Sunday, January 9, 2011

Review: Amazon Kindle

It's my 100th post! Thanks to everyone who's been reading, and I hope you stick around for the next 100.

I read a lot of books. Even if I don't count graphic novels, I probably break triple digits in a single year. And while I'm not shy about using my local library, there are some books I just plain have to buy if I want to read them. So my bookshelves are, shall we say, well-stocked.

Despite a desperate need to clear some space, I've been resisting the eBook revolution. I had my reasons. The readers are expensive uni-taskers, excepting the iPad, which to me is a really expensive reader that also plays games. The books I like to read weren't necessarily available as eBooks. And while I can always bring a paperback along with me to work for lunch or time on a treadmill, an eReader is trickier to get away with; some rubbish about vulnerabilities and enterprise security...

But, times change. The price of readers like the Kindle have come down in the past year. And Black Library has kicked off a digital publishing venture that means a lot of my must-read books (*cough* Horus Heresy *cough*) are going to be available first in digital print. And, let's face it, I'm running out of bookshelves. So when I got a Kindle for Christmas this year, I was pretty excited to start playing around with it.

This is my Kindle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

The Kindle is held in the hand much like an ordinary book, if a bit thinner. This was a huge concern for me; Staples carries Kindles, but they're so tightly bound to the store display that it's impossible to get a proper feel for the device. Now that I have one, I'm quite pleased with how it sits in the hand. The Kindle's case (bought separately) is a nice black leather-bound thing that improves the illusion of holding a physical book; I strongly recommend picking one up.

There are two buttons on each edge of the device, which are used to turn the "pages". I'm right-handed, but I imagine it would just as well for a left-hander. A physical keyboard and a four-arrow control sit at the bottom of the device. The keyboard works great for typing letters; numbers and symbols are a bit trickier, but once you get used to the controls they work well.

The screen uses eInk technology, which supposedly manipulates actual ink into place to make up the words on the page. However it works, it's easy on the eyes, much easier than the average computer screen. You can read a book for hours on paper and on a Kindle, and have about the same wear and tear done to your eyes. On the downside, you will need a proper light to read - the screen has no backlighting option.

The default font is large enough to read easily, and you can adjust it to whatever size you like. When reading a book, it's pretty easy to skip to whatever chapter you like (depending on the quality of the eBook), and you can bookmark your place or your favorite quotes using without any trouble.

The Kindle's firmware updates surprisingly frequently; I've had at least six updates since I started using it. This can cause you to lose your place in whatever book you're currently reading; just remember to go back to the Home screen when you take a break, and there won't be any trouble.

eBook quality varies, but the rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. Amazon offers many books in the public domain for free download; their chapters aren't always bookmarked properly, but the typesetting is usually fine. Other, more expensive books generally read better.

I'd recommend the Kindle for anyone looking for an eBook reader at an affordable price. There are others that might work better for your needs (i.e. color screens, other features), so look around; but the Kindle is a solid baseline device that should be on any candidate list of eBook readers.

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