Kindling

Two weeks ago, I broke down and bought a Kindle. I like it:

  • It’s a good and well-designed reader, and the experience is much better than the other e-book reading I’ve done before on phones and PDAs. I like how when you bookmark a page, you can see it… the corner of the page gets a little dog-ear. [1]
  • It’s got a nice e-paper screen that uses ambient light, not backlight, which makes it readable anywhere just like a printed page — it’s even better, not worse, in direct sunlight.
  • It’s light and thin and sturdy. Sure beats carrying three or four books on a trip.
  • It has great battery life. I’ve only charged it once so far, when I first received it… since then I’ve had it for 11 days and read a full book and a half, and it still has 75% of its first charge left. (It helps that I turn the wireless off unless I’m actively using it.)
  • Fast, free wireless everywhere in the U.S., without computers or WiFi.

But today, it transformed my reading experience.

This morning, I was unsuspectingly reading my feeds in Google Reader as usual, blissfully unaware that the way I read books was about to change. Among other articles, I noticed that Slashdot ran a book review of Inside Steve’s Brain (that’s Jobs, not Wozniak or Ballmer). The review made me want to read the book. That’s when the new reality started, because I was interested in the book now, and had time to start reading it now:

  • Normally, I would have ordered it from Amazon and waited for it to arrive. But what usually happens then is that the book arrives a week later, and when it gets here I don’t have time to start it right away or I don’t quite feel like that kind of book just at the moment… and it goes on a shelf, with a 70% probability of being picked up at some point in the future.
  • Today, I searched for the book title on my Kindle, clicked “Buy”, and a few minutes later started reading Inside Steve’s Brain while eating lunch. [2]

That convenience isn’t merely instant gratification, it’s transformative. I suspect I’m going to be reading even more books now, even though I have a few little nits with the device, such as that the next and previous page buttons are a little too easy to press in some positions.

In other news, the Kindle also supports reading blogs and newspapers and some web surfing, but those are less compelling for me because I tend to do those things in the context of work, which means I’m already sitting at a computer with a bigger color screen and full keyboard. Maybe someday I’ll do it on e-paper. Until then, just living inside a virtual bookstore is plenty for me. Kindle + the Amazon Kindle store = iPod + iTunes for books. [3]

Here’s a useful summary article on Kindle features from a prospective user’s point of view.

Notes

1. The first two books I downloaded? The Design of Everyday Things, which was interestingly apropros to read on a new device like the Kindle with its nice dog-ear feedback and other well-designed features, and Foundation, which I hadn’t read in ages.

2. And it cost less than half what the dead-tree version would (though the latter was hardcover).

3. Caveat: I’m not actually an iPod owner, and I hate how Apple keeps insisting on installing iTunes on my computer just because I have Safari or QuickTime installed (mutter grumble evil product-tying monopolies mutter grumble :-) ). But apparently everyone else loves them, and they have indeed changed their industry.

10 thoughts on “Kindling

  1. I picked up a Kindle earlier this year, but wound up returning it. Like you, Asimov’s “Foundation” was one of the first things I purchased.

    Overall my sense of the reader during the couple of weeks I had it was that it was a good idea that was a bit rushed in production. The design of the product seemed a little clunky — especially those all-too-easy-to-push side buttons — and I could never really find a comfortable way of holding it for long periods of time.

    Did you have any issues like that, and if so, how did you adapt to them?

  2. The overall look struck me as a little “1.0” clunky at first too when other people showed me theirs, but once I had it in my hands to try for a minute I decided it seemed to be mostly just cosmetic issues rather than functional ones. So I took the plunge, and still feel that way.

    Since plunging, I agree that the side buttons are indeed too easy to press (and it’s odd that there are two ‘next page’ buttons though I understand why), but I adjusted my hand position and the device mostly disappeared as I read. Two things I still notice: 1. It takes a second to turn to the next page, but it’s not big enough lag to interfere with reading. 2. Graphics figures that have a lot of text are sometimes hard to read.

  3. Kindle + the Amazon Kindle store = iPod + iTunes for books

    Until then I thought you were saying that the Kindle was good :)

    Nah, in all seriousness it’s about time I invested in one. Have you found it good for reading reference books and technical manuals as opposed to just standard novels?

    Cheers!

  4. Hmmm … looking at the picture on Wikipedia I’m really unsure if the amount of text fitting on one page is sufficient for fluent reading. Looks really like I’d be pressing next page button every 20-30 seconds for a light novel …

  5. I was very excited about the Kindle but decided to wait for the next version.

    I use Safari Books On Line and for light reading and my RSS feeds–this included–I use my iPhone. A limitation initially was the amount of technical books available. I don’t think this has changed much.

    In any event, I’m glad you like it. I still want to travel light.

  6. “That’s when the new reality started, because I was interested in the book now, and had time to start reading it now … That convenience isn’t merely instant gratification, it’s transformative”

    Maybe transformative, but not necessarily a good thing.

    Like probably everyone who browses Amazon, I read reviews and often get the urge to read the book being reviewed. But I’m glad I can’t make an immediate purchase, since maybe a day to too later my opinion will have changed, or, I will have remembered that I have a stack of other books that are “must reads”, and which I already own.

    For now, I am content to convey that urge-to-read into a simple add-to-wishlist click. If I *really* want to read the book, then I can make a less rushed decision later.

    Aside: how does one add notes to a Kindled book? My programming books are full of scribbles and thoughts. Where would those go on a digital book?

  7. The temptation to buy books for immediate reading is not such a bad thing because Amazon lets you download a sample for free. Most samples I have seen are whole first chapter. They are always as much as I would browse in a book store. When I get time to read the sample and still want the book I turn on the wireless connection have it bought and downloaded in seconds.

    Getting used to holding the Kindle without accidently hitting those big next page buttons takes some time. After several hours of reading I started to like how easy it is to turn the page with little hand movement but an improved design will be welcome. Holding the Kindle seems easier in the jacket with the cover folded behind. That way the spine of the cover acts like a handle.

    As for technical books, the few I have looked at are nearly unusable because of the screen size and resolution. Short code samples would be OK but anything that needs high resolution or color will be disappointing. The Kindle is very good but not a 100% replacement for paper books.

    The #1 improvement on my wish-list is PDF support. There are ways to convert PDFs for the Kindle but the results are not good enough. Based on some reviews of how PDFs look on Sony’s reader it sounds like a particularly difficult task so this may not happen anytime soon.

  8. That story sounds awesome, except for one detail – DRM. Suppose next week, ACME releases a new product ‘urBook’ that’s the iPod of ebook readers — and has incompatible DRM.

    Is there a browser for it? I don’t just want to read a review, then search through my bag for the kindle, and then buy the book. I want to _click_ on a link in the blog to buy the book, which means i need a browser on the kindle.

  9. OJ asked: “Have you found it good for reading reference books and technical manuals as opposed to just standard novels?”

    I haven’t yet tried a heavy technical book with lots of code and figures. “The Design of Everyday Things” has quite a few diagrams and figures and the graphics work pretty well, except that the ones with fine detail are hard to read.

    Darren asked: “how does one add notes to a Kindled book? My programming books are full of scribbles and thoughts. Where would those go on a digital book?”

    Check out the article I linked to at the end of the blog post. It covers some handy FAQs like this.

    Aaron asked: “Is there a browser for it? I don’t just want to read a review, then search through my bag for the kindle, and then buy the book. I want to _click_ on a link in the blog to buy the book, which means i need a browser on the kindle.”

    Yes, there’s a limited brower and you can get that kind of experience. I haven’t used it for RSS myself yet though.

  10. I bought a Kindle the day that it was released.

    I did not buy it because it was the new gadget, and obviously did not buy it for its slick looks. I had been looking for a better way to read books for a few months prior to Kindle’s appearance. I was tired of carrying around gigantic tomes and having them become ruined due to their sheer mass. Holding them while reading was a pain, literally. When I finally found the device, I was surprised when I found out that it had also fundamentally changed the way I read.

    Before the Kindle I had been considering the following options:

    A) Tablet PC
    B) Eee PC
    C) Sony E-book Reader

    The first two options were actually high on my list by preference due to the fact that they could connect to the Internet. My reasoning for this was that I would be downloading books to the device wherever I could find a wireless network. The problem with this is that wireless networks usually are not found, say, on the beach. This was something I would have to deal with unless I could convince myself to fork out the dough for a mobile access card. Considering the relatively high starting price of these devices I just could not justify these purchases. At least not for a single application (reading).

    The Sony E-book Reader was cheaper and had all the advantages of E Ink technology which was a key feature that I wanted. I had tried using my laptop to read for a while but quickly realized that my eyes turn to jello after an hour of staring at a medium refreshing at 60Hz. This was another reason why I threw out the first two options. The problem with Sony’s device was that it had no network capability. This meant I would have to have access to a USB port if I wanted to get new material, and this was a deal breaker.

    Then that magical day came, someone called me (someone who had no idea I was in the market) and told me to check out Amazon’s web site. I could not believe it, E Ink, FREE wireless, discounted books?! This was exactly what I was looking for. I bought the Kindle before even reading the remainder of the feature list. It just seemed right, it was a sign from Bezos.

    Little did I know that this device would turn into an addiction to reading. No longer did my eyes blur, my wrists ache, or my interests wander. When reading a giant book you can feel how many pages you have left, you can see them, it can be very intimidating. On the Kindle, every book weighs exactly the same. Every book is the same size. This factor alone is the main reason that I read more frequently and with more focus. Amazon unwittingly made this feature even more effective by scrambling the page numbers. I may know that the printed copy of a book is 325 pages but when I am at location 2226-28 (the Kindle uses locations rather than page numbers) there is no sense of lassitude. I basically have no idea how much I have read or how much is left, so I never think about it anymore. You can tell how much percentage of the book you have read by looking at the progress bar at the bottom, but for some reason that does not bother me.

    As Herb said, the instant access to books that are of interest now is another game changing feature which I don’t need to explain again.

    The smaller features that I have found useful is the “Lookup” and “Add Highlight…” tools. I am learning many new words that authors love to throw into their work, most of these words I would have glossed over had I been reading a dead tree copy. For example, “lassitude” was a word I learned last night while reading a chapter out of Joel Spolsky’s “The Best Software Writing I.” I just went back and used the search feature to find this word in the book, another great feature. For those of you who were asking, there is an “Add Note” tool too but I have only used this a few times.

    Finally, I just wanted to make it clear that the Kindle itself, including its design, its software, and its hardware are of little interest to me. I think many agree that there is plenty of room for improvement, but since I could care less about the device itself I just don’t sweat it. I hope the market for reading devices is a success. This technology will help save a bunch of trees and let our love for reading expand beyond the canopy.

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