the kindle 2 disaster

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The Amazon Kindle 2.

I've been reading about e-ink technology for several years. I really like the idea of a book-sized device that could contain my personal library and not require daily battery chargings. I have been reading e-books on various handheld devices since my Palm 3 days and my library has more than a few books. I was thrilled when the iPhone app store opened and made my library available to me on latest digital brain.

For one reason or another, I thought that a Kindle 2 would be a great way to read. I really want to like the Kindle 2. The internets are full of tech bloggers who tell me that the Kindle2 is the poo. I should really love the Kindle 2 -- I mean, I already love the idea of it.

Unfortunately, the current implementation is underwhelmingly suboptimal for a variety of reasons that break the deal for me.

Amazon advertises PDF compatibility. I used Google to locate a script that would convert my ereader books into Kindle compatible files. I thought that I might be able to have searchable access to a number of technical books as well as my electronic fiction library. In practice, PDF conversion is in an early developmental stage. If the document you want to move to the Kindle is very simple and contains no tabled information, the Kindle works adequately. The only PDF that meets this criteria that I could find in my collection was an article a liberal arts professor had written and distributed for one of my post-graduate dabblings.

Though the device appears OK, the buttons feel really cheap. Don't get me wrong, the design isn't stellar, or even Sony for that matter. The buttons don't even make the grade at OK. Worse, the button's action, particularly to advance the pages, has extremely low quale. The action feels as though the button pressed will break at any time, as though the button is just barely hanging on.

Along with poor button quality, one of the quirks of the e-ink technology is that the screen flashes in reverse pixels on every page turn. Every time you advance the page, the screen flashes black. Any benefit you might get from the more paper-like display strikes me as negated by the flashing action of the screen reseting. Another quirk is the length of time required to change a page. Amazon advertises that the page turn rate has improved by 20%. About all that I can say about the increase is that page turns are still too slow -- slow enough that I was able to capture the black flash of the screen in one of the photos that I took.

The contrast on the screen is sufficiently low that the display looks like the "Moonlighting" character Maddie Hayes -- in permanent soft focus. I sent the sample chapter of Haruki Murakami's "Sputnik Sweetheart" to my Kindle. The section breaks are defined with a half-contrast capital. These letters seem to fade to mush with the light gray color of the display. I suspect that the general contrast induced mushiness is compounded by the bright white bezel of the device itself. The screen looks dirty next to it. So long as you don't fiddle with the text size, the display is adequately sharp. I don't know what to tell you should you need a larger (or smaller) font.

Without wandering too far into form versus function territory, the Kindle keyboard is nearly unusable. The layout looks good in a regimented, symmetrical way; but, it is a long stretch from the grouped and staggered rows to which one might be accustomed if one had ever used a keyboard. Or a typewriter. A buddy of mine who runs a business focused on handhelds told me that his company had produced exactly one device with this keyboard and that the device had been rejected by even the most die-hard of their hunt-and-peck clients.

I would like to complain about the price of back catalog books; but, $10 didn't seem expensive for an older novel until I spent $360 on a reader. I bought a copy of "Sputnik Sweetheart" from a month or so ago for about $14 and didn't think twice about the price. At Amazon, I looked at back catalogs for Fleming, King, and Murakami among others. I found Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" for $6, but the balance of her available catalog was priced at $10 each. With the cost of the reader, $6 strikes me as a more appropriate price -- though, $14 for a book is OK when the reader is free. And, yes, I realize that I paid a premium for my iPhone; but, I didn't buy the phone as a reader. On some level, I understand that pricing has to cover the wireless access for the device's life. I suppose that I'd rather see some sort of graduated pricing: a little more for newer books, a little less for older books, and maybe a few free transfers over Amazon's WhisperNet before I had to pay some sort of fee for additional transfers.

I also purchased a Kindle copy of Harold McGee's "On Food And Cooking." I own a dead tree copy that I read when I'm between novels. Though the chapters appeared to be hyperlinked from the table of contents, I had no success in getting the electronic copy into the neighborhood of where I am in my dead tree copy.

The 3g cellular connectivity for over the air transmission of books and subscriptions was nice. If I hadn't experienced the same technology on my iPhone several months ago with the software, I might have been awed. The facility to browse the web over the included cellular network seemed like a good selling point -- until I realized the lack of support for tables and style sheets.

I eventually recalled that I keep a small computer in my pocket that also makes phone calls. So, I returned the Kindle to Amazon. Prior to shipping it back, I took some photos of the Kindle, which include the reversed screen, the very nice Amazon leather cover, and full resolution copies.

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This page contains a single entry by jack published on April 16, 2009 10:49 PM.

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