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Sunday, May 4, 2008


So, yeah, I know, sometimes I could be like an marketing whore. Actually, that's not really the case. If I talk about a product, I must have a strong feeling about it. Usually it's games I think I even wrote some about books (and likely will plenty often later on). This time I'm just writing a little about my Kindle. If you've been under a rock for a while, or for some reason never go to Amazon's web site, you might not know what the Kindle is. The Kindle is an ebook reader. It's a new school one though. It uses e-ink, which is actually microcapsules of black particles that get rearranged to produce a sharp grayscale display. Its extremely low power requirement makes is great for displaying content that you could be staring at for hours on end, like a book.
Meh, you might know about other ebook readers, Cybook and the Sony Reader are other examples. I actually checked out the Sony Reader one night at Borders, which is what set it back into my mind to look into options. My luck usually sucks majorly, but sometimes serendipity just kicks in. The Kindle pretty much hit all the blogs and engadget type places where people drool over new technology and geek toys. I read up on it but wasn't sure. I put it out of my mind. Frankly, these devices are too damned expensive for most people to take seriously.
That said, I somehow, a few weeks ago, decided to do some more research on the Kindle. Reviews were all over the place, but because Amazon sold out pretty quickly from it's first batch in like January or February, very few people had actually touched them. In fact, I read a lot of very scathing reviews from people who never set a finger on one. I could understand the constant dissing of DRM - it makes me sick too - but dissing the usability of the device!?!? Come one people, get some lives. But when I research, I mostly read the 5 star reviews and the 1 star reviews. I like the polar opposites. I found I needed to concentrate on the 4 star reviews because there are some certain flaws with the device that kept a lot of people from giving a full 5 star rating. The 1 star reviews were mostly useful for laughs and cries.
So, the point. Yep, it's for reading books, but it also connects to the Sprint EVDO network (they call it the Whispernet). This allows for purchasing books directly from the unit, but also allows for basic web surfing. I can read my gmail, but some sites don't work right (such as for trying to do IM on it). This feature uses a lot more battery life, but it can be turned off with a hard switch on the back, next to the power switch.
It also play mp3 files. I think it's a cool feature, but I have an mp3 player for that. I used to want mega-multi-use gear, but have some to realize that unless you want to spend a lot of money, you get mediocre versions of each thing compiled into one device when you do that. The web on the Kindle is a little better than mediocre, but it's not the main focus - Whispernet as a content delivery method is though. Anyway, I might throw a long mp3 piece on there for background reading music, but I'm not really worried about it.

The look. It just looks good - reading the screen that is. The white shell is nothing to sing about, but it's plainness is akin to the tragedy that is Mac design. Boring. (Though Mac fanboys always claim it as a pinnacle of design - whatever, white, beige, silver-blue, whoop-de-doo.) Wherever you look for reviews, you'll see the same thing, likely, reading e-ink is easy. Just like a book it can be held at any angle and still be seen (obviously within reason). The text size can also be adjusted. I have perfect vision, so I'll be leaving it at the smallest size most of the time, but the largest size could make for coke bottle bottoms wearing people to read easily.
It remembers where you left off. I have been relatively randomly switching for book to book reading a bit here and there. When I got back to a book, It goes right back to where I left off. That is key for me. You can set up bookmarks as well. I haven't done that. You can annotate too. I haven't done that either, but I'm sue when I used more educationally inclined books, I'll mark it up some.
The device itself is almost exactly the same size as a standard DVD movie case - all dimensions. The reading screen is almost as wide and about 2/3 the height of a typical form factor paperback book. When you change font sizes, it repaginates the document. It sort of makes traditional page numbers useless, but has it's own "locations" system, which I have read is plenty fine for citation use.
If you let it sit, it'll go into a "screensaver" mode, which just shows some grayscale images. No page turnes happening, so battery life stays super low. Supposedly we should able to get a week or more from a single charge, without using Whispernet. I don't know, haven't tried to test the limits. When I take it to the White Mountains this summer, I'm hoping to have my solar USB charger fixed to being along. It will trickle charge from usb, I believe at about 1/4 the speed (says 2 hours to full charge on wall wart). You can turn the "screensaver" on and off at will, which is nice for acting like a lock screen mode so that the cats or someone else poking around doesn't accidentally activate one of the biggest complaints from users: the sensitive location of the page turn buttons. Yep, it IS relatively easy to changes pages forward by accident. Depending on how you hold it, you might need to intentionally adjust how you place your fingers or thumb in order to not hit either of the two next buttons of the single prev button, or the "back" button, which isn't "back a page" but "back a level", like back to the menu or something like that.

So, the price. Yup, $399!!! That's a lot of money. If you're the type who buys a lot of books though, it could pay for itself pretty quickly, as many books can be bought for about $9.99. However, if you like paperback novels, that's likely not much of a deal.
The good news is that you can download and convert books of all types (well... we'll see about that).
If you want to download some ebooks for free, here are some sites I've found:

  1. eSnips- Pretty good searching but messy. It appears to link outside for some content, but does also seem to provide content/books that are NOT likely legal - as in, copyright violations. Frankly, I don't care. Paying for a paper book and then having to pay for the electronic version of it again annoys me. And yes, I think I should have access to mp3 versions of all the old hip hop cassettes I have.
  2. wowio - I haven't spent much time, but they appear to have a cool collection of all free books and a good philosophy.
  3. Manybooks - more free books
  4. Project Guttenberg - a project for electronification of old texts and such by a large community of transcribers.
  5. Baen Free Library - a for profit publisher that realizes that offering some free and complete content will build faith in, fans of and support for writers and their publishers. Read the introduction on the main library page (the link) - it's a lot like how I feel about the music business, though I feel it should go even farther.
  6. ... eh, you can do a search from here on. That list alone will net you serious results. Bit Torrent land has some stuff too, but beware, there's a LOT of PDFs, and converting PDFs to a format the Kindle will read is a craps shoot - the other serious flaw: no native PDF reading ability. They need to add that as a firmware upgrade.
So, you have content or downloaded a book that you want on the Kindle but it's not already in the PRC for AZW ebook format... now what? You can create a compatible file using Mobipocket Creator, which I believe is actually supported or something by Amazon. It's free. It's not the most incredible interface and doesn't allow easy customization (such as a simplified way to make a table of contents). Of course, you could also email your documents to "yourkindlename" and for ten cents per document to be sent right to your Kindle or for a free conversion that will be send back to your email address (as registered at Amazon. I tried to convert a document and it came back ok, but the equations and images in it kinda got in the way. Again, they need to work on the "experimental"-ness of that feature.

So, there ya go. A long review of the Amazon Kindle . I tried to say what matters, but I'm sure I left some thoughts out. I'm sure I can only keep your attention for so long anyway. As for the link to buy it above, hey, yeah, I'll make some change on it, but if I helped convince you to buy it, why not? :)

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