New toy review: Amazon Kindle 3

I’m a book lover. By nature. I find flipping pages, browsing aisles, and even falling asleep on a book, to be comforting. But I’ve been eyeballing the Kindle (and the Nook and the eReader) since it came out. With the price dropping to under $150 (sans 3g), it was suddenly accessible. I started to think about it, but never quite pulled the trigger. Which was fortunate, as the lady got me one for my birthday. I was stoked and surprised.

It was smaller than I expected, and light. But it felt nice. I was enamored with the Kindle from the beginning. In some ways, the Kindle (and its ilk, perhaps) is the most amazing advance to happen to readers since Twilight. I mean the printing press. It holds a lot of books in a tiny package.

For one thing, the Kindle is awesome for travel. Instead of 4 pounds of books, I can load a few into the Kindle, along with some magazine subscriptions. And it still weighs like 5 ounces.

The screen is nice to read on. e-Ink is pretty cool…it’s a lot like reading a book. The batteries last forever. Really, the reading experience is fairly booklike.

It’s possible to jailbreak the Kindle. While Amazon is has released the KDK, it’s only available to established development firms. And one dude created KIF, Kindle Interactive Fiction, which lets people play Zork, Enchanter, and other Infocom games, in addition to tons from the IF Archive. I’m very tempted…

Unfortunately, the Kindle keyboard is barely adequate. The letters were rubbing off the within a day of ownership. The buttons have strange tactile response. I’m not too fond of the design either, having the D-pad between buttons above and below.

I’m not thrilled about the location of the paging buttons either. I’d like something on the back, maybe a movable grip of sorts. It’d be a nice accessory. I’d also like the forward/back to be be programmable…I’d like symmetry between the two, as there are books where I go forward and back a fair amount.

The Kindle store is great. IF you know exactly what you want. Otherwise it is terrible. It’s miserable to browse. I downloaded a few of the classics for free, now it thinks I don’t read anything written after 1907. I do have an Amazon account it could pull from. But it doesn’t appear to.

One of the things that I love about books is bookstores. Browsing them, recommendations, groupings, the smell, the lighting, the surprises. So far, I haven’t had any of those from the Kindle store. And that’s a huge disappointment.

Airplanes don’t understand the Kindle yet. They made me turn it off. The Kindle works the same off as on. It draws power when you press the buttons. Otherwise, it’s about like a watch. So you’re stuck reading SkyMall for the first and last 10-20 minutes of your flight.

I can’t share with the Kindle very well. Apparently, I can share, but only for like two weeks, and only so many times. I don’t like limitations like that. I like to send my books into the wild, especially the ones that I like. We have book exchanges, and this doesn’t make that easy.

I feel like a traitor when I walk into an independent bookstore. I love Powell’s and I love the other Indy booksellers and I will continue to support them.

But I was at a conference a couple weeks ago and a speaker (@eugenelee of Socialtext) called out a good book that I’d read, so when he recommended one that I hadn’t read, I purchased it in a minute from the Kindle store in the conference.

I’ve enjoyed the highlighting and notes features. There’s a very slight social nature to it, in that you can see what others have highlighted. I’d like to see this expanded. Maybe connect with people with similar interests, build reading and discussion groups, whatever. There’s a lot of power available there.

So, I’ve been pretty rough on the Kindle here. But really, I love it. Overall, I’m giving it a B. There’s plenty of room for improvement. But I like it, it’s a pleasing device, and I will continue to use it. It is nice to read on, and feels a lot like reading a book. I do like having a dedicated device for reading.

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