Kindle clamor keeps confusing

Kindle clamor keeps confusing

Summary: Despite being given the royal thumbs-up from Oprah last week, the Amazon Kindle looks to be a technology in search of a market. After some hands-on experience, I must say that the reality is much worse than I imagined.

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Kindle clamor keeps confusingDespite being given the royal thumbs-up from Oprah last week, the Amazon Kindle looks to be a technology in search of a market. After some hands-on experience, I must say that the reality is much worse than I imagined.

In addition, after reading text with an iPhone 3G for several months, I wonder about the whole e-book reader category. Who needs it?

One of my neighbors, a designer of hardware interfaces for professional video editing systems, bought a Kindle a couple of months ago. He put it up for sale on eBay less than a day later. He said the hardware design was "terrible."

After borrowing and using his Kindle, I understood his rejection of the device. It presents a cluttered interface. And worse, it changed pages when I picked it up, with my fingers touching the long Previous and Next Page bars on the sides. This was his experience as well. (I notice from most publicity photos that the Kindle is held in the left hand from the lower left corner. Maybe that's the secret but that's awkward.)

In addition, I found the roller bar and its cursor track icon difficult to line up with items on the screen. And I its browser was very slow.

My neighbor appears to want to like this e-book reader category, but admits that the Kindle is a bit schizophrenic in its design. It's a reader and a music player, an Internet browser and a book platform, and comes with a grayish black-and-white screen in a color world (and no backlight either).

On the other hand, my iPhone G3 is a great handheld reader. It has a beautiful, sharp color screen, that I can use with just one hand, turning pages with my thumb. I read RSS feeds this way all the time. But these are all short pieces. What about longer documents, err, like books?

To test the iPhone with a book, I purchased Classics, a $2.99 book reader app released last week by Andrew Kaz and Phill Ryu. The program currently offers a dozen copyright-free titles, such as Alice in Wonderland, Hound of the Baskervilles and Call of the Wild, among others. The text is formatted into pages and users flip through the book by tapping the page (each "turn" is accompanied by a cute animation and sound). It doesn't scroll.

I found the text (in a serif font) to be perfectly readable. Perhaps to help deliver the concept of a classic book, the background color of the "page" is tinted a bit sepia; I wish there was a setting to control this behavior.

However, reading experts will note that Classics presents a 30-character column of text, about 5 words, which is considerably narrower than the usual newspaper column of 50 to 60 characters. Still, I found that the format worked fine on the iPhone.

When the Kindle was announced, I questioned whether the e-book reader could supplant the market for printed books. Now, after using the Kindle, I still don't see how the current generation of readers can overcome the advantages of printed hardcopy: its robust, unbreakable nature; high-resolution text and battery life (unlimited).

And after successfully using the iPhone as a book reader, it appears that the Kindle now has two established technologies to overcome. Good luck.

Topics: Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

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37 comments
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  • Perhaps.

    The kindle uses e-ink which is a technology that causes black magnetic particles to become polarized in a substrate. This allows the display to consume almost no energy except when a page is turned.
    There really isn't any color e-ink tech out now so that is why it is in black and white. Also most books are black text on a white page anyway so why do people need color? Because the substrate is white in color back lighting the screen isn't going to work well. Also e-ink is designed to mimic paper and ink. Most people don't expect their paperback novels to have back lighting why would they expect the Kindle to have this?

    As far as other features other than reading books or downloading books, the Kindle should not do them at all. It should be used as a e-book reader and possibly a device for downloading e-books from a very limited source. It is not designed to surf the entire internet. If a person wants to do that there is much better tech for this.
    As far as hardware interface goes it is all what people are willing to get used to. If somebody knows that the control keys are on a certain side they adapt to pick it up with the left hand. If the person isn't willing to do some adaption then they probably don't like device in general. Also it isn't really hard to move pages back and forth. Also there is a bookmark feature to bring a person to the page they want anyway.

    I tried to read a novel on an iPhone once and the screen size was just to small for me. I need a screen that is at least the size of a paper back novel's page to enjoy the reading experience.

    IMHO the Kindle should:
    Dump any feature not related to reading books.
    Make sure the battery life is out of this world.
    Make some small improvements to the user interface.
    Offer a huge library for the device.
    mr1972
    • Perhaps not

      I don't dispute the purpose of this device, merely the
      execution. I have no complaint about the display
      quality, though to me it is still smaller than the average
      paperback book page and so a little more difficult to
      read smoothly.

      However, I seriously complain about the interface. As
      an ebook reader, why do you have a full QWERTY
      keyboard? Why are the page-turn buttons so big you
      can't miss them even when you want to? Why is the
      interface itself so difficult to navigate?

      I've been looking for something of this sort that would
      be reasonably priced for a long time. When the Kindle
      first came out, I researched it as well as I was able;
      reading reviews by both professional reviewers and
      consumers who had purchased one. My final decision?
      The Kindle did not fit my concept of a true ebook
      reader.

      True; color display is not necessary. On the other hand,
      if you tend to read in low-light situations (such as
      when you're waiting in the car at night for your SO to
      get out of work or maybe waiting for your SO to pick
      you up) then backlighting that could be turned on
      manually would be a real benefit.

      The interface alone could be much easier if, instead of
      or maybe supplemental to its own WiFi capability you
      could download your ebooks to your computer in an
      iTunes-like manner. This would allow you to maintain
      a library of many times the 400 books the Kindle can
      store and allow you to change out your reading list as
      desired without risk of losing the books you have
      purchased. In my own case, I have a library of well over
      1,000 books of many different genres, both fiction and
      non-fiction. Some of these are pertinent to my own
      profession, others to my SO's--in a totally different
      field.

      The I/O interface as well leaves much to be desired.
      Too many buttons for a portable device, with a very
      poorly laid out panel. Even a simple PDA-like series of
      buttons would be easier than the Kindle to use if the
      display were made stylus-sensitive and the QWERTY
      keyboard virtualized and only visible when needed.

      As yet, none of the ebook readers so far developed
      come close to what I want in one. I can only hope
      someone eventually gets it right.
      Vulpinemac
  • RE: Kindle clamor keeps confusing

    The execution of the Kindle leaves much to be desired. It is buggy and awkward. It is also, a first edition -- hopefully. I've tried reading on the smaller formats, but the venerable Palm and marvelous iPhone tend to "porthole" the contextual formatting patterns, so important to reading. Kindle does a great job "showing" the page, revealing the larger structure in which the content sits. I hate fighting with my Kindle, but I'm now purchasing 5-6 books a month. For me, at least, the Kindle -- for all its problems -- is working. I used to read off my wee-Fujitsu or Motion Tablet. Never again.
    fwray
  • Battery life?

    You are right. Reading on an iPhone is great. But, if you want to use it for anything else, you will be out of battery reall soon. The two devices have different functionalities, and, of necessity, target different audiences.
    jorjitop
  • RE: Kindle clamor keeps confusing

    I love my kindle. If you're not using it to read, just turn the screensaver on to prevent accidental button presses (alt + text size button...same to get away from screensaver mode). The web browser is awful, but I bought it for reading books. I like that I can purchase a book anywhere and have it within seconds. You can also search for a word or phrase very easilly, annotate, bookmark, and export pages. Amazon also backs up your library for you so you don't have to worry about losing it or running out of space. To me, the screen is amazing. I can read it just like a newspaper and it doesn't strain the eyes like traditional LCD technology. The backlight issue is a little annoying, but books also fall down here. You can also carry around an entire collection of books with you wherever you go, which is impossible to do with traditional books. The battery life on the Kindle is also excellent with the wireless turned off. I really don't know why it's gotten such a bad rap from certain reviewers.
    gotamd@...
  • eInk great for heavy readers

    When I looked at the Kindle versus the Sony Reader, I decided that I didn't need any of the Kindle's wireless features and therefore picked the cheaper Sony. No, eInk readers are not general purpose devices. They do one thing and they do it exceptionally well. I read more than 100 books a year so for me the legibility, battery life and feel of my Sony make it the best device for my reading. YMMV
    dmclean@...
    • I like my Sony reader..for $85

      Price can makle a difference. After languishing to a glued-down display at a Shopko for more than a year, I found the Sony for sale in a zip-ock bag (with cables) for $85. At that price, it was worth it and I used it a lot.

      But a dedicated reader for $300? Nope. I also like how I can dump in text files from places like Project Gutenberg directly. I don't have to email them to Amazon and have then send them back to me.
      psion@...
  • eBooks: Still a bad idea

    I used to be a supporter of electronic books simply
    because they remove the need for me to own bookshelves
    full of books. But the licensing of eBooks has caused me to
    change my mind.

    Because of licensing, once you buy an eBook, it's yours
    forever because it's keyed to your playback device. You
    can't sell it used and recoup some of your money back.
    You can't give it away. You can't lend it to someone else.
    You can buy a book, change your mind about buying it,
    and get a refund from the store where you bought it. You
    can't do that with an eBook.

    Then there's the price of the device. Who can afford to buy
    one of these things? If I want to read a book, I order it
    from the library. If the library doesn't have it, I look for a
    used copy somewhere. I'm not going to spend $400 on
    some stupid device to read a book that I can get for free
    from the library.

    As for the Kindle, you can tell by looking a photos of it that
    it isn't well-designed. I hope that Amazon sells a billion of
    them, just not to me.
    mlibrescu
    • I Love eBooks

      I read a lot. Mostly science fiction and Fantasy. I am embarrassed to have dozens of Star Wars type books at my house because It makes me look like a geek. I also travel a lot. Having one device with 40-50 books on it is great for me. I also like the fact that I can store my entire library in less than a gig of hard drive space. DRM sucks. Proprietary lock in to one device sucks. These problems must be fixed or a tolerable solution needs to be developed. I am optimistic about e books because the advantages are huge. Reading books on your i phone is great also.
      KLS 12.5
  • RE: Kindle clamor keeps confusing

    I purchased a Kindle around 3 months ago. I bought it to read books, not to surf the web or listen to music, two things I did not know it could do when I bought it. For reading books, it is wonderful. For the first weeks I had it, I was constantly reaching up to turn the page with my finger (a habit that was not easy to break, but very clear evidence of how like holding a book in one's hand the Kindle experience is). I have nothing but praise for the Kindle, to be perfectly honest. Books cost about a third (or less) what their hard-copy cousins cost. Downloading a book is free and takes all of about ten seconds. It works is about the best praise one can give it, or any other, similar device.
    ldobie
  • RE: Kindle clamor keeps confusing

    The difference is between people who want to read books and those who have other technolgy goals. The Kindle (mine is now almost a year old, my husband's about 6 months) is perfect for reading. We subscribe to 3 newspapers, and have a library that we carry around. The device "disappears" when you are engaged in a book, and it does that effectively. The Amazon network of publishers providing such rich content is fantastic. I fear that Alice and Wonderland just doesn't do it for me. This is about much more than the device itself.
    lynne.personius@...
  • RE: Kindle - hardware not the biggest problem

    I don't want a Kindle because I can't put it in my pocket like my PDA or smartphone - both which can be used to read e-books (and do many other things).

    The bigger problem may be Amazon's influence with publishers. I bought an e-book by a well-known author a couple of years ago. It is available in both eReader and MSReader formats. The author's most recent book came out earlier this year. Currently it is available only in the Kindle format. Why has it not been released in formats that are much more widely used? Could Amazon be using its money and muscle to force us to buy the Kindle if we want to read e-books?
    brucegil@...
  • RE: Kindle clamor keeps confusing

    So why doesn't Amazon sell an iPhone application that works
    as a Kindle reader? They could profit from the sale of the
    application and from the sale of eBooks.
    greg_glockner@...
  • Lots of cons, what were the pros

    iPhone must have it drawbacks as an e-reader, battery consumption, size of interface, etc etc, and of the Kindle. Either way, I don't see myself getting either . . . whether God Steve or Goddess Oprah bless them or not.
    Boot_Agnostic
  • RE: Kindle clamor keeps confusing

    I have a Kindle and love it too. It didn't do a lot for me right out of the box but the more I use it the more I love it.

    In addition, I question your neighbor's thoroughness - he did not need to put on ebay, he could have returned it to Amazon for a full refund within 30 days if he was not satisfied.
    robinzim
  • RE: Kindle clamor keeps confusing

    It is quite simple. When the device can replace my magazine and newspaper subscriptions, I'll buy one. This means FULL COLOR and back lighting for any reading condition. Simple layout for reading in bed, in an easy chair and so on.
    dnthomas@...
  • what about Sony's e-readers?

    What about Sony's ebook readers?

    Reasons for this category (ebook readers) to be successful: 1) ecological consciousness (e-book --> no trees) 2) massive availability of electronic material (there's more information to read than the one available in printed media) 3) I have a big shelf plenty of books, but I just can carry one or two books when I'm not at home.

    Finally.... certainly.... I will never try to read a complete book on an iPhone tiny screen.
    maguilar2k
  • RE: Kindle clamor keeps confusing

    I've had mine for a few months. I love it! I have over two thousand books in it (most free or nearly so). I read more than ever now (and that's saying a lot), and it's wonderful to be reading a couple of books at once (right now it's FileMaker Pro Bible and Agatha Christie) and only carrying one lightweight device. I have a M-Edge cover for it and hold it on the left, so I don't have the button-pushing problem.

    I have an iPhone too but the font's a bit too small for my old eyes.

    I don't think you gave it a fair chance, or maybe you're not an avid reader.
    GraceSuarez
  • Ebooks Pro/con

    Pro less expensive
    Con inability to loan or resell
    Pro Saves space
    Con Uses power. Unknown durability factors of
    device. Lose license, lose all books.
    Pro Searchability potential
    Con Interface issues

    I can see using an ebook for references.
    With improvements to deal with DRM, power
    consumption and interface issues, I might
    get one. But for now, books are generally
    more useful to me. Most of the time a few
    paperback books can last me for a trip and I
    don't have to worry about it getting stolen
    misplaced or broken. Not to mention I can get
    them free from the library or cheaply via other
    sources.
    richard233
    • The gorilla in the room...pirated texts

      Another pro that isn't talked about because it is dishonest, etc, etc, is that there are a LOT of places on the net that supply cracked eBooks in text form, or even OCR'd from paper copies.

      Wrong? Yes. Is it being exploited by some users? Yes.
      psion@...