Monday, March 9, 2009

Kindling

As promised, here are some of the things I love and don't love about my Kindle, for those of you contemplating a purchase of one for yourself, and those that are simply curious.
  • As I mentioned in my previous post, the Kindle really does read like a book to me. It takes a little bit to get used to the way the pages "turn" and it seems to delay more than it would if you were actually turning a page, rather than switching screens. But really, you get used to this "flutter" and hardly notice it once you're into reading a book. I find myself forgetting I'm even reading it on a screen at all, and don't get that glassy eyed, strained feeling I do after reading blogs or whatever for too long. I did have to adjust the size of the text to much smaller than what initially appears, or else I was turning pages much more often than I'm used to, but this is an easy operation to complete.
  • I really like that the Kindle remembers for me what page I'm on. My reading these days is of the stop and start variety, I can't keep track of bookmarks, and so when I'm reading, I tend to spend a lot of time trying to figure out where I left off, and it's frustrating. Every time I turn the Kindle on, it takes me right back to where I was when I turned it off.
  • Books are easily downloaded via the Kindle store -- probably a little too easily, as you can just press a button, and suddenly you're ten dollars poorer. But, so far, even new hardcover titles are only $9.99, a real bargain. I haven't exhausted the titles I already have on mine enough to look too much into it, but there are quite a few places where you can download books that are already in the public domain for free. I actually recently stumbled on a bit of a treasure trove of free titles right in the Kindle store. Stephen King just wrote a little novella that was available first only on the Kindle, and only cost $2.99. Yes, I bought it, and it was kind of a weird little product placement advertisement for the Kindle all bound up in a typically creepy King story. Reminded me a lot of "Low Men in Yellow Coats" from Hearts in Atlantis. I'm not a huge Stephen King fan, but I do typically enjoy his shorter works, and find his columns in Entertainment Weekly highly entertaining. In fact, I recommend you go read this week's column, because it's a plug for a television show I love, Breaking Bad.
  • You can also read magazines and newspapers on the Kindle, which I think is something I will start to do more often, as the quality of the Cincinnati Enquirer is getting to be way less than acceptable. J. has also announced he will no longer pay to have Newsweek delivered to our home (the "We Are All Socialists Now" cover did it for good, I think). So if I want to keep reading it, I'll have to do it on the Kindle. I have already taken advantage of the free sampling offers for USA Today and The Atlantic magazine. You get two free weeks of a newspaper and two free issues of a monthly, typically, before you have to pay up. I found I actually read more articles in the USA Today than I would have if I picked up one in a hotel or wherever, and I read quite a lot of the Atlantic as well. You don't get most of the pictures or graphics, and some content is left out, but that's okay with me.
  • Speaking of the free sampling, that's something you can do with books, too. Say you've heard about a book on NPR or something. You can look it up in the Kindle store, order a free sample, and voila! The first chapter or so is delivered right to your device. If you decide you like it, you can then order it up right then. I did this with Interred With Their Bones.
  • While I haven't actually had the opportunity yet, one of the ways I can see the Kindle being great for me is when travelling. Usually, I pack up a whole bag of books and drag them all with me -- one extra piece of luggage for reading materials always. Ideally, I'll now be able to just bring my Kindle, and if I run out of books to read, just order another one or two. Now, this is not a good money saving technique, and chances are, I'll still stock up at the library before a trip, but if, as I have done in the past, I plan to purchase something specifically for a vacation, I think I'll plan to do it on here instead of at a bookstore. Downside is, I don't know how comfortable I'll feel taking my Kindle to the beach or to the lake, where much of my reading takes place precariously close to water/sunscreen and other electronic hazards.
So, on to the things that so far have been disappointing about the Kindle:
  • The only reason I wish that I waited long enough to get the Kindle 2, rather than my earlier edition is the "read to me" feature that the new one offers. I'm not sure what it's really called, but basically, there is a feature where the computer takes the books you own, and converts the text to audio, and reads it to you. This is not a full scale audio book, performed by a professional reader in a dramatic fashion, simply the words translated to sound. This might come in handy while driving or exercising, say. Also, if I was still teaching, you can bet my Kindle would be loaned out to some students with learning disabilities, and this seems tool for that population. Audio books are expensive. I've heard there are potential lawsuits afoot for just this reason. Anyway, it seems an intriguing idea to me.
  • My biggest beef with the device itself is the giant "Next Page" button. While I understand that the designers wanted to make this feature as easy and seamless as possible, in reality, what happens is this button gets pressed by accident far too often. Suddenly, you're five pages further ahead than you planned to be. I've heard that this button has been redesigned in the Kindle 2, but looking at the new diagrams, it appears that they have still placed it right around where you want to hold the device.
  • Another thing that is slightly annoying is the "locations" that replace page numbers. Since the actual "pages" differ from what would be printed in a book, and also differ depending on the text size that you choose to read with, a system of what they call "locations" is used, an tends to be a range in the hundreds or thousands. This range is listed at the bottom of each screen you read, along with a little bar that shows you how far you are into the book. I find it's hard to remember these location numbers, and difficult to re-find your spot if the Kindle does indeed get bumped. Also, I hadn't realized how often I sort of flip through the remainder of pages in a book to see where the next chapter ends, or just how far I am from the end of the book. The little bar of progress isn't quite as accurate a predictor, for me, at least, of about how much time I have left with a book.
  • I do think I'd like it if the Kindle had a built in light. I don't want a back light, like on a computer screen, because I think that would be distracting, but for some reason, it feels like something that is battery operated lends should be able to be read in the dark without a lamp. They do make add on book lights for this purpose, but it seems to me something that could be included in the actual device.
  • The cover that came with my Kindle is really annoying, and I've actually stopped using it. It's this leather bound cover, that makes the Kindle look a lot like one of those nice bound blank books that people buy for others as gifts, and then sit on bookshelves largely unwritten in, because they seem too nice to fill up with your daily complaints. Anyway, I like the idea of a protective cover, and that my Kindle looks fancy when it is wearing it, but it is very poorly designed. There's this one little plastic flap that somehow is supposed to fit into this small groove on the back of the Kindle, but it only sort of rests there and is easily bumped out. I'm always afraid it's going to fall right out of there and bounce on the floor. I spent a good hour sitting on the couch at my mother in law's on Christmas Day trying to figure this cover out, thinking I must just not be doing it right. Now, granted, I was about halfway through a bottle of wine, but I remain convinced that it's just not right.
  • I also have spent a good deal of time on the phone with the Kindle support staff, and I'd have to give them a mixed review. My first Kindle was never able to utilize the wireless connection that is one of the things that makes the Kindle so cool. I could hook mine up to my computer and download books directly from my Amazon account, but I couldn't just pull a book from midair while driving down the highway like I can now. It took nearly a week for this issue to be resolved, because every person I spoke to had a different tactic for trying to fix the problem, and no one was willing to just say mine was broken, as it was obvious from the start that it was. However, every person I spoke with was extremely nice, helpful, and apologetic, including the guy who helped me for more than a half an hour on Christmas Day. And I got my new one and it's fine.
  • Since the Kindle is able to connect to the world of technology so seamlessly and easily -- more like a cell phone than a wi-fi connection -- I wish that the "experimental" portions of the device were a little more refined. You can connect to the internet with it, but it is very clumsy and difficult to maneuver. It used to have a function where you could type in a question, and someone out there in the universe (a special staff of researchers?) would look up the answer and send it to you. This function was discontinued before I had mine, but seems to me a very cool avenue for Amazon to explore. For example, you are reading a novel, and some historical event or person is mentioned. Wouldn't it be great to be able to look up some details on that right from the device? It has a built in dictionary, which is cool, but not something I will most likely use very often.
So, that's a little review of my new device. As someone who does not tend to be on the leading edge of any new technology, (I didn't convert to CD's until after college, probably around 1996!) it feels pretty cool to have this little techno-geek badge to carry around. (Because I go out to so many places where people would be impressed!)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are right, I'm done with Newsweek. Fareed Zakaria and the Socalist issue put me over the top.
J

ms. mep said...

Thank you for this thorough post. I've been asking T. for the past few weeks if he was "on top of the Kindle situation" as a combined birthday/Mother's Day/Graduation/Anniversary gift or if I needed to be in charge (this after I did not receive one for Christmas due to his lack of urgency, even though I said it was the only thing I wanted and that the gift could count for the above events too). When he admitted this past Friday that he had not yet moved forward (though he planned to), despite knowing Kindle 2 was available, I ordered myself one in honor of the events cited above plus some "gift money." It arrives tomorrow.

I have spent much of my limited free time today exploring what I will be able to buy and get for free for my Kindle. I'll send you a separate email about some of the free stuff I found out about, but it's intriguing and exciting.

Per your review, I am now kicking myself for ordering the cover (now separate with Kindle 2).

I opted not to buy the extended warranty and hope I don't regret it.

I don't think you should feel sad about not having the read aloud feature. Because seriously, it is no fun to listen to books that are read, as opposed to read by a great or even just good narrator. I found some free downloadable audiobooks on itunes the other day (through the Florida school system), but when I listened to a sample, I was like, "No way I could listen to this reader the whole time. Not bad, but not like the awesome ones of regular audiobooks."

I am definitely hoping that the Kindle will help me to be more informed about current events with the newspaper/magazine capabilities. I back out of most political and other discussions (about anything but television, books, or food) these days because I don't feel informed enough to participate in the way I would wish.