Amazon Kindle Pros and Cons: A Guest Review by David M. Fowler

      (Note: For ebook and audiobook conversions, see Fowler Digital Services.)

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Note: This is an older review for the Kindle 1.  For more updated information, click here for the article: Top Ten Kindle Features.


My brother, David, works in the book industry, and I got to check out his Amazon Kindle recently. It seemed pretty cool to me, but I am a sucker for any gadget, so I asked him if he would write a guest review for the blog. He graciously agreed, and so here is an in-depth review of the Kindle from a book professional who has used it extensively for over a month. David’s pros and cons list comes first, followed by his full review. So what do you think of the Kindle? (See related post: Kindling a Spark for Electronic Reading)

Amazon Kindle Pros:

  • Fast, wireless delivery of books, no need to sync the device with a computer.
  • Impressive initial collection of 90,000+ books ranging from New York Times bestsellers to obscure textbooks.
  • Online backup; not worried about losing content if device is lost or damaged.
  • Great for reading short content such as newspaper or Wikipedia articles.

Amazon Kindle Cons:

  • Poor visual appeal: Black text on a dingy grey background instead of white; brief screen blackout for each page turn; device looks like old technology.
  • Clunky scroll wheel for navigating; Kindle would benefit from touch-screen technology such as used by Apple.
  • Lack of real page numbers limits use for students needing to provide footnotes for quotes.
  • Frequent page turns are tiring; difficult to “pre-read” a chapter or know how many pages to go in a chapter; not a great device for reading long books.

                                   


 
Kindle Review
By David M. Fowler

According to research from the National Endowment for the Arts, book reading is on the decline; there is considerable hope in the industry that e-books could help revive the book market, which faces increasing competition from non-book digital media. In particular, the younger demographic is especially not likely to read for pleasure. Several large publishers have invested enormous resources into digitizing their books, but they have yet to determine how to actually monetize this content.

The Kindle was lavished with a marketing buzz that far surpassed any previous e-book launches (such as the Sony Reader); a flurry of news coverage from both industry and consumer publications guaranteed the Kindle would be noticed and talked about extensively. I ordered my Kindle on the first day of its release, and by the end of the day it was already sold out for the rest of the year: even now it remains on backorder with no firm date on when it will become available.

Already owning plenty of “gadgets,” I am very comfortable with new technology, and so I expected no difficulties in adapting to reading on an e-book device such as the Kindle. I am a voracious reader, and so I was curious to see how my reading habits would translate to an electronic device; as a graduate student, I also wanted to see how well the Kindle would satisfy the needs of a student. I merely shrugged off other reviewer’s complaints about the lack of a backlight and the loss of the “sensory experience” of reading a physical book. Furthermore, I really like the eco-friendly notion of an e-book that seems to leave much less of a carbon footprint than print books.

I had previously read that the e-ink technology used by the Kindle very closely reproduces the experience of reading a physical book. So, when I first turned the device on, I was surprised to see that the background for the black text was a dingy grey, rather than the white background one is used to seeing when reading books or online text. The resulting effect is that I feel like I am reading a cheap mass-market paperback, or the groundwood paper used in newspapers. This was a disappointment, as is the brief black-screen “wipeout” that occurs with every page turn (and that I still have not been able to ignore over time.)

Wireless coverage has been great in the several locations I have used it. Ordering books wirelessly is a snap, and in just a few minutes I had found and ordered three books (including a textbook for school) and a subscription to the New York Times. Getting the daily newspaper delivered to this device keeps the content fresh, and it’s a breeze to read the New York Times in the morning without the bother of having to first turn on my computer and “sync” the device.

Although many Kindle books are priced at $9.99, I was surprised to find out that the textbook I wanted was in the $60 range, which was about $20 higher than the cost for the physical book! (Amazon has since lowered the Kindle edition to be about $5 cheaper than the print version. Should I ask for a refund?) However, the more common $9.99 price for books is usually a bargain over paying for the physical book, which could eventually compensate the steep $399 price for the unit.

When I read a book for school, I always try to highlight something on each page, so I can go back later and literally “re-read” the most important points by skimming through what I have highlighted. However, since the Kindle requires frequent page turns due to its smaller-than-a-book screen size, I find it nearly impossible to highlight text as I would a physical book. Also, the mechanism for highlighting is positively clunky: using the scroll wheel to mark text is too cumbersome for regular use. I gave up the highlighting feature rather quickly (and regretfully).

There is also a note-taking feature that I thought would be helpful — even an improvement over the physical book — since the margins of a book are usually too small to write in. However, the awkward Kindle keyboard and turtle-like screen response to my fast typing proved too frustrating to incorporate this feature.

When reading books for school, I will often “pre-read” a chapter before I read it word-for-word. This allows me to see how the chapter is organized, what type of content is covered, what is the conclusion of the chapter, how long is it, etc. The small screen size of the Kindle makes this virtually impossible, as you can only see a paragraph or two at a time, so I cannot use this popular reading trick. Without the ability to pre-read, my reading comprehension seems to have declined as a result and I am less focused than usual …

I found a quote in the textbook I purchased and decided to use it in a paper I was writing. Then it occurred to me that there were no real page numbers in the Kindle corresponding to the physical book! Using the Kindle, I sent a question to Amazon to inquire how a person could cite a reference in a paper. (Incidentally, this is a really cool feature of the Kindle: just type a question in your Kindle, supposedly “about anything,” and you get up to three researchers sending you an answer to your question in about ten minutes.)

  • The surprising answer I received from the Kindle researcher was a recommendation to purchase a physical copy of the book in addition to the Kindle copy! Not exactly what the budget-conscious student wants to hear!

This oversight seems surprising, since I would imagine students (along with business travelers) to be among the early adopters of this type of device. What student wouldn’t want to carry all of their books on a single device rather than lugging them around? Yet, not providing a means to reference a quote from the physical book does present a rather large barrier to some students. In the end, I couldn’t use the quote I wanted to. I found myself wondering if the Kindle had even been tested with focus groups, where this limitation could have been identified and fixed before launching the product.

Ultimately, my biggest frustration with the Kindle is the sense of “feeling lost” when I am reading. Specifically, it is difficult to know how many more pages remain in the chapter I am reading. Because of my busy schedule, I have to read in “bits and pieces”; when I pick up my Kindle to read, I have no idea if I have enough time to finish a chapter or not when I only have a few minutes to spare. Furthermore, the frequent page turns make it seem like the chapter is going on forever, and I find myself fatigued faster than when I am reading a physical book.

Few reviewers seem to pay much attention to Amazon’s online backup for the Kindle; personally, I feel safer knowing that if my Kindle is lost or damaged (or a book is accidentally deleted) I can easily recover this material without having to repurchase it. I have permanently lost digital music purchases in the past (such as when getting a new computer and not backing up content) and so I find it comforting to know that my purchases won’t disappear on me to due to technology failure or my lack of diligence in creating a backup.

In conclusion, the Kindle represents a major step forward in e-book technology by introducing a wireless delivery system for books. I continue to enjoy reading the New York Times (ad-free!) and other short-form content such as articles on Wikipedia. For longer reading sessions, however, I suffer from “fatigue” with too many page turns and the lost feeling I get when I cannot visualize where I am in the chapter/book. Without real page numbers for quotes and an easy way to highlight pages (a touch screen would be ideal for this rather than the scroll wheel), I won’t be using the Kindle for school purposes; so, with a price point of $399, this e-book device is too expensive given the limitations of how I will use it.

I would love to see how the design expertise of Apple might be used to create an e-book, building on the excellent delivery system that represents the only real breakthrough of the Kindle in my opinion. With this kind of re-design along with an ipod-like price point of $199, e-books just might become more mainstream.

                                   

Note: For ebook and audiobook conversions, see Fowler Digital Services.

11 Comments

  1. Margaret says:

    Just read the pros and cons of the Kindle and the excellent review by David. Thanks for such a detailed analysis.

    I can see how younger people, especially students who “do” technology, might like this, maybe even in spite of the drawbacks.

    As an elderly person, I will stay with my real books, but enjoyed reading what may happen to books in the future. Hopefully, there will always be real books for people like me. Will watch for other comments with interest.

  2. Jeff says:

    Sounds like they need to try again.
    They could call it the Re-Kindle

  3. Ray Fowler says:

    Jeff – You better trademark that name. Amazon might want to use it in the near future.

  4. Eric says:

    I agree with most of your list of pros and cons, especially the lack of page numbers. I find the electronic ink, however, to be easy on the eyes, and I don’t mind the brief flash of the page when turning pages.

    I feel that the two biggest limitations of the Kindle are:

    1. the surprising gaps in available Kindle e-books. Authors as important as Albert Camus and Gabriel Garcia Marquez have no books available for the Kindle. Also, academic fields like literary theory and philosophy are severely under-represented.

    2. I live in an area that does not have access to the Whispernet wireless connection, so I am unable to subscribe to blogs, magazines, or newspapers. I can’t buy books directly from my Kindle, and I can’t access Wikipedia. I was under the impression that this technology would work absolutely anywhere, so I was extremely disappointed to find out it doesn’t work in my area.

    Overall, though, I’m still satisfied with my Kindle and I don’t regret purchasing it.

  5. Ray Fowler says:

    Eric – Thanks for the additional input. I am surprised that you cannot get the wireless connection where you live, as I thought that was supposed to be available just about anywhere.

  6. Orawan says:

    Great Tips! Very objective and professional review. I’ve been using Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader for about a week now, I am very happy with my Kindle and look forward to many happy hours of reading. I love it so much. Thank you

  7. Kindle Come says:

    Keep up the good work, great post here!

  8. Bethany says:

    Can we get another review now that Kindle 2.0 is out?

  9. Megan says:

    As part of my technology project i have to review the kindle and to say it is an easy reading device to review is somewhat of an understatement :)… i think ‘real books’ are still unbeatable

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