Thoughts on the Kindle

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A week ago I purchased an Amazon Kindle. These are my initial impressions. I am using the 6” Kindle with the free 2.3 firmware update.

It’s easy to use.

Your father and your grandmother can use the Kindle. They may need your help creating an account and entering a credit card number the first time, or linking it to their Amazon account if they have one. After that it is as simple as browsing the store and selecting “Buy” when they find what they want to read. There are no passwords to remember. There are no credit card security codes to enter. You find the book you want – either by searching or by browsing – and then you select “Buy.”

The device is transparent.

I really like technology. Whether it’s my MacBook or my iPhone or my Harmony Remote, I enjoy twiddling with gadgets. But I don’t want my reading experience to feel technology-driven. Accordingly, this claim by Amazon caught my eye:

The most elegant feature of a physical book is that it disappears while you’re reading. Immersed in the author’s world and ideas, you don’t notice a book’s glue, the stitching, or ink. Our top design objective was to make Kindle disappear—just like a physical book—so you can get lost in your reading, not the technology.

This they pulled off very well. Reading on the Kindle is very natural. It does not feel techy, and it does not feel like a gadget. It will not feel quaint the next time you pick up a paperback.

PDFs render well.

I held off on the Kindle until it was able to display the PDF eBooks I’ve purchased over the years. It renders them very well. If things appear too small, you have the option of using landscape mode to zoom in on the pages. One caveat: if you have a PDF that makes use of color, it will display on the Kindle as grayscale and may be harder to read.

The dictionary is convenient.

Looking up a word on the Kindle is as simple as putting the cursor next to it. Do this and you’ll see the definition at the bottom of the screen. It is seamless and much less interruptive than having to break out a dictionary.

DRM is scary.

The Kindle uses Digital Rights Management, which prevents buyers from having full control over the electronic goods that they purchase. Examples of DRM include MacroVision, which prevented VHS tapes from being copied, and UOP, the protocol that can stop you from fast forwarding through previews on DVDs. DRM is at best inconvenient and at worst paralyzing.

It’s inconvenient when my girlfriend wants to read a book that I have purchased. I cannot transfer the book to her Kindle; the only option is to let her borrow my device.* This is not a good solution for either of us, and in this case a hard copy of a book is more convenient and more functional than a Kindle copy.

It’s paralyzing if the Kindle fails. If the Nook or any other device wins the ebook game single-handedly, you will lose every book you have purchased. Eventually your hardware will malfunction. You will not be able to replace it, and you will not be able to read your Kindle books on any other device. This is because Amazon’s DRM prevents you from viewing your Kindle books on unauthorized devices. I don’t think this is likely, but it is possible.

When I buy a paper book, I consider myself  the “owner” of that book. I can do whatever I want with it. This is not the case when I buy a Kindle book. The Kindle’s use of DRM means that when I purchase a Kindle book, I am merely a “user” of it. Amazon retains full control over it. With DRM, Amazon can prevent me from being able to read my books at any time and for any reason. The 1984 Fiasco exemplifies this. That would not have been possible without DRM.

Sometimes Kindle books cost more.

There are occasional examples where a mass market paperback is cheaper than a Kindle version. It is frustrating when I have to pay more for a medium whose cost of goods sold is effectively zero. In Amazon’s defense, this is the exception and not the rule. Still, I think Amazon should be sure they are never charging more for the electronic copy than they are for the paperback equivalent.

Additionally, if I purchase a hard copy of a book from Amazon, the Kindle edition should be either free or highly discounted. At minimum I should be able to purchase a cheaper bundle of both versions. The progressive publishers like O’Reilly already do this. Amazon does not.

Academia has not been penetrated.

As a student, the Kindle would be of much greater benefit to me if I could use it for my coursework. Sadly, none of the textbooks I need are available in Kindle versions.

  • A google search reveals that some clever folks have found a way around this. However, removing DRM without permission from the publisher is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and I’m assuming that most people won’t want to resort to that.