Repost, Kindle review

Since Amazon introduced the Kindle 2 today, I thought I'd repost a review I wrote of the Kindle. The curse of the early adopter strikes again.

The Kindle isn't so much awesome as it is incredibly, amazingly unobtrusive. It's kind of like air, or the strong nuclear force. You marvel at it when you are actively contemplating it, but mostly, you don't pay any attention to it at all. I just finished reading one of the books I got from Tor in their big book giveaway. For the first chapter or so, I was very conscious of turning the device on and off, reading text on a screen, pushing a button to turn the page, etc.

Quickly, though, surprisingly quickly, I came to feel like I wasn't reading a book on a Kindle. I was just... reading a book. The device disappeared, and it didn't mean much more than the peripheral difference between reading a hardback vs. a paperback. Different size object requires different grip, different heft, etc., but that was it.

The screen was very legible, the nifty features like changing font size, annotating, etc. were irrelevant once I'd gotten it set up. Outside, inside, daylight by windows, incandescent bulbs, fluorescent lights, the screen had good contrast and was very legible in all contexts.

I've gone several days, reading for hours each day, without the battery indicator changing much. If I'd left the wireless on, it would no doubt drain quicker. Charging it is about as much hassle as charging the cell phone, just something you do every now and again.

I loaded it up via USB with a bunch of the instructional books and training manuals that were the primary purpose of getting it, and then tossed on all of the Tor books that were given away earlier this year, as well as all 5 HHGTTG books, the Hobbit + LOTR, a number of the classics (Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Tale of Two Cities, Anna Karenina, etc.) and a dozen P.G. Wodehouse books from Gutenberg. There's enough material here for weeks, if not months of reading, none of which cost me a dime. I could have downloaded the .txt files from Gutenberg over the wireless connection, if I were ever stuck someplace with nothing to read. I also put on some of my own files (MS Word saved as .txt), and they read just like normal.

It comes with ~180MB of available memory, and an empty SD slot. I stuck in an 8GB SD card, and now have a superabundance of storage space. A typical book takes 1MB or less. File formats are txt, mobi, the Kindle native format. Converting PDFs is no big deal, either by saving-as-text or by other means.

One thing that I had to learn, though. The jacket (a leather-type sleeve with an elastic strap) looked like it would be cumbersome, so I didn't use it. After carrying my Kindle in my briefcase for a few days, though, I noticed a slight scratch on the screen. I started using the jacket, and found that its ergonomics are as good as the Kindle's. It didn't interfere with reading, carrying, using or charging the device. Now, I just leave it on for the protection and peace of mind.

The Kindle is very cool, but it is not cheap. The price tag is ~$360, a nontrivial outlay of cash. If you read a lot of new items straight off the bestseller list, or read a lot of e.books already, this may make sense to get. On-line magazines, newspapers, websites are updated and sent to the Kindle automatically with a subscription. Similarly, if you have a need to carry with you a ton of reference information - sales documents, technical references, etc., this would be a good way to do so, much better than a laptop for showing info to a few people informally.

It includes a keyboard, browser and audio capabilities for media files and audiobooks, but this is primarily a device for reading text, not websurfing, texting or e.mails. If you do a lot of reading, this is worth considering.

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