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First Look: Amazon’s Kindle Reader: The Gap Between Description and The Device

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After today’s festivities concluded, I eventually got a chance to sit down and play with Amazon’s (NSDQ: AMZN) Kindle. The first thing to note is that the screen isn’t like reading actual paper. It’s not as bright and there is glare if the light is too direct. Unfortunately, it’s a rainy day here in NYC, so there’s no way to test what it would be like reading it out on the beach (that would have to wait until this unit reaches Rafat in Santa Monica). Next, the navigation is far from intuitive. I figured it out after a few minutes, but compared to the effortlessness of the iPhone, the Kindle doesn’t hold a candle. A video demo from is here.

Books and blogs: The first thing I did was to check out the blog subscriptions. There are 308 titles to choose from in total, organized by category and popularity. I eventually settled on paidContent (naturally) though I opted for the free 14-day trial, since it seemed weird to pay $0.99 for a month subscription to the site (the site can also be accessed through Kindle’s web browser for free — more on that later). The first time I tried buying it, the transaction didn’t work, but eventually it came over the Whispernet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly well-formatted. Next I bought a book. My first choice wasn’t available, so I settled on Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk. One cool thing about reading books on the Kindle is that the table of content is hyperlinked, making it very easy to jump around. That being said, it’s still too early to tell whether I could get used to using this device for reading literature.. It is readable, but there’s a very annoying screen flash every time you flip the page, which sort of makes it hard to get lost in the book. Another important thing is that you can only flip the pages — you can’t scroll. This may be an effect of the E-Ink technology in use. And iPhone users may have to resist the urge to touch the screen to zoom in and out.

Non-Amazon content: Obviously, the Kindle is designed to work best with Amazon’s service, though it is possible to get your own content onto it. I was able to send myself a PDF file via my email address, though it didn’t show up for several minutes. Also, there’s a $.10 charge every time you do this, presumably to pay bandwidth costs. I also tried importing a file via USB connection, but this just didn’t work for me, and the product manual offered no help. Smartly, Amazon asks you to make a whitelist of e-mails that can send content to your Kindle, so as to avoid Kindlespam. The company’s site has the full list of the documents that are supported this way: Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Word (.DOC), HTML, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP and TXT files. (Note, no industry standard IDPF).

Browsing: It’s obvious that Amazon hasn’t invested too much into this functionality. Several times at the event, people asked why the company isn’t playing up the fact that the device has a browser. Each time the answer was the same: this is a book reading device. The browser is an additional function. This is evident from using it. It’s fairly clunky and prone to error messages. In its defense, the browser is listed as an “experimental” function on the Kindle itself. Interestingly though, when you do open a page, it doesn’t look bad. looked almost as good through the browser as it did through the blog-reading function.

Looks: There’s been some talk about the Kindle not being a very attractive device, based on the pictures so far. It’s true that it’s not very attractive — certainly Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) wouldn’t put it out, though it’s not that ugly in person either. Perhaps the pictures haven’t been flattering because it’s not very photogenic, sort of like a person that just looks bad in pictures. You can see the full set of pictures here.

Converting my library: Next I wanted to put my personal library of a few hundred books onto the Kindle, so I could take it with me… but that functionality hasn’t arrived yet.

Bottom line: Although Amazon’s been working on this for awhile, this is very much a first-generation product. It’s not going to revolutionize the industry overnight, though it sounds like Amazon is going to take this business seriously and continue to invest in it. It seems safe to guess that in a couple years, the top-of-the-line Kindle will be a much-improved product. The concept is definitely sound. Bezos’ speech had most of the audience pretty enthusiastic about the device — the problem is the gap between the description and the device itself. With some improvements to the display and a more intuitive navigation system, it could become an attractive product, even at the price.

10 Responses to “First Look: Amazon’s Kindle Reader: The Gap Between Description and The Device”

  1. Richard Tholen

    Too many reviewers take the negative (like so many movie reviewers) aspects of a "new" device and beat it up rather than looking for balance, pros, and cons. (And like some movie censors who condemn without having even seen the movie, I suspect that many or most of these detractors haven't used the Kindle yet.)
    Well, I have a Kindle, and the first thing that struck me as I opened the box is the Apple-like packaging–very slick; actually quite well done! Then the device: it's not a dog in appearance at all; I rather like it better than the Sony eReader. Since there are next page and prev page bars on each side for lefties and righties, you do have to hold it somewhat carefully to avoid an inadvertant page turn, but the momentary electrophoretic ink "flash" is truly no worse than a physical page turn. I ignore it easily. Downloads are fast; prices are $6.79 to $9.99 for NYTimes A-list books, $1.99 for a month of many magazines, and it all works without a computer hook-up. Wirelessly, from wherever your cellphone works, and fast. Since I often read several books at once, having them at my fingertips in one unit is truly a paradigm shift (of the good kind)!

    My vote is: don't knock it until you've tried it; this is one of the best 1st-gen units I've purchased in a long time. And I suffer from being a dread early adopter of tech.

  2. "You will have to buy the book AGAIN to read it on the Kindle.”

    No, it remains associated with your Amazon customer account, so if you Kindle is ever lost or damaged, you won't lose the downloaded Kindle books you have paid for.

  3. mockmook

    "You will have to buy the book AGAIN to read it on the Kindle."

    That depends. If your book is in a file format acceptable to the Kindle, then you are home free; also, some non-compatible e-books can be converted to acceptable formats (if I correctly understand what I have read elsewhere).

  4. Dennis Lord

    I'm surprised that critics want the Kindle to act like a book and yet want it to do things that are totally unlike a book. How many books allow you to scroll the page. And the page change flicker, has the turning of a page in a book never caused frustration when more than one page turns at a time, etc
    Just take a long blink when you go to the next page with the Kindle. We seem to want the first generation to work like the 10th generation. What a difference I see between my first generation ipod and my ipod touch. No comparison, yet I still appreciated the original ipod realizing Apple would like me to continue to purchase upgrades. I think that will occur in regard to the browser on the Kindle. I think the need to beat the Christmas market caused some things to need to wait for an update. According to Amazon, the Kindle can be updated from the Amazon site as the software is improved.
    Amazon is covering a lot of costs with the Kindle so let's be patient and still expect changes and improvements.

  5. Something no one has commented on, as far as I've found, is that there is a huge difference between the Kindle and the iPod (besides the design): you cannot "rip" a book you already own to the Kindle, as you can CDs (and videos, tapes, LPs, etc.) for the iPod. You will have to buy the book AGAIN to read it on the Kindle. Amazon should charge less–say $2–for the Kindle version of a book you've previously bought from them, but I don't expect them to do that.

    Another thing that bothers me is the disingenuous way that Amazon compares the price of a Kindle book to the FULL retail price. They should compare it to the price THEY charge for the physical book. I checked the first 10 $9.99 Kindle books listed on the page when the Kindle was announced. The average "savings" was $6.05, if I recall correctly. That means it would take 65+ books to "pay" for the Kindle.

  6. Jim Frost

    "It's not color! It sucks!"

    Geez, you'd think that all their paper books are brilliant color. Last I checked color books are the exception, not the rule. If that works ok most of the time, why should this not?

    There are definitely some ergonomics that I am not sure of yet (especially the page-turn flicker) but there are ergonomic limitations in everything, even traditional books. Will it outweigh the device's advantages? Only living with one for awhile will tell.

    We saw almost exactly the same kind of negativity when content started moving to the web. I don't think the Kindle is the be-all-to-end-all of books, although I think that it is the first to provide the overall format that will win in the market. The advantages — and they are numerous — will outweigh the disadvantages for an awful lot of content.

  7. When they are serious about this, they'll offer me free access to every book I've ever purchased at Amazon. For that, I'd be willing to pay the premium cost of such a device.

  8. <i>"there’s a very annoying screen flash every time you flip the page"</i>

    If "ordinary readers" have the same reaction, the device is DOA.

    The only thing really new here is Whispernet, and I doubt that's the key ingredient that's been holding dedicated eBook reading devices back.

    <i>"iPhone users may have to resist the urge to touch the screen to zoom in and out"</i>

    My hunch: ePaper / eInk technology still isn't ready for prime time. Is it really only 800×600? That was fine years ago, but touch screens have caught up. 4 shades of gray? No; people like color. Scroll wheel? A clumsy workaround — and a step back even from ancient "Palm Pilot" technology.

    My longshot bet: there's a market for iPhone / iTouch like devices with a 6" or even larger screen. Full Web browsing, real PDF … and eBook reading too. i.e. PDA meets UMPC — and there's no reason it has to come from Apple.

  9. How much of a cut does paidcontent get if I subscribe to it with the Kindle service?

    It seems like this is something that bloggers should discuss if they are going to take Amazon's money and also cover Amazon's products as news items.