The practical experience of owning a Kindle

I’ve now had my kindle for about two weeks, and during that time I’ve experienced the highs and lows of kindle ownership.

Overall I must say that I am very happy with my purchase.  Far from being a gimmick I have found the Kindle to be a genuinely useful piece of technology.  It’s been getting a lot of use at home and will definitely be coming with me on future trips.  Although it offers extended functionality (eg as a web browser), I’m only likely to use it as an e-book reader since the e-ink screen really isn’t suited for regular use in any kind of interactive application.

The Good Bits 🙂

I should start with the things I have really liked about the Kindle.  This seems only fair since my overall impression has been positive.

As a reading experience the Kindle has been excellent.  I’d not really seen an e-ink screen up close before buying the Kindle, and I was very impressed with the clarity of the screen.  I’ve also found that I have been able to read for long periods of time without becoming fatigued.  I can’t read on a computer screen for any significant period of time without getting eye strain, so the Kindle’s screen has been a welcome change.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the range of lighting conditions under which the screen was usable – everything from a small bedside light to full sunshine has provided an equally good experience.  That it can do this whilst consuming virtually no power is especially good – I’ve not charged mine since the day it arrived, and two weeks and four books later I still have over 75% battery remaining.

The form factor of the Kindle has also proved to be a bit hit.  It’s a very light device, but is quite rigid, and the soft feel of the case makes it very comfortable to hold in a variety of positions.  I’ve actually found it much easier to hold for long periods than a book.  Whereas with a book I found myself constantly changing position, the Kindle can be held naturally for extended periods without problem.  Some people have complained about the screen flash which occurs every time you turn the page, but this hasn’t bothered me at all (during the flash the new pages text is still visible on the screen, just inversed, so you can keep reading through the flash).  I have found that having the page turn buttons on the edge of the device makes it slightly uncomfortable to hold your thumb on the next page key.  I’d have personally preferred to be able to press slightly further into the bezel, but this is only a minor gripe about what  otherwise is a very ergonomic device.

Another good aspect has been the delivery of content to the device.  The Kindle came from Amazon (5 days after the predicted delivery date – but it was over Christmas) pre-registered to my Amazon account.  I like being able to browse for content on my PC since I don’t particularly like searching on the Kindle itself.  The purchasing process was very smooth (and even saved me when I mistakenly tried to buy the same book twice), and the whispernet delivery has worked flawlessly.  I’ve not tried the email delivery to the device yet, but this seems like it should be a simple way to get more content onto the device.  I’m not enamoured of the whole DRM system which wraps all of the purchased content – mostly because it means that I can’t purchase from other e-book stores, or borrow e-books from libraries at the moment, but hopefully as the market matures this will go the way of DRM on music downloads.

The Bad Bits 🙁

Within my overwhelmingly positive experience I have, unfortunately, encountered some problems.  Mostly these have revolved around the Kindle store, and I accept that some of these are beyond Amazon’s control, but nevertheless it’s very frustrating to see how much better the Kindle experience could be if some of these could be sorted out.

Let’s start with annoyances on the device.  The main thing which has bugged me has been the construction of the e-books.  In particular the one thing which you can’t do on all of the books I’ve read is to see how close you are to the end of the current chapter.  This is really frustrating since the device itself supports this functionality in the form of way markers on the progress bar, it’s just that this information isn’t annotated in the e-book itself so the bar often appear empty.  The speed of screen refresh means it’s not feasible to flick forwards and back quickly to find the next chapter.  It also means that as the chapters don’t appear in the table of contents you can’t easily jump to the place you want in the book unless you happen to know a text search which will take you there.  This is just laziness on the part of whoever created the e-book, and a small amount of addition effort would make the books much more usable.

The other thing which lots of people have commented on is the poor quality of the OCR in some books.  It’s surprising how suddenly coming to a mis-OCRd word in the middle of a paragraph can take you out of the book as you have to figure out that it’s the wrong word and figure out the correct meaning of the sentence.  This is worse than coming across a misspelled word in a book (which you can often read through without spotting), since many times you will have a correct word which is in completely the wrong context.  I realised that with the volume of OCR going on that mistakes are inevitable, but how about putting in place a way to report back mistakes.  You can already highlight words and add notes, so having a system to report errors can’t be that hard – that way we can gradually improve the quality of the books available.

The Kindle Store 🙁

Since most of the bad experience I’ve had has been in the Kindle store it gets its own section.  Since online retail is the stock in trade of Amazon I was surprised that so much about the Kindle store was so poor.  The main things which have bugged me are:

  1. The range of e-books available is very poor.  Whether this is due to publishers refusing to release e-book rights, a backlog of books to be OCR’d or just the economics not adding up I was surprised to see how many very well known books are not available in e-book form.  As a quick example take a look at this excellent list of science fiction classics and note how many are available as e-books. Not many.
  2. Following on from point 1, the presentation of e-books on the store is very poor.  I’ve had a number of occasions where I’ve searched for something and got back a set of results and found it very hard to tell whether that was what I wanted or not.  How about a book with the title of another book in brackets or a collection of stories where the description doesn’t even tell you which stories are in the collection?
  3. The final big annoyance with the Kindle store is the pricing.  Maybe I’m still paying for being an early adopter (although I’m not sure that I count as that any more) but the prices being charged for many e-books are verging on the comical.  I fail to see the justification for charging a mark up on the price of the equivalent new paperback to get an e-book with no printing or distribution costs.  As a point of principle I will not buy e-books which are priced higher than the cheapest new paperback, and frankly they should be considerably cheaper.  Maybe increased adoption and competition will bring prices down eventually, but at the moment I’ll be curtailing my purchases simply due to the prices.

Having had a Kindle for a relatively short time I’m thoroughly convinced of its utility and I can only see the market for these devices increasing – probably to the point of replacing most conventional publishing.  Hopefully the problems which are currently present in the e-book marketplace particularly will be sorted out over time and there will then be even more to recommend these excellent devices.


Published:January 15, 2011


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