Kindle 2 Review

I’ve had my Kindle for about three weeks now, and so I feel like I’ve used it enough at this point to be able to write an objective review. I’ll try to skip the things that you presumably already know from more general reviews and focus on my experience with it.

The Kindle Itself

For starters, let’s get it out of the way and admit that the Kindle’s user interface is just horrible. I am thinking specifically of the little 5-way joystick that you use to navigate around a page’s content. If you push the stick in a given direction and hold it, it will at least “repeat” and hop across the page until you release it, but it’s still very awkward to use. I’ve never had my hands on a first-generation Kindle so I don’t know if this is an improvement over how navigation worked in that model. The 5-way feels extremely fragile and I can easily imagine it snapping off or otherwise breaking. If a touchscreen like the iPhone’s wasn’t feasible for the Kindle 2, I wish they could at least found some other mechanism, such as a trackball or a small trackpad, to handle this need.

My other gripe has to do with the Kindle’s built-in web browser. To be fair, it’s labelled as an “experimental” feature, but it’s pretty lousy and it’s awfully slow. If you had some notion (as I did) that you might be using your Kindle as a web browser on any regular basis, you’re probably going to be disappointed. For occasional Google or Wikipedia searches, it’s fine, but anything more than that is an exercise in frustration.

Those issues aside, I’m pretty happy with it. The Kindle is a lot thinner and more lightweight than I would have expected. It is so thin, in fact, that it feels a little flimsy, and I’m worried that I’m going to accidentally snap it in half one of these days. But I do like the form factor a lot.

You have probably already read that the screen “flashes” when you turn pages in a book. It’s definitely distracting at first, but believe it or not, you get used to it after awhile. I also haven’t had any problems due to the lack of a backlight for the Kindle’s screen, but I try not to read too much in low light environments anyways. At any rate, for straightforward reading, the Kindle provides a really nice reading experience.

The Kindle Store

Buying a book in Amazon’s Kindle Store works very well, and it is as fast as advertised. Once you purchase a book, it’s typically downloaded and ready to read in a minute or so. I also appreciate that you can download a free sample chapter for most (or all?) of the books in the store.

The book selection is still hit or miss. If you’re looking for a current bestseller, you’re almost certainly going to find it. A number of older books that I was looking for aren’t yet available, however. For example, only one of Douglas Coupland’s books (Miss Wyoming) is available in Kindle format as of this writing. On the other hand, Amazon seem to be adding new books all the time. For example, when I did a search the night before last, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest wasn’t available, but I just looked again and it’s now available for pre-order. Their selection of technical books also seems to be improving, slowly but surely.

If you’re the kind of person who reads this blog, you’re also the kind of person that already knows there’s a lot of free content available for the Kindle. I tend to stick with Feedbooks, but there are several other good sources out there, and there’s a lot of overlap between the various collections. To be honest, most of this free content is either (1) books you already read in high school or college and (2) books you wouldn’t care to read even if they’re free. But occasionally, you’ll run across something interesting.

Other Uses for the Kindle

One of the less hyped Kindle features is that you can e-mail documents directly to it and, if necessary, they will be converted to the Kindle’s native format. I admittedly haven’t tried this much yet. I do have a number of technical papers and documents in PDF format, and it doesn’t seem to do a very good job of converting those, so I’m not sure how much use I’ll get out of the document conversion service. This capability does however open the Kindle up to some interesting applications.

One of my favorite uses for the Kindle involves Marco Arment’s Instapaper service. You know about Instapaper, right? You should check this out even if you don’t have a Kindle. Instapaper provides you with a “Read Later” bookmarklet that you can drag to your web browser’s bookmarks bar. If you come across a long article, or one that you’d just like to read later, click the “Read Later” button and Instapaper will save it for you.

I had already been using Instapaper’s iPhone application to read saved stories on my iPhone, but Instapaper can also be configured to send unread articles to your Kindle on a regular basis. Every Friday morning, Instapaper collects all of my unread stories into a sort-of custom newspaper and sends it to my Kindle. This is a real killer app for me.

Another apparently popular service is Kindlefeeder, which is an aggregator that collects up all of the stories from a given news feed and sends them to your Kindle on a scheduled basis. I haven’t tried this yet, but if there are any feeds that you typically read every story from, you should find this extremely useful. It sure beats paying for a blog subscription in the Amazon Kindle Store.

Summary

There are a number of problems with the Kindle that have nothing to do with its lack of a color touchscreen or its high price tag. It certainly lacks the polish that I’ve become accustomed to with, for example, Apple’s products. But I’m getting a lot of use out of my Kindle, and I don’t regret purchasing it. If you read a lot, I think that you will get your money’s worth out of the Kindle too. And if, like me, you do a lot of your reading on the web these days, the combination of a Kindle with services like Instapaper and Kindlefeeder is very handy.

Posted March 31st, 2009 in Miscellaneous.

2 comments:

  1. Dave Thomas:

    And of course, your own book is available for the Kindle: http://pragprog.com/titles/fxruby/fxruby :)

  2. Lyle:

    Indeed, the fact that my book is available in a Kindle edition is by itself more than enough reason to buy a Kindle!