Product Type: Amazon Tablet PCs / eBook Readers
Newest Review: ... to read. I really started to appreciate the value of my kindle when I went on holiday for 2 weeks to Turkey. Usually, on a 2 week long laz... more
Kindle a Passion for Reading
Amazon Kindle 2
Member Name: SWSt
Amazon Kindle 2
Advantages: Great screen and battery life, very portable and well designed
Disadvantages: Set-up can be problematic, screen flicker can be annoying, slow wireless
(Note: I appreciate this is quite a long review, so I've tried to split it down into various sections in case you are just interested in one particular thing)
Until recently I was a bit ambivalent about the Amazon Kindle and e-book readers in general. On the one hand, I can see the appeal of having lots of books available at the touch of a button; on the other I like a "proper" book and the idea of reading everything on a screen doesn't hold quite the same appeal. Still, as Mrs SWSt will tell you, I'm a bit of a gadget freak, so when I had the chance to get my hands on a second generation Kindle, I jumped at the chance.
Size and Weight aren't Everything
The device is about the same dimensions of a paperback book in terms of height and weight, although it is a lot thinner. It is highly portable (I carried it around in my bag for several days and noticed no difference from carrying a standard book). This makes it ideal for taking away on holiday with you, since you can store lots of different books on it, without having to increase the weight of your luggage beyond the basic weight of the Kindle itself. I'm not sure of the exact capacity of the Kindle since I tend to delete read titles on a regular basis, but it's certainly capable of holding dozens, if not hundreds of books.
Thanks to its compact size, the device is very comfortable to hold and is little different from the way you would hold a book. It also feels pretty robust and although I wouldn't like to try dropping it, it certainly feels solid enough to withstand a few knocks and bumps, although I would recommend getting a cover for it to give it some extra protection and avoid getting it too scratched.
Buttons, Buttons Everywhere
First impressions are that the device looks quite complicated and there appear to be a lot of buttons. Thankfully, these are all clearly labelled and laid out in a logical fashion. The buttons you will use the most (Next/Previous page and Home buttons) are positioned where your fingers will naturally fall when holding the device like a standard book, so pressing them is easy. For the most part, I have also found them to be very responsive, with two exceptions. With two exceptions, they are also quite responsive and easy to use.
The first problem comes with a small joystick type switch which is used to navigate your way through some menus or text. This can be a little fiddly to use as you need to exert exactly the right amount of pressure to get it to do what you want. This is also true of the On/Off switch. This is a slider which has a couple of functions. When the Kindle is On, sliding it quickly to the right sends the device into Sleep mode to preserve the battery. On the other hand, sliding and holding it for four seconds (according to the instructions) switches the device off. In reality, I found that you sometimes had to hold this slider for a lot longer than 4 seconds and there were several times when I only succeeded in sending it into Sleep mode.
A small keyboard underneath the screen can be used to add notes to your books. On the Kindle 2, the keys on this are very small and fiddly to use, and anyone with fat fingers might as well just not bother. It's just about OK if you want to type very short notes, but I wouldn't want to try inputting large amounts of text using this. Indeed, it's noticeable that on the Kindle 3 (the latest version) this keyboard is a lot bigger.
The most essential part of the Kindle, obviously, is the screen which is used to display your books. I was really impressed by the clarity and quality of this. Text stands out well against the grey background with no graininess or blurring to the edges and is very easy to read - faithfully recreating the experience of reading a printed book. I was also pleasantly surprised how well it worked in direct sunlight and it is just as readable in the brightest of conditions as it is in normal light (essential if you are plan on taking it on the beach!)
The screen does have some disadvantages when compared with printed books. It is quite a bit smaller than standard page, which means less text can be fitted on at once. This makes books appear a lot longer, which can be a bit disheartening when you realise how much you still have left to read! For example, one book I read was 400 pages in its printed format; the Kindle equivalent had over 1,000 "pages". Of course, this is psychological since the overall word count is the same, but it does take a bit of getting used to.
There is a more practical issue, however, since it means you have to "turn the page" much more frequently. On some longer reading sessions, I have sometimes found that my finger has started to ache from having to press the Next Page button so regularly. Mrs SWSt also found the audible click irritating when pressing the button. In addition, when "turning a page", the screen flickers briefly as the text changes. Mrs SWSt found this so annoying that it actually rendered the device unusable for her, although personally I find it very easy to tune out.
On the downside, I didn't find the screen quite as restful on the eyes as a normal book and was a little self-conscious when reading it in public, because I was worried people might think that I was showing off (this, of course, will change as the devices become more common). It's also not a good idea to read it in the bath - as a serial bath-book-dropper, this is a serious drawback as I like nothing more than a nice long soak in the bath with a good book. Trust me, Kindle + bath + SWSt = disaster.
Registration and Setting Up
When it comes to setting up the Kindle, I have to say that it could have been easier. In fairness this might in part be because mine was a second hand one that had already been used and it may be that a new one is a lot more straightforward.
The first part of the registration process is straightforward and requires you to link your Kindle to your Amazon account so that you can buy books - a simple case of entering your Amazon username and password.
For me, the issue came when I tried to connect to the Kindle store to buy a book. It kept telling me that there was no wireless connection available (despite the device showing it was receiving a strong single), that an update to the software was needed and this would be applied the next time the device went into Sleep mode and a wireless connection was present.
No matter what I tried, the Kindle refused to download and install this update. I tried switching it on and off (that old IT favourite!), resetting it to factory defaults and everything else I could think of. Eventually, I succeeded in getting the Kindle patched via a very convoluted method which involved downloading the update to my PC, copying the file across to the Kindle, locating it on the Kindle and installing it via one of the more hidden menu options. This didn't give a great first impression and for someone who is not technically confident, would be almost impossible.
Buy, Buy, Buy!
Buying a book via the Kindle Store is very straightforward (once you've managed to get your device registered!). Books are well organised so that you can browse titles in various categories (thriller, romance etc.) or search for a known title or author. In common with the main Amazon site, once a list of matches is found, you can find out more about individual titles before you buy them. Downloading is a simple case of clicking the Buy button which charges the book against your default Amazon payment method and downloads it for instant use. (Files can also be downloaded to your PC and then copied across to your Kindle, although this more convoluted). So far I have experienced no problems with failed downloads or corrupted files.
You do need to be a little careful with the price of books, as they sometimes seem a little arbitrary. The Kindle edition of some titles is much cheaper than their printed equivalent, whilst some are the same price or even more expensive, which seems a little strange given that there are no/lower print/distribution costs associated. It's up to you, of course, but I tend to use my Kindle to buy books which a) are cheaper buying the print version and b) are titles I will only want to read once. If it's a book I'm likely to want to read time and time again, I still prefer the physical format.
The built in wireless and 3G (3G is only available on the more expensive models) and longer books can sometimes take a while to download. However, this is not particularly an issue since you can continue using the Kindle (including reading another text) whilst your purchase downloads. It can, however, be a little frustrating as navigating the Kindle Store is quite slow and searching can take a while. It's also worth noting that the wireless and 3G can only be used to connect to the Kindle Store, not for general web surfing.
Software and Interface
The built-in software is very well-designed and makes it easy to navigate around books, find particular words or add your own notes. There's even a built in dictionary which allows you to check out definitions of unfamiliar words. Once you have got the hang of the basic controls, using the software is very intuitive.
Crucially, it is also quick. The first time you open a new e-book takes around 30 seconds, whilst moving onto the next page takes around 1-2 seconds no longer than it might take you to turn the page in a normal book.
Menus are also logically arranged, with different options appearing, according to the screen you are on. This does mean that initially the full functionality is a little hidden until you have explored all the menu options available from different screens. However, they are logically arranged and you quickly get used to what options are available from where. All in all, the Kindle software is easy to use and designed in such a way that the options you will need most are instantly accessible from most screens.
Battery life is superb. I fully expected it to be recharging it on a regular basis - at least once a week, if not more. In fact, reading for at least 2 hours on a daily basis, I found it needed recharging about once every fortnight. Amazon claim you can even extend the battery life to several months if you turn the wireless off (since this is only needed when you want to download a book) although I've not tried this, so can't confirm this. The good thing is that if you want to take this device on holiday with you, you can charge it up before you go and may not need to pack your charger, which is handy.
For all I like the Kindle, I still like a good old-fashioned printed book and as noted above, I tend to buy books on the Kindle which I'm only likely to read once, and which are cheaper to buy in this format. Despite its obvious advantages, I'm not yet ready to move entirely into the world of e-books.
The new Kindle 3 (which is an upgraded version of this device) costs about £115 for the wireless version and £155 for wireless and 3G; this Kindle 2 can be picked up for around £30-4 less now. Of course in some regards, that's not particularly cheap when you think of how many physical books (particularly second hand ones) you could get for that sort of money. If you do most of your reading at home, I'd suggest the Kindle would not be a worthwhile investment. If you travel a lot, though, or want something portable to take on holiday, it's a fantastic way of carrying around hundreds of books at once.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: Well worth considering if you read a lot on the move
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