By popular demand (well, more like 3 requests, but that’s popular for me) I will gladly review the Amazon Kindle version 1. Now, before I offer this review, let me add a few caveats. Number 1, I did not thoroughly research all eReaders in existence. I looked at a Sony eReader about 18 months ago, but that is a lifetime in the world of electronics. So, if there are items that I mention about the Kindle – which are also true about others – please do not shoot the messenger for inaccurate facts. Secondly, I am NOT a tech-savy person. In fact, I really didn’t embrace the digital camera until about 5 years ago, and my iPod is typically docked on its iHome with less than 1,000 songs. All this is to say that my review will not be eloquently written with computer tech lingo; the review is strictly a personal opinion about the Kindle from a very modest user of electronic equipment. And finally, please know that Amazon just released – 2.9.09 – the version 2 of the Kindle. I have looked at it and read some of the specs. This is the Kindle that is available at Amazon now. I will try to give some information about this latest model throughout the review. Again, my information is limited, however, so please be kind if I unintentionally misrepresent the facts.
Ok – without further ado…..here is the review. First of all, I LOVE the Kindle — in fact I now use it as a verb in my house, such as, “I am going to Kindle now” or “I’m Kindling in here….” Having said that, however, I do not anticipate that my Kindle will eliminate my book collection; it just provides another great option. As I see it, I now have 3 basic options when it comes to books: I can borrow books from the library; I can purchase books for my own personal library; or I can purchase ebooks for my Kindle. Another tremendous benefit of the Kindle is that oftentimes I do not have to purchase the ebooks at all — they are free (which I will go into more detail later). I will try to organize my thoughts in a systematic fashion that might make it easier for you to sort through:
- Lightweight portability: The Kindle weighs less than 11 ounces, about the same size and weight of a trade paperback. This has huge benefits. First of all, no matter what size the book, a 50 page mass paperback or a 750 page hardback book — the weight of the book is the same. Sometimes the weight of those chunksters can limit when and where I choose to read them (not to mention the cramps I get in my wrists if I try to hold them too long without a break). Also — I can read any book – no matter what size – with only one hand! That’s right – I can choose to pet my beloved animals while reading, and not have to reposition every time I need to turn the page; OR I can have a nice cup of tea (or perhaps something stronger if it has been a particular stressful day) and still continue my reading without interruption. I have found the functionality of the keys to be great (but I will give a bit more detail on that later). BUT as if that isn’t benefit enough — the Kindle can actually hold hundreds if not thousands of books for the exact same 11 ounce weight. I currently have over 75 books on my Kindle and I have used a fraction of the memory. I could literally take my entire library with me everywhere – if I so desired.
- Instant Gratification: now this could be a detriment if you have no will-power, but I find this to be a GREAT feature. Amazon uses what is called “Whispernet” technology. Now my very basic explanation of this (remember, I am NOT a tech-savy person) is that it is like cell phone technology that allows you to access the internet without wi-fi connection. Although whispernet is not available everywhere — I do believe Whispernet is associated with Sprint, so it does provide widespread access. For now (and hopefully for a long time) this feature is absolutely free. What this means is that I can access Amazon from anywhere there is whispernet capability — search the Kindle store — download a book that I want to read all in less than a minute. Let me tell you — this is very cool!
- FREE samples: That’s right. For every kindle book Amazon sells, there is a feature that allows you to download a sample of the book absolutely free! I have found the samples to be approximately 5% of the book – which is generally at least the first chapter. This is a tremendous feature. It allows you to actually read a portion of the book before you decide to buy it. If you decide that you absolutely must have it immediately – one touch downloadss the entire book (for the purchase price, of course) to your home screen. I can’t tell you how many samples I have downloaded so far – at least 100 would be my guess.
- FREE books: Again …. that is right. Not only has Amazon started carrying free public domain books on their website (so you can easily access and download) — there are also several other sites online that allow you to download public domain books in the Kindle format. While I know there are other sites out there, the two that I use the most are manybks.net and freekindlebooks.org. The Whispernet capability allows you very basic browsing features, one of which is to access these sites and immediately download these classics to your Kindle. The vast majority of the 75 books I have downloaded have come from these sites. No, you do not receive the wonderful commentary available on other editions (Penguin Classics and Oxford World’s Classics are my two favorites), but free is free and I can choose to download or even purchase the hard copy if I wish at a later date.
- Save money with kindle versions: so, not all books are free BUT the vast majority of the books available on Kindle are less expensive than their hard copy counterparts. NYT best sellers are always $15 or less – which compares to $25-$30 in the hardback version. Very often Kindle will also run specials where some books are actually free (especially if the author is to release a new book and the publisher want to elicit some interest by offering an older book at a reduced price) OR significantly reduced price.
- Huge storage: now, this where my limited computer knowledge and limited knowledge of the version 2 may get me in trouble. Essentially my Kindle has 179mg of memory. I can’t remember exactly how many texts this is supposed to hold, but I do know that it is hundreds of books (maybe 500-800??). However, the version 1 also has an SD card slot. I have a 2 gig SD card and that will literally hold 1000s of books. Fascinating!! The version 2 does not have the SD card slot BUT it has more than double the internal memory. I think it is supposed to hold 1500 books (give or a take a few). Bottom line — it holds a ton of reading material
- Look-up feature: ok, I hate to admit it, but I have never really read with a dictionary beside me. I know that I should (and I even teach my students to do that), but I have always just made do with trying to decipher the meaning in context. With the Kindle, I have increased my vocabulary quite a bit. There is a dictionary built right into it. When I come to a word with which I am unfamiliar, I just scroll to the line that contains the word and select “look up” The dictionary will identify all words in that line for which it has entries. I find said word – discover the actual definitioin – and continue reading. How awesome is that!!
- Highlighting and notes: this is the primary reason why I was not at first interested in ereaders. I believe in Mortimer Adler’s philosophy that a marked up book signifies a well loved book. I have always underlined, written notes, etc. While I am sure other eReaders now have this capability, at the time I was doing my research, the Kindle was the only one that I felt did this with minimal complexity. All highlights and/or notes are stored within each book in its own file. When I want to review my notes for the book, I only need open that file. While I have not tried this yet – I am fairly confident that I can hook up my Kindle to my computer via usb port and actually print off my notes, if I wanted. This feature may come in very handy for future English classes.
- Functionality of Design: I have NO problems with my version 1 Kindle. Some folks reported having difficulty when they would accidentally hit certain buttons, which would cause the page to forward or reverse unintentionally. I know that the Kindle version 2 has been redesigned to eliminate this problem — but like I said, it was never a problem for me. There are two ways to page forward (with right hand or left hand) – one way to previous page (with left hand) and then a “back” button which takes you back to the previous screen (not necessarily the previous page in a book). There is a small scroll button that allows you to literally scroll through the books you have in your collection and/or through the lines of text on a page. Incredibly user friendly. I think it took me less than 2 minutes to understand the basics of this machine. There are a number of shortcuts that you can use — many of which I do not know. If you want to find the time (perhaps you are so engrossed in your reading you have lost track of it) – you would select ALT-T and the time appears in the lower left hand corner. The QWERTY keyboard is very easy to use — and this coming from someone who rarely uses the text feature of her cell phone.
- Long battery life: I have never really had to test this – as I am always near an outlet and when I start to notice my battery life to fade I just plug it in. However, I think the Kindle version 1 is supposed to run for approximately 1 week without a charge (and if you do not use the whispernet feature). This is plenty fine for me. I think the only time this may be a problem is if you plan a long camping trip. But….since I hate camping….this is a non-issue for me. Once my battery dies (which we all know — they do not last forever), I can purchase another batter through amazon (or I have also been told through radio shack) and change the battery myself. It is my understanding (but I am not 100% positive on this) that the new Kindle does not have a self-replaceable battery (you will have to send in for a replacement) BUT the battery life is about twice as long as my version (eg – you can go nearly 2 weeks without charging).
- Amazon Kindle purchases stored at Amazon.com: Again, this is not a feature that I have used much, but I can see where this is a great benefit. Any book that is purchased through Amazon will remain in your account on the Amazon server. That means….if you lose your Kindle – yes, you have to replace the machine, but your elibrary is safe and ready to be downloaded at any time. While my Kindle 1 has an SD card slot — I understand that the new Kindle does not (although the new Kindle has more than double the memory of version 1). So…if you are a voracious reader, I suppose there could come a day when you might exceed your memory. Not a problem (or at least as far as I can see). All public domain books will always be public domain — and all Kindle books are permanently stored for you.
- Font size adjustment: ok – for the under 30 crowd this may not be an issue for you – YET — but for those of us significanly older, this feature is a Godsend. There are actually 6 different font sizes. I have found that size 2 is probably the size of a mass paperback and font 3 is the size of a trade paperback (my default is font 3). However, my eyes get very tired at night, and it is wonderful to change the size of the font with a flick of a button in under 5 seconds and continue reading with no eye strain whatsoever.
- No Backlight: yes — this is a GOOD thing. The page on a Kindle is very close to the look of the page of a paperback book. The writing is crisp – but soft on the eyes. Yes, this does mean when it is dark you need a light of some sort. I have found that I truly do not need a clip-on reading light if there is enough light in the room. If not – or if I wish to read outdoors (again, not the camping type, so not much need for this) I can purchase a reading light with a goose neck that will alleviate the problem (I did have an inexpensive clip-on light that I used a couple of times….but the new puppy decided that she needed a chew toy and the light is no longer. I will probably purchase a new one and will select the one that is most often suggested at amazon)
- Read Files on Kindle: now, I must say that I do not have the need to read files too much these days (grading papers yes — but reading files, no). However, there is a way to convert computer files to the kindle software format and then email that document to your kindle. I have, however, used the feature where I have sent myself PDF files to my Kindle and that is pretty slick if I do say so myself.
- Read some newspapers, magazines and blogs on Kindle: this is a feature that I have not used at all. I am not much of a periodical reader – and I prefer to read my blogs on the laptop (large screen for those tired ole eyes). But I know some people really enjoy this feature.
- oops …almost forgot….listen to music: I have not used this function a lot, but I have used it some. I can download mp3 files to my SD card and then play those music files through my kindle. Most of the music files I have downloaded tend to be nature sounds, as I just want to drown out the background noise but not distract from the words that I am reading. I use my ipod earpiece to listen.
- The only negative: well, several find this a negative, but truly I have not found this to be true (but then again, my kindle library is relatively small at the moment). Neither version of the Kindle has a “folder” system – or index system – for the books stored on the machine. All books are filed in alphabetical order (I sort mine by title, but there is the option of sorting by author as well). Now…Kindle does have a great search feature. If I know the title of the book – I can just input the first letter of the title on my homepage and the Kindle will automatically go to the page where that letter begins (so for example if I wanted to search for Pride and Prejudice – I could just type “P” and the Kindle would automatically go to the page where the titles begin with P. Searching for the specific title at this point is relatively easy). If I am unsure of the title, I can conduct a search using a specific word or phrase. The kindle will then call up all the titles that have that word/phrase. Now for those who have massive kindle libraries (some have almost 100 pages on their homescreen vs my 9 pages) — this could be cumbersome. But my feeling is that Amazon is certainly working on this and it would seem to be a simple software upgrade solution in the near future.
Well, there you have it. I sure hope this was helpful to some of you. I would be more than happy to answer any specific questions you may have. I will suggest that if you are truly interested in purchasing a kindle — visit this webpage first. This is a forum for all those who have kindles who are more than willing to show them off to potential owners. I met someone at a local eatery and she allowed me to touch, feel, and use her Kindle before I decided that it was worth the $350 price tag. I then “paid it forward” and met someone at a local coffee shop and did the same thing. It is a big investment (or at least for me it was) and you need to be certain that it is the right investment for you. The Kindle will definitely pay for itself; for some it may take longer than for others. BUT…the convenience of the Kindle – as well as the environmentally friendly issues (less paper – less trees) truly made it a worwhile investment for me.
Should you decide to purchase a Kindle – please let me know. I would love to converse with other Kindle-ites. Also, if you choose to purchase a Kindle based on this review, would you kindly use the link on the side bar? I hope that is not shameful solicitation, but perhaps I could earn a free ebook at some point and time. 🙂