I have avoided reviewing the Amazon Kindle for some time. Basically because, being that it is now the best selling of all time on Amazon that everybody either knew about or already had a Kindle. So I thought there was really no point to it.
But as I look around now, I realize that there is some confusion, brought on mostly by the surge of the tablet market, led by devices like the iPad and Motorola Xoom (review coming soon), and even to a lesser extent by devices like the Archos 70 (review) and or even the iPod Touch. Items such as these have clouded the though process and created some confusion. Do I really need an eBook reader if I have a tablet? What are the advantages of the eReader and so on. So, finally I decided to put fingers to keys, and give you the good and the bad of the Kindle, and hopefully enough information to decide if a dedicated eReader is for you.
eReader versus Tablet
This is probably going to seem backwards for most, but in today’s market, before delving into specs and comparing like devices (Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, Kobo, etc.), the initial battle is, whether to bother with an eReader at all or just to go with a tablet device. So rather than dealing with the details that would be moot if you opted for a tablet, I thought it would be wise to start there.
First of all, you do not even need to necessarily decide on tradeoffs when considering a tablet. Amazon has done a magnificient job of bringing the Kindle software to virtually every platform. You can read Kindle Books on any PC as well as an iPad and virtually any Android based device (meaning tablets like the Motorola Xoom, Archos 70, Samsung Tab or any Android mobile handset). Sure, the iPad also has the iBook Store, but honestly, I don’t know anybody that uses it. Less content, the same or higher prices, despite the attempt by Apple to undermine the Amazon eBook market, this is just merely a side highlight to the most ardent of Apple fans that want to ensure all their money goes through Apple. Beyond Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Nook), Borders and Sony also offer their software for some or all tablets, so really whatever store you wish to use, you can get it on a tablet. If this were the only factor, then it would be easy, the tablets cost more, but they do more, and you can get the same content. End of story, right? Not so fast, if that was all there was, do you think I would have bothered to make this comparison?
Tablets have the one fatal flaw that have kept eBooks from being popular long before now. An LCD screen. Regardless of the resolution of the display, LCD is still the same back lit technology that has powered computer screens for some time, and have all the same drawbacks, including the most famous… it makes your eyes tired. LCD viewing angles also must be considered because if you don’t look at an LCD straight on, the display is altered (how much depends on the device) not to mention reflections (reading lamp, or other light source reflecting off of the glass screen)… and while we are on the subject of light, an LCD is notoriously difficult to see in bright daylight. I know the example is always showing somebody reading on the beach, but consider other possibilities that might be more common. For the soccer mom, waiting in the bleachers during soccer (or baseball, softball, etc) practice. Dad, out at a campsite. Or anyone, just sitting out in the yard while the kids play.
So, depending on how you view the importance of some of these issues, it may seem a wash at this point, Each have their good and bad points, but here is a few more things to consider.
Color. eInk (the technology behind eReaders like the Kindle) do not currently offer Color. The layout possibilities are also somewhat limited and graphics are not always intended for black and white. This makes magazine reading on a Kindle a less than optimum experience. If you read more magazines than you do books, then this would be a major plus for going with a tablet.
Contrast. I mentioned it briefly above, but eInk offers much lower contrast, making it optimum for reading in bright light, and is easier on the eyes for long periods of sitting with a novel. If you spend more times with novels in your hand, then the eReader is the leader.
Battery Life. eInk as mentioned does not have a back lit display. Which means there is nothing sucking down battery life in between page flips. Whereas a tablet will get 8-10 hours before you need to plug it in, you can get weeks (Amazon says up to a month) between charges. So even if you leave the charger at home, you can probably make it through your vacation, sitting and reading on the beach and still have battery life left for the ride home.
Weight. The iPad weighs in around 1.5 pounds (the Xoom, a few more ounces than that) but the Kindle weighs in a svelte .54 pounds. At first blush, this doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but sit there reading a novel for any length of time, and your wrists will certainly let you know about the difference in weight. Simply put, an Kindle weights about as much (or less) than many paperback books, whereas a tablet feels like you are holding a hardcover Oxford dictionary. Which do you think is more comfortable holding up for a long period of time?
Price. No, a Kindle cannot do everything a Tablet does. It does have a browser in it, but it really is not intended for web browsing, instead the browser is a throw in, really intended for when you want to hook up your wi-fi to an access point that requires you to log in (such as McDonalds, Starbucks, etc). That being said, the Kindle doesn’t cost anywhere near as much. At $139, it is not quite disposable pricing, but it is pretty darn close. With Smart Phones now dominating the market, most people will spend more on a phone that they will discard in 12-18 months.
So, if you have decided, I don’t care, a tablet is for me, then you can stop here. But if you are still considering the eReader (and from my personal point of view, I don’t know why you wouldn’t), then read on.
Tell me more about the Kindle
Despite what most people think, eReaders… or at least eReader software, has been around for quite some time. I remember having Microsoft Reader on my Cassiopeia PDA back around 2000, and there was eReader software for the Palm Pilot even before that. But, digital books had not caught on in any great fashion until Amazon introduced the Kindle. Even with the much higher price of the original Kindle ($399 if I remember correctly) the original Kindle sold out quickly and had been selling well ever since (and became the best selling product at any price for Amazon as of late 2010). The combination of infrastructure, book pricing and timing have all led to the Kindle being the leader in eBook devices.
Over time the Kindle has gotten smaller, sleeker and (possibly most importantly) cheaper. The original Kindle offered their connection over a free (to the user) 3G connection, which is somewhat convenient, but more expensive to Amazon. In 2010, they introduced the new Kindle 3 with a version that was wi-fi only, and at the new low price of $139 which is where it stands now.
The device, as I mentioned earlier weighs about 1/2 a pound, is small compact and as easy to carry around as a standard paper back book, except instead of carrying one book with you, you can carry approximately 3,500 books with you at any given time. Just try stuffing that much reading material in your purse or briefcase.
The eInk technology is also very book like in readability, with the exception that you can change the size of the print. So, if those eyes just don’t see quite as well as they used to, you can set the print size to whatever is most comfortable for your reading enjoyment. The Kindle gets complaints from people about lack of page numbering (though this is now being offered in the future on many books), but in reality this is really not all that necessary (except when say reading a book in a class where a teacher tells you too read or cite a specific page or pages). Since different editions have different page numbers (depending on size of page, print size, etc), page numbering is not as “universal” as most people make it out to be.
Amazon currently brags a store of over 810,000 books available for purchase (including 107 out of 111 NY Times best sellers) in the United States (pricing and availability varies in other countries and is directly tied to the publishers). In addition Amazon has over 1.8 Million Free out-of-copyright books available, and you can also load or download free books from Internet Archive (over 2.5 million free books), Open Library (over 1 million free books), and others.
You can now also (it was not introduced until late 2010) lend books that you have purchased to other Kindle users for up to 2 weeks. There are however limitations, which we will discuss in next in the drawbacks.
I’m going to be honest. I have never been what you would call an avid reader. I originally grabbed a Kindle to be able to lug around my tech and programming books without breaking my back. But once I started downloading few things onto a Kindle and reading… the convenience of it reminded me why I used to read for fun a long time ago. Having something small that I could bring a virtual library of material with me at any given time? Awesome.
I tried reading on my tablet, and in a pinch at times it will do. And I may use that for magazine subscriptions for the full color layouts. But reading on the LCD for any length of time irritates my eyes. It really does. I didn’t think this was actually true, but I can tell the difference between reading on the two devices and how tired my eyes get after a few pages. Yes, I am fortunate enough that I can afford both devices, but honestly, if I had my tablet alone, I don’t think I would be reading anywhere near as much as I have been.
OK, how about the Not so Good things?
As good as the Kindle is, there are some certain and definite drawbacks to the eReader device.
No support for ePub. Amazon Kindle does not support ePub or DRMed PDF files. This means that local libraries which lend out books in this format, cannot be read on the Kindle. I am not sure if this was a decision Amazon made, or just one of the things they had to do to get the deals they have with publishers. Either way, it stinks for the consumer. The much less popular Nook and Sony Reader both support this format, so if you plan on using your local library for books, this is a deal breaker.
Lending. Yes, you can finally lend Kindle books to a friend. Well, some of them anyway. It seems that features like Voice to Text and lending can be limited by the publishers. Thus there are books you can lend, and others you cannot. This is just plain annoying, and proof that Publishers still don’t get it. They want to be able to charge higher prices for eBook, but not allow the buyer any to do any of the things they would do with a normal paper book. I’m sure this will get ironed out in time, just as being able to lend ANY books on the Kindle was… but that may take some time.
A bit delicate. No, not fine china delicate but.. The disadvantage of making something so small and light is that the lighter you make it, the easier it is to break. And for some reason, rather than pressing, the letters on the keyboard are painted on, making it possible to “rub” them off with constant contact. I definitely recommend getting a cover if you purchase a Kindle.
Price of Books. This is not a knock on the Kindle, but IS certainly something you have to consider when looking at an eReader (whether it is the Kindle or a tablet or any digitial device). Publishers are still grappling with the move to digital, and are making plenty of bad choices and doing things to harm consumers in the process. Trying to force book prices higher is one of those things. Some publishers set their digital price rather than allowing Amazon to set the price as they do with normal paperback books. For those books, in many instances the price of the eBook is actually higher than the paperback, despite the lack of physical media that needs to be shipped or production costs. It is publishers trying to hang tight to an old tired model. This is not Amazon’s fault, nor is it a knock on the Kindle, but IS something that needs to be considered when deciding to go digital. Will this eventually shake itself out and will logic win out? I believe so. But it may take some time.
I think this is one of the biggest points right now worth considering. If you are looking at a tablet because of everything else, when you consider the benefits of eInk and the ease of reading, if you can, it might be worth consider getting both. A tablet does not have to exclude an eReader, because they are not comparable devices. This is a single purpose device at a great price that might be worth having in addition to your tablet. Consider this. Even if you are not worried about the glare… are you really going to take your much more expensive tablet to the beach? Or Poolside? Or really anywhere that it could potentially get damaged? At this price, if you can afford it (and if you can’t… can you really afford that tablet you are considering?) why not have an eReader at your disposal?
Take a look at the reviews on Amazon (just click the picture of the Kindle in the top right corner there). I am not the only one. Many people have rediscovered the joys of reading with this device. It is inexpensive, easy to use, can hold an amazing number of books, and won’t weigh you down. Amazon has a winner in the Kindle, and despite what naysayers think about this single purpose device in the age of tablets, I don’t believe it is going anywhere any time soon.