Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kindle 2 -- my first impressions

Okay, so for the record, I have had my Kindle for less than a day and it is the only Kindle I have ever seen in real life. I have read reviews of the Kindle 1, but never touched one. I will probably write more about it later, but here's for now.

Hardware: With the cover (the one Amazon sells) it weighs about one pound (I have a postage scale), which turns out to be a little heavier than I want to hold in one hand for any length of time. Clearly, I could stand to develop a bit more strength in my hands and wrists. However, if you scrunch down in the recliner and rest it on your chest, it works really well.

It looks like it should have a bigger screen. There is white plastic all around the screen and it seems like wasted space. I'm willing to assume that there is some reason having to do with the hardware inside the machine that dictates this, but it would be nice if the device were smaller or the screen bigger.

I know that people complained about accidentally pushing the buttons on the Kindle 1 and that is not a problem with the Kindle 2. I read for several hours straight last night and never accidentally turned a page. There is this five-way joystick thingy. It works okay, and it allows you to highlight/underline one word at a time which I hear you couldn't do before, but it I can't help but think there should have been a better way. Don't ask me what; I'm a user not a designer. There is a keyboard on the bottom which you need for searching and writing any notes you want. It feels a lot like a cell phone keyboard but the Kindle is just wide enough that it is a bit uncomfortable for my little hands.

Does all this sound like I don't like it? I do like it. It does exactly what it should do. It lets me read books.

The screen is light grey and the words are black. It is not back lit, which means that your eyes don't get tired like when you stare at the computer screen all day. It does mean you can't read in the dark, but you can read ouside in the sun (for those of you who do that sort of thing). When you turn the page the screen flicks to black and then back to grey with black letters. It is a bit jarring. Hopefully they will develop something gentler on the eyes. However, I spent 2 hours reading Coraline (all of it). I got engrossed in the book and the world went away like it does when you are engrossed in the book. I didn't notice the words-black screen-words flicker any more than I would have noticed my hands turning pages. I fell asleep re-reading Locked Rooms in bed last night. The flickering thing wasn't annoying enough to prevent me from nodding off.

You can switch the type face from very small to very large very quickly.

Making notes in the book doesn't work exactly like I thought it would, but it is pretty cool. Basically you can add endnotes to the text. You move the cursor to where you want to the note to appear, click, type in the box below, enter. In the text there is a number (just like for an end note). When you cursor is over it, the box on the bottom shows up and you can read your note. You can also go to one page and read all your notes for the entire book. However, it works backwards. Let's say I was reading a text and I want to quickly find certain passages. I expected my notes page to look like this:

1. Conclusion of first passage here.
2. Example of cat on the mat.
3. Did he really say this?

I then thought that if my cursor was over the number or the note, the pop up text box would quote the original text. However, it is the other way around. What I see are passages from the text:

1. Therefore we can see that all people are silly.
2. The "cat is on the mat" is an over-used example in contemporary philosophy, however
3. Plato is an over-rated philosopher.

I see my notes in the pop up box. Not a big deal, but I had imagined being able to outline a book and then seeing the outline on the notes page. In any case, when you click on something in the notes page, you return to that part of the text.

I had read that the organization for books was poor and I am here to tell you that it IS REALLY FREAKING AWFUL. I mean, WOW HOW COULD IT BE THIS STUPID? On the home page you can see ten titles at a time. You can organize them by title, author, or most recent (with newly purchased books and anything you have recently read on the top). If you have twenty books you will have two pages to flick through. If you have 1,500 (which they say you could) then you would have to flick through 150 pages. Of course you can search for a book, but you better remember everything you own. There are no folders, no tags, nothing. You can archive things to the Amazon web site which takes them off your Kindle. There on the site you should be able to search and browse more quickly, but there are no good organization tools there either so far as I can tell. This would be an incentive for buying "collected works" as much as possible because the collection would work like a folder.

I've been intrigued by ebook readers for quite a while. I haven't bought one for the simple reason that the books that I need most to read were not available. I don't want an ereader primarily so that I can have something/anything to read when I have dead time. I want it to read the things I want to read. That includes novels, but it also includes books from academic presses. Many of these are coming out on the Kindle for reasonable prices, and there is no other reader for which that is true. So last evening I read Coraline. Now I am reading Experiments in Ethics by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Well, I am reading the sample chapter. I may buy the rest of it later today.

One more thing. When it is turned off, you get a portrait of some famous author on the screen. It is black and white, of course, but now that there are sixteen shades of grey, it looks pretty good.

If you have questions, ask away.


  1. Timely topic for me ... Thanks so much for the review!

    I have been thinking about getting one of these every time I look at the 3.5 foot stack of books gathering dust by my nightstand ... books read ... books half read ... references. All interesting, some potentially useful, but in the end ... real physical clutter. The price tag holds me back ... it's way out of the impulse-buy category. I wonder if the price will come down. Some of the (minor?) drawbacks that you mentioned are a reason to feel better about having to hold off. Surely it will only improve.

    Does it include illustrations as well as text? (Maybe that doesn't apply to the titles you've read so far ....) Intriguing to think about what the digital format can do for books, embellishment-wise.

    My husband's brother dropped a major hint that he would like everyone to buy him one just before his fortieth birthday next month.




  2. Fascinating. Thank you so much!! I am very intrigued by this, mostly for traveling and literally carrying 20 lbs of books in a suitcase. For me, vacation = reading and it can be very cumbersome. This has been... illuminating!

  3. I went through the Amazon webite and noted that about half of the books on my 'Buy' list were available on the Kindle.

    After seeing & using it, do you think it was worth the cost even though you would not be able to get all the books you want on it?

  4. What's with the mat cat?

  5. I really hope the price comes down, In fact I really think it will. Everything is high at first from Video players to HD Tvs to Microwave ovens.

    I hear it will be able to update current content from the web from News to Blogs which sound so exciting...I do like holding a book while I fall asleep though.

  6. It already updates content from the web. You can pay for things like the New York Times and certain blogs. You are supposed to be able to go to Google reader & gmail, but I haven't played wih that part yet.

    I found it quite satisfying for the reading to sleep part.

  7. Ohhhh! A new toy! A reading toy! I wonder if there is anything better?


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