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Kindle 2 - Short Review

Pros:

  • Very legible screen. Easy to change font size.
  • Grayscale quality is excellent, much more than one would expect for 16 shades
  • Wireless transmission of stuff. The reviewers are right, this is killer.
  • Nice form factor. Not too big, not too small.
  • Well built. Feels good and solid.
  • No monthly service plan. To me, this is huge. You get wireless with no monthly plan. I don't know how long they can keep this up.
  • Some access to the internet. I access Google mobile apps and it sort of works. So I can view my calendar, documents, email, etc. while on the road. I don't have a mobile phone internet connection, so this is a nice option for me. Nicer because there's no monthly fee.
  • 2-week free trial period for magazines and newspapers. This is key, as you see in cons.

Cons:

  • Poor quality implementation of e-books/mags. Keep in mind, the user interface isn't great to start with. Add to that, the publishers need to support features in order to enhance the reading experience. An example of a huge e-book fail is Analog Science Fiction/Fact. They apparently just export a text file of their magazine. The e-book version doesn't even have a table of contents so you can't jump to individual articles! You have to flip through, painful page by painful page. Plus, the other people who have reviewed it indicate that it usually lags the printed magazine release by months. WTF?! A science magazine can't even get the most basic aspect of an e-zine right?
  • UPDATE: I got Asimov's and it had the same problem, so I scrolled through the pages and found one that had a link to a table of contents. That seems to get me a real TOC for the issue. But the Kindle "menu" button doesn't allow you to get to the TOC.
  • Poor user interface design. Given the limitations of the control nipple for moving around on the screen, they should have a variety of keyboard shortcuts for doing common things. Since they've got that "alt" key, may as well use it!
  • Relating to that, the browser, considered an experimental feature, kind of blows. Any time you start typing, the keys go to the URL. So, if you're using a mobile site that has shortcuts, there's no way to access them short of using the nipple to move the cursor down the screen. Really painful.
  • Controls could be better located. I may be weird (ok, I know I'm weird), but almost any way I hold the thing, it places key controls at locations that aren't reachable without feeling carpel tunnel problems or having to release my grasp and move my hand. Yes, I can navigate to the next page easily, but that's it. UPDATE: The layout is perfect for reading while sitting on the toilet or while lying on your back in bed, propped up on a pillow - two very common reading positions!
The crazy thing about the formatting/TOC issues, is that there's a guy who created an automated way of downloading the contents of his Economist subscription and converting it into a format that is better than any of the magazines and subscriptions that I've tried, with a nice TOC for navigation. If a user can do this, why can't the publishers?
 

Overall feeling:

While this may seem like I'm negative on the device, I'm not. I think it's a very cool, bleeding-edge product. I'm enjoying using it and they've done some things very well. But there's definitely room for serious improvement, in button and key layout and in the general user interface.

Pricing:

Friends asked me what I thought about pricing. Here's my thoughts:
  
It does seem a bit pricey for newspapers, since so much of the content I just read on the free websites.  NYT: $14/month; most other papers are $10/month. Given that they have no printing and distribution charges, I'd think they could do better. Plus, the content is limited - it doesn't match the printed paper. Maybe half that cost would be fair and would encourage more to subscribe.
  
Books all seem under $10 which seems very reasonable to me. That's less than a CD, so it seems pretty cheap in comparison.
  

Blogs - Charging for free blogs seems very cheesy. They should include those for free as a perk to buyers. If it's a matter of having to pay for wireless transmission, then they should just have an iTunes like program that manages blogs and podcasts and synchronizes when you have a wired connection. But Amazon completely left out any sort of computer based synchronization manager. They're married to the completely wireless aspect.

The unit itself, I really don't think it's expensive. It's a relatively low-volume product that's leading edge. You don't pay a monthly wireless fee like you would with a cell phone, but you get the service and some (minimal) ability to web surf. As such, I think it's fairly priced.

Data Transmission - Lots of people complain that it costs money to send files to the unit. In fact, you can just drag and drop (converted) documents onto the Kindle. They charge $0.10 to email documents wirelessly to the Kindle, which seems extremely fairly priced since you'll pay that much for a 10 character text message on a cell phone. I don't like the conversion process. They should just supply a PC based converter, built into the (nonexistent) synchronization manager.

Other Comments: 

Devices like this need to be designed for the frequent user, not the beginner. Often, there is a clear distinction between such designs, with those devices meant for the casual user being oriented towards a shallow learning curve where efficiency is unimportant - beginners just want to be able to use a device. Frequent users are different. They want a device to work as an extension of their body/mind. Sometimes, this entails designing a device that takes some learning, but once learned, it works highly efficiently. A car is such a device.

To this end, the Kindle should have keyboard shortcuts for commonly used operations. People will have to be taught the shortcuts, but once learned, they will greatly appreciate them because it streamlines the operation every time the system is used.

I was excited to see that the Kindle 1 had an assortment of such shortcuts but was terribly disappointed to learn that the Kindle 2 disabled these, forcing users to have to scroll through menus to do something as simple as inserting a symbol! This is a huge design flaw, as it leads to long term user dissatisfaction by making the system feel awkward for anything but the most basic use. Hopefully, Amazon will come to their senses and re-enable these features in a future software upgrade. NOTE: some shortcuts found. They are listed here.

Along these lines, I was also dismayed to learn that they had removed the location awareness features of the original device. The original had keyboard shortcuts that would jump to Google maps and display your current position or show local gas stations. These seemingly trivial applications cracked open the door to some highly useful features. If I'm going to be carrying my Kindle wherever I go, it would make it all the more useful if I could press a key and see a map of the area, maybe highlighting the local pharmacies or coffee shops. Yes, the device is "just a reader", but taking advantage of the intrinsic capabilities of the system to move it from a luxury to a necessity should be their goal, as long as it doesn't detract from its primary use.


Other Reviews of the Amazon Kindle 2

Christian Science Monitor - Kindle 2 Review Roundup
David Pogue - NYT
iReadReview.com - includes video review. Additional reviews
Walt Mossberg (Wall Street Journal; All Things Digital) Includes a video review.
 
 
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