Friday, November 13, 2009

A Review of a Kindle

Six months ago I purchased a Kindle 2.  I originally bought the Kindle to make travelling easier.  I tend to carry a lot of books with me when I take a trip and those books get heavy.  With the Kindle, I could carry just this one device instead of 5 books.  The Kindle didn’t disappoint.  It weighs less than the typical paperback book.  It fits nicely in my Scottevest jacket.  I typically have about 80 books on mine at any given time giving me plenty of potential reading material.  If that isn’t enough, there is the Kindle store with some 360,000 books.

The Kindle satisfied the purpose I bought it for, but has exceeded my expectations.  Not only do I use the Kindle when travelling, but it has become my preferred reading device.  The screen is a delight to read on.  The contrast may not be quite what it is on a real book, but it is plenty good.  The screen on the Kindle is much more comfortable to read on than the screen on a phone or a laptop.  There is no refresh rate and no backlighting.  This results in a significant reduction in eye fatigue.  I can read on the Kindle as easily and as long as I can read a paper book.

In addition to being a great place to read, there are several features of the Kindle that make it my preferred reading tool.  The first is the built-in dictionary and the second is the ease of taking notes.  When reading a dead tree book, if I come across a word that I don’t know, I will usually guess at the meaning from the context and move along.  With the Kindle, I can just move the cursor over the word in question and get a definition at the bottom of the screen.  In this way I am able to understand the nuances of the text and expand my vocabulary.  The Kindle is also a great place to take notes.  Want to add a note?  Just start typing using the integrated keyboard.  Want to highlight some text?  Move the cursor to the start, press down, move to the end, press down again.  The notes and highlighted areas are collected in a text file that you can upload to your computer.  They are also available on  The notes will follow the book to other devices (like the new Windows software).

So what isn’t to like?  The Kindle is an excellent book-reading platform.  It is a single-task device.  It is great at what it does and not good at anything else.  It has a built-in web browser, but it is the sort of thing you would only want to use in case of emergencies.  It does not render pages well, is difficult to navigate, and is very slow.  For instance, when composing an e-mail via either hotmail or gmail, it writes the letter, deletes it, then writes it again.  It is very easy to get well ahead of the cursor even on the limited keyboard.

The Kindle supports MP3 playback, but not in any useful fashion.  You cannot see the songs.  You cannot select the songs.  You can skip to the next song, but that is all.  There is no shuffle.  Playback happens in the order the songs were put on the Kindle.  To say this feature is limited is an understatement.

The Kindle only reads its own formats.  It can read variations of the mobipocket format but cannot read pdf, epub (the standard ebook format for everyone else), or even the encrypted mobipocket format found for free at many libraries.  This choice perplexes me.

The note-taking is simple and works well, but it is capped.  If you highlight too much of a book, the highlights will continue, but the material will not end up in the notes file.  This wouldn’t be quite so bad if you were warned but you aren’t.  Instead you find out later when you go to the notes file and see a warning instead of the highlighted text.

Perhaps the most disappointing part is the lack of software innovation going on.  As someone accustomed to the rate of innovation on other devices, it is disappointing to see no new firmware or features being pushed.  The hardware platform is stable, but why not improve the mp3 playback?  Why not add new formats?  Why not add support for tags or folders?

A few questions and answers:

How is the battery life?  It is amazing.  With the wireless left on, it will last several days.  With the wireless off (and there is no reason to leave it on), it will last weeks.

Is it economical?  No.  If you buy a Kindle, don’t buy it to save money on books.  Sure, they are a little cheaper than the hardcover, but maybe 10%.  At $259 for a Kindle 2, it is going to take a long time to make up the difference.  If you watch, there are many free books available which can help, but it is not a cheap device. 

Are most books available?  That depends what sort of books you like to read.  I have found that a large percentage of what I read is available.  I still run into many books I want that are not available, but I’m not running out of books on it either.

How about technical books?  Surprisingly, it is pretty good.  I have read a few programming books on it including Programming Clojure and Javascript:  The Good Parts.  It renders them just fine.  Where it falls down is in the random access.  I don’t recommend using it for reference material.

How does it compare to the Nook?  I don’t know.  I haven’t used the Nook.  It appears to have superior hardware in most respects, but the book pricing is much worse.  If I were making the choice today, I would still choose the Kindle.  The Nook does appear to be giving it a run for its money though.  Strong competition is probably what the Kindle needed.

Do you recommend the Kindle?  Yes.  Highly.  If you like to read, get one. 


  1. I finally decided to get a Kindle at the beginning of this year and thus put a cap on my enthusiasm and a pre-order in for the Kindle 2.  I'd like to second your entire post.  I realized I had fallen in love with it when I started to get defensive about really inaccurate articles by big-name reviewers.  Anyway, some things I'd like to chime in with ...
    *.) It doesn't save money, it helps you SPEND money.  I've read more this year thanks to it, but I've also spent more on books because they're so deliciously easy to buy and consume.
    *.) Being something of a one-trick pony is a feature by itself.  When I'm reading, I'M READING.  It's something of medicinal isolation from the media overload of our sound-bite culture.
    *.) The web browser is better than you think, but it is crippled by the slowness of the CPU and the screen resolution (just as PDF's are since they're almost always fixed to page sizes rather than flow-based).  I used the web browser almost every day to read Hacker News and look-up bus times via  Again, the device is meant for reading, so most articles render just fine but don't expect images or videos.
    *.) You can like a Kindle and regular books at the same time.  They're not mutually exclusive.  I've gotten tons of strangers asking me about my Kindle and the two main reasons people tell me they're NOT going to get one are 1. I can read for free on my iPhone/laptop/etc., and 2. I like the feel of real books.  Well I do too, but given the option of two books in my Fox backpack or Kindle+moleskine+netbook, I'm gonna have to go with the latter.
    *.) Finally a word on formats.  Amazon chose MobiPocket's format which is actually a compiled version of Open eBook.  Or at least, that's what I recall from when I messed around with it.  Internally it's literally just a collection of XHTML files and one meta XML file linking them altogether.  The thing that sucks is that it is binary and then has their DRM added on top (e.g. why the extension is AWZ instead of PRC or whatever Mobi usually is).  They get a lot of flak for this and technically I can't imagine it's going to be difficult for them to support another XHTML-packaged format.  However, given the text-to-speech debacle, the issue is probably mired amongst their partners and publishers.  Why or how, I don't know.
    Well, that's enough for a whole post, I hope it fits in your comment section!

  2. I had to send my husband's Kindle back (regrettably).  I love mine (an older one, still on the Sprint network), but his is on AT&T and it won't get any bars anywhere in the house.  Very disappointing.