In the past year or so, there has been considerable discussion here in libraryland about ebook readers. Still, the actual personal ownership of them is still reasonably low. So we don't have a lot of actual user feedback on how people like the devices, what they find useful, and what users really experience when reading on one. I thought I'd make an attempt to remedy that as much as one person on one blog can.
In short: I Love my Kindle. I love it the way I haven't truly loved a piece of technology since my first iPod, and for many of the same reasons. It allows me to carry the media that I love with me everywhere I go, in a form that makes it easier to organize and consume.
The iPod comparison is often made-- the press often refers to the Kindle as "the iPod for books". While in many was this is an apt comparison, in my experience there is definitely a point where the similarities stop.
The iPod succeeded in part because of the Compact Disc, and the ease with which CD's can be digitized. When combined with the emergence of the MP3 codec for digitizing music, it suddenly became possible to transfer your previous music purchases into this new format. This is not the case with books. There is no easy way of digitizing your book collection, and moving it onto a portable device. This is not a small problem, and it has hurt the uptake of ebook readers. Still, I think that the benefits of the Kindle outweigh this drawback.
So what's to love? There are a number of things, but primarily it's the screen. The e-ink screen is visable in any light, unlike the more traditional LCD screen. In bright sunlight, the screen is magnificent, crisp and clear, and very closely replicates the resolution of the traditional ink-on-paper. It took just a few hours for me to completely forget I was reading on a screen at all.
The wireless connectivity is what separates the Kindle from other readers like the Sony’s device. The Kindle comes with an EVDO modem that connects to the cell phone network to access the Internet. The access is included in the cost of the Kindle…yes, you heard me correctly, you do not pay any monthly fees for wireless access. There is an experimental web browser, but it is very limited. The real key to the wireless access is that it gives you full access to the Amazon Kindle bookstore. Within minutes, you can be reading any of the 175,000 books available there. You click “buy”, the book is purchased, and it shows up magically on your Kindle in less than 5 minutes. That is an amazing experience, and it opens the door to some seriously reckless book purchases.
The Kindle also has the ability to bookmark, take notes, search text, look up words, and access Wikipedia articles. All of those features are useful in their own way, and add value to the reading experience on a Kindle in ways that the physical book can't.
What are the other advantages of having an electronic reading device like the Kindle? The biggest advantage that I see right now is the almost obsecene number of free books being made available online. After all, you don't just have to buy from Amazon. The Kindle will read text files, html, and Mobipocket files, or Amazon will convert Word or PDF files for you for free.
For the sci-fi or fantasy reader, a Kindle will pay for itself in just a few months if you do nothing but grab all of the free ebooks from Baen and Tor, two leading publishers who have fully embraced the idea that giving away books means more sales. These two publishers have given away many, many dozens of books, and there are hundreds more from individual authors around the web. Cory Doctorow, for instance, gives away free electronic copies of all of his work on his website. When you combine these sources with the public domain books in Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks (Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen and H.P. Lovecraft, to name a few), you have more books than you could read in a lifetime.
In the 6 months that I've owned a Kindle, I have actually started to prefer it to reading physical books. I now check to see if a book I want is available for the Kindle before I'll think about buying it in paper, and in some cases I have purchased both the paper and the Kindle version (for example, I bought Anathem by Neal Stephenson in both formats...paper for my "Neal Stephenson First Edition" collection, and Kindle to actually read).
The Kindle has changed the way I look at, consume and enjoy reading. What more could you ask for? This is the future of reading, and whether the Kindle comes out the winner for the hearts and minds of the world's readers or not, it is a brave and significant first step.