Wow, the new electronic book reader from Amazon, Kindle, sure is getting a lot of absurdly misguided and factually incorrect criticism. My fingers are getting sore from responding to such a tide of disinformation in comment boxes scattered across a zillion web sites. Just this morning, I’ve been writing a lengthy comment to a Kindle critique on Rex Hammock’s usually excellent blog. (And actually, Hammock — unlike others — makes clear he’s not reviewing the product but giving a first blush reaction to the specs and marketing spin. I just happened to be commenting on his post when I decided to write this post! A more annoying example would be this silly attempt to review via photos).
So in the interest of saving my carpal tunnel, here’s a summary of some of my rebuttals, refutations and excoriations. Bottom line: the Kindle rocks. If you love to read, if you’re on the go, if you like gadgets, get one.
The biggest mistake Hammock and others have made is dissing the Kindle’s feature set without actually having used one. Turns out, the e-ink screen, FREE wireless broadband connection, open publishing platform and FREE web backup storage are all innovative, useful, well-designed features. The experience of using a Kindle is fun and adds to, rather than detracts from, the experience of reading.
With the mobile broadband connection, not only is the bookstore always with you but the collective knowledge of the Internet is always with you. While reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” last night, I came across a passage about Samuel Chase arguing an anti-slavery case in the Supreme Court called Jones v. Vanzandt. Wanting to know a bit more, I shifted over to the Kindle’s Internet browser and within a few clicks and hops from Google, found a copy of Chase’s Supreme Court brief. Reading history, it’s transformative to be able to flip to original sources and related material without getting up off the couch.
You can also access free ebooks on the Internet. I have a copy of “Pride and Prejudice” found via Google and downloaded a few seconds later. Amazon stores all your purchased books and notes “in the cloud” so everything is backed up. You can delete a purchase and re-download it anytime later. You can also associate up to six Kindles with one Amazon account and freely download any purchase to any of the Kindles simultaneously. Unlike iTunes, Amazon also has opened its Kindle publishing platform so anyone can upload a book, set a price and start selling to Kindle users. I also heartily endorse the decision to make it PC-free. Mac users, Linux users, all are welcome. Connect the Kindle via USB and it’s just a drive. All of these features seem smart, useful and decidedly now.
In terms of the form factor and design, the e-ink screen allows loooong battery life and very crisp text in a font that’s especially easy to read. There is no noticeable eye strain or the feeling of tired eyes I get reading long documents on my laptop. The keyboard comes in handy when you want to search, use the Internet or take notes, but the most of the keys are inert or inactive while you’re reading a book, so you can put your fingers on that part of the device for comfort. Used in its little leather portfolio, the Kindle becomes very natural to hold comfortably for reading at several angles. It’s much more convenient that propping up a weighty hardcover, not to mention lighter to throw in your briefcase.
Some people have wrongly said that you can only read ebooks bought from Amazon on Kindle. Not true. You can put any text document on directly, like any of the thousands of ebooks on Project Gutenberg. You can also quickly and easily convert any HTML, PDF or Microsoft Word file for use on Kindle, either by emailing the files to Amazon or by using the free software Mobipocket Creator on your own computer. You only pay a 10 cent fee if you email a document for conversion to Amazon and want it delivered wirelessly to your Kindle. Converted files sent back to your computer are free.
And ebook vendors like Baen are selling unprotected files you can convert for Kindle reading. Once the Kindle builds a sizable audience, as I expect it will, the publishing and ebook elephants will start dancing to Amazon’s tune. Why can I only download out-of-copyright books from Google in a PDF image format? How about HTML? The biggest current online ebook sellers offer a variety of competing, incompatible DRM download formats. That could all change quickly. The reason the record labels started to allow DRM-free music sales was because Apple had become so powerful and was never going to allow others to use its Fairplay DRM format. When Kindle users likewise dominate the world of ebooks, and sales of ebooks start rising faster than ever before, other companies will be pushed to change.
To be continued…for all my subsequent Kindle coverage, see my Kindle tag.