:

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