I confess to having a thing for new electronic gadgets and gizmos. I always have. But I’m pretty fickle about them as well. Gadgets that look cool and act cool, but are too much trouble to use, frustrate my simple mind and typically wind up cast off into a drawer, unused or, if I’m feeling particularly industrious, for sale on eBay.
And so it was with amused disdain (tempered with his usual teasing indulgence) that my husband greeted my delight at having acquired an Amazon Kindle last November. The Kindle is Amazon.com’s electronic reading device. Using something called e-Ink, it provides the user with a traditional reading experience, but without the paper. He waited (and waited) for this, too, to be cast off and up on eBay. Although I was sorely tempted (the eBay price for a Kindle topped out at around $1000 when the product was sold out on Amazon.com for months), nothing would get me to part with my Kindle. Eight months later, I'm still as enamored of it as I was back in November.
I reviewed the Kindle right out of the box when I got it, but now, after eight months of daily use, I thought it might be time to revisit the device. You know, honeymoon being over and all. So, without further ado:
Instant access to Amazon.com—Do not underestimate the importance of this feature. It makes owning the Kindle and browsing in the Amazon.com store an experience as satisfying as browsing the aisles of a brick-and-mortar Borders or Barnes and Noble. It also places the Kindle head and shoulders above the Sony Reader.
Because the Kindle is wireless, access to the Amazon.com store is always available (and free): sitting in the pediatrician’s waiting room, in the airport waiting to board your flight, sitting at the pool or lounging in bed wishing you had something good to read. You flick on the wireless switch, hit the button and you’re in the store. Browse new releases, the best seller lists (several of them), or search for your favorite author (by typing on the Kindle’s keypad) or genre. Read reviews, download a free sample chapter or two (instantly), or buy the book.
There is no other reading device (as far as I know) that can do this. You can also access the Amazon.com store on your computer, buy the Kindle version of the book and, voila, when you turn on the device, your new book magically appears on your device’s home page within a minute or two.
You can also subscribe to newspapers like the New York Times. (The Kindle “whispernet” deposits the newspaper into your device like an invisible newsboy.) Magazines, including Time and The Atlantic, as well as e-magazines and blogs like Slate and—breaking news—BlogCritics(!) are also available for subscription.
Book Price—The current best-sellers and most other hardcover books are $9.99. Paperbacks cost generally between $3.00 and $7.00. If you buy a lot of hardcover books (and I do), you are saving about $15.00 per book. Admittedly, you don’t have a physical copy of the book, and for some of us, that’s a blessing. The Barnett household is littered with books. We have approximately 2,000 volumes stashed and stacked in various bookcases (shelved two deep in places), on coffee tables, shelves nightstands and other places. The possibility of buying new books without adding to the clutter is (as they say in Yiddish) a mechaiyah. (Insert deep relieved sigh here.)
Deleting a book from the Kindle library doesn't erase it, either. The book is simply stored back at Amazon.com for easy retrieval. Unlike storing a finished book in the dark reaches of my bedroom bookcase, I can actually find that biography of Thomas Jefferson when I absolutely must read it again.
Selection and Variety—The Amazon.com Kindle store contains more than 130,000 books, and it’s not just the best sellers and new releases. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I needed a particular book on Jewish prayer. I was out of town and needed the book for a lecture. I accessed the Kindle store on the device, and crossed my fingers (or to be more to the point, said a little prayer). And there it was. The Kindle store has a very comprehensive selection of all genres.
Portability—For me, this is the reason for forking out $350 or more for any electronic reading device. I can carry a whole library of books with me wherever I go. And I do. I typically read one novel and two or three non-fiction books at a time. In hardcover. That's a lot of books to carry around on a daily basis (or especially when traveling).
I also like to read at lunch, and to me there is no bigger reading buzz kill than trying to manage silverware and 750-page novel at the same time (especially when the novel is towards the beginning.) Keeping those pages weighted down with salt-shakers, ice-water tumblers, and other at-hand implements is neither easy nor relaxing. With the Kindle, I simply turn it on and prop it up. Pages are turned by pressing very large buttons located both on the left and right of the Kindle. Making it a wonderful lunchtime companion. It’s also great to read in bed, for much the same reason. No more unwieldy and hefty tomes to balance while I’m propped up bed. (So sue me, I like really long novels!)
Adjustable Type Size—This is a great feature for the middle-aged and elderly amongst us. You can bump up the font size incrementally—all the way up to “I-really-ought-to-get-reading-glasses” size.
Keeps your place—Ever fall asleep and lose your place in a book? Forget to bookmark or dog-ear a page? The Kindle always saves your place. If you want to mark a page for reference, there’s a cute little dog ear graphic in the top corner of each page. Place an electronic bookmark and the little “corner” turns down just like a real dog-eared page.
Battery Life—Like most electronic readers using "e-Ink," the Kindle’s real-time battery life is about two weeks or more. If, that is, you use the wireless feature only when needed. Flip it on to download your books or browse in the store and turn off when you’re done. The device itself uses very, very little energy.
The Back Cover—Maybe it’s just my personal device, but the back of my Kindle keeps coming loose. It’s a nuisance, and it should snap in place more securely than it does. Without the included book-cover (which is great), I believe I may have lost the back of the device long ago.
Buttons—Don’t get me wrong; I love the big, accessible page-turning bars. But accessible location also makes them too easy to flip accidentally.
Color—The Kindle would be extra cool if it had color ability. Maybe in its next life; I understand that Kindle 2.0 may not be too far off in the future!
Page Numbers—I like to know what page I’m on. I just do. The Kindle tracks your reading progress by paragraph rather than by page. I do understand why, especially if you’ve bumped up the type size, you can flip page after page without seeming to have made progress. Although I’ve grown accustomed to this “new” way of judging my progress in the book, I really miss those page numbers.
Blurb—Sometimes, especially after I’ve put down a book for awhile, I forget why I started reading it in the first place, and the back cover (or the blurb) synopsis helps remind me of what the book’s about. It's something lacking on the Kindle, and something I greatly miss. It's a little thing, but (for me) it's the one thing that would really make Kindle books "real" for me. Silly, huh?
Bottom line: It's still a totally worthwhile electronic gizmo. I rank it in importance after my laptop and my Blackberry (and actually ahead of my iPod – though just slightly).