The Amazing Kindle

Even though eBooks now outsell print books at Amazon, I have been hesitant to jump on the eBook bandwagon. I took a thorough look the Kindle when Amazon began (sort of) making it available outside the United States in 2009, but decided I was a traditionalist, physical-book type of bibliophile.

A short while ago, however, I made the leap, bought my first eBook and liked what I got. I have been reading it using the Kindle for Windows Phone app and was quite OK with how things were. The Kindle app is excellent for what it is, but it doesn’t even to compare to the real Kindle.

Amazon Kindle

Smartphones are great and I love the fact that I can fit something that does email, web, contacts, calendar, games, music etc. into my pocket. Modern smartphones are extremely versatile, although for everything they do, there is a device that is better suited.

The Kindle is just the opposite: it’s exclusively (or almost exclusively) for reading, but it really excels at this one thing.

What the Kindle is great for

The first thing everyone notices is the display. It’s really crisp and unlike phone displays it does not glare. Because it does not emit but merely reflect light, it’s also much easier on the eyes when reading for longer periods of time.

Because font size, line spacing and pretty much everything else about the text rendering can be adjusted, one can fit almost as much text on a single page as in a small paperback book. This also means having to turn pages less often. With other eBook readers I’ve seen, turning pages could take a while, which can really interrupt one’s reading flow. With the Kindle, however, I fell like it takes barely longer to turn over page as it takes for my eyes to move from the bottom right to the top left corner of the screen. All this makes for an extremely comfortable reading experience.

The device is also small and light enough that I can hold it with one hand without tiring (unlike say, an iPad), and it fits comfortably into the pocket of my suit jacket, so I can keep it handy on my way to and from work. However, unlike a smartphone, this won’t be a device that I will carry around with me all the time. I will probably use it to store what would amount to a small stack of books as reading material for longer trips and use it on my daily commute when I have an interesting eBook I am currently reading.

What it’s not so great for

With each revision the good folks at Amazon have improved the device’s reading capabilities, but also added some additional features to the core eBook reader functionality. One of these things is the web browser. On the one had, it is nice that I can highlight a word in a book, and look it up on Google or Wikipedia. On the other hand, the browsing experience on this thing is really, really poor. For one, E Ink displays take a little while to refresh, so scrolling will always create a lot of flicker. Also, when zooming in and out of web pages, one feels thrown back in time to a pre-multitouch world (shudder). I guess that is why they mark the browser as “experimental”.

If you are living outside of the United States, the content situation is also a bit unsatisfactory. As I am writing this, there are a mere 9 newspapers and 7 magazines available. In 2009 I wrote how I would love to be able to get the New Yorker for the same $2.99 as people in the U.S. get it. Unfortunately, things haven’t changed at all since then and U.S. magazine and newspapers are still not available here. I’m not sure if they are having trouble agreeing with publishers on terms for making available electronic versions of their content for the fragmented European market, or whether there is no real demand for this stuff from Europeans, so they won’t even bother.

Conclusion

To summarize, the Kindle is a really great eBook reader, but it’s just that: an eBook reader. It will therefore not replace any of my other devices, but rather complement them. At currently 139 EUR for the Wi-Fi-only version (which I have and recommend), you get great value for your money. In my humble opinion, it’s the best eBook reader out there in terms of hardware, although content-wise, there is still room for improvement.

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