I've been interested in the Kindle since I first heard about them. But up until the latest model it has been missing some key features that would allow me to justify the price tag. Improved pdf handling is what really sold me on this product. I read a lot of dissertations and articles, which has meant a tonne of printing. The Kindle solves this problem and it has a lot more to offer as well.
My new toy/tool arrived Monday to a very excited customer. I immediately charged it up and put to use my obsessive information gathering about how to be a Kindle power user. Some of the things didn't work the same as the Kindle 2, so information on changing the screen saver images was not helpful. But in no time I had a pile of pdfs on there and started harvesting classics from the various sites (manybooks, project gutenberg, etc.) that cater to eReaders. Happily I even found Harnack's History of Dogma and a pile of H. P. Lovecraft to enjoy. I wanted to give the device a good workout before typing up a review.
First the good bits.
The screen is amazing! When I pulled it out of the box there was plastic on the front and back, I thought surely the plastic had an image on it. No, the screen looks like it is the display sticker they put on things to make it look better than it actually does. And the screen looks even better in full sunlight! Now they say it is 50% better than the Kindle 2's screen, but my neighbour has a Kindle 2 and her screen is pretty sweet too. Regardless of how much better the screen is, what is important is that I can read this thing all day long and no headaches or fatigue (other than what is normal when you get to the boring bits in books - someday they will invent a reader that has a needle to inject you with adrenaline to get through such parts!). In fact I did one full day. I read a full novel, a few chapters from a book on ADHD, and various pdf articles. I stopped because Sharon turned out the light. I would love to hear if such sustained reading is possible on the iPad? (The iPad had the features I wanted but price, too much functionality, and back-lit screen kept me away).
The big reason I wanted the Kindle over other electronic readers is the ability to annotate texts. I write in my books. I know that shocks people, but it is how I process them. I read a lot of books too. So annotation was a pre-requisite for me. The full keyboard (QWERTY) is excellent. It is not too big to get in the way, but not too small that it is impossible to type on. I thought I would fat finger a lot more too, I think I've fat fingered twice since I bought it so the spacing is great for my big hands even. What was a delight is that that I can even annotate text based pdfs. I am highlighting and annotating a dissertation on Progressive Evangelicals and it works fine. There are some problems with pdfs, but so far the functionality I need is all there.
For a reader I want to keep it simple, I am easily distracted. So I had considered just getting the wifi version. But the 3G comes in quite handy. I love to tweet great passages, so Kindle makes that easy. I can even select the text and tweet from right in the document! That produces a link, but I can just as easily pop open the web browser and put it in that way too. It is also easy to look up stuff without the urge to check email. This is a problem for me, so limited web access is a boon. There are work around to get more functionality in to the device - but why? If I wanted more distraction I would have bought an iPad or a mini-laptop. BTW I am not going to connect my facebook to the device, it does allow for that though.
Finally, it is super easy to transfer documents to my Kindle. They provide a translation service, look for the free one, so you can just mail a variety of formats to yourself and they are converted to something the Kindle can read (mobi). For pdfs you have to specify if you want them to convert the file or just send it as is. I have some of both, but I can't remember always which is which. The biggest problem for me is that some of my documents are larger (even compressed) than my service provider will let mail out. :-( So for those I need to USB into my laptop and send them over.
Now the bad.
As an academic I need to cite documents. The native book format for the Kindle actually strips out page numbers and replaces it with locations. That is a huge problem. There are work arounds, like searching for a unique phrase on Google books, but that is a hassle. Bookmonk also has some web accessible help for this problem. But this is a serious problem that Amazon should fix. In addition to making citing books harder, it also make navigation of a document that much harder.
Another problem is that the book selection is still growing. I read very specific books, some of which I can find, but the majority are not in Kindle format yet. This doesn't bug me too much though because the last problem makes me hesitant at buying a lot of books for my research work. I think if the solved that problem I'd get the Pokemon syndrome and need to fill the device with tonnes of my favourite theology and philosophy texts. For what it is worth, I did buy Moltmann's Theology of Hope as I know that text very well and was amazed that they even got the font right! That might seem odd, but it helps navigate the text.
Scanned pdfs require a bit of fiddling to make readable. I get a lot of scanned articles (images) from ATLA. You can zoom, but that sometimes makes the document unreadable because you need to scroll constantly. The zoom ratios are pre-set, unfortunately. But often with rotating and playing you can find a readable mode for each document - it is a good thing I have great eyes though. And pdfs maintain page numbering which is super awesome!
A related problem is that pdfs are large. Four gigs is not enough, I'm just getting started and I have filled over half of that already. What would be excellent would be a SD slot (even microSD) so I can have cards full of pdfs arranged by topics. Speaking of arranging books, the Collections feature is really great, I can't imagine what it was like in previous versions.
The last thing, and it is just something that makes me nervous, is the Kindle Big Brother control of your device. It is wonderful that they offer to back up my annotations. But I'm not sure I want those out there. And the stories of Amazon neutering your device are not fun to hear. I'm not sure what provocation is needed, but I also hope I never find out.
All in all, I am loving the new Kindle. It does all that I need it to do and more. It is really easy on the eyes. And a lot better on my shoulders than carrying around tonnes of printouts! Now I just hope Moleskine makes a case for the Kindle 3!