Review: Kindle 2

[Purchase Kindle (Oh Please Oh Please)]

The odd thing with e-readers is that they can be a bit of a tough sell; most big-time readers, the folks who’d buy ’em, aren’t typically sold at first. After all, they say, what’s wrong with real live books? And, besides, reading anything of length on a computer monitor is a bullet train ticket to eye-strain. I should know — I am a big-time reader and until I actually saw a Kindle, that’s what I said.


In fact, it’s too bad Amazon doesn’t have any Kindle Kiosks or anything where folks can actually get their hands on a Kindle to check it out. Sure, they have a place where Kindle owners can sign up to let prospective buyers look at it, but, well, doesn’t that seem a little weird — from both ends? Who wants to go to some dude’s house to look at some gadget they might wanna buy? And who wants to let god knows who into their house so they can scope out the gadgets they’ve got?

It might not be as bad as all that — Kindle owners tend, in my experience, to be Kindle Evangelists, but still — if consumers could look at it in a standard gadget-ogling arena, like, say, a store — I’m sure they’d sell a lot more of the things. As it turns out — they’re really awesome.

Taking the common complaints: OK — nothing wrong with real books at all. I still like them, I still buy them. But the cool thing with the Kindle? When it comes to certain really thick books, the Kindle’s got this: It’s MUCH lighter. I’ve also found that with physical books set in small type with narrow margins, the Kindle’s re-formatting helps me read by removing the distraction of too much text. Also, you can change the size of the type and even have it read aloud to you, but that’s pretty much expected. (Though, to be honest, the pronunciation skills of the text-to-speech program are much better than I expected; though I’ve never used it for anything much more than a page, just to test it out — so I can’t say how it would sound over a full book.)

As for the eye-strain, the cool thing is — it’s not an issue. The Kindle screen (like that of most e-readers) isn’t a standard LCD-type screen that it looks like at first glance; it’s e-ink — which means that it acts and looks almost exactly like real paper. It’s not self-illuminated, so you need a lamp like a real book, but it doesn’t lead to eyestrain like a monitor does. It’s actually comfortable, and in some ways more so than, again, a real book. (No binding that gets in the way of too-small margins, for example.)

One of the downsides is the PDF rendering; it took a while for the Kindle to handle PDFs. They finally did a software update to allow it to — but instead of taking even text-only PDFs and reformatting it like it would a standard e-Book, it keeps the page layout of the original PDF. On the much larger Kindle DX, this might be OK, but on the smaller Kindle 2, it typically means that you’d have to break out the magnifying glass — as it won’t let you re-size the text, either. While keeping the formatting is the main positive of the PDF format on computers, in the Kindle, it’s a liability. Luckily, there are a number of free converters out there that can make it into the much more Kindle-friendly MOBI or ePub format. (I use Calibre for the Mac.)

I’d also like it if there were an obvious folder structuring option — for books bought via Amazon, they provide an online backup allowing you to delete them from your Kindle, and re-download them for free anytime (um, 1984 issues not withstanding) – but for books (or WordDocs, or HTML files, etc.) obtained elsewhere, if you read them — you have to keep them in the main list, rather than be able to put them into a “Read” folder to keep your index tidy. Of course, you CAN back them up on your own machine with the included USB cable, but to me, part of the fun of the Kindle is being able to have a library with you — and, well, I’m a person who likes to go back to books, look stuff up in them and whatnot, so I want to keep everything. (Given, too, that the Kindle’s got about a 1.5 GB of space, and eBooks, being text, or mostly text, are quite small — that’s not an unreasonable assumption that you can keep just about everything on there.)

Still, these complaints aside, I’m quite happy with my Kindle. Very happy, in fact. So much so, I kind of wonder what took me so long — and I’ve only had it since October. A lot has been said in recent months, about the iPad being a Kindle Killer. I’m not sure if I believe it — after all, the iPad has a standard LCD screen on it — and I’d be curious as to how the eye-strain problem is dealt with on it, if it is. I think that while the iPad looks neat, I don’t think it fills the same niche; time will tell, of course — particularly since I haven’t even seen one in the flesh. But that said — if you’re hesitant to buy a Kindle because of the iPad, I’d go ahead and pick the Kindle up. It’s not like it can handle Flash either.

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