The Kindle at 55 Days

It's a testament to the Kindle that I've been too busy reading to actually discuss how much I love this expensive little gadget. To further reduce time away from my BFF, there will be no individually inserted photos. Instead, here's a slideshow of pics I took, oh, about eight weeks ago:

And now the fake interview:

What has been the biggest surprise about the Kindle?

That I would prefer it to books. I thought I'd enjoy the Kindle for its free books and sample chapters, then use that to guide my library decisions. Heh. Well, now I have a monthly book budget and if I never have to trek to the library again, I'll be a happy duckie.

Is it about e-reading, or is it about Kindle-ing?

For me, it's definitely about having a Kindle, not just any old e-reader. I know a lot of e-reader enthusiasts will blanch, because there are certainly some other great e-readers out there with their own benefits. (Sony's line is always the prominent example.) However, for me, the Kindle's special features are my main interests:

  • Wireless internet
  • Sample chapters
  • Incredibly long battery life (yes, two weeks)
  • Slender design
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Blogs
  • E-paper display (not exclusive to the Kindle, but the reason why I "don't just get an iPhone and read on it")

How is the blog reading working out?

Mixed bag, to be honest. I thought I'd be making the most of the mobile edition of Google Reader. It turns out that the mobile versions of Google and other RSS readers don't really butter my toast. At all. Slow loading, tediously organized... ditto for the whole web interface save the Amazon store, really.

I'm not writing off using the Kindle to read blogs through a means other than an Amazon subscription, but I am warming up to the idea of paying to read certain blogs through Amazon's service. I've tried several (they all come with 14-day free trials), and the formatting is great, but only one of my regular reads is currently available through Amazon, so...

On the plus side, I have so much non-blog content to read, I'm not really missing this capability (yet). However, to say that I'm a potential consumer just sitting around, wondering why I can't give someone some money to get what I want, is an understatement.

Newspapers are listed above. That wasn't part of your original want-list. How did they get end up as a dealbreaker for you?

A few weeks after I got the Kindle, Amazon added the Las Vegas Review-Journal to their newspaper offerings. I'm hooked. Normally I hate newsprint, hate the sensationalism of TV news, and I find the web interface for local media to be lacking. Criticsm of some of the R-J's journalism practices aside, I love having the paper on the Kindle. I'm actually more up to date on area news now. I don't read it every day, but for now the $6/month subscription seems worth it. For now.

Before buying the Kindle, you were very keen on using it to read The New Yorker. Has this gone as well as you hoped?

Yes. Yes. A thousand times - YES!

Just like with the paper edition, I'm now several issues behind, but it's not a problem because you can keep the back issues. (Some reviewers say you can't, or that you can only keep so many. Maybe this was once true, but I haven't had a problem in keeping them all.) This is $3/month very well spent.

I read the cartoons then Shouts and Murmurs, and after that it depends on what else I have to read. Some of the paper edition content is missing in the Kindle version. (I know Letters aren't in the K-ed, nor is the Back Page. Amazon reviewers claim the odd article doesn't show up, either.) Personally, I haven't noticed, although it's certainly an issue that needs to be resolved as the growing pains are sorted out.

I really like having a straightforward menu. Magazines have always antagonized my slight OCD tendencies by making me continue the story in the jungle at the back of the magazine, then later remember where I left off before the jump. (I tend to read cover to cover, ignoring the Table of Contents.)

I really like that there aren't any ads; hopefully that's a sustainable business model. (And maybe that's why some content is missing?)

And getting back to the image of me on the stoop, looking for someone to take my money, I will be delighted when more magazines jump on board. Sure, we already have several major players (Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Reader's Digest, The Atlantic...), but I can't wait for a cooking magazine to show up. (Maybe Saveur, with its long articles?) Foodie mags may be reluctant to embrace Kindle publication, as all gorgeous food styling will be reduced to shades of grey, but I wouldn't mind. The thought of highlighting and annotating all of those recipes, conveniently stored on my slim e-reader, already provides enough drool.

How is the annotating and highlighting?

I hate to keep gushing (not really), but it's really wonderful. I bought Bill Bryson's Shakespeare and it was so wonderful to be able to pull up a list of notes/highlights after reading. (As opposed to flipping through the pages, looking for each one. Not that I've ever been comfortable with writing on a book.) Same deal with The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath. (Did you know that her father Otto had his leg amputated? I did not.)

When I read fiction, I now like to highlight funny words or turns of phrases. Later I can just click on the book then click on the link to the highlights. (Like the dad in The Princess Bride, you can create your own "Good Parts Version" of anything!)

The built-in dictionary is a boon. Unfortunately, I don't read enough stuff that challenges my vocabulary, but when I do, all I have to do is move the cursor to the word, and the definition shows up at the bottom. I love this.

How tedious/annoying is page-turning?

It's not. I was afraid it might be, especially since the screen flashes a "reverse image" as you do so, but it goes so quickly that I don't notice a lag in my reading, and I stopped noticing the reverse-flash right away. (The Kindle 2 does have faster page-turning than the original model.)

What is the sound quality for the audio books like?

I haven't tried it. I've never hooked the Kindle up to the computer. (And again, I love-love-love never having to touch a cable, except for charging, which I've probably only done five or six times.)

I also have never emailed a document to the Kindle or copied over any JPGs, etc. Right now I have 18 pages of things to read (about 180 items) - the rest will have to come later.

How well does the Kindle travel/work on planes?

I took the Kindle on three flights recently, all without incident. In fact, going through X-ray was the first time I turned the Kindle off. (I usually leave it in sleep mode, per Amazon's recommendation.) I did read some cautionary stories online about making sure you don't jam it into your bags, or do anything that puts a lot of weight on the screen (like packing it in a bag so that the rest of the bag rests on top of it). Apparently the screen is sensitive to that kind of pressure.

As long as the wireless is off, there should be no problem with using the Kindle on a place. The attendants didn't look twice at me, and having 100+ books/magazines/blogs to read made the flights pretty painless. (It was a little hard to get wireless connectivity at McCarran for about 20 minutes, so don't wait until the last minute to download your new books.)

What kind of case do you use?

I got the regular cover. It's like a book cover, and I leave it on all the time so I can clamp on a booklight as needed (which is most nights). I highly recommend the "Mighty Bright" book light with its flexible neck. I just fold back the front and can still read with one hand. (An unexpectedly fantastic feature - especially when lying on my side.) I can see the appeal of slipcases and fancier covers, but I prefer having the Kindle ready to read at any moment.

Now that there's a book budget in your life, what do you think of Kindle book prices?

Prices have been reasonable ($6) for the fiction I've bought so far, but I've stayed away from the latest Marian Keyes (for example) at its $13 price tag. Likewise the new Sophie Kinsella at $10.

I can see perhaps a $2 "newness tax," but there's too much to read out there to go higher than that. I think it's going to be harder for the reader to reconcile a $13 for an intangible mass-market book than it's going to be for publisher to reconcile not charging a substantial amount more for a book that's new.

In the end, it's the publishers making this decision, not Amazon/Kindle. I put my book (or "book") for sale in the Kindle store. I got to set the price, then Amazon slapped their standard 20% discount on it. However, I'm still paid royalties on the full amount. Again, if you have a problem with Kindle book prices, take it up with the publishers.

Are there many free books?

On Amazon? Some. After downloading everything I could find for free, they have trickled in, maybe one or two a week, sometimes less. There are many more free books out there if you look at other sites, and whole blogs devoted to pointing out what's available, but I'm overwhelmed with reading matter that I haven't tried other sites yet. (Non Amazon-books can be transferred using a cable, or else paying 15 cents to email the doc.)

What would you change about the Kindle and its related services?

  • The endless list of items (like I said, 18 pages-worth for me now, and counting) on the Home screen isn't very 2009. Yes, you can search for what you want, but I've downloaded so much stuff that I can't even remember what I want. I'd love to be able to "shelve" by category: Already Read, Freebie Crap To Read When Desperate, Academic Stuff, New Yorkers, Samples, plus the usual Suspense, Travel, Classics, etc.
  • Clippings should likewise be organizable. I haven't clipped that much, but I'm not impressed with the idea of everything going into one big file.
  • The ability to request blogs the way we can request books. I'm not sure that enough blog authors are aware that it's a pretty simple process to make your blog content available on the Kindle. (But are you willing to strip your ads and only make money off of subscriptions? And no, Shari.com isn't joining the K-ranks. If there's some unknown reader out there who really want to pay to conveniently read my mind dribble, let me know, but otherwise there are better ways to put on airs.)
  • Cheaper blogs. (Unlike with books, Amazon sets the subscription price, and $1.99 seems to be the norm. Me, I read too many blogs to embrace using Amazon subs on the Kindle to replace my blog reading. It's not like you even have an easy way to add or see comments.)
  • More magazines.

Obviously, there's not a lot I dislike about the Kindle. It could be just me. (Luckily, I'm the only one I have to please.) I don't care that, unlike the Kindle 1, there isn't a slot for a memory card or that you can't upload your own photos to use for the screensaver. I'm glad there isn't a built-in nightlight or any backlighting. I'm pleased that it isn't smaller. I'm pleased that it isn't bigger. (I do have small hands, though.) The white iPod styling doesn't put me off. As Bezos hoped, the device really does become invisible when you read. (Turning pages with the press of a thumb on either side? Bliss.)

It's hard to tout a technically unnecessary gadget in these difficult financial times, but the Kindle is now as "unnecessary" to me as my camera. I'm glad to have made the investment, and I can't wait until I can do it again someday, when color versions are available and priced right.

And finally, my motto for everyone who has encountered a certain kind of Kindle naysaying...

The Kindle: for people who love books, but who love reading more.

05 May 2009 |

Previously: Shushed
Next: Gophers Are Also Rodents


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