First Impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly

 

First impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly!

   I’ve held off from the commitment to an e-reader for a number of reasons. Sitting on the sidelines, listening to the debates about whether the advent of the e-reader would mean the death of print, I’ve sat firmly on the fence and watched as the battle raged and wondered what the fuss was about. I’ve heard people praise their personal e-reader to the high heavens, I’ve heard some bewail the intrusion of yet more technology into their lives. And I remained sceptical and unsure. The more I read about the e-readers, the more I became convinced that the technology was still too intermediate to satisfy my own complex requirements.

So why, when my father asked what I’d like for my birthday did I put a Kindle on the list?

   Simple answer? Convenience.

   I travel quite a lot for both my jobs and on a five day trip, I will often have time on my hands between activities, where I am just sitting waiting for groups to return. I’ll have time at night to unwind in my hotel room. Now, for me this presents a problem. I read extremely fast. I might be able to consume an average length novel in a few hours. This means that for a five day trip I need to pack at least two, probably three books. And in addition to that, I can be moody and find a book boring that I thought I wanted to read. When you’re living out of a suitcase, you can’t afford to carry spares. So the idea of having a complete library in an item smaller than a paper back is very attractive.

   This Saturday, I squealed with delight on opening my parent’s present. There was the mythical Kindle to be explored. I downloaded a lot of classics and a few modern novels, plus some phrase books and so on and played around a bit. After a few days, I can report my findings.

 

Things I like: 1) the neat appearance 2) the light weight 3) the capacity for thousands of books. 4) the relative simplicity of use. 5) the internet access that also means you can have a book delivered instantly 6) the no-glare screen.

 

Things I don’t like: 1) the screen is too small. I’m a fast reader, and the small screen is off-putting because I like to be able to see both pages spread out. It feels like peering through a letterbox. 2) the judder as you change pages; it makes me think I’m getting a migraine. 3) the fact that it is an electronic device and yet is resolutely black and white 4) the experimental music facility only plays mp3 files and has no menu for contents so you have to play things in the order loaded and move them on. 5) the internet is slow and is in black and white; it makes me feel depressed when I am used to colour. 6) there is no option for back-lighting, which means you can’t read in the dark without a separate light; I know this was found to drain the battery quickly but it would be an option I’d find good. 7) the keyboard is so tiny that it’s hard to type.

 

   I was disappointed especially in the music feature as I had hoped to use that instead of an mp3 player, but the hassle of converting all my music files to mp3 is simply not worth it. I think part of me is looking for a single gadget to minimise the amount of stuff I carry; I had intended to wait until there was a write facility included so I could use it when away to work on stories , but that seems unlikely now. I shall have to continue to take my net-book on longer trips for that, as well as get a new mp3 player as my old one is not staying charged long enough.

 

   Another concern over e-readers is one that applies to all the gadgets we deem essential now, from mobile phones to laptops: instant obsolescence. I tend to keep a device until it actually stops working but most people change their mobile phone or pc as soon as a new model comes up. What happens to all these electronic gadgets when we’ve finished with them? Some can be recycled but most end up being dumped. When it comes to the end of life for a traditional book, the final resting place is seldom final. Books rot and they burn and they can also be pulped to make more paper or card. The fact that all e-readers whether Kindles or Nooks or whatever are intermediate technology means that there is going to be an ever increasing pile of obsolete ones to add to the mountain of discarded technology.

   The last and most nebulous of my objections to e-readers is the clinical and non-sensual aspect. They hold nothing of the organic world in the way that a paper book does; the folded down ends, the finger marks, the scent of paper and leather, the personal ephemeral memories like a four leafed clover from a summer meadow. I found a book for my daughter from my university days a few weeks back; the margins were littered with my pencilled in notes and comments and indeed those of the person who owned my book before me. While the Kindle allows you to annotate and highlight and indeed, see which parts of a book others have done that to, there is a coldness about this that for me at least would not bring back the memories my scribbling in a Latin poem did. Reading my notes, I was instantly back in a lecture theatre and could picture who I was sitting with and even feel for a second my ancient and decrepit old jeans that were disintegrating around me. The Kindle is too clean for that sort of memory to stick.

The e-reader is a boon for book-lovers and for authors but it is not going to totally replace the traditional book. The two are far from being mutually incompatible, and I intend to buy books I have enjoyed in either medium. Whatever means a book is delivered by does not change the book in its essence but may alter the experience of reading it.

Once more, horses for courses. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

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13 thoughts on “First Impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly

  1. good review! I have not bought one yet, but I do Kindle PC and I do love that, as I read alto of technical info and need info quickly! And now I don’t need the storage room!

  2. I love my Kindle, I bought it for myself about a month ago, and it has made reading in bed pleasurable; I never could get comfy and hold a book. It also makes most books cheaper, and I have the added benefit of not falling over piles of books that seem to litter every inch of my home.

    Experimental facilities are exactly that; experimental.

    I dont have a mobile, or a lappy, or an iPod or any similiar device. I have a home buily PC, which I upgrade occasionally, when something breaks, or internet access grinds to a halt. I am not a Luddite, I spent 25 years of my life writing software, but I hate how many of these devices intrude on life, take precedence over human contact, and generally annoy me.

    As for its clinical and non sensual aspects – I decked mine out in a red leather cover that cost a whole £11 on Amazon. It looks very lovely now.

    Happy reading

    x

  3. I think you have to judge the Kindle as an e-reader alone. Quite frankly, I don’t know why they bothered with bells and whistles such as MP3 playing. These are all in the experimental stage at the moment. I suspect that they will be dropped as they are far too clunky and out-dated.
    As most of your dislikes relate to the ‘additional’ features I guess you seem to like the Kindle as an e-reader. The single page thing is obviously an issue for you but I think you may find you will grow used to reading one page at a time.
    Do you normally wear reading glasses? For me the Kindle is great as I do not need to wear them – I just adjust the font size (and type) to suit myself.

  4. Welcome to the world of Kindle.
    One of us. One of Us 🙂

    You make some good points about the Kindle and you’re right, it’s not going to replace printed books, they are very different. However, in certain circumstances, the Kindle is a much better choice.
    Holiday reading, for example, becomes a much lighter affair when you can get all your books into a small device instead of cramming them into your suitcase. And you’ll find that you start trying books you might not have bothered with before thanks to the fantastic sample chapter downloads. That feature alone has saved me a fortune.
    I treat my Kindle as digital pulp book and think of everything on it as disposable. If I find a book that I particularly enjoy, I’ll get the printed version too. That’s what having a Kindle means for me; choice.
    As for the MP3 and web browsing functions, I understand your disappointment. However, I think these functions are there simply because they can be. The Kindle is a computer, after all, and as it’s capable of doing these things, Amazon have decided to let it.
    In the same way, the iPad is great at going on-line, playing games and even word-processing. It CAN be used as an e-reader, but like the Kindle’s MP3 player, it’s almost as if the iPad’s e-book capabilities are a convenience of design. It CAN do it, so Apple let it. But it’s not as good at being an e-reader as a dedicated e-reader is.
    I wouldn’t be too disappointed at the poor performance of the MP3 and web browsing. It comes in handy if it’s all you’ve got but, ultimately, it’s a cracking e-reader.

  5. Hmmm, I’m not a Kindle owner, and none of this makes me want to get one either, although I imagine, given time, I may well do since both of my boys are gadget-freaks. I do have an ipad, but I find the thought of using it for reading is totally unappealing. On the other hand, I like Zoe’s point about reading in bed, that alone is tempting.

    I know e-books appears to be where everything is heading, but I’m an old-fashionned gal. What happens to everything you’ve downloaded if said gadget stops working? And they do stop working on a whim. I have quite a funky phone I got roughly twelve months ago, and it’s on the blink already. I’m very much in agreement with what Viv says about obsolescence. To me our gadgets are yet another feature of our ‘throwaway’ society. I only bought the ipad last November, and already Apple are sending me daily emails encouraging me to buy the new one out shortly. Give me a proper printed book any day.

    Right, now that’s off my chest I’m going back into my cave to read by the light of one of those new-fangled candle things. Bah!!! Time was when….

  6. Interesting. You’ve basically set out my feelings with regard to the Kindle, which is why I’ve resisted any move to furnish me with one from my tech loving hubby. However, I can see that one day I’ll wind up with one – very reluctantly – for the very reason that Zoe sets out. It’s becoming very difficult for me to read in bed, as I’m finding that books are just too heavy. I only get 2-3 pages read and my arms are aching and I have to put it down again. So frustrating.

  7. I have a Sony Reader and I love it. I like having so many books at my fingertips, and I like that I can use it to check e-books out of our library (something the Kindle won’t permit, for some unknown reason), which has cut down on my late fees. There are color e-readers coming out, and some can switch to back-lit. I would love for the schools to switch all the textbooks to electronic ones so my kids didn’t have to lug around their unbelievably heavy backpacks.That’s where all the obsolete e-readers should go – to schools for just that purpose. Now if we could just convince the schools…

    No, they don’t take the place of a printed book. There’s something so nice about seeing both pages at once, as you say, and being able to flip back actual pages, which is so much easier in a real book. And until color is ubiquitous, covers look really blah on e-readers.

    I can actually scribble in the margins of my e-books, but no one else will ever see that.

    All my electronic books need to be backed up, which I haven’t even looked into. But that goes for all computer files.

  8. As technology has made them no more expensive than a printed book I now mostly listen to unabridged audiobooks. After a day staring at a computer screen I was unable to concentrate on anymore reading and the audio format is an answer to that problem.

    What I find interesting is how guilty I feel about it. Why has the printed page become so sacrosanct? When the printing press was invented did people complain that it was not the same as the oral tradition? Would you give a toss if someone enjoyed your work as an audio experience? Why is it okay for blind people to listen to literature but not everyone else? Why is the BBC giving so much time to the cultural elite moaning about the death of the printed page when TV stuck the knife in first?

    And what do you call the action of consuming literature in audio form? I usually still say that I have read the book, but that is because I feel guilty saying that I listened to a book.

  9. Just want to thank everyone for their comments and questions.
    I’ve been unwell(as some of you may have guessed) and the sheer effort of answering comments properly and with due reference has been too much.
    I value all the feedback and thoughts and wish I were able to respond properly.

  10. I don’t have a Kindle, but have used my parents. I like it, but agree with your analysis. That being said, I have an ipad and have taken to buying paper books, then getting the Kindle version and reading on my Kindle app. Tomorrow I am going to try out the Nook reader on ipad, because I want to try it out.

    I love books. I love them a bunch, but reading them in bed, is much harder than flipping the pages on the ipad.

    Thanks for the great review.

    • A thing I have learned in the 3 months since I got mine: I can read on a coach without getting motion sickness. Never could with a paper book.
      Thanks for stopping by, Brian.
      x

  11. I’m still at the stage where I don’t want to read anything other than books. I can understand the convenience if you’re going away, as books add a great deal of weight to your baggage allowance.
    But for me, you can’t beat the shuffle of the page turn, the smell of the paper and as you say, seeing the double page, as I too am a fast reader.
    Great review though Viv, but I still won’t be buying a Kindle! : )

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