Review: Kindle 2

Posted On Feb 01, 2010 at 10:35 pm
Amazon Kindle 2

I absolutely love books. My shelves are overflowing with them and I have an irrational desire to buy more at a rate considerably faster than what I can finish them at. So with this obsession of mine, it would probably seem like blasphemy to buy, let alone enjoy, an e-book reading device, right? There are plenty of die-hard bookworms who would in an instant agree, but I have to question if their knee-jerk reaction is merely a result of stubbornness.

There were a handful of reasons that caused me to consider buying an e-book reader; a couple of these reasons were to save money and to make reading longer works more comfortable. I settled on the Kindle 2 because it supports open mobi format (.prc), has superior contrast as compared to the Sony PRS-600 (a sacrifice Sony made for a touch-screen layer), and the free 3G wireless internet access was a nice bonus. I made the purchase during the holiday season and got it for $259 with free two-day shipping from Amazon.

I was already in love with the device within the first 10 minutes after UPS dropped it off, but I figured it would be wise to give it some time for the novelty of it to wear off before I weigh in with my opinion of it. I have now read about a half-dozen books on it and while my praises may seem a bit sensationalist, I assure you that this thing really is that cool!

Reasons Why The Kindle 2 Rocks

1. Comfort. Reading for several hours straight is considerably more comfortable with the Kindle than the majority of actual books. It doesn't matter if you are reading a 100 page short story or a 1500 epic novel: you will always be holding a very light-weight device that only requires one hand. A huge plus to me is that you don't have to constantly hold the book open while worrying about busting the spine on the tighter books (if that is something that concerns you - I personally like to keep my books looking brand new which make it a little more of a pain to actually read).

2. Note keeping and highlights. Whenever I am reading a nonfiction book and I take notes by hand, I always turn around and retype them into my computer for better access and search ability. The benefit of an e-reader, the Kindle in particular, is four-fold: (1) I don't have to carry an extra notebook and pen with me, (2) I don't have to juggle keeping my place while taking notes (especially difficult if you are not reading at a desk and/or the book is a heavy hardcover and/or has a really tight binding and refuses to stay open easily), (3) when you take notes on the Kindle (using the qwerty keyboard), it will also remember where in the book you took the note in case you need to come back for context, plus the notes are searchable within the kindle and on your computer, and (4) the notes are transferable to your computer for better archiving, without having to go through the trouble of retyping. Also, as I am anal about keeping my books nice, I refuse to highlight or dogear pages - both of which can be done and undone digitally on the Kindle.

3. Quick Dictionary. I hate when I am reading a book and come to a word I don't know and cannot deduce its meaning from context. It can be a pain to get up and go find a dictionary or look it up online. Well e-readers solve this problem by offering a built-in dictionary for instant definitional lookup. Not to mention that with the Kindle, you have free internet access, so if you need more information about a specific topic, you can look it up without so much as uncrossing your legs or putting down your "book".

4. Open formats. I refuse to buy anything on the Amazon store that I don't have to. Just because their primary business model runs on DRM, that doesn't mean you are stuck with it. I personally convert all my books to .prc which can be read by many devices and multiple programs on the computer.

5. Space saving. I already have a couple hundred books overfilling my shelves. I simply do not have any more room to continue buying books that I will only read once (I still like to buy physical copies of science/technical books, though).

6. Uniform text formatting. In physical books you are a helpless victim to whatever font, font size, margin space, line height, and ink/paper quality that happened to be used on the book you are reading. If it is an older book, chances are quite likely that the type is not going to be all that pleasant on your eyes for long-term reading. With e-readers you can count on the font, size, margins, and line height always being the same (the latter three being adjustable on the fly).

7. Efficiency. You can get reading whatever you want, wherever you are, within seconds. You can be in the middle of Twilight (just kidding) and then if your mood changes, you can start reading where you last left off in The Origin Of Species within a couple seconds - without getting up, without worrying about bookmarking, without searching your shelves for the book you have in mind (this, incidentally, is also one of the drawbacks, as mentioned below).

8. Selection. Near instant access to millions of books (hundreds of thousands of out-of-copyright books for free, legally - in addition to being able to access most newer books pirated illegally, if you're into that).

Reasons Why The Kindle Is Not A "Book Killer"

1. Complete Reading Experience. There are many aspects of the entire reading experience that e-readers simply cannot replace. From the ecstasy of browsing walls of books looking for your next read, to the smell and feel of high quality bindings.

2. Sharing. While there is plenty of options for non-drm reading with e-readers, the fact remains that the majority of ebooks consumed are bound with DRM. This restricts your ability to share, sell or pass on a book (or, in the least, makes you a criminal if you try). I don't imagine that you'll ever be able to swing by a yard sale and find a box full of DRM-laden e-books for sale.

3. Price. While new-release e-books are cheaper than their new-release physical counterparts, they still cost too much considering there is no production overhead. I can go to the thrift store or amazon and find many books older than 2 years of age for half as much as the e-book version. I have a feeling that as e-book consumption and competition increases we will see much better initiative by the publishers and manufacturers to make purchasing e-books more wallet friendly.

4. Formatting. The Kindle 2 (the DX may be a different story) is limited in its ability to render complicated text layouts. While it is fine for nearly all fiction and even most non-fiction, there's a significant market of books that are out of reach for use on the Kindle because of their necessarily complicated formatting (e.g. textbooks). I trust that this factor will diminish in importance over the next few years and competition forces e-reader developers to increase capabilities. The Kindle DX is supposed to be able to handle PDF files without any caveats so this issue might already be at its end.


So, in conclusion, is it blasphemy for a book lover to own and love an e-reader device? Absolutely Not! If you are skeptical of the Kindle or any other e-reader, I would suggest that, if possible, you play with one in person; I think it's likely that your negative opinions will change.

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