Updated: May 23, 2015

Amazon Kindle Review

We live in an interesting time, where technology and electronics are combining to change entire industries (think CDs and music albums vs. Apple iTunes now being the #1 music retailer in the US). One piece of technology that has managed to remain relatively untouched since the middle ages is the printed book. Get some paper, print text on it with ink, bind the pages together and place a cover on it -- you have a book. While most books are now printed and formatted electronically, the end result is much the same as it was 500 years ago. And all the talk of "paperless" this and that has never really happened, as most of us remain buried in a variety of paper. Ahhh... but then there is the promise of the electronic book, ebook, digital book, whatever you want to call it. Imagine having a small electronic device that allowed you to carry around and read a pile of books, newspapers, etc. Sony has tried this for a number of years with limited success (but then again, Sony is one of those companies that seems to make EVERYTHING under the sun). Sony calls theirs "The Reader Digital Book" and it sells for $299. It's a decent product, but it has never really caught on in big numbers.


Now joining the electronic book game is Amazon. Amazon you say? They don't design and build electronics, do they? Well now they do. Amazon launched the Kindle in late 2007, in an attempt to provide a seamless reading envirorment (selling you the machine and the electronic books to fill it up with). In this guide we will take a look at how the Kindle works, whether this version 1.0 of the Kindle is worth buying, how much the Kindle costs, what kinds of books and materials are available for the Kindle, and much more.

What is a Kindle? How does the Kindle Work?

The Kindle is an electronic book reader. As they call it, "a new wireless reading device". It sells for $349, available only from Amazon (browse the Kindle store now and check lowest prices..). It weighs just over 10 ounces and is kind of halfway between a paperback and a hardback book in terms of size (though much thinner and lighter). How big is the Kindle? The physical dimensions of the Kindle are 7.5" x 5.3" x 0.7". The front of the device is dominated by a 6" E-ink "electronic paper" display, featuring 4 color grayscale print and 600x800 pixel resolution. The bottom quarter of the front contains a keyboard. Unlike the iPhone, this screen is NOT a touch screen. There is a scroll-wheel on the right side for highlighting and selecting from menus, and large buttons on either side for moving back and forth between pages. Given the single screen layout of the Kindle vs. the normal double page book layout, you will find yourself changing pages twice as often, and the slight delay (about 1 second) may bother you, but overall a little thumb click is easier that flipping pages by hand, and you no longer have to worry about holding a book open or juggling the big half and the small half of a book as you work your way through it. The main home screen displays the contents of your Kindle. Unfortunately, you cannot set up your own folders or sorting or organization method, which a number of people complain about. However, I find it easy enough to find what I am looking for sorted either by date or name. Speaking of the screen, the Kindle screen is more like an LCD screen than the backlit computer or laptop screen you might be used to. This means you can't see it in low-light conditions -- it reflects light and looks more like a piece of paper, so it works fine in bright outdoor light or normal indoor light -- just no backlighting. And there is no color - just black and white grayscale, which is perfect for viewing text documents. Overall, nearly everyone raves about the readability of the screen - no problems with eye-strain, no problems with reading for hours and hours on end. Plus you can adjust the font size with the touch of a button -- something you can't do with a paper book. If you want to see how all the buttons work, check out the PDF Kindle User Guide available on the Amazon site. On the back of the Kindle you'll find 2 slider switches for turning it on and off, and turning wireless on and off. There is also a speaker, allowing the Kindle to play Audible audiobooks. A rubbery back cover hides the battery compartment and the SD memory card slot, and it give you a nice grip on the Kindle and keeps it from sliding around on smooth surfaces. Along the bottom edge of the Kindle is a headphone jack, USB port, charge indicator light, power jack, and volume control. Overall, the Kindle is very solidly built. In fact, they have drop test videos on the website showing it being dropped at all different angles -- you can see the frame and screen flex and twist, but Kindle survives! I wouldn't want to get it wet, and I'd be a little leery of taking it to the beach with wind and sand blowing (guess REAL books are still good for something!), but it stands up well to everyday use and minor abuse.

Buying Books, Newspapers, and Magazines for the Kindle? How much do they cost? Kindle Store

The Kindle comes with 256MB of built in memory storage (about 180MB is available for you to use) for holding your digital content (as an example, one Kindle download book takes up about 3MB, so you could hold about 60 books in the available built-in memory). Additionally, you can pop in an SD memory card (up to 4GB), letting you easily expand your storage to hundreds of books for just $20-$50 extra. So what kind of stuff can you load onto the Kindle, and how does it get there? This is a wireless device, and Amazon has made an interesting choice to connect it via the Sprint EVDO cellular network. So no wires, no connecting to a computer, no looking for a WiFi hotspot. Pretty much anywhere you are that has cellular access, you can connect and browse and purchase new electronic books, and they are wirelessly downloaded to your Kindle in about 1 minute. Maybe you are browsing books at an airport book store -- just grab a seat at the gate, open up your Kindle, and get NY Times bestsellers on your machine in 60 seconds for $9.99. This wireless delivery is built into the purchase price - you don't need a cellphone contract or special data plan or anything else. If you have a Kindle, you have free lifetime wireless access and delivery. So what can you download and buy? First off is books -- they carry over 100,000 titles, including about 90% of the NY Times Bestseller list at any given time. Most new releases and best sellers go for $9.99 -- some books are a little more, some less. And keep in mind that there are way more than 100,000 books out there, meaning a lot of titles you might be interested in will not be available in Kindle format. That was another common complaint we heard from users - couldn't always get what they wanted in electronic format. One nice feature on these ebook downloads is that you can download the first chapter or two for free, see if you like it, then buy the full book - no obligation. This comes in really handy and lets you weed out a lot of lemons. Also, Amazon remembers all the books you have purchased, so you can delete one to make room for more, then go back and download it again if and when you want it -- no extra charge. And you can shop and buy books on your computer using your regular Amazon.com account, and the Kindle books you buy will show up... you guessed it, on your Kindle. Beyond books, many daily newspapers are available for the Kindle: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Investor's Business Daily, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury, Denver Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Atlanta Journal Constitution. Most of these range from $5-$10 per month, while the NY Times is $14/month. Newspaper subscriptions all come with a free 2 week trial so you can see how they read and work on the Kindle before buying. As long as you keep the wireless access turned on, these papers will show up automatically each morning on your machine. There are also a handful of magazines also available in Kindle format: Newsweek, Time, Readers Digest, Fortune, The Atlantic, Forbes, The Nation, are the big names. Most of these are about $1.50 per month. You can also use an email service to send other electronic documents to yourself for 10 cents each - MS Word files, text files, HTML files, and PDF files in "experimental mode", meaning they may not display perfectly on the Kindle.

Kindle Battery

Unlike so many Apple products, the Kindle actually has a replaceable battery, and it costs only $20 (available at Amazon.com). So if your battery dies you don't have to throw away the Kindle or send it away to get the battery replaced -- just order a new one and pop out the old one. When it comes to battery life, wireless access is what uses most of the battery power, just like in a cellphone. So if you have your books loaded and don't need wireless newspaper delivery or anything else, just turn off the wireless switch on the back of the Kindle. With wireless on, you will need to charge the Kindle batteries every day or two. With it off, you can probably read for 5-10 days without worrying about the battery, as the non-backlit screen just does not consume much power. To charge the battery, just plug it into the power cord and let it sit for about 2 hours -- you'll be fully charged and ready to go after that.

Kindle Complaints

OK, so the Kindle is a pretty neat product, but nothing is perfect, right? So what are the biggest complaints we here from Kindle users, and from ourselves? Let's categorize these in two groups -- actual complaints about the product, and complaints about how the Kindle is different from a regular book. A few product complaints we've already mentioned above -- not all book titles are available in Kindle format, meaning you can't always get what you want. Some people think the big page turn buttons get in the way, and you accidentally change pages whenever you grab the edge of the Kindle (this just takes some getting used to in our opinion, not a big deal). Some people think the screen refreshes too slowly when you change pages. Another common beef is the web browser -- it is not very good, not very fast. True enough on both counts, but this thing isn't meant to be a laptop for surfing the web at high speed, it is a book reader, and the browser function is just good enough to buy your books from the Kindle site and for looking up info in Wikipedia. In the category of "hey, books are better", common complaints include no longer having a physical copy of the book to display on a shelf, lend to a friend, give to a library, use as a doorstop -- the digital copy exists only in electrons, and you can't use it or access it except on your Kindle. I personally enjoy sharing my favorite book finds with family and friends -- passing along a book for others to enjoy is part of what makes books great, and I miss not being able to do this on the Kindle (instead, I'm forced to buy (for a second time) physical copies of books I really enjoy, and already bought once in Kindle format, to give as gifts). Also, you can't view pictures and color photos like you can in a book, and even simple B&W newspaper photos don't look very good on the Kindle screen. So how about prices? Both for books and for the Kindle. I can see paying $15 for a printed copy of a book, one that I can share with others. And $10 for an electronic copy is not bad, but come on -- it costs NOTHING to produce and sell another electronic copy -- no shipping fees, no warehouse fees, no printing fees, NOTHING!! I'd like to see e-books priced at $3 or something, maybe $5. And the price of the Kindle itself compared to a book is obviously very high. There is not much in the way of expensive electronics in this thing - a price of $99 would be terrific, of maybe $199 with a $100 credit towards your first book purchases. $300+ is a lot to spend for an empty reading machine. And of course in time most electronic prices come down significantly, so maybe in 2009 or 2010 we'll see this thing selling for $149 or something -- let's hope so.

Kindle Conclusion

At this point, we would mostly recommend the Kindle for avid book readers who don't like lugging around piles of books, who enjoy browsing for books and reading reviews from Amazon, and who have $300-$400 that they can afford to spend on a "gadget". As a reading tool, we really enjoy using it and have mostly praise for this first version. I imagine future versions will have improved screens, storage, and battery life, and probably double as music players as well as Amazon moves more into the DRM-free digital music business. And eventually there will probably be a better way to share books (ie, maybe paying $1 per extra copy for books you have already bought, allowing you to share with say 5 other registered Kindle users). The reading experience really is quite excellent apart from sometimes pushing the page turn buttons by mistake, and for most people, once they start using a Kindle, they don't want to go back to the old fashioned world of heavy, paper books. Once the price drops below $150-$200, we think this could be a great device for all readers.