Kindle 2 Review
March 27, 2009
I decided to get an e-book reader because my bookshelves are stuffed. Surprisingly, this is not as fun as it sounds. I was also sick of trying to keep track of which books I own, which I got from the library after a series went hardcover, and which books are only available in the dreaded trade paper format that I have such an irrational dislike of. And finally, my library is a bit limited and my nearest bookstore is slower than dirt when it comes to stocking new genre novels. I love being able to buy and immediately start reading a new book, even if it’s 11:30 pm, raining cats and dogs, and I’m in my PJs.
After some research, I chose a Kindle. The biggest factor was probably Amazon’s selection and pricing. Not every book I’m interested in is available for Kindle, but in general I’m really impressed with the selection. Anything that’s already out in paperback is usually only a dollar or two cheaper than a regular copy. But many new books are only $9.99, which is a great deal. Amazon’s Whispernet service was also a big part of my decision, it’s nice to be able to search for and download a new book even when I’m away from my computer. And since I can choose to get free sample chapters from Kindle books, I haven’t ended up buying any books that were completely different than my expectations – at least not yet.
I love, love, love the E-ink screen. It really does look a lot like paper, and I can read for hours with no eyestrain. It’s pretty hard to believe how cool this screen is until you see one in person. The battery life is also impressive. I tend to leave the wireless off unless I need to download a recent purchase or want to browse the store, so the battery lasts around a week for me. I use both the text resizing and built-in dictionary a lot more than I thought I would. Changing the text size is really helpful when I’m getting tired or in a room that doesn’t have bright lighting.
Another big benefit is the number of e-books available for free from sites like Feedbooks. There are a lot of books that are old enough to be out of copyright, including some by great genre authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard. Some authors and publishers also give away e-books to drive up interest in their work, both on Amazon and on other sites. Many of these offers are only available for a limited time, but I’ve already gotten three free books that I had planned on reading even before the promotion.
The hyped text-to-speech feature is a bit of a dud to me. It’s better than some earlier text to speech efforts that I remember, but it’s hard to imagine this technology ever competing with an audiobook. I can’t see myself seriously trying to use it, but in small doses it’s fun. Hypothetically speaking, it could be very entertaining to inflict various dramatic scenes from Twilight on your husband. (You didn’t get this idea from me.)
The biggest weakness in the interface is the lack of a folder or tagging system. Organizing content on the Kindle is limited. You can sort your list of books by what you’ve opened most recently, by title, or by author. That’s it. It’s not a deal-breaker to me, because I’m using a combination of Calibre and Goodreads to keep track of my e-books. But I try not to keep more than 30 books on it at a time so it won’t be a pain to browse them. That’s a bit sad because Kindle 2 can hold a lot of books. I’m not sure if everything on my recommendations list is available for Kindle. But if they all were, then they’d all fit.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of different e-book file formats out there and Kindle won’t read them all. But many files can be converted to Kindle-compatible formats fairly easily, unless they’re evil PDFs or have DRM. And DRM is an issue that you really need to educate yourself about if you’re interested in going digital. DRM sucks because it often ends up harming or inconveniencing legitimate customers more than the file sharers that it’s aimed at. Most sites that sell e-books use some form of DRM, but many forms of it can be stripped by people with enough know-how and determination.
I’m hardly going to stop buying paper books any time soon, but I think that, over time, going to e-books will improve the quality of my physical library. Eventually I’ll only be keeping paper copies of books that are my favorites, books that I can’t digitally replace, or books that are special to me in some other way. And of course my other reading will still be convenient, accessible, and probably better organized than my bookshelves.
One of the best sources for info about e-book devices, formats, and issues is the forums at Mobileread. But I’d be happy to try and answer any questions in the comments. I’ll probably be posting more about e-books (at least as they relate to urban fantasy) from now on.