On Tuesday, a few hours after the Amazon Kindle went on sale in Canada, I placed my order. Forty-eight hours later it arrived at my house; if nothing else this is a testament to Amazon’s stunning logistics savvy.

Why a Kindle?

Well, I’ve discovered in the past month or two that I actually like reading digital books.

Blame Anne of Green Gables.

I downloaded the Project Gutenberg version of Anne a while back and loaded it up in Stanza, the ebook reader I have installed on my iPod Touch. And every night for a couple of weeks I read Oliver another chapter before he went to bed.

The iPod Touch screen is tiny, and I don’t like having to touch the screen to turn pages, but otherwise this worked much better than I thought it would. And when we tired of Anne – you can only read so much “maples are such sociable trees” before you need a break – we moved on to Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother a novel perhaps a little on the bleeding edge for Oliver, what with all the phracking and terrorism, but a novel that seemed to hold his interest nonetheless.

For Little Brother we experimented both with Stanza on the iPod Touch and with an ebook reader application for Oliver’s XO laptop. This proved to be a step up from the iPod, with a much easier to read screen that’s large enough to fit a book-page-like amount of text.  Unfortunately the poor battery life of the XO meant that we often found ourselves at bedtime with a dead laptop and had to revert to the iPod or, dare I say, an old-school printed book.

So, I like digital books, and Amazon is arguably the leader, with the Kindle and its integration with everything, in experimenting with this new way of delivering words, so I really didn’t consider anything else.  The $259 price tag was low enough that I didn’t have to think too hard before clicking “Buy.”

So I’ve now been a Kindle user for about 12 hours.  Here’s what I think so far:

  • The screen is very readable.  Jeff Bezos talks about the design goal of wanting the Kindle to recede into the background so that the reading experience feels like, well, reading.  It works.
  • I love that when you power off the Kindle it displays a random image of a well-known author on its screen (a screen that, because it uses “e-ink,” can retain images without using power).
  • I’ve spent more on books, even at the discounted prices that Amazon sells Kindle books for, in the last 12 hours than I have in the last 2 months.  I suppose that’s part of the point for Amazon.
  • The ability to subscribe to newspapers like the Globe and Mail was an attractive proposition; the reality is less so, as rather than anything remotely newspaper-like, the experience of reading a newspaper on a Kindle is more like reading a very, very long RSS feed.  There are no images, the type is all the same size, and stories that would be graphically related on a newspaper page just flow along after each other in a disjointed fashion.
  • The “experimental” PDF file convert-and-read feature is similarly disappointing.  Like a web browser, the Kindle is at its heart a text flowing machine, and so its PDF converting engine essentially does a pdftotext on the PDF to create something the Kindle can handle.  This is fine in the original PDF was well-formatted and primarily made of text, but take something like the PEI Climate Change Strategy and you end up with confusing morass of text that’s not particularly readable.
  • The ability of the Kindle to receive documents by email, convert them, and wirelessly sync them to the Kindle has been removed for Canadian Kindles; the same functionality minus the wireless sync is still in place – you just drag and drop documents onto the device via USB – but the absence of this capability makes things like Instapaper support less magic-seeming (kudos to Instapaper for the new features that support manual syncing, features that are only slightly less magical).
  • I had no idea I would use the ability to “clip” text for later reference, but I’ve done it a half-dozen times now, and it turns out to be a very nice feature, especially the fact that the Kindle jumps an ASCII text version of your clippings on the device, complete with attribution.
  • The text-to-speech feature works surprisingly well.  But I wish that I could use it to read aloud a single word or sentence: that would be a big help for Oliver when he gets stuck on a word.  Here’s what it sounds like when the Kindle is reading this blog post (I sent the post to Instapaper, synced the resulting .mobi file to the Kindle, and then recorded the Kindle reading it).
  • The entire New Oxford American Dictionary is built-in to the Kindle, and you can use it both while reading to highlight and define words, but also as a searchable/browseable dictionary in its own right. That’s neat.
  • There are two page-flipping “next page” buttons on the Kindle, one on each side.  They’re at the right height and are big enough that using them feels comfortable. It’s confusing that there’s only a “previous page” button on the left-hand side though.
  • The joystick used for navigation feels stiff and is not at all pleasant to operate.  I get the “make it flush enough so that it’s almost like it isn’t there” design choice, but they made it too tiny to use comfortably.

That text-clipping feature?  Here are two examples where I found it useful:

The more you learned during the day, the more you need to sleep that night. (NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman — Highlight Loc. 489-90)

Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant said talk of abuse of detainees is hurting public support for the Afghan military mission. (The Globe and Mail — Highlight Loc. 81-82)

It will take a while longer to see whether the Kindle is a keeper: I’ve got a few books stacked up to read now, but I’m unsure as to how I’ll keep new books in my queue (I may have to start reading the Globe and Mail books section).  More to come once I’ve had a few weeks to really take it for a ride.


Brad's picture
Brad on November 20, 2009 - 18:54 Permalink

How’s the page turning speed?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 20, 2009 - 18:57 Permalink

Brad, watch the video for a live page-turning demo.&#160 Things get turny at about 00:45.

Ashley Johnston's picture
Ashley Johnston on November 22, 2009 - 21:48 Permalink

Do you have comments about the XO?