I was sent a Kindle a few weeks ago; not by Amazon who creates the device, but by a publisher in London who wanted to show me the power of "e-paper" when reading books. I have not been too impressed.
By looking at pictures of the Kindle, it looks like a great big tablet device which it isn't. You could easily hold it with both of your hands held together, that is, if you didn't want to get Kindle-cooties. You can't even turn the damn thing off; the screen remains on all the time (which has little effect on the battery life actually), but you don't necessarily want your friends and family to discover you're a secret Harry Potter fan.
One of the main features, and granted, it's a bloody good feature, is the ability to download books, journals and "reading material" from Amazon wirelessly. That is most certainly cool. On the other hand, you have to pay for the books, and that is something most students would keep away from. I know, I know, people will criticise me saying that because it makes perfect business sense to charge for e-downloads, but it's like iTunes for books. Nobody wants to fork out the best part of $350 to then only keep adding more costs, charges, and maybe cell network access too.
Around 90,000 e-books can be downloaded from Amazon, and the internal memory can hold 200 books. For anyone outside the US, over-the-air downloads won't work. That's one feature I can't try out, which makes me question the motives behind this publisher sending me the Kindle in the first place.
The screen is black and white; or rather a slightly olive green on 70% grey. After reading something for more than 20 minutes, my eyes start going fuzzy and nausea kicks in. I'm not sure whether that's because I'm straining my eyes to read text which is far too small for the screen I'm reading it on, or the colour of the background which looks like baby poo (and for those who don't have kids, baby poo often looks this colour).
Some of the other features include an MP3 player which is pointless when you've got an iPod, and if you don't, the Kindle is too big to fit in your jeans pocket anyway. It has a web browser which loads pages slower than a dead snail, and a CDMA network based location service to pin-point your geographic location, which doesn't work in the UK anyway. What confuses me is the amount of undocumented features in the Kindle which almost outweigh the ones that are documented. I'm not sure why they've hidden so much in this device, but they have.
The only way I can see this benefiting students is for those who wish to read the newspaper in the morning, on their commute into university. By that, I specifically mean those who automatically download a newspaper to their Kindle, and read it on a packed subway train or bus, because there's no space for a broadsheet newspaper. That's it.
For the physical design, it looks ugly, it feels flimsy, and seems a bit tacky. You can't even hold the device in your hand without accidently pushing one of the buttons. It's not a case of having sausage fingers, it's more the palms of your hands which end up mashing the buttons.
Whilst I'm aware this is a technology website, I never thought I'd recommend people stick to their books rather than a device which is meant to revolutionise reading.