After a couple of days with a Kindle I have found just about every expectation I had for the device completely turned over on its head. I thought things would be one way, turns out they’re another. The short version of my Kindletastic weekend: the Kindle is an incredible leap forward and yet it also is a device that feels like it has a bit of a ways to go.
Before I make like CNET and give a rundown of some pros and cons, let me first say that if you are a literary agent the Kindle almost seems like it was designed expressly for you. I can’t imagine a more helpful device. My work life has officially been drastically, incredibly improved.
First expectation countered: I thought I would be annoyed having to pay 10 cents every time I converted my own Word documents.
Wrong! Sending partials to the Kindle is just. so. easy.
Step 1. Partial comes into my work e-mail address. Step 2. I forward it to my Kindle e-mail address. Step 3. Documents show up automatically on the Kindle a minute later, already formatted properly and just sitting there waiting to be read on the crystal clear screen.
SO EASY. I could plug the Kindle into the computer and drag and drop files for free, but it’s just way easier to e-mail them. Take my 10 cents, Amazon! Please! I beg of you!
I can’t overstate how awesome it is to be able to read manuscripts on a good screen, anywhere, with uniform formatting, without printing anything out. Just awesome. The only hitch is that it’s tricky reading partials away from my work e-mail account because I like to refresh my memory about the genre and subject before I start reading, so now I’m asking people to paste their original query into the first page of the partial. Problem solved.
Second expectation countered: I thought the device would look clunky and ’80s-ish.
Inaccurate! I think the Kindle has gotten an unfairly bad rap for being an ugly device — I don’t think it is, anyway. It has an interesting shape to it as it’s tapered on both sides, it’s lightweight, I find the tiny keyboard surprisingly easy to type on, and it has a seriously cool scroll wheel unlike anything I’ve seen before.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the page turn buttons being so big that it’s too easy to accidentally turn pages. When you’re holding the Kindle by itself, yes, it’s a little challenging to figure out exactly how to hold it and turn pages. But when it’s in the leather carrying case that comes with it it’s very easy to hold and turn pages. As you can see from the picture above (I did brave the beach with the Kindle after all), I just crack open the case and start reading.
Now for some drawbacks.
Third expectation countered: I didn’t think I’d be bothered by the screen-blink when turning pages.
I am. When you turn pages on the Kindle the entire screen briefly turns black, and then it moves on to the next page. I knew this going in since I’ve seen this wipe before on other e-readers, and I may still get used to it, but so far it bothers me that turning pages is such a slow process. There is so much of a pronounced delay that I have to anticipate turning the page and press the button a second or two before I’m done reading the page to keep up my reading pace. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.
The blink prevents the device from disappearing in my hands. I know it’s only been a weekend, but I never lose myself in the device in the way that I don’t even notice turning pages when I’m reading a paper book — I can turn the page of a paper book faster than the Kindle can turn a page. The Kindle delay also is not uniform and delays may vary, which further complicates trying to anticipate the page turn to get into a reading flow. And that bothers me.
It also contributes to…
Fourth expectation countered: I didn’t think I’d miss paper books when reading a Kindle
But I do! Regular blog readers know I’m extremely unsentimental when it comes to paper books. I don’t really care about the smell, the feel in my hands, putting it on the bookshelf… none of that. All that matters to me are the words. Bring on the future. Er. Or so I thought.
Chalk this one up to not knowing what you have ’til it’s gone. I’m reading THE BOOK THIEF on the Kindle, and I really am enjoying the book a great deal. But. I kind of miss being able to look at the cover! I miss not being able to flip back to previous pages to re-read a section very easily! I’m honestly surprised at these things — I thought I’d get an e-reader and never look back.
And I also miss not knowing precisely how far I am into the book. Kindle shows tiny dots at the bottom of the page that show approximately how far you are through a book, and, uh, I’m on dot 20 or 21. Or something. They’re too small to count easily. I think I’m halfway through. I don’t know. It also shows “locations” at the bottom, by which I think roughly translates “lines,” provided said lines are in a certain sized font. And I’m on “Locations 3052-60,” only I don’t really know what that means. Not exactly the same thing as being on Page 234.
And that leads to…
Fifth expectation countered: I’d heard people complain about the physical device’s shortcomings, but I thought the user interface would be smooth.
Well, it’s kind of smooth, especially the Amazon store part, which works flawlessly and easily. It is even extremely easy to return a book you bought accidentally, which I managed to do within 10 minutes of using the Kindle. I also really like opening up the Kindle and resuming exactly where I left off in a book the last time.
But clicking around on a Kindle is sloooow. Typing is an exercise in trust because it takes so long for the letters to appear. The dots thing instead of page numbers really bothers me.
Some of this is saved by the cool scroll wheel on the right hand side, which is really easy to use and just looks cool. But then there are just some strange choices that make this feel like a very raw device. It’s not easy to organize manuscripts in the main screen. I wish I could create folders for work and others, but as far as I know that’s not possible (might be wrong on that). The web browser correctly belongs in the “experimental” folder, because while the wireless connection is surprisingly fast, the Kindle isn’t really able to interpret many web pages into anything comprehensible (although this blog actually works pretty well because of how few pictures I have).
So the ultimate verdict: I am extremely excited about my Kindle. It’s going to change my life, and I think I’ll look back and marvel at the pre-Kindle world and reminisce about it in the way that I remember what life was like before the Internet. Having a wireless handheld device with a crystal-clear screen is simply incredible. And even with my reservations I will probably look first to see if books are available on the Kindle before I buy them and I’ll use it first instead of a paper book.
But this is definitely a first generation device, and there are plenty of kinks to be worked out. It’s so easy to imagine improvements, which I’m sure will be coming quickly in future devices in the coming years. So while I think quite a few bibliophiles will love it, particularly with a hefty price tag I hesitate to recommend it to just anyone.
But the future is here. For real this time.
Interesting post. I’ve been reading books on my antique Handspring Visor for awhile, using various software such as TomeRaider. I agree–it takes some getting used to. I started reading books and stories with it since I could get free downloads on the classics. Not the same feeling reading Dickens on a modern device, but the price was right. Besides, with a backlight I could read at night in bed. I’ve only purchased one ebook and doubt I’d purchase more.
Ahhhh… just in time! New Kindles on the Horizon.
Don’t you just hate Moore’s Law sometimes?
To navigate in a paper book you can use visual-spatial perception. In an electronic book you can only use the part of the brain you’re reading with. It’s more tiring to bookmark, go back to check another page etc.
I only found your comments on the Kindle while Googling after-market covers for them. I enjoyed your comments and agreed with most of them. The page-blink issue is somewhat of an annoyance and I was aware of it before I purchased my Kindle. It was one of those things I just decided to learn to live with. The strangest sensation I've noticed since getting my Kindle is the need to try and turn pages, as if it were a paper book. I also agree with various comments about not being able to flip back and forth through a book at different times. I do like to do that with a paper book. One thing I did notice is that Kindle is definitely not good for books with photographs. Too small and difficult to see. I wonder if this will be addressed in later versions. The bottom line, though, is that I am very happy with my Kindle and haven't been into a B&N or Borders since I got it!