19 June 2008

Review of the Amazon Kindle

Amazon offers a wireless reader device that they call the Amazon Kindle. This device can download books from Amazon and newspapers/ magazines for reading in under a minute. It weighs a mere 10.3 ounces, which is less than most paperbacks. Supposedly, it has a screen that looks like paper, instead of a computer monitor. It sells for $359.

Now, for the controversy...

The Self-publishing Conspiracy
Earlier this year, Amazon decided to only allow self-published books that use their self-publishing / print-on-demand service, BookSurge, to be sold on the site. (Click here to "sign" a petition to block this move by Amazon.) This, of course, was a major blow to the huge variety of self-publishing services out there. After learning about their reading device, I'm now certain that the Kindle may have had some heavy influence on the decision. It may be less malevolent than appears on the surface though.

Maybe Amazon was more concerned that all the digital books they offer are compatible with the Kindle. You don't have this assurance when using multiple third-party offerings. Yet, I can't shake the suspicion that Amazon's decision is much more profit-oriented. After all, the average price they tout for books is "as little as $9.95." If you've ever shopped for books on Amazon, you know that this price is bit higher than the much lower average.

A Boost to Newspaper Sales?
On the news front, though, perhaps the Kindle may just revive the newsprint industry. The Kindle can subscribe to major newspapers, having your "paper delivered before you wake." In theory, this could prove a major shot in the arm for the newsprint industry, which continues to report plummeting profits, subscriptions, and ad sales. Certainly, material costs are removed with going digital, but news sites without RSS feeds and pay-to-read fees have witnessed drops in their readership also.

So, although this might work in theory, the fact is that people consume their news much differently these days. Those likely to subscribe to "The New York Times" already are not likely to flock to a digital reader, and those who are even remotely tech savvy know how to get their news for free.

Wikipedia Reigns Supreme
And for all you Wikipedia haters out there, the Kindle promises "free wireless connection to Wikipedia." Do you need the controversial nature of this spelled out? Due to the nature of how Wikipedia knowledge is established, via user-contributions, this is sure to stab at the heart of the academic or literati who have dubbed the fluid online encyclopedia "Crapapedia."

I won't debate the qualities and pitfalls of Wikipedia here, but the fact that the world's largest bookseller has included Wikipedia as THE source of reference material is sure to receive some heavy criticism.

The Kindle's Lack-Luster Look
Okay, I'm not sure how well the look of this device will go over with hardcore readers. Despite Amazon's claim that the screen has the look of paper, it is still one flat screen with no pages to fiddle with. It looks like little more than a PalmPilot or Blackberry.

Based on the video that I saw of it in action, the Kindle has chosen to display everything in black and white. Hey, Amazon! It takes more than displaying something monochromatically or choosing to use Times New Roman to make something appear more like printed material. Newspapers don't print in black-and-white because they prefer it; they print black-and-white because of cost. Give the pages some color, for crying out loud. I could, however, see how Trekkies would love this device.

How I Rate the Kindle
Without having used the Kindle, I can't speak first hand for its functionality. However, based on the video I watched, the Kindle is destined never to take off fully. It fails in gapping the tactile difference between printed books and digital ones. The pricing is not competitive with standard Amazon book prices. The lack of color is an unnecessary limitation on a device with so much more potential.

Looking from the outside-in, I give the Kindle a mere 2 out of 5 stars.

Some Questions for Kindle Users
  • Have you used the Kindle?
  • If so, how would you rate it?
  • What merits have I neglected to see in this potentially progressive tool?

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