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Hoping to "kindle" a new avenue of interest in reading, Amazon.com has introduced it's entry into the e-reader market.

Review: The Amazon Kindle e-Book Reader

My Amazon Kindle arrived this morning. OK, so what on earth (or on the Internet) is an Amazon Kindle? Thanks for asking. The Amazon Kindle is something called an “e-book reader.” It’s a device intended to store complete books, all ready for reading, replacing old-fashioned paper books with something called “E-Ink.” Unlike “real” books, e-books have changeable type (so you can make the text bigger), which is good for middle aged presbyopic eyes like mine. And, instead of schlepping 10 pounds of airplane or beach reading in your carry-on, you can carry the equivalent weight and substance in E-ink within a neat 11-ounce device.

In general, e-book readers lack the “feel” of real books, with all of their inherent “curling-up-with-it-ness” (OK, so that’s not a real word—but you have to admit it does have certain Stephen Fry/Hugh Laurie wordsmith feel to it—but I digress). On the other hand, I like really long novels, and balancing a 1,000 page book on my knee with a cup of coffee in one hand, with the other occupied with keeping the book flat open is one “real-book” feature of which I am not overly fond. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited my Kindle.

And like a kid with a new toy, I tore into the box, tossing the instructions to the side as I beheld my new possession. So now that I’ve had a couple of hours to play (and read), press the buttons and otherwise familiarize myself with the Kindle, I thought it might be timely to jot down a few thoughts.

I figure that there will be tons of reviews of the Kindle in the forthcoming days. I also figure that most of those will be by techno-geeks and gadget freaks. I love my gadgets (just ask my husband and co-workers.) I’m about as geeky as a 53-year old mom can be, I suppose. However, I’m more reader than gadget freak, and more writer than techie–and have been in love with books since before I could read them. I probably spend more time and disposable income at the combination of Borders, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com than I do at Best Buy and Sharper Image (although it’s probably close). Therefore, I believe that my comments about the Kindle will be more useful to the average consumer than to the gadget aficionado. The corollary of that, I suppose, is that this review will not marvel at the technical achievements of the device, but rather focus on the practical and the fun.

The first thing you notice is the packaging. It’s nicely packaged in a book-style case (cute). But who cares about a box? Even a pretty one. Ah, there it is. The Kindle is actually very attractive; its pictures in the media do it no justice at all. Whereas the photos make it look quite klutzy, the actual device is sleek and lovely to view; with its silvery screen and white body, it feels nice in the hand. The back is rubberized, so it doesn’t slip easily from your hands.

The screen is about the same size as a paperback book. A very workable split keyboard (much nicer than that of Blackberry or Treo) takes up the bottom quarter of the unit. The Kindle is flanked by long page turning bars, which are easily operated by the thumb. So easily, in fact that it takes a bit of getting used to since the buttons hug the edge of the unit on both sides, it’s a bit too easy to flip the page. I’m thinking that the design and position is intended to simulate how one turns pages in a real book.

Along the right margin of the page (but in a separate screen is a “wait” screen: a long narrow silvery barometer-looking thing which processes whatever you’re doing, indicates choices on menus, etc. A thumbwheel sits below that, which allows you to scroll and select items from various menus.

The Kindle is easy to use and very, very logical to maneuver. It is relatively simple to navigate the screens, reading material and the bookstore; it took me about two minutes to figure out how to access documents, get to the Kindle bookstore, download samples and start reading.

The keyboard features a “Home” button, which takes you to your main Kindle contents screen; a search button; and a font-sizing button, which lets you adjust the size of the type. The keyboard also allows you to search within a book or document or search the Amazon.com site for a book. They keys are nicely sized and labeled. Typing is not a problem.

I had pre-purchased a novel last night and it was already on the Kindle by the time I powered it on, having found my registered Kindle wirelessly, almost magically, through the ether of the electronic atmosphere. My office sits in a very cell-unfriendly place, but the “EV-DO” signal (like the broadband signal Verizon uses with its cell phones) was strong. I was able to quickly access the Amazon.com store and downloaded sample pages of half a dozen books. I finally purchased one, and it took about 30 seconds before it downloaded and was available for reading. If you have an existing Amazon.com account set up, purchased materials are automatically charged to that account, and to the credit card on file. It’s like “one-click” buying on the regular Amazon.com site. Very convenient; effortless as well. Almost too easy.

The type is incredibly clear. Though not backlit, the page is bright and I had no problem reading the page in the second smallest type face in the not-very-bright light of my office. The unit comes with a leatherette case (much like one of those inexpensive paperback covers you can buy).

You can also download audio books and mp3s, although, as an iPod user, I doubt I will ever use those functions. You can increase the size of the Kindle’s memory by using an SD memory card, which is actually fairly difficult to find (it’s behind the unit under the rubberized back). Again, with the ability to hold more than 100 books on the machine itself, I can’t imagine needing to use an SD card. But you never know, I suppose.

In addition to books, you can subscribe to magazines like Forbes, Time, The Nation and The Atlantic, or newspapers, including The Washington Post, The New York Times…even Le Monde and other international papers. I tend to read newspapers online (or in hard copy, as I do with The New York Times) so this functionality, while nice (and if I need some reading material for a long flight) might be something I won’t access much. The subscriptions are far less costly than the equivalent hard copies, so maybe…

The price is pretty steep at $400.00, and although content is a bargain at $9.99 or less (even for best sellers) for most books, it’s not for the occasional reader. However, the lure for an avid reader to carry with them an ever-present virtual library is pretty seductive to this gadget-loving book lover.

One of the biggest drawbacks I foresee is that people might want to actually hold it and play with it, try it out, etc. before forking over $400.00.  On the other hand, Amazon has already sold out of the Kindle until next week.  So what do I know?

 I give the Kindle a B+ and look forward to a nice long weekend of catching up with my reading.

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books.Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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