Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Review of the Amazon Kindle

The Kindle is an digital ebook reader made by Amazon. As of this writing, it boasts an offering of over 600,000 titles available in digital format through Amazon.com. The question is, Is it worth it? The purpose of this review is to offer my feedback on the device, assess its strengths and weaknesses, and share how I have found it useful.

What it does.
I won't go into too much detail about what it does - you can see the Kindle site for more detailed info. However, the Kindle is designed for the main purpose of being a lightweight and useful ebook reader. It does this very well, in my estimation. It allows you to adjust text size, page margins, make bookmarks, highlights, notes, and purchase books via free wireless network access. Other features include the ability to look at basic web pages (text-based is best), listen to Mp3s, view PDFs and documents, post highlights to Twitter and Facebook, and listen to the book via the text-to-speech feature. The battery life goes a long way, some 10 or more days if you are not using wireless.


What I like about it.
Portability. It is a lot easier to carry a pencil-thin Kindle around in a nice leather cover than, say, a bulky Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology.
Carry lots of books. Not only can you carry large reference books (with the ability to search), but you can carry a thousand or more books on the device. Very handy if you are a reader who has multiple books going at one time.
Easy to read. You can read it easily as the display is crisp and clear - sort of like paper reading. You can even read in direct sunlight with no glare. Perhaps one of the better features is the ability to adjust text size and spacing between lines. Often times heavier philosophy books (tree versions) are formatted with the text so dense that you get discouraged just looking at it, not to mention the difficulty reading densely formatted lines of text. The Kindle is great for those sorts of books.
Free books. There are many titles that you can get for free -- or at least super cheap. 99cents could get you Summa Theologica or Augustine's Confessions. Or, you can convert your own PDF books for reading on the device.
Text to speech. This is my favorite, as it reads the book to you. Being an audio junkie, this is supremely helpful in powering through books by means of recording them onto the computer and then porting them to the iPod Touch. Instant audiobooks -- and the voice is way better than I had hoped for. Just don't try to convert logic books or very technical texts. It can get a little weird.
Synchronization. This is very handy, as I had previously been reading all my Kindle titles on the iPod (iPhone app here). The benefit with the sync feature is that wherever you have left off in the book will automatically be synced on your other devices: iPod, iPhone, Kindle, PC app, Mac app, Blackberry, Android, etc. In addition, whatever notes or highlights you have made will also carry over to your other devices. Now you can keep on plodding through your books whenever you have a few free minutes with your portable device.
Price of regular books. Most of the books you get from Amazon are going to be cheaper if you get the Kindle version. In addition, they get delivered within the minute. This saves money and saves space when traveling. It also saves space on your bookshelf.

What I don't like about it.
The fact is, "real" books can't be replaced. They have a texture, a smell, an aesthetic that cannot be replicated digitally. With a real book you can scan through it quickly, you can make it your own by writing, highlighting, etc. You can't replace that. Some books are better in their tree versions than their e-versions.

What pushed me over the edge.
I didn't think I would be able to write notes and make highlights in ebooks. However, Amazon has actually made this into a great feature. I can now log into my Kindle notes on the web and see all my highlights and notes for all my Kindle books online, with the added ability of copying and pasting notes and text. This feature helped push me over the edge. But it wasn't enough.

The price was a big concern. I didn't want to pay a lot of money for another 'device.' However, a gift certificate or two helped push me over the edge. However, looking back and knowing what I now know, I would probably get a Kindle anyway if I didn't have the gift certificates.

Finally, the feature that made the Kindle a 'must-have' device for me was the text-to-speech feature. There is just too little time to sit and read for me, and having the ability to make audiobook versions of the ebooks is superb. This has allowed me to go through Reasonable Faith for the fourth time - and it was worth the listen after having already read it. If there was no text-to-speech feature, I wouldn't have gotten the device. It is still a superb tool even without text-to-speech, but this feature alone pushed me over the edge.

Verdict: My experience of the Amazon Kindle has been great. If you are looking for the kind of features outlined above, I don't think you will be disappointed if you decide to invest in one. It is a useful tool. If used well it won't distract you from reading, but will actually help you have a better reading experience and help you read and learn more -- and that's the goal.

7 comments :

Henry Middleton said...

I have read speculation that tablets will replace eReaders. What do you think?

Brian said...

I suppose it depends on price. I don't think eReaders will go away if they are cheaper.

Greg said...

Can you explain how you get the Kindle book converted to an audio file (mp3?) that can then be put on an iPod? That sounds like a great feature, but I'm not sure how to accomplish it. Great website by the way!

Brian said...

Greg,

What I do is run a line from the headphone output of Kindle to the line-in of the iMac. Then use an audio program (in this case, Audiohijack pro) to record the incoming signal to mp3 format. You can break it into 15minute increments or whatever within the audio recording program.

Once you have recorded what you want, then drop the mp3s into iTunes, select them all, open up "info" for them and change their properties to audiobook or podcast. This allows for automatic bookmarking (like an audiobook or podcast would on your ipod or within iTunes).

One other element I think is handy is using a smart playlist with rules that automatically remove played audiofiles. That way, whenever I open my 'audiobook' playlist, all that is in it is the unplayed files and not the ones I have finished.

Henry Middleton said...

I heard there will be a new Kindle this year. Does anyone know anything about it?

Skylar said...

I know this post is old, but I am considering a Kindle 3G. I have heard that the Kindle is not that great when it comes to referencing books because it does not provide page numbers. Is this true? What are your thoughts? Thanks!

Brian Auten said...

The newer firmware shows page numbers. Things have improved quite a bit. The page numbers aren't always perfectly accurate, but much more useful nevertheless.

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