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Two Month Kindle Review (and full text of my Washington Times interview)

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Kelly Jane Torrance, a reporter for the Washington Times. She was working a piece about the Amazon Kindle ebook reader, and had seen my Kindle unboxing and initial review video. We conducted an email interview, part of which went into her final article in the Washington Times (“The Carry-On Library” – beware popups).

Of course, all of my lengthy replies didn’t make it into the article, so I’m posting them here. Consider this my “two month” review of the Kindle – that’s about how long I’ve been using it. Read on for the rest of the interview/review.

(Update: I forgot to refer you to a couple of other posts I’ve written about the Kindle, namely, my Rebuttal to Kindle Critics, in which I talk in depth about the limits, real and perceived, of the DRM on Kindle books purchased from Amazon, and “Why eBooks are a Better Entertainment Value Than Almost Anything Else“, which is pretty self-explanitory. Both are good background on my thoughts/stance on the Kindle in general, and DRM in particular. I didn’t get into DRM much in the newspaper interview.)

How long have you had your Kindle?

I’ve had my Kindle for about a month and a half, since they became reliably available in mid-April. But I’ve wanted one ever since they were released in November 2007 (and subsequently sold out in 6 hours).

Why did you decide to purchase it?

I’ve been a long time fan of ebooks. I’ve read hundreds of them on various PDA and phone devices over the last few years. Needing to touch a physical book as part of the reading experience stopped being an issue for me a long time ago. The convenience of being able to take a library of hundreds of ebooks with you on a small device is very appealing. Already a fan of ebooks in general, I wanted a dedicated reader device with an electronic ink screen (super high contrast and DPI, low power usage). Among the dedicated eInk reader devices out there (Sony Reader, etc.), I chose the Kindle for a couple of reasons.

First is the Kindle Store – the almost-150,000 books that Amazon has made available to purchase and read on the Kindle. You could have the greatest ebook reader device in the world, and without a great library/store, it would fail. I figure if anybody can do the “electronic bookstore” right, it’s Amazon.

Second, the Kindle has a built-in unlimited cellular wireless data connection. That means it can access the internet and the Kindle Store almost anywhere there’s cell phone coverage, with no monthly fee. Besides being able to look things up on Wikipedia, or browse the web, this means I can go from “I want to buy a new book” to having the book purchased and downloaded to my Kindle in a matter of minutes, from anywhere.

You mentioned you have an iPhone, so are you the sort of person who tends to buy the latest gadgets?

I’m definitely the kind of person who always wants to have the latest gadgets. I’m a geek all the way down to the core. Interestingly, it was when I bought my iPhone that I stopped reading ebooks, because there was no ebook software for the iPhone, and it replaced the other mobile gadgets that I used to carry. So when the iPhone came along, I went back to buying “dead tree” version of books. I lost the advantages of ebooks, and the paper books I was buying started piling up all around my house.

Have you always been a big reader?

Yes, I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. It drives me crazy to have a few minutes go by without something for me to read (either on my Kindle, or reading the web on my phone).

How many books do you read in a month/year?

I read probably 6-8 books a month, around 100 per year (first time I’ve counted that up – yikes!).

What sort of things do you find yourself reading on the Kindle?

I find myself reading mostly books from my favorite genres on my Kindle – science fiction, history, computer books. Besides the books that are available for purchase from Amazon, I read a ton of free books that are available from places like Project Gutenberg, Creative Commons, and the Internet Archive. Many of my favorite authors, like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, have embraced Creative Commons (“Some Rights Reserved”) as a way to distribute their work for free in order to gain new fans. Cory Doctorow has written extensively on why he follows this model (the basic argument is that for most authors, your enemy isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity), and in my case, at least, it works. I buy hard copies of Cory’s books to give to friends, as well and recommending they get the free versions of his books. He and others like him have gotten way more money out of me this way that they would have if they followed the traditional publishing model.

Are you happy with your purchase?

I am very happy with my Kindle purchase. I use it every day, and I love it more and more. I read to my daughter from it every day (she calls it my “magic book”, the best way I could think of to describe how it works to a 5 year old). I highly recommend it to anyone who loves reading.

What have been the best things about the device?

As a concept, the best thing about the Kindle and ebooks in general is being able to hold hundreds (or thousands) of books in one physical device. As a device, I love the electronic ink screen on the Kindle, and the built-in wireless connection (and the fact that Amazon doesn’t artificially block you from using the web with it). The battery life is stellar (with the wireless radio turned off, battery life is measured in thousands of page turns, which translates to days and days of active use). The design and layout, while controversial, becomes immediately comfortable when you start using it – you can tell why it’s designed the way it is as soon as you hold it in your hand. For me, it has changed reading the same way MP3 and iPods changed music. It’s a real-life Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Anything you’ve been dissatisfied with?

My only real complaint with the Kindle is that I wish the page would refresh faster when you “turn” it. The refresh time is about 750 milliseconds – three quarters of a second. I understand why this is – the electromechanical eInk screen just can’t flip all those pixels very fast. This will improve as the technology matures. But it’s still irritating sometimes, when the Kindle can’t keep up with me and my page turns. I also feel a little guilty when visiting my favorite local independent bookstores. I still go there, browse, and buy books that aren’t available or wouldn’t work well on the Kindle (photography books, etc.), but I’m spending a lot less time and money there than I used to.

Have you shown your Kindle to others through the forum on Amazon?

Yes, I posted a “See a Kindle in Portland, OR” in the forum that Amazon set up for this purpose. A couple people came, including another Kindle owner (at the time, the only other Kindle I had seen “in the wild” besides my own). Since then, I’ve been keeping loose track of how many people in Portland have a Kindle – we’re up to 8 or so that I know of (and a whole lot more that I don’t know about, I’m sure).

Do you find people coming up to you to ask about the Kindle? And do you enjoy showing it off?

People often come up to me and ask about the Kindle, and I love to show it off, and tell them all about it. I know several people who have decided to buy a Kindle after hearing me sing the praises of mine. Sometimes I feel like I’m working for Amazon and Jeff Bezos, and they should pay me a commission. (Actually, I am an Amazon affiliate, and I get a small percentage of Amazon credit when someone buys a Kindle through the links on my website.)

Have you traveled with your Kindle?

I have traveled with my Kindle, and it’s one of the most brilliant uses for the device. A few weeks before I got my Kindle, I took a two week trip to Shanghai, China. I brought a “dead tree” book with me to read during the trip. I finished the first book before I even left my home airport, and bought another one there. I finished that one by the time I got to San Francisco, and bought another one there. I finished that one before we landed in Shanghai. While I was there, I bought a couple more books, which were sufficient for the rest of the trip. By the time I got home, I had been carrying these five or six books in my luggage all over the world. It was that experience that gave me concrete evidence of how a Kindle could simplify my reading.

Could you see yourself taking it to the beach and places like that?

I take my Kindle with me everywhere I go – it has a semi-permanent place in my cargo pants pocket. I take it to work, to appointments, to meals, everywhere. I love being able to read for a few minutes when I have the chance.

Did this factor into your decision to buy — To me, this seems like one of the biggest benefits, being able to get what you want wirelessly, without having to carry books or worry you’ll run out of reading material.

This is exactly why I love my Kindle – being able to read what I want, when and where I want, and get new stuff to read easily and quickly, and I can carry it all around in my pocket.

/end of interview

Do you have a Kindle? If so, what do you think about it? If you don’t have one, what would it take for you to get one? Have any questions about mine? Post a comment, and let me know! :-)

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11 thoughts on “Two Month Kindle Review (and full text of my Washington Times interview)

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  3. kevin says:

    What has been your experience with the newspaper/magazine subscriptions? That’s probably what I would be most interested in.

  4. @Kevin – I haven’t tried out any newspaper or magazine subscriptions, because there aren’t any available that I’m really interested in. I’m not really a Wall Street Journal/New York Times kind of guy. The magazines I subscribe to are of the like of Make, Craft, Fray, etc., which aren’t available on the Kindle, and Car and Driver, which just wouldn’t be the same without the glossy color photos of cars to drool over. :-)

    The truth is, for “newsy” stuff, I tend to rely more on my blog/site subscriptions in Google Reader. I find the Kindle better suited to longer form reading (books, mostly), and quick reference lookups on Wikipedia, etc.

    I DID try out the blog subscription feature, with Ars Technica (one of my favorite sites/communities, and about the only one left that doesn’t provide a full text RSS feed), just to get a feel for how the mechanism works. It’s pretty slick – once you subscribe, the new stuff just automatically appears on your Kindle. You can page through the stories, jump to a particular one, or search through them (like you can with all text on your Kindle).

    Ultimately, I canceled before the 14 day trial period was over, because again, I just didn’t find myself using the Kindle for “newsy” type stuff, and I just got more and more behind on the subscription, so by the time I DID get around to reading it, it had tons of items to catch up on, and lots of them were old.

    The idea is great, and I had nothing against the way it’s implemented. It just doesn’t fit my reading model, so I don’t subscribe, for the same reason I don’t subscribe to the dead tree edition of my local newspaper – it just piles up, unread, until I get around to throwing it away.

  5. I, myself, am a Kindle champion as well, and I think that there are a number of intangible “cost” savings and benefits to consider for any skeptics out there.

    First of all, think of the convenience the Kindle provides you. Now, you can read all of your favorite newspapers, blogs, books, magazines etc. anywhere and everywhere. You do not have to worry about the weight and size of your reading material and about how you will transport it on the move.

    Second, you can do and learn more with what would have been wasted down time while you wait for this or that. You can just pull it out whenever you have a few minutes here and there.

    Third, think of the environmental cost savings. If we, as a collected whole, begin to do more and more of our reading from “paper-like” digital devices, we will be cutting down less trees, maintaining and even increasing oxygen levels and perhaps even fighting global warming.

    Fourth, you begin reading content that you may have otherwise missed and will become more and more educated/cultured as you seek out new and different reading materials.

    All in all, while $359 for this device plus the cost of the books etc. seems high, you are getting a great deal of value out of it, be it value from convenience, value from supplementary education, value from environmental protection or other value.

    I still would recommend this to anyone! Please visit http://www.prokindle.com!

  6. Kay Ballard says:

    I don’t have one yet–but my 83 year old mother does! I plan to follow her lead.

  7. My friend Dave tried to post a comment on this yesterday, and he couldn’t due to problems with the WP-OpenID plugin (which I have disabled, because it blocks too many people from leaving comments, which is unacceptable!). I replied to him via email, and his questions were excellent, so I’m posting them here so they can be part of the discussion. His questions are in bold.

    When you buy ebooks and download them to Kindle, can you decide later to use another manufacturer’s device?

    No (well, not yet – there’s the Digital Text platform that Amazon is trying to build, that could include interoperable DRM in the future, but nothing solid yet. It’s similar to how iTunes DRM locks you in to using iTunes/iPods.) But you don’t have to get books from only Amazon. I’d say 75% of the dozens of books I have on mine right now come from DRM-free sources, like Creative Commons, etc.

    Also, if you drop you Kindle in the pool this summer, is there a way to recover the ebooks you bought? (I’m assuming this is yes).

    Yes! Books you buy from Amazon, along with your place in them, any notes or annotations you’ve made, get synced over the air to Amazon, and if you lose/break your device, you can sync them back pretty painlessly. You can also delete books off of the Kindle to make room, and re-download them from Amazon later, from “Your Media Library” they create for you.

    Finally, if your Kindle does fall in the pool and you decide to replace it with another mfg’s product, can you recover your ebooks to another mfg’s reader?

    No, see above for potential interoperablity, though.

    The question is, are you buying ebooks really or are you buying content which is locked into Amazon’s reader?

    You’re buying ebooks locked to Amazon’s reader, the same way you buy music locked to iTunes/iPods from Apple. Yes, DRM sucks. Yes, we’d be better off without it. But we have to start somewhere, and it’s not as bad as it could be. I did wrote a couple of posts a while ago on my thoughts on the Kindle’s DRM (http://www.tinyscreenfuls.com/2007/12/rebuttal-to-amazon-kindle-critics/ and http://www.tinyscreenfuls.com/2008/04/why-ebooks-are-a-better-entertainment-value-than-almost-anything-else/). I’m not defending it, because DRM is evil and needs to die, but for me, it’s at least tolerable.

  8. Hi Josh – Big fan and avid reader! I have a question about the Kindle: Do think it would be able to download books via the cell network in a small rural community on the Oregon Coast? Just curious – We have decent AT&T coverage here but I don’t know about Sprint.

  9. Adam-

    You can check Sprint’s cell coverage online:

    http://coverage.sprintpcs.com

    It looks like they have at least some coverage on the coast (I checked Cannon Beach and Seaside as examples), so you’d have to check for your location.

    If you’re in an area where they don’t have fast 3G EVDO coverage, you should still be able to get the slower (about 150Kbps) 1xRTT coverage. I can’t guarantee that it will work on your Kindle, but if the map says you’ll have coverage, that’s a good sign.

    Also, if you’re ever somewhere you have internet access on a computer, but no Whispernet coverage, you can buy books from the Kindle store, download them from Amazon’s “Your Media Library”, then drop them on your Kindle via USB. And don’t forgot all of the amazing free sources of books for the Kindle – manybooks.net, feedbooks.com, Creative Commons, Project Gutenberg, Archive.org, etc.

    Good luck and have fun! :-)

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