Kindle 2: How’s It Going?

March 30th, 2009

It’s now been almost a month since I got my Kindle 2 and wrote about my first impressions of it. In that amount of time, I figure I have read, on the Kindle, the equivalent of 1500 to 2000 printed pages.

I’ll start with my personal reactions to the device, and then move on into some less subjective observations about it.

What I’ve Used It For

To give you a quick idea of what I’m reading:

  • David Copperfield (downloaded at feedbooks.com)
  • Part of Houston Smith’s Why Religion Matters, purchased at the Amazon Kindle Store (currently reading it)
  • Cory Doctorow’s Eastern Standard Tribe (from feedbooks)
  • Most of Simon Travaglia’s funny BOFH series through 2000 (built myself)
  • Various other bits and pieces of things here and there.

The Gut Reaction

I want everything to be available on the Kindle, and I want to read everything on it. Whether that’s just some excitement at a new device (still possible after a month, I guess), or something more lasting, I’m still a little unclear about — but I suspect it’s something more lasting.

I have read far, far more since I have had the Kindle than I had for quite some time prior, excepting a certain Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy marathon one Christmas vacation. This leads me to think that the Kindle’s main competitor isn’t the Sony PRS-505, but rather the XBox, Wii, Netflix, and Hulu. Not that I watched that much TV to start with, but I haven’t even been keeping up with the Daily Show since I got the Kindle.

Not only that, but it prompted me to go to the local used bookstore (all proceeds go to charity) and buy a paper copy of David Copperfield for $10, so Terah could read it with me while I reread it on the Kindle.

So it seems that Amazon’s stats — which show that people tend to read more once they get the Kindle, and don’t cut down on paper book buying — are about right in my case.

Plus there’s the fact that I’ve loaded up the Kindle with over a hundred free books of all sorts of descriptions, some from Amazon’s own free book catalog (extensive in itself), and others from Feedbooks, Gutenberg, or other places. That’s taken up some time itself, and I now have achieved what I tend to achieve with all devices like this (iPod, MythTV, etc): more material than I can ever possibly get through.

Why I Like It

So, what exactly IS it about this thing that I like?

Part of it has to be the size of the device. Granted, I wish the screen were larger, but even with the leather case, the device is a pretty nice size. I find that I keep two or three books that I’m reading at the top of my list, and it’s great to be able to carry around a single device and be able to select from a book as the mood strikes.

Part of it is the built-in dictionary and search tools, which I’ve already discussed.

In the end, Amazon’s execution of the concept is just done really, really well. It doesn’t require some sort of proprietary Windows app like Sony’s reader does. It doesn’t even require a PC at all. It acts as reliable as a book, and that’s something.

The highlight/clippings feature is also pretty nice. You can highlight a section of text, which then causes it to be rendered with an underline on-screen — just like you can underline something in a book. Better yet, when you’re reading the book, you can call up a list of all such passages (as well as your bookmarks, etc), see them with an excerpt of text, and jump directly to them. No more need for millions of tiny pieces of paper marking a page that contains a marking.

Even better than that, the Kindle creates a .txt (yes, plain text) file in the documents/ directory for you. Each time you bookmark or highlight a passage, it adds a little summary of the passage to that file, as well as information about the location of it. For highlights, the summary is the content of the highlight itself. So if you’re going to go blog about the book later, there are a bunch of ready-made quotes you can cut-and-paste later. You can read that file both on the Kindle and on a PC. Sweet.

So, I guess I would say that the Kindle makes it easier to read complex texts, and fun to read lighter ones.

Availability of Content

There are several ways you can get content onto the Kindle. The first, of course, is Amazon’s own Kindle Store. Quite the clever bit of engineering there. You hit “buy”, and generally by the time you can walk over to the Kindle and pick it up, the book’s on it, thanks to the integrated cell-network wireless modem. Subscriptions to newspapers and magazines work similarly — each issue is automatically delivered in the middle of the night. However, it seems that the magazines such as New Yorker and Atlantic aren’t exactly complete replicas of the print editions for some reason.

The pricing of Kindle content is generally cheaper than paperback editions of books, but not by much. I think it should be more heavily discounted than it is, and part of that may be due to the large commission Amazon takes on things.

Ironically, Amazon also has a tremendous array of free public domain and copyrighted books, and an equally staggering number of books available for under $1.

For the classics, and other things out of copyright, my favorite place to turn is Feedbooks. They’ve got ebooks available for download for just about any format, including Kindle, and generally do a good job of providing a real linked Table of Contents and the like. Kindle can read DRM-free content in .txt or .mobi format.

I’ve also built my own ebooks for the Kindle using Mobiperl. It takes an ePub source directory and makes a MobiPocket file out of it, which can be installed on the Kindle directly. For things I find on Project Gutenberg, GutenMark is a nice tool to create a good-looking HTML representation. I also use quote-fixer to help with my other pet peeve: straight quotes and lack of em-dashes on a device that can, and should, display both.

Screen

I’m still of two minds about the screen. On the one hand, it doesn’t give me eyestrain like reading on a PC, laptop, or cellphone screen does. Also, it looks remarkably book-like. A well-prepared Kindle etext feels so professional on the screen, so real, so lovingly-prepared, that it’s fun to read. The Feedbooks David Copperfield is an excellent example of this, as is Houston Smith’s Why Religion Matters.

There are several things I don’t like about the screen. One is that, while reading a book, it leaves a margin around the edge of the text. I can’t figure out why it doesn’t use all the available screen real-estate, especially since its built-in web browser does. Another is that, while not terribly reflective, it is still somewhat reflective, and glare from the sun or a light at a bad angle can make the screen unreadable unless you turn it a bit to a different angle. But my biggest gripe about the screen is that it’s not as high-contrast as I’d like. Still, I very much enjoy the Kindle, so I guess it’s not as huge a problem as I think it could be sometimes.

Pet Peeve

I get really annoyed when I download content for the Kindle and discover that it doesn’t have a linked Table of Contents (meaning I can click on a chapter and go directly to it). I’m even more annoyed when it uses straight typewriter quotes instead of the angled “typesetter’s quotes” or “smart quotes”. The Kindle is capable of beautifully rendering them, as well as things such as em dashes, and when I see what is obviously some cheap attempt at a conversion of some ancient ASCII document, rather than a proper attempt to make a good-looking book, I get annoyed.

And so it was that I requested, and got, a $0.80 refund for my purchase of Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection and instead paid $3.60 for The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I could have spent a few hours converting all these from Gutenberg, but $3.60 is so cheap that it wasn’t worth it.

Customer Service

Amazingly, Amazon’s customer service for the Kindle is not their usual “Asian form letter” service. It’s Americans, who seem to read, understand, and care about problems. I was pleasantly surprised. Too bad the rest of Amazon doesn’t learn a thing or two from it.

Conclusion

I think the Kindle is worth it. It will pay for itself exceptionally quickly for people like me that don’t live anywhere near a large library, and enjoy reading out-of-copyright material. Even if it doesn’t pay for itself that quickly, the convenience of being able to carry several “actively reading” books with you on a single small device is pretty nice. No more pile of books in my suitcase for travel.

Categories: Reviews

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Comments Feed12 Comments

  1. Chung-chieh Shan

    How do you know “it’s Americans”?

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    From talking to them.

    Pretty easy to tell, really.

    Don’t get me wrong, customer service can be bad wherever it is, but without question my worst experiences have been when it’s been outsourced outside of the country. That’s not a commentary on the support technicians so much as on the companies that have hired them to do a job that they are not appropriate for.

    Reply

    Chung-chieh Shan Reply:

    Maybe the following is where my ignorance lies: What is the sense of being American that you find pretty easy to tell from talking to them?

    Reply

  2. carmen

    i picked up some Hanlin/Astak/Jinke thing from HK or so. i love being a guinea pig for the ‘no-name’ chinese stuff for some reason – like the mp3 players they support myriad of formats and are generally half the price of amazon/apple kit. also like the 3.5″ floppy workflow of USBmass/SDcards, something Apple hates..

    as for the RWH test – it failed miserably on the CHM version i found somewhere – the index wasnt working right, so nothing but indexes were readable. the HTML rendering is so bad, that it couldnt display code/pre tags with decent monospaced. plus theres no native PS support, despite all sorts of craz formats ive never heard of. PDF displayed fine, but for books i actually read, i still prefer dead tree. especialy lush squareshaped hardcovers like TAPL… dont think those will be obsolete any time soon

    being able to read outdoors with virtually infinite battery is such a huge win over a netbook

    Reply

  3. carmen

    so what im saying is for stuff that doesnt get printed on paper, these things are great. like say John Hughes papers. does amazon have the Bananas in Space PS on oneclick to Kindle2?

    Reply

  4. Xtreme Phil

    The Kindle’s days are clearly numbered while competing with such competitively priced and feature rich netbooks such as the Eee PC. The only thing it has going for it is it’s novelty value as an alternative to the book. There’s always going to be the eccentric group that buys into them regardless, just like the Sinclair C5. :D

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I completely disagree. I own an Eee too, and it solves a completely different problem.

    There is a huge difference in the screens. I wouldn’t want to use a backlit LCD to read a book, and I wouldn’t want to use eInk to do computing.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I should also add that, even though the Eee has a quite respectable 5 hour battery life, the Kindle has a *4 day* battery life with wireless on, or *2 weeks* with it off.

    The Eee doesn’t even come close to competing with the Kindle.

    Reply

  5. Leon

    Interesting… I’ve visited your blog on a handful of occasions, and it sounds like we are similar in many more ways than one.

    I must admit, I tend to be rather skeptical of new technology, especially on the I.T. front. You’ve convinced me that there really is something to the Kindle, however.

    Reply

  6. Omari

    Interesting that you’re using it primarily for free books. (I left a comment on your earlier entry about the DRM on the Kindle books, thanks for responding.) I agree with you that the device seems pretty neat. It’s still a bit pricey to me, but I do understand the charm of carrying this one thing rather than a bunch of books.

    Reply

  7. Kurt

    I think some of the first paragraph under “Availability of Content” gotten eaten by an errant HTML tag. Hovering over the “public domain” link reveals some discussion of the Kindle Store, and the link itself isn’t working.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Whoops. Fixed. Thanks for letting me know.

    Reply

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