Monday, January 4, 2010

Kindle: A (Very Long and Comprehensive) Review

I am in love.

With my Kindle.

Even the box made me happy.

Y'know, not to sound materialistic or anything.

Seriously though, what a fine creation. Before I get anyone claiming that I'm a traitor to real books, that I'm encouraging the death of books, let me share my reasoning behind my purchase of (and love for) an eBook reader.

If you are strictly a bibliophile, a collector a books, someone who is aspiring for a Beauty and the Beast library and who gets off from the smell of books, but who doesn't actually read that much, then, no, eBook readers are not for you. However, I have rarely found such a bibliophile who isn't also addicted to reading. People who love collecting books, typically love reading them too. And reading a lot. eBook readers are perfect for people who always have a book with them and can't put them down.

eBook readers allow you to keep reading while you eat or knit or lay in that perfectly comfortable position, which, as we all know, is usually impossible because the pages won't stay open. If you're as addicted to me, you have probably rigged up meticulous book holders across your house. When I was little, I used to prop the Harry Potter books behind the faucets of my bathroom sink while I brushed my teeth.

The Kindle, in particular, has a text to speech feature on (almost) all books from Amazon and all of your personal documents. So, if you're in the middle of a climactic moment, but it's time to go to work, you can turn on text to speech and have your kindle read to you while you get dressed or drive.

There are about a gajillion more reasons why the Kindle is an amazing tool for readers, but know that you can reconcile your bibliophile-ness with owning an eBook reader. I'm definitely not going to stop buying real life books (I bought one just this evening, Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett), but the Kindle is amazingly convenient and sublime.

If you're still not convinced (or if you are looking for more information about this particular eBook reader), I have elucidated on about half of those gajillion reasons why I love the Kindle in the following (terrifyingly long) review.

If you're a person who reads a lot of books, you probably take a handful of books with you when you travel. I definitely know from experience how awfully this can weigh down your carry-on bag on the plane. When I went to San Francisco last month, I had to strategically plan how many books I could fit in my carry-on along with all of my 3 oz. toiletries. The Kindle is only 10.2 oz in weight and a third of an inch thick. I won't even need to allocate room for it in my carry-on when I fly to Boston next week!

My brother has the Kindle for iPhone app so he doesn't get why I need to buy a Kindle when I can get the books for free on my phone. He just doesn't understand.

My horribly ancient 2G iPhone battery rarely lasts an entire day and would probably not last an entire flight with the Kindle for iPhone app open. The Kindle, however, can last for a week straight and two weeks if you turn off wireless (which you would on a plane, unless you fly on awesome airlines like Virgin...not that you'd be on a plane for two weeks straight anyway).


When I first got my Kindle (five days ago), my best friend asked me how I could possibly stand to stare at a screen for so long. This is an aspect of Kindle that you really have to see in person before you understand. The Kindle uses eInk, which is a new technology that looks EXACTLY like ink. The screen of the Kindle looks just like the pages of a book. Even though I had played with a Kindle prior to receiving mine and knew how genuine the eInk looked, when I first took mine out of the box, I mistook the welcome screen for writing on the temporary protective cover. It's that real looking.

Oh yeah, and my best friend, totally ordered a Kindle just hours after seeing mine for the first time.

Awesome Factor

My favorite part of the Kindle (and here's where the bibliophile in me really comes out) is the screensavers. When you put it on sleep mode, the screen displays random images of authors or other literary images. Not only are these beyond awesome (probably only to Comp Lit majors), but so far my Kindle has shown way more female authors than male ones. My Kindle is totally a feminist.

The second most awesome thing about the Kindle is its dictionary feature. You can move your cursor to any word in what you're reading and it will display the definition at the bottom of the screen. You can also choose to look up said word on Wikipedia for no charge (oh yeah, there are no monthly rates for wireless access on the Kindle --- so long as you go to approved sites).

Price of eBooks

Once my best friend ordered her Kindle, she told me how she's going to go broke buying books on it.

Not necessarily.

Hardly any Kindle books are more than $9.99 (the only ones I've encountered so far are cookbooks) and most are much less. Brand new books and bestsellers start at $9.99. Children's books and older editions come cheaper. Just about every single classic is free. I have six pages worth of classic titles on my Kindle and I didn't pay a penny for any of them.

If you're typically paying full price for books (around $20), you will save a ton of money in the long run.

If you are like me and buy most of your books from Half-Price or cheap sellers online, the $9.99 price tags might be a little high. However, keep in mind that you don't have to buy all of your books from Amazon.

The Kindle allows you to upload .pdf and .doc files. If you can find a free downloadable eBook online, you can put it on your Kindle. I recommend Project Gutenburg and Wowio. Project Guternburg doesn't always offer .pdfs. Most of them come as Plain Text or HTML, but they are always free. Wowio, in addition to being all .pdf, also has more contemporary titles. 

What It Needs

Ok, I gotta cop, the Kindle is not perfect. But what new technology is in the first couple of editions? Just ask owners of original iPhones, who can only use apple headphones and don't have a GPS (oh right, that's me. hmph).

There is no brightness adjusting, which, I believe, is because of the eInk. I get that adjusting brightness might mess that up, but surely a backlight could be added? Until then, there are lights specifically made for the Kindle available.

The lack of a touch screen also feels a bit outdated, especially when competitors like the nook have made a touch screen available at the same price. Fortunately, Amazon doesn't seem to be suffering from the Kindle's passé navigation abilities. It is still the best eBook reader on the market for international travelers (though not necessarily for non U.S. permanent residents).

More books are being added everyday, but there are still a substantial number of books I would like to purchase that aren't yet available. Childrens titles are more difficult to come by (Inkheart, grr) and if you have a more academic reading appetite, you should probably hold off buying any eBook readers until more of those titles are available.

The book series I most wish were available on Kindle? Harry Potter. But it never will be. JK Rowling is staunchly against eBooks.

In Conclusion?

It's awesome for travelers and people who can never seem to put down a book. It will save you money on books in the long run. As the months and years go on, more books will be available and software updates will fix some of the current complaints. I really hope that it is not the future of books. For now, physical albums are still produced and bought despite the popularity of mp3s. I can only hope the same for books.

Maybe we can reconcile innovative technology and classic aesthetics?
Photo via


Kevin said...

I don't disagree that the Kindle does lots of awesome thins well, and it would be my top choice if I were in the market for an eBook reader. But I also like to bring up some dissenting opinions:

Also check out the related articles at the end of the post. Amazon makes it clear that you aren't buying books, but renting them on their (undisclosed) terms. The one thing hard books still have over the e-versions is that when I buy it, it is mine to do with what I choose.

Kevin said...

Of course I find a much better article to illustrate my point only after I posted that last one: