I've had Amazon's Kindle 2 for the past couple of weeks, and I am really glad I bought one. I thought I'd take some time to share what I've found with you in case you're considering buying one.
First, I'd like to give you some context to better understand where I'm coming from.
- Contrary to my gadget-loving nature I didn't buy the first Kindle (though I was chomping at the bit to pick up version 2).
- This is my first time using an electronic reader, and I've never liked reading long documents (much less books) on a computer.
- I read quite a few books -- typically 4 or more each month, and usually with more than one going at a time (one or more business / non-fiction, one fiction, etc.).
- When I travel, I typically have 3 or 4 books with me which can be heavy and bulky.
I'll start with my impressions of the device itself. Amazon took a cue from Apple and really paid attention to the "unboxing experience" with the Kindle. The elegantly boxed arrived and I felt like I was opening a gift, rather than just some gadget I ordered. The fit & finish are impressive - this is a sturdy, light device - and it has a nice minimalist feel. The only items you need to carry around are the Kindle itself (about as big a footprint as a Moleskine notebook, but thinner than an iPhone), a USB cable that you use for charging and connecting to your PC, and a USB-to-AC adapter so you can charge via an electrical outlet).
I added Amazon's protective leather cover for the Kindle 2, which about doubles the thickness of the device but gives me peace of mind that it won't get dinged up as I carry the Kindle around. Click the image at right for a larger view of all the gear together.
Obtaining Stuff to Read
One of the things that's been a breeze is buying books for the Kindle. The device is integrated seamlessly with my Amazon account, so I can:
- Buy Kindle books via the Amazon web site, and they show up seconds later on my Kindle 2
- Browse or search for books on the Kindle, order (with automatic billing to my account)
These are the two most common actions, but there are other ways to get content to read, including:
- You can email PDF's and Word docs to yourself and (for a cost of 10 cents) they will be converted and appear on your Kindle a few minutes later. If you are a GTD user, this could be an effective way to bring your "To Read" stack with you without adding bulk to your briefcase. You can also add others to your email "good list" so they can send you documents this way.
- You can subscribe to newspapers (of which there are quite a few) or magazines (there aren't many) from Amazon's Kindle Store.
- You can subscribe to a small number of leading blogs (more are purportedly coming) so you can read your RSS feeds on the go.
- You can get free books via ManyBooks - they have Kindle format versions of many books from Project Gutenberg.
- ManyBooks has over 20,000 free eBooks available, and a bunch of them are available in Kindle format (.awz files).
- You can also browse to "mnybks.net" from your Kindle to download from ManyBooks directly on the device.
- If you download the books to your PC, you have to manually copy them to your Kindle 2 via the USB cable but hey - they're free!
In addition to reading, you can listen to things on the Kindle in a couple of ways:
- Have the Kindle read a book to you in its robot voice (I'm not wild about the voice, but it might be good in some situation I haven't yet encountered).
- Copy MP3's to your Kindle (again, via USB) so you can listen to music or audiobooks on the device. Warning: MP3 files take a lot of space (but Kindle format books do not).
Book prices are reasonable. First, you can download samples of books to decide whether you want them or not. When you buy, most current / hardcover titles cost $10, while older / massmarket paperback books range from free to about $8 (most of the massmarket books I've bought run about $6 or $7).
The best thing? The Kindle weighs the same and takes up the same amount of space no matter how many books you put in it.
OK, So What About the Reading?
Now, let's get into the reason I bought this device: the reading. In short, "wow - this is cool, and better than I expected." You start with a home page that shows you all of the books currently on your Kindle, with a small, graphical indicator of how much you've read. When you find what you want to read, point to it using the joystick and press in on the joystick to select. Boom - the book comes up on the screen and you're ready to read.
The controls on the Kindle 2 are easy to use and you forget about them after a few minutes of reading (you'll mostly use the Previous and Next Page buttons). At any time, you can mark text, add annotations, add a bookmark, or look up a word using the built-in dictionary. You can also switch to another book, and the Kindle 2 will remember where you left off any time you return to a book already in progress. Very nice.
The on-screen reading experience is surprisingly good. I have read for up to 4 hours at a stretch with no eye fatigue, and find I can read faster on the Kindle than I can using a "real" book. I suspect it's because I can adjust the text to a size that's optimal and because the whitespace around the screen makes it easier to focus on the page that's before me.
The annotation tools are handy, too. Since I often review the books I read (or at least the ones I like), I find myself using the highlights a lot and they're a snap to use on the Kindle 2. In the screen shot at the right, you can get an idea of how easy it is to keep track of multiple highlights and annotations - click the pic for a larger view (and please excuse the wonky angle - I didn't get the camera straight).
Net-net on the Kindle 2
Once again, I'm really glad I bought the Kindle 2. If you read a lot, you'll love this device - and I think heavy readers will be able to justify the expensive price much more easily. There are so many things I haven't even mentioned in this review, but hopefully you've heard enough to get an idea whether this device is right for you or not. If you still want one, pick one up a Kindle 2 from Amazon - and happy reading!
And here are my top 5 pros and cons, to wrap things up.
Kindle 2: Top 5 Pros
Kindle 2: Bottom 5 Cons
Excellent, readable screen with adjustable font size
Seamless integration with Amazon account
Joystick is a little stubby and harder to use than I'd like
Huge library of current (and older) books available on-demand
Battery and memory are not user-accessible
Very portable form factor, even with charging cable
No ability to password protect the device or its ability to order
Easy bookmarking, highlighting, and annotation
Not enough magazines available for subscription yet