Monday, April 28, 2008

initial thoughts on kindle

Okay, so I broke down and bought a Kindle. The deciding factors proved to be that they had finally caught up to demand so I could have it in hand within a week of ordering, and I'm starting my spring/summer travels so I would actually be in locales where I could try out the wireless capabilities.

I like the fact that I could pretty much figure out how to use it right out of the box. I'm one of those people who never reads instructions. As one of my tech gurus put it, having to resort to reading instructions amounts to a product design flaw.

Ordering and transferring books and periodicals is a bit clunky without the wireless function. You have to
  1. get on your computer
  2. go to Amazon's internet site
  3. find the item
  4. purchase it
  5. open up the Amazon library
  6. download the item to your computer
  7. open up Windows Explorer
  8. attach your Kindle to your computer via USB port
  9. copy and paste to your Kindle document folder
The location of the document folder turns out to be a key factor. Not having read the instructions, I got as far as copying to the Kindle but couldn't figure out why it couldn't find my book. Instructions and/or Amazon support staff are very helpful.

I also had some problems with a couple of Kindle periodicals I subscribed to. Their status was listed as pending for two days. I contacted Amazon's support staff and they "reactivated" the subscriptions. Once they were active, I could download and transfer using the steps above. While it seems workable for books and monthly, or possibly even weekly periodicals, I don't think I'm going to be subscribing to any newspapers in the near future.

One of the interesting pluses I've discovered is that the Kindle works with audiobooks. I already had a couple on my computer so I was able to copy one to my Kindle using Windows media player. One of the downsides of the Kindle is that it only has 185 MB of available memory built in. While this is probably quite adequate for book reading (I was surprised to find that the first book I ordered was only 227K in size), it's going to fill up quickly if you want to listen to audiobooks and/or MP3s on it. But you can add a memory card which will be one of my next purchases. Anyway, I did load one 16 hour audiobook on it, at a Audible 3 quality level. The Kindle has a small speaker and a headphone jack. The audiobook controls on the Kindle are really nice. But then this is a very expensive audiobook reader! Still it's a nice feature. It does not, however, work with Overdrive.

It comes with a dictionary so you can look up words while you're reading. You can also add notes and clip and bookmark sections. There are also a number of wireless features that I have yet to try out, including wireless access to the Kindle store. I suspect that the absence of that feature will save me money in the long run. I also still have to try out converting and transferring other documents.

I'd rate the readability and usability right out of the box as good. I like the fact that you can easily increase or decrease text size. This becomes increasingly important to aging eyes. I brought my Kindle along to Walker's last night and passed it around to a table of friends. They were all fairly tech savvy and picked up how to navigate and use it pretty quickly. It was readable even in jazz night lighting. One appeal is the green aspect of fewer magazines and newspapers in land fills. They were impressed but thought it too pricey at $399. They might be interested at about half that price.

Overall, I'm pleased with the Kindle thus far. I wouldn't recommend it for purchase in Montana until wireless is available in the state. That seems to be what really makes it work. For those of us outside Sprint's wireless network, it's like we're being sold a car without wheels. Yeah, it's all great but it doesn't go anywhere. For the foreseeable future, it will always be slightly broken. Nor do I have any immediate notion of how or whether Kindle will be useful in libraries. IMO, it's too expensive to purchase and check out. And it remains to be seen what this access vs. ownership model of books will mean for libraries. But one could argue that we've already moved in this direction for periodicals. And it is another significant move toward instant electronic availability at a time when Montana libraries are still struggling with how to move large quantities of books across the state. Sometimes it seems like I'm caught living simultaneously in two different eras.

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