Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Experiences with the Amazon Kindle

Back in February, my husband and I decided to get Kindles -- specifically the "all new" Amazon Kindle 3. It wasn't exactly an easy decision. Both of us have always enjoyed browsing in the book stores, and both of us cherish the collection of titles lovingly organized on our bookshelves. But over time, the allure of the e-reader slowly drew us in.

It's been a few months now, and I've had a chance to read a few books on the Kindle. I feel like I've had enough time to get comfortably acquainted with the device, and so I figured I would write up a review -- what I consider to be the good and bad aspects of the Amazon Kindle based on my experiences with it so far.

I'll start by saying that, from the beginning, I've found the Kindle to be incredibly comfortable to use. By this, I don't just mean that it's comfortable visually, although to me the fancy "e-ink" technology is all but indistinguishable from text printed on paper.

It never really hit me how much physical effort it takes to read a book until I started using the Kindle. Amazon's device is lighter than all but the thinnest books, and no longer having to hold the pages open -- or turn pages -- makes a big difference.

To give a specific example of what I mean: on a couple of occasions, I've curled up in a big thick blanket with even my hands and arms tucked in. The Kindle props effortlessly in your lap, and the button to turn the pages is large enough and conveniently-placed enough that you can press it right through the blanket. It's the coziest reading ever -- and there's just no way you could do the same with a traditional paper book.

Another example: since I got the Kindle, I find myself reading during lunch a lot more than I used to. My past experience has been that it's pretty awkward to read a traditional book during a meal, especially if you're eating something that requires two hands and/or a fork. But since the Kindle lays flat on a table, it's super easy to read and eat -- all you have to do is press the button every so often to turn the page.

So in general, I'm greatly enjoying the Kindle. It's light, portable, convenient, comfortable to use, and incredibly easy to whip out and read for a few minutes when I probably would have been too lazy to do so with a normal book.

I do think there are some drawbacks -- but before I get into those, here are some pictures detailing a few of the Kindle's features. The first shows the text display adjustment options:

You can choose between a range of different text sizes, as well as select a font (serif, serif condensed, or sans-serif), adjust the line spacing and words per line, and change screen rotation. The options underlined in the photo above are the ones I've found most comfortable.

There's also an option to turn on text-to-speech, so that one of those synthesized robot voices will read out loud to you, but personally I've found this to be so unnatural and difficult to follow that it's pretty well useless.

There are currently two versions of the Kindle available: the cheaper version has just wifi, but if you're willing to pay about $50 extra, you can opt for the wifi + 3G version. I bring this up because this next pic shows what web browsing looks like on the Kindle:

Obviously it's all in black and white, and the web browser is labeled as "experimental" on the Kindle, so don't expect to be able to check your email or do much other than read basic text-based web pages. Still, internet access from anywhere is completely free if you get the 3G Kindle (which I did), and since I don't have a smartphone, it's kind of nice having an internet-enabled device on hand.

Anyway, on to what I consider to be the drawbacks of the Kindle. The main one that I've noticed is that, while the Kindle is excellent for reading a linear text from beginning to end, sometimes books (particularly in the fantasy genre) will include a map or diagram of some sort, either as an appendix or included inline somewhere. With a paper book, it's very easy to flip back and forth to look at a map or image, even several times during the course of reading a few pages.

With the Kindle, on the other hand, there's a slight lag (about a second or so) whenever you switch pages. While I don't find this lag bothersome at all when it comes to turning pages during normal reading, I've found it pretty annoying when you're trying to quickly reference something.

So although images do display reasonably well in black and white on the Kindle, I do feel like the Kindle loses something over a traditional book with a lot of maps, illustrations, or the like.

Despite this drawback, on balance I'm really enjoying the Kindle. For the most part I find it to be a very pleasant device to use -- and the ability to load it up with free classics from Project Gutenberg is the icing on the cake for me.

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