Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: Amazon's electronic book reader has good qualities, but it's not cheap

Amazon’s electronic book reader has good qualities, but it’s not cheap

When it comes to useful inventions, it doesn’t get much better than the book.

Lightweight, portable, durable, usable in a wide variety of environments – books can be shared, archived, distributed and resold. Now, online bookseller Amazon has reinvented the book, and it looks like Amazon got a lot of things right.

Kindle is a sleek, simple, lightweight device that can store up to 200 books. Users can buy books through the Kindle’s permanent wireless connection or upload their own documents from Microsoft Word. The display is crisp and clear, and Amazon claims that the battery life will let you read “War and Peace” before you run out.

It also lets you read newspapers and blogs with your wireless connection, although the list seems weirdly limited to me. The newspapers that come with this device are special versions that aren’t as thorough, or as frequently updated as a standard newspaper Web site.

The built-in Web browser is limited and can be problematic to use, particularly if you visit sites that use a lot of Java. The device also allows access to Wikipedia, so you can access the latest authoritative misinformation about your favorite topics.

Gizmodo’s Wilson Rothman took the Kindle for a thorough test drive and reported that in some situations, the device was actually easier to use than a real book. In bed, for example, the next page buttons made it easy to turn pages, and the size and weight of the device allowed him to hold it without tiring his arm out.

The friction rubber grip makes Kindle easy to handle and lets it rest safely on difficult surfaces – like say, by a sink or on top of a toilet tank. The keyboard layout is weird and a bit difficult to manage, particularly with the space bar on the left side.

Most reviewers seem to be happy with e-ink. The screen isn’t backlit, but any illumination that works for a real book will work for Kindle as well. Books from Amazon cost $9.99 each and legacy books from Project Gutenberg can be converted for free (or for 10 cents if it’s transmitted over wireless.)

So what’s the downside? Mack McNeely from our Open Sources blog wrote his own review of the Kindle and was quick to point out its shortcomings, from a digital copyright perspective. Once you buy a book with your Kindle, you can’t share it, sell it or give it away. You’ll also be sending your content and usage details back to Amazon every time you read something, and if you violate their terms of service, they reserve the right to cut you off, turning the Kindle into a very expensive piece of modern art.

But that’s not the biggest drawback to the Kindle. My biggest concern was the $399 price tag. At that price, I think I’ll stick with paper.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 21, 2007 at 13:43

Posted in Columns

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