Amazon’s Kindle 2

After complaining bitterly about its price and insisting I’d need the largest model for ocular comfort (I have vision problems), I found I couldn’t stop thinking about the advantages of having a Kindle. I was spurred on by a recent discussion with coworkers about the device. So I dug in and did some real research.

Too lazy to find a Borders with a demo model, I looked up the dimensions of both the Kindle 2 6″ and the DX. I found that the 6 inch model’s screen, along with the adjustable font size, was perfectly acceptable provided the screen quality was acceptable. The DX seemed like it would be too large and unwieldy for the kind of reading I like to do (reclined in hot water, under warm blankets, or on a comfy chair).

I have a lot of technical e-books I’ve purchased. They’re all in PDF format, but I wanted to have them available for perusal. I was disappointed to see Amazon charges a fee for conversion (albeit a small one), but was relieved to see that was only for “convert-and-send-directly-to-the-kindle” as a service. You can have Amazon convert the files and send them back to you by e-mail, which you can then place on your device via USB cable. In anticipation, I had already e-mailed a ton of documents – some quite large – and collected the results into a folder for easy transfer. This large list of (some large) documents totaled 40 MB. Nowhere near the approximately 1.6 GB free on the device other users reported. Nice.

So I took the plunge.

I received my Kindle 2 6-inch this past Monday. When I got home, I was amused to find the box was cardboard with the standard Amazon decorations. Tearing off a strip and opening the box revealed minimalistic packaging a la Apple. An inner cardboard cover secured the sarcophagus. Removing it revealed the Kindle itself. Beneath it were only the charger/USB cable and a brief manual. Interestingly, the entire package could be put back together and placed neatly in the recycling bin. It sits there now, awaiting pickup and a new life as some other packaging (or toilet paper). Bon voyage, good and faithful container.

I was greeted with a dead battery screen, telling me it might take a few minutes of charging before the device would wake. Boo! Apple’s devices arrive with at least enough power to play with them right away while they fully charge. After about two minutes, the device tried to power on, its progress bar making it two thirds of the way before it died and reverted back to the battery warning screen. Three minutes later and I was in business.

I transferred the cable from the power adaptor to my laptop and … nothing happened. Well, the charge light came back on, but the device didn’t appear to connect with my computer. I unplugged and re-plugged the … plug. Success: the device mounted on my Mac’s desktop like a standard USB memory stick. The folder structure was easy to understand at a glance and I dropped my previously-converted files into the correct folder. In under a minute, my Kindle’s home screen was filled with all sorts of titles, including a few I purchased for the iPhone Kindle app.

I turned off the device to test how quickly it slept and woke. The first thing I saw was the placeholder image on the Kindle’s “asleep” screen. I’d already read many people’s awe-filled reactions to the screen and its looks, but I still did a double-take and examined the image more closely. It looked … well … like a large, laminated baseball card for old, dead writers. At the bottom of the “card” was a message instructing me to slide and release the power button to wake the device. I obeyed the machine and, after about three seconds of apparently no activity, the screen flickered and was back to the home screen.

One of my goals was to get back into the habit of reading regularly. The thing that kept me from it is hand and arm cramps from holding either far-too-large technical books or small (and stiff) paperbacks. Unfortunately, some of the biggest and most relevant technical books to me – Cocoa and Mac OS X development – are not available for the Kindle. Boo again! That aside, I’ve already logged a good twelve hours (it’s Wednesday as I write this) with the device. Two things strike me. The second, battery power, I’ll get into in a moment.

The first thing is the device, while more comfortable to hold than a paperback novel or large technical volume, is still somewhat an unnatural fit. Something about its thin-but-wide profile and the placement of the page turning buttons forces a one-handed hold to plant the corner firmly into the fleshy part where the thumb meets the palm. This becomes uncomfortable. Turning the pages, however, is a damned delight. I wasn’t expecting to like such a mundane feature quite so much.

It’s also hard to get a confident grip on the thing. It feels like a tap of medium firmness will break something vital. Oddly, I don’t feel nearly as protective of my iPhone, arguably my favorite device of all time … it just feels more solid than the Kindle. That’s an important revelation. I am constantly afraid I’m going to drop it, or it’s going to slip from my fingers and even if it doesn’t hit the floor, a sudden, firm grab in the wrong place in an effort to catch it feels like it might break it. Particularly the screen.

Now on to battery power. Since fully charging it, I’d say I’ve used it ten of the twelve hours on battery power. In that time, a portrait of Oscar Wilde on the sleep screen prompted me to download his complete works (for a dollar – nice). I also downloaded several other books, a few previews for even more, perused a dozen very large ones I’d uploaded, deleted several, and perused the Amazon store a bit. During the times I wasn’t using the wireless for downloading and store surfing, I turned it off. The net result is a barely-noticable sliver has been shaved off the battery icon. Not bad at all.

Though not light, comfortable sheaf of paper the marketing photos and descriptions imply, the device is more comfortable than a novel and a damn sight better than holding or tabling the 1600 page Mac OS X Internals reference I geekily admit to owning (and lovingly leafing through on a semi-regular basis). The battery life suggests I’ll be able to casually pick this thing up and read whatever I please at any time without worrying so much about an ominous “40% charge” (which, on my aluminum MacBook, means it won’t last me a whole session with the resource-hungry tools I constantly use).

Like a real, printed book, the screen can hurt in low light (really, I do need to replace those very dim bulbs in the living room lamps – they’re almost ridiculously weak). In full sunlight, however, the screen is just beautiful. Again, it’s like laminated news print. Solid print, not spotty, crappy print. “Without glare” is going a bit far as claims go, but at the usual reading angles in a number of postures, glare isn’t a problem. As someone whose eyes are sensitive to light, sunlight reflected directly into my eyes is an unwelcome scenario.

For those complaining about page-turning speed, I think you’re picking nits. Page turning takes about as long as it would in real life (unless you regularly tear pages in your zeal, consuming the text at a gluttonous pace). By the time my eyes focus on the top of the page, the text is there. Waiting. Looking sexy. Inviting me to ogle it some more. You’re a sexy block of text, aren’t you? Naughty text.

Ahem. Where was I? Ah, yes, I was wrapping up.

In closing, I’m quite satisfied with my purchase, despite the cost. If you read regularly (or would like to), this device seems to encourage it. At the very least, it relieves a lot of the mechanical problems of transporting and reading books of varying sizes. Its wireless delivery also relieves me of paying as much for shipping as I do for most of the books, or grouping a number of them together in one shipment. If you enjoy reading (i.e., you aren’t a dullard), it may be time to look at a good e-book reader backed by a large, successful company with access to vast libraries of content. You probably won’t be sorry.