Review: Amazon Kindle (Updated)

About 6 weeks ago I received a free Kindle as part of a credit-card offer. I’m not usually in the habit of signing up for credit cards to save a few bucks, but this offer looked excellent: a free Kindle 3G (worth $189.99) and a $100 Amazon gift card. I had had my eye on the Kindle for a while, but could not justify spending the money. This was my chance; at the very least, the gift card would be great to have.

So far, I’ve used the Kindle at home, at work and in my travels. I have a few observations about the Kindle, and then I’ll tell you why I don’t think I personally would have spent the money on it.  If you’re a Kindle owner, I’d appreciate your comments; if you’re a prospective Kindle owner and have more questions, feel free to ask.

First, the Kindle device is a very neat design. It’s light and thin, and it rests nicely in either hand without your wrist getting tired. I purchased a cheap sleeve to protect it; there are nicer ones out there, but I didn’t want to spend a lot on something I wasn’t sure I was going to like.

The screen is an EPD–electronic paper display–which means it takes very little power and is very easy on the eyes, because there is no backlight. It’s really uncanny how closely the text resembles a printed page. However, it also means that the appearance is not as smooth when scrolling pages or changing menus. But the Kindle is not for browsing the internet or playing games–it’s for reading, and it presents the text well. You can highlight and bookmark text, and the device remembers where you left off so you don’t lose your place.

I like the way the Kindle integrates with Amazon.com, the Kindle app for mobile phone/iTouch, and the Kindle Reader on a Mac or PC. If you purchase a newspaper, magazine or book through any of these vehicles, the others all sync and follow where you left off in your reading. You can also e-mail documents to your Kindle (fee via 3G, free via WiFi).

There are a few features that are still “experimental,” such as the web-browsing and the read-aloud feature. The web-browsing is clumsy with no touchscreen or mouse–definitely not for much more than reading a couple of e-mails in a place with no WiFi. The read-aloud feature is cool, and the device has a headphone jack.

In short, the Kindle is designed to carry and read a portable library of books, magazines, newspapers and blogs. It does this better than just about anything I’ve seen, mostly because of the EPD. I can’t read much for very long on my iTouch, and reading on a computer screen hurts my eyes after a while.

—-
As much as I think Amazon is onto something good here, I don’t think the Kindle fits my lifestyle, for a few reasons.

First, as a graduate student in Old Testament, most of the books I read are not available for Kindle. Perhaps this will be remedied in the future. But at this point the Kindle can’t handle footnotes and Hebrew characters, which is a lot of what I read.  (UPDATE: a friend also pointed out to me that citing page numbers in academic papers is difficult when using an e-reader.  Maybe some sort of standard citation format will develop for e-readers, e.g., Wright, N.T., The Crown and the Fire [2009 electronic ed., bookmark 299].)

Second, I still prefer underlining and writing in the margins, over highlighting and typing on a clumsy, hunt-and-peck keyboard. I like being able to flip back and forth between chapters, and sometimes when I’m looking for a phrase and can’t remember the exact wording, I remember the spot on the page and the shape of the paragraphs–not possible on an electronic reader. There’s still nothing like the smell of a new book out of the packaging and the feeling of the pages.

Third, many of the books are still too expensive for me. When I consider acquiring a book, I have a few options: borrow from the library, purchase new, or purchase used. I ask myself these questions:

  • How long will I need this book?
  • Will I read it twice or use it for reference?
  • Will I want to loan it to people?
  • Will I want to write in it?
  • Will I want to resell it at some point, and will it be worthwhile?

Books that would want to loan (even to my wife!), I will usually purchase new or used–and a Kindle edition can’t be loaned out. Books that I want to read and resell, I will buy new, keep pristine, and sell quickly. If a book is not worth reselling, often I can find it very cheap used–much cheaper than the Kindle price, even. And, I’ve already mentioned the difficulty in writing/highlighting within an e-book.

Here’s an example: today I purchased books for a reading course on Paul Ricoeur and the philosophy of history. These are the prices on Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting:

Format Amazon New (non-Amazon seller) Used
Kindle $13.75
Hardcover $34.40 $34.37 $30.00
Paperback $25.89 $25.89 $21.95

I could have purchased the Kindle edition of this 600-page book for half the price of the paperback and “saved” $12 (I have Amazon Prime, so shipping is free). But the used prices on the Hardcover and the paperback tell me that this book has a good resale value. If I buy the hardcover (which is what I did) for $34.40 and then sell it in a few months for $29, I’ve only spent $5.40–and had a more enjoyable reading experience, personally.

The question is, what do I want out of my reading experience with this book, and how can I get what I want from it (content, ability to mark it up, ability to loan it) most cheaply? The answer for most of my academic and contemporary reading is not usually the Kindle. I have been able to get large classic works for free or a dollar; right now I have the complete works of Shakespeare and Jonathan Edwards, as well as the Talmud–each of which cost me $0.99. But then again, you can find many classics in used paperback for a dollar, if you know where to look.

A fourth concern about the Kindle is the issue of electronic formats. Will there be support/updates for my Kindle in 10 years? I doubt it. I might not be able to read new books in new Kindle formats without paying for another $200 device–and I don’t know what will happen to my old library.

—-

In summary, the Kindle does quite effectively what it is designed to do; however, it doesn’t suit my reading habits, and I still have concerns about file formats. I would not have paid $189 for it. Its primary function for me will be to house a lot of cheap, public-domain classics, and perhaps some cheaper recreational reading as it becomes available.

A reader with a different mix of reading needs, financial concerns and library access may find the Kindle very convenient for carrying a large personal library. And hopefully, prices will come down as Kindle can broaden its content delivery, or as Amazon is forced to compete with other e-readers.

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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, living and learning in Eastern Europe…an Old Testament professor and former liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Josh and Hannah…uncle to Marshall.
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7 Responses to Review: Amazon Kindle (Updated)

  1. Samuel P. says:

    Great review. I agree that the Kindle really is aimed at a certain demographic(s) of “scholarship.” I also think they can benefit from a rental option, not unlike movie rentals. I wonder how the Nook measures up to it.

    “Technological change is not additive; it is ecological… A new medium does not add something; it changes everything.”

    S

    • thinkhardthinkwell says:

      The rental option is a good idea. I just spoke with a friend who thinks that they could bring the price of the device itself way down and increase sales of books and periodicals. They also could try to integrate their new Audible.com audio-book service into the reader.

      I might buy more books on Kindle if there were some sort of discount for then buying a hard copy. For example, if I spent $13 on the Kindle version of the Ricoeur book, then I could “upgrade” to paperback for only $12 more. Sort of a “rent-to-buy” option…

      It will be interesting to see what independent agents acting in concert in a free market will come up with. Amazing!

  2. Corrie Giffone says:

    I’m glad that you could get one to satisfy your curiosity without having to spend money on it

  3. Ben T. says:

    I think I’d miss the tactile experience of reading…

    There is nothing like opening up a new hardcover for the first time. I also agree with your sentiment that the ability to flip back and forth between chapters and remember ‘where’ on the page something was is one of the most helpful things about real books.

  4. Paul L says:

    I’ve been wondering about getting a Kindle. Which credit card offered a free Kindle?

    • thinkhardthinkwell says:

      It was an American Express offer. I’m not sure if it’s still going on, but I’m sure they’ll do it again sometime. Watch out for fine print, and make sure you cancel: after the first year, the annual fee is $175.

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