Thoughts of the Kindle
I played with a first generation Kindle a few years ago, while repairing someone's computer. They offered to let me see it in action, and I took them up on it. I thought it was an interesting device and that I might want one.
Well, let's size up the competition. Barnes and Noble booksellers would LOVE to sell you a nook reader or even their nook color model. There's nothing really wrong with the nook per se, but the color touchscreen seems to me like it's a solution looking for a problem. And the color nook, which they seem to be selling without any trouble at all, seems not much different from an iPad.
Okay...the iPad...or what I believe The Register calls a "fondle slab"...is really not a bad device. There's a lot to like about one, I'd even say that it's been well engineered for the most part. Some of Apple's followers and detractors would probably negate anything negative or positive that I'd say about it, but it might be the right device for some people, with its ability to run a diverse array of applications and also function as an e-reader. I held one, I played with it and ran some apps...and decided that it wasn't really what I wanted. Nice piece of equipment, full color display, but not a solution to any problem I was having.
And then there are the rest...tablets from many no-name Chinese or Taiwanese companies, ones from better known suppliers such as Acer, RIM and Samsung, and yet more than that. I don't know much about these or how much backing they are likely to get in what is fast becoming a crowded market.
Here's the thing. Some might differ with me on this, but reading for a long time, as you would a book or similar media, really doesn't work well on an LCD or CRT screen. I remember reading Bill Gates' book, The Road Ahead (stop that snickering, it was a gift) from the included CD-ROM, on my good old Dell Precision 433Si and a 14" Dell Ultrascan monitor. Despite the surprisingly good quality of the display and the fact that I was using a decent refresh rate, this was one of the most tedious, tiring things I've ever done, and not just because the CD software installed a messed up version of Video for Windows and had all of the stability of a garden trellis in a tornado. I don't recall now why I did it that way, only that I did. To me, it's still tiresome to read on even a modern LCD panel for a long time, just as it was with the CRT.
This December, just before Christmas, I quit goofing/loafing around and ordered a Kindle with 3G wireless and Wi-Fi about a week before Christmas day. It was delivered the night before Christmas. I gave myself an early present after the mail was delivered and the thing had some time to warm up from the frigid outdoors.
I'm still working on a full fledged review (you won't see it here, obviously I don't write for The Register, nor any other publication--it'll be on my personal web server) of the Kindle. While it might not be for everyone, it's a fine device. I think Amazon has a point when they say that devices such as the iPad won't be a real threat to the Kindle. It's a well engineered (though not perfect) device with an excellent display. The display is so good that you really don't miss not having color. Text is just razor sharp, and graphics are handled well, with great clarity in every example that I displayed. You won't believe how light weight it is, either.
Its text-to-speech function isn't bad. It's a computer voice, and yes you can tell because sometimes it flubs the pronunciation of a word or demonstrates an irregular speaking rhythm, but it's not a /bad/ computer voice with muffled clarity, tendency to mispronounce almost everything and monotonous speech. The built in speakers are surprisingly good for what they are and there is a stereo minijack connector on the bottom, for headphones or line out use.
My only complaints? The funny USB connector, DRM on the books (infringing on the rights normally provided with a first sale), inability to buy a "used" book (see DRM), no current support for lending books to/from others, and no ability to control the screens that are displayed when the device is sleeping. (I'd like to pick an "idle" image, or turn them off entirely, so the screen is blank when the Kindle is off.) Privacy and the EULA could be better--Amazon tells you that they may collect statistics on certain aspects of the device's use and where you leave a bookmark, annotation or leave off in your reading. At least some of that has to do with "social networking" aspects of the device, so maybe that's why it is mentioned.
It's also mentioned in the EULA that you are forbidden to disassemble the physical hardware, as well as the software. Software, fine, whatever. The hardware, well, that part I kinda actually OWN. Last I knew, I could do almost anything I wanted to do with a device that I bought. If I weren't such a busy guy, and didn't think I might break it beyond repair, I'd take it apart to prove a point.
Amazon seems to want feedback on the device, mentioning multiple times that there is an e-mail address available to send feedback to the Kindle team. I don't know how seriously they take such feedback, and I'd imagine they get quite a lot of it. Still, it's a nice gesture if nothing else, assuming they mean it.
I've read a few books on the device, one complete commercially published title, the user's guide that Amazon preloaded, and a few short stories that I wrote myself and converted to text-only format for Kindle display and transferred over the USB connection. Not once did it do a bad job, nor did I become tired while reading from it. It was, to put it simply, a very easy device to read from.
Amazon also complies with the GPL, as the Kindle bases on Linux and the 2.6 series kernel. The public parts of the Kindle code base have been released for download, and are available for each major device revision, all the way back to the first-gen model.
In other words, I think the Amazon product is a reasonable choice if what you have in mind is reading. It supposedly also supports some applications, but I don't really have any need or desire to run/buy apps for use on the Kindle, so I can't speak as to how well these work, how many there are or anything else. If you want something else, maybe you would be better served with an iPad, netbook, or another kind of tablet-thing.
Oops. I wrote another book in the comments area. I'll get my coat, and hope that someone found this useful.