I put off buying a Kindle for a long time as I wasn't sure I would like the device and I was worried about vendor lock in with Amazon. I regret that decision now. I should've bought my Kindle 2 sooner. Over the last few months I've been enjoying reading on my Kindle 2. I devoured Stephen King's Under the Dome, a massive book at 1,088 pages, as well as the free autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and the new release from the 37signals team, Rework. In addition to books I've loaded several PDFs onto my Kindle such as the definitive guide to Apache Hadoop and Google's paper on Bigtable. Since I've spent a fair amount of time with my Kindle I feel qualified to write about what I like and dislike. Continue reading after the break.
Things I love
The first thing I noticed about the Kindle after unpacking it was how small and light it felt in my hand. Little did I know this would become one of the main reasons I love the Kindle so much. It's easy to hold and feels great in either hand. I cannot overemphasize how absolutely fantastic the device feels. I realize that might sound funny but the form factor and curves of the device allow it to sit perfectly in my hand. So much so the Kindle melts away and it's as if I'm reading something hovering in the air. The iPad, which was announced several weeks after I bought my Kindle is quite a bit larger. While I haven't held an iPad I would imagine the larger device would not be well suited for reading. At least not compared with the Kindle 2.
As stupid as this sounds I also like that there's a previous button and next button on the left side of the Kindle as well as a next button on the right side. I'm a bit miffed that there's no a second previous button on the right though. There's plenty of room for one and while it might make the button appearances less symmetrical having the extra button would be a welcomed trade off. That said, I much prefer the interactive page turning experience found on the Kindle iPhone app. Not having this experience on the Kindle isn't a big deal for me though.
Buying books or previewing book samples is so easy I've found myself sending samples for any book I'm remotely interested in reading. As a product person I'm sure this was a major consideration when Amazon was creating the Kindle. In a conference room someone must've said: "If we make it drop dead easy for people to get samples for free, we will sell x% more books." You know what, they're right. I can look up books from the Kindle itself but the real feature here is clicking a single button on an Amazon book detail page and sending a book sample to my Kindle in less than a minute. The samples are typically the first chapter of the book. I hear about recommended books all the time, when listening to podcasts, talking with friends and family, browsing the Web and more. When I learn of a book that sounds interesting I pull up Amazon's Web site, search for the book, and send a sample. It's ridiculous easy.
Battery life is amazing. I've had my Kindle 2 for months but I kid you not I've probably charged it less than 7 times. That's possible because my Kindle can go upwards of three weeks without needing a charge. Normal battery life with the wireless connection set to "on" is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 days with daily reading from 30 minutes to 2 hours. However, I started turning off the wireless connection when not using my Kindle. If I'm reading I want the connection on so my progress is synched to Amazon and other devices such as iPhone. But when I'm ready to put the Kindle down I turn off the wireless connection. Doing this has helped my Kindle run upwards of three weeks without a battery charge. And that includes daily reading. I'm pretty sure the iPad won't be able to last anywhere near that long.
Another feature I find immensely useful is adding notes to pages and highlighting sentences. It's like having a highlighter everywhere you have your Kindle. I use the heck out of the highlighting feature to mark key phrases or sentences I want to remember later. On the home screen is an item named "My Clippings." This item holds everything that's been highlighted or notated on your Kindle. If you want to look up highlighted portions of a single book you can open that book and use the menu feature to open your clippings. As valuable as these features are Amazon could improve them. You can transfer your My Clippings file to your computer but I'd like to see the ability to share them from within Kindle itself. Several times I've found myself wanting to tweet parts of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography or e-mail passages to a co-worker. Amazon could vastly improve the Kindle by embracing social sites and sharing right on the device.
Things I like
There are a number of features I like about the Kindle 2 that don't fall into the love category. Every e-reader I know has the ability to change the text size. After playing around with different sizes to see which was right for me I pretty much left this setting alone. I have had to change it here and there such as when a book sample looked different size-wise than every other book I had read. I've only seen that happen once but it was easy to change the text size temporarily while I read the sample. The e-ink on the Kindle is great. I took it for granted until I experienced it. Everyone talked about how it was designed to emulate real book pages but I just didn't get it until I had read a few pages. The letters on the page are formed by bringing together pixels (the e-ink) each time the page is refreshed. I'm a bit amazed by how this works since it results in a digital device that very closely resembles the written word. In 5-10 years I believe we will all look back at e-ink as one of the revolutionizing innovations of our time.
Included on each Kindle is the Oxford Dictionary. This lets the reader lookup quick definitions of words by moving the cursor in front of a word. If the two line definition isn't enough to satisfy you can press the return key to get a full page listing of the words origin, pronunciation, definition, example sentences and more. I used the dictionary heavily when reading Benjamin Franklin's autobiography as they used some big words in the 1700s! The Oxford Dictionary is free, but you can purchase others from the Kindle store if you don't like it. You can expand your search beyond the dictionary by using the Search feature on Kindle. This let's you enter any search phrase and query the Web or Wikipedia. You can also search the Kindle store and narrow your results by providing search instructions such as "@author Stephen King" in the search box. The Search feature also lets you search a specific book on your Kindle or all books. I've used this feature a number of times to find passages that I remembered, but that I forgot to bookmark.
Things that could be better
Organization of the content on the Kindle's home screen is pretty rough. By default the title of the book, PDF, magazine or blog is shown as well as the author's name. The list is sorted by most recently read - items you have opened recently will show at the top of the screen. You can adjust the sort order as well as what types of content show up. This isn't very useful once you add a few dozen books, magazines, or newspapers. Your home screen will begin to take up pages and pages of listings that you have to manually scroll though. Amazon could improve this experience by allowing users to create their own organizational methods such as adding folders. I'd also like to see an "archives" section that would allow me to store books I've finished but I don't want to delete from my Kindle. This would tuck them away and decrease the number of pages on the home screen while still keeping the items accessible if needed.
Audible, audible, audible. I love me some Audible.com. The Kindle supports Audible files allowing you to listen to books on your Kindle by plugging in a headset. That's nice but the integration could be taken much further. I'd like to see Audible, Amazon, and Apple get together for true synchronization of content. Here's a scenario I wish were possible. I'm reading a book on Kindle while having a cup of coffee at home. Finishing my coffee I get into my truck to drive to the office. I plug-in my iPhone and start listening to the Audible audiobook right where I left off on Kindle. During lunch at the office I whip out my Kindle and begin reading where I left off in my truck. The integration between Audible, iTunes, and iPhone is already present. I just wish the three would get together so I could switch seamlessly from reading and listening. I've been an Audible customer for three years now but since buying my Kindle I have suspended my Audible account. If the integration as I describe above were present I'd probably reopen my account. I guess it comes down to the fact I want the freedom to consume purchased content anywhere and in any format. If I could buy a book from Audible OR Amazon and have both the text content and audio content, and synchronization between the two, I'd be overjoyed.
Kindle doesn't have page numbers. When you're reading the bottom of the page shows what location you are on. Stephen King's Under the Dome for instance has a location number of 17,000. As you page through the book you'll see the location count increase as well as the percentage of the book you've read. I get the percentage part, that is very useful but I simply don't understand the locations thing. If the software is smart enough to know what location I'm on it should be smart enough to know page numbers, regardless of the font size and words per line settings. The locations thing is just plain annoying.
Things that are awful
As much as I love my Kindle there are a few things I think are awful. The general user interface isn't that bad itself, but the fact you have to use the horrible 5-way joystick is. It's really small and very hard to use even if you don't have enormous hands. Amazon could've done much better here. A recessed control with a center button surrounded by other smaller buttons - all flush with the front of the Kindle like the next page, previous page, and home buttons - would be ideal.
Kindle is also missing a book lending feature but I'm guessing this will be corrected soon. Any e-reader in my opinion must offer book lending in some form in order to be over the next 2-3 years. The Barnes & Noble Nook has book lending which allows readers to loan other Nook users a book for 14 days. What the Nook doesn't allow you to do is lend the same book to more than one person. Once you've sent someone the book you can't lend that book ever again. That's just stupid. Amazon needs to come out with a book lending feature that allows readers to loan any book to any Amazon account at any time. I don't think there needs to be a restriction on the receiver owning a Kindle because users might be reading on the Kindle iPhone application. I'm okay with there being a limit on lending a single book only once per Amazon account; this seems fair.
Finally, there's essentially no security on Kindle. You can't set up a password challenge for use on boot up or waking from sleep. You can't set a password period. Sure your Amazon account is password protected, but once you register a Kindle to your account you never need to enter a password again. If you lose your Kindle someone can pick it up and buy endless numbers of books using the required Amazon one-click purchasing process. If you know you've lost your Kindle you can de-register it remotely from Amazon's Web site but security in general seems overlooked. I'd like to see the ability to enter a device-specific password or in the least be asked to enter my Amazon account password for things like waking from sleeping and booting. There needs to be a configuration screen that allows readers to set up their security preferences directly on the Kindle or using Amazon's Web site. Some users won't want the security features I do so the preferences screen is a must.
The Kindle 2 is an amazing device. Amazon really nailed certain features such as looking up words in the dictionary, bookmarking pages, highlighting sentences, and sending book samples from the Amazon Web site. They've missed the mark in the absence of social features, book lending, device security, and the super annoying 5-way navigation joystick. Overall I give the Kindle 2 four out of five stars. It's an excellent e-reader with a great form that nestles in your hands and disappears as you read. I'm very happy with the device and have no buyers remorse, even after the Apple iPad announcement a fews after my purchase. Amazon captured the e-reader market with their first and second Kindle release and they're positioned well for the top position over the next year or two. But, with the iPad hot on their heels they need to innovate the device further and add the features I've mentioned in this post. They need to stick with the e-ink, no back-lit screen as this is a key feature of a good reading device. Other features such as integration with social sites Twitter and Facebook must be added in order to stay ahead of and compete in this growing space. It's going to be interesting to watch how things unfold in 2010.