I ordered a Kindle about a month ago, and it finally arrived yesterday. The Kindle, Amazon.com’s new ebook reader, probably won’t set the literary world on fire. However, I ordered one anyway because as a publisher of electronic books I’m especially curious about it, because I think it may help beat back the stacks of books that sometimes overwhelm our living space, and because I’m hoping it will work well for reading on trips.
My first impressions have been positive. It was easy to figure out how to start using it, and easy to understand my options. I don’t always understand the highly compressed controls in consumer electronics quickly; clock radios in particular often baffle me. And the iPod’s controls had me in tears when I first tried to use one. So, if I can get the Kindle working easily without help, that’s saying something.
However, the Kindle is not without its quirks:
- When the Kindle sleeps, it puts up a literary looking picture and a little message telling me to press Alt-A to wake. (It’s not actually the A key; it’s an A-looking key at the lower right.) It is ridiculous to press Alt-anything on a modern device aimed at normal users, but I have forgiven the Kindle this user-interface gaffe because it told me so clearly what to do. I didn’t have to consult the online manual, ask for help, or search in Google.
- The Kindle has a scroll wheel that you roll to move a cursor up and down on a scroll bar-like panel that’s parallel to the main screen; you press the scroll wheel to select the menu item or link in the same line as the cursor. It’s weird to operate controls that are separated from the visual interface elements, but it’s simple to learn and lets you open and operate menus fluidly. The reason for this oddly decoupled controller is that the screen doesn’t redraw like a normal computer screen, so it’s impossible to have a mouse pointer moving on the screen. This page-by-page redraw is a byproduct of the Kindle’s use of E Ink technology that results in a readable onscreen display and long battery life.
- TidBITS contributing editor Glenn Fleishman used a Kindle briefly but didn’t like the “disconcerting flash” as the screen redrew to show a new page. Glenn wrote a nice overview of the Kindle’s specs, pros, and cons in “Comparing Amazon’s Kindle to the iPhone and Sony Reader,” 2007-11-19 and in a blog post at the Seattle Times. The flash isn’t bothering me, perhaps in part because I was expecting it, but I’m withholding final judgement until I try reading immersive fiction on it.
On the one hand, the Kindle has a strange mix of features and interface elements, but on the other hand, I find it charming that it’s so easy to figure out how to use it. At the moment, I feel toward it much as I feel toward my Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner (see “Roomba: a Robot Underfoot,” 2005-07-11). Even though the Roomba takes time to clean and periodically requires that I call customer service for a replacement part or ROM upgrade, I still adore what it does well and put up with the downsides in order to enjoy the benefits.
At first, the Kindle couldn’t find the Sprint EVDO network that it uses for its Whispernet delivery service in my house. However, once it was out in the yard, where it could pick up the signal, it seemed to have locked on, and now it sees the network even inside. My next step is to try buying new material from the Kindle Store at Amazon. The Kindle did come with a preloaded user manual, a dictionary, and a nice note from Jeff Bezos, but I’m ready for more variety.