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December 26, 2007

Kindle – Book Reader’s Review

Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader came and got buried among the holiday packages. But it emerged from post-holiday pile of cardboard, wrapping paper, and ribbons. Since we were planning a three day trip, it was a good time for a road test.

Not surprisingly, there is no access to the Sprint network – the network which underlies Amazon’ WhisperNet - in ruralVermont so couldn’t download any books before leaving home. Contented myself with reading the introduction already loaded onto Kindle and with practice page-turning.

The electronic ink IS amazing. As you “turn” each page by pressing a next page bar on the side of the unit, there’s a flicker as the ink drops rush from their old positions to their new ones. Reminds me of the Harvard University Marching Band which, in my day, eschewed marching; a pistol was fired and each player ran from his current location to wherever he was supposed to be in the next formation.

Once the ink drops reassemble, the look is much more like good ink on good paper than dots on a screen. You read by reflected light; no light comes from the screen – just like a “real” book.  Better in some ways because you can change the font size on Kindle to suit your eyes. Black ink on a white screen is the only option – just like the first Macintosh.

This architecture not only makes Kindle pages very readable, it also prolongs battery life since there is no backlight and energy is only required to move the dots, not to keep them in position.

Kindle travels in a felt covered case about the size of a paperback and clearly designed to say “book”. Only quibble is that there’s nowhere for the Kindle charger in the case so it goes with the rest of the tangle of wires in your computer bag.

At Burlington airport Sprint was four bars and, immediately, my novel hackoff.com:an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble and Fractals of Changeboth of which I’d ordered when I ordered Kindle – downloaded. Whole download took no more than a minute or so. Note excellent Amazon customer experience: didn’t have to register because Amazon knew I’d bought the unit; didn’t have to register for the Sprint service because it comes with the unit; didn’t have to ask for what I’d already ordered to be downloaded. Got a nice thank you letter from Jeff Bezos, too. Device can hold 200 books BEFORE you add expansion memory AND everything you buy is archived forever at Amazon for redownload in case you lose or have to delete some.

I looked for books for the trip in the Kindle Store, which is never more than a click away. Naturally Amazon’s suggestions based on my past orders and promotional fees paid my publishers were there just as if I’d been on my computer. I downloaded Weak Links: Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks and, once I noticed that I had the option to do this free, the first chapter of No Country for Old Men.

Weak Links appears not to have been formatted correctly for an electronic edition (more on this when I post on implications for authors). Some of the letters are incomplete; there are spaces in the middle of words and hyphenation in the middle of lines. I wrote Amazon and asked for a refund (book content seems interesting though). Update: Amazon responded to my email to customer service within 24 hours, verified what I saw, apologized, and gave me a credit

No Country formatted well and was a pleasant reading experience except that the pages are a little smaller than those of a paperback, the lines a little short for the way I read, and the flicker at page turn a little distracting. My guess is these are all things readers’ll get over quickly and we’ll retrain ourselves. Decided not to order the book based on its style but that’s a plus for the first chapter free policy.

Noticed that all three books on my Kindle opened in strange places when first accessed although it’s easy enough to get back to the cover or table of contents. I suspect this is a problem in book prep seeing how much trouble I had with this when preparing the e-book edition of hackoff.com. Still annoying.

Reading Fractals of Change as a paid subscription ($.99/month) was a good experience on Kindle. Formatting was right; color pictures rendered well into black, white, and grey; links were live. However, reading Fractals and other things in the browser (which provides FREE Internet access), is problematic. See this post for a review of Kindle’s browser for more on that and even more in an upcoming author’s post.

The flight attendants say “the cabin door is closed. Please turn off all devices with an on-off switch. We will tell you when it’s safe to turn on approved electronics.” Of course this means that you have to carry at least a magazine to read during taxi, takeoffs, and landings. Else you might find yourself talking to the person next to you.

Kindle does have a simple switch to turn off its radio for use aloft where radios are forbidden.

I give it a B+ as a book reader based on initial experience.

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