The Amazon Kindle: Initial Impressions

July 13, 2010 @ 9:13 pm | Filed under:

To cut to the chase: a Kindle has come into my possession, and I’m surprised to find I adore it. That’s right, Mac-fangirl, iPad-coveting me.

After a mere four days of Kindle use, I find myself eyeing the stacks of books in the TBR pile and wishing I had their digital versions instead.

This feels passing strange, considering how much I love the tactile aspects of a book-book. The intriguing or unsuitable cover, the shush of pages rustling, the crisp words springing up from the page. Font, margin, endpapers: these things I cherish.

But: the Kindle—it’s so slim and smooth in the hand, and one hand is enough. Tap, tap, tap, a single thumb—either thumb, a detail I appreciate—advances the pages. Three chapters into a book about Sudan, I find myself wanting some background; I nudge the little square button and make my way, lightning-quick, to Google or Wikipedia. (How much saner I’d have been had I read the recent Byatt book this way instead.) Dickens makes me laugh, and I want to share the passage with Scott: chk chk, I’ve highlighted the quote and added a note of my own.

The Dickens was free, of course, and easy to find.

Unlike my iPod Touch, I can’t read the Kindle in the dark. But any book I download to the Kindle can be sent to the Touch as well, and there’s a sync function to make sure my bookmark is always in the right spot.

When I first turned the Kindle on, I was disappointed. The contrast is not terrific; the background of the page is gray, not white, not the creamy color my Touch can produce. Oh dear, I thought, this is going to be a bust. My eyes require good contrast. I drive Scott crazy by wearing down my laptop battery with the screen turned always to maximum bright.

But I wasn’t sitting in good light during that first encounter. I upped the font size and moved to a sunny corner, and I could read just fine. Under a lamp or reading light, it’s the same as reading a real book.

(I will always call them real books, you know.)

When I read on my iPod, the device seldom ceases calling attention to itself. I’ve written before about feeling curiously distant from the text of a book-on-iPod. Is it the small screen? The backlighting? Whatever the cause,  I have to concentrate harder. That isn’t happening with the Kindle. The Kindle disappears. There’s just the unfolding story. I’d heard people say that, but I was skeptical. It’s true. It disappears—until the moment I desire its presence. I really love that note-and-highlight function.

The iPod Touch is a brilliant multitasker. You know I love its versatility: mail, web, games, books, language lessons, social networks, videos, good grief is there anything it can’t do? Well, it seems it can’t stop nibbling at my attention, that’s what. I’m reading a book but I know I can do a quick mail check with two taps. Temptations. Distractions.

The Kindle’s web browser is boring black-and-white, not at all tempting. It’s a unitasker, and that’s what this fidgety brain of mine needs in order to focus on a book. A real book is a single-purpose tool. (Unless you count serving as the dominant element of my home’s interior design.)

These are just notes on the honeymoon phase of the Kindle experience. The novelty may wear off quickly; we’ll see. I have all these lovely realbooks here waiting to be read. Real books with no DRM attached—that’s a major strike against the Kindle, when it comes to newer publications, the kind you actually pay for. And of course with a great many children’s books (picture books go without saying), you want to turn real pages, pages your four-year-old can point at and and pore over.

For classics, though? And thinking as a homeschooler? There’s a lot to recommend a cool, slim, ten-ounce tablet that can put any of the Great Books before your children’s eyes in a matter of seconds. As for new books, even if you can’t live with DRM-laden purchases, you gotta love the free download of first chapters to help you decide what to buy, in any form.

Well, we’ll see how long the honeymoon lasts.

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28 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. gardenia says:

    thanks for this review Melissa. I’m just now in process of choosing a kindle or nook or whatever other one is out there.

  2. Wendi Gratz says:

    After traveling for a month around Japan with several pounds of books in tow (what were we thinking!) we’ve decided to get some kind of e-reader. We were tempted by the Kindle (so tempted!) but we’ve decided on the Sony because of the DRM. The dealbreaker for us is that the Kindle won’t read ebooks from the library. Our library is over an hour away and the ability to download a book instantly – and for free! – makes us giddy with excitement.

  3. Hannah says:

    Enlighten my naive self — DRM? Vas ist?

    I am suddenly bombarded with Kindle temptations — possibly because like you, I’m coveting an iPad but it just seems so out of reach right now …

  4. Melissa Wiley says:

    DRM stands for digital rights management. If you buy a book or song (for example) with DRM, the publisher or retailer retains the ability to control your access to the content. If you buy a new Kindle book from Amazon, DRM prevents you from sharing the file with, say, your friend who also has a Kindle. The idea is to protect copyright: it would hurt publishers and authors if you could make digital copies of all your Kindle books and give them to your friends—which is of course a clear violation of copyright law, just as making photocopies of a newer-than-70-years-old book and selling or distributing them would be breaking copyright law—a form of theft.

    Copying digital files is fast and free, and publishers believe DRM is necessary to protect their copyrights. But the existence of DRM means that you, as the consumer, don’t have complete control over your purchase. Amazon has the power to delete all ebook purchases from your Kindle. Is it likely Amazon would ever use that power? No—except in the notable case of a book that got accidentally (or was it?) deleted from the devices of a number of Kindle owners, a year or so ago.

    The book in question? 1984! (That’s why some people wonder if it was indeed an accident…could it have been someone on the inside trying to make a point?)

    If I buy a real book, I can lend it to you. While you have it, I don’t. I can’t do that with a Kindle book purchase. I can download it to up to six devices registered to me—my iPod, my Kindle, my computer, etc. But I can’t lend it to you. Lots of people think Amazon and Apple and Sony and other DRM-using entities ought to at the very least allow for “loans”—a way for me to transfer the digital file from my device to yours and back again, just as we might do with a real book. While you had it, I wouldn’t—so it wouldn’t be like copying the file. But that option does not currently exist.

    Also, because of DRM, you can’t resell your Kindle books. You can’t pass them on to anyone else. Really, your purchase of a DRM-enabled book (or song from iTunes) is more like leasing the item than owning it.

    Publishers and record companies say DRM is necessary to prevent illegal file-sharing. Unfortunately, DRM severely infringes upon the rights of the consumer. It’s a hotly debated topic in publishing and techie circles.

  5. diane says:

    I adore reading books on the Kindle app on the iTouch, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned (and love having a dozen books *in my purse*!). I’ve had Kindle lust for a while, but wasn’t sure I could justify having both…this may have changed my mind.

  6. scott says:

    More DRM info:

    Hey suckers! Did you buy DRM music from Wal*Mart instead of downloading MP3s for free from the P2P networks? Well, they’re repaying your honesty by taking away your music. Unless you go through a bunch of hoops (that you may never find out about, if you’ve changed email addresses or if you’re not a very technical person), your music will no longer be playable after October 9th.

    But don’t worry, this will never ever happen to all those other DRM companies — unlike little fly-by-night mom-and-pop operations like Wal*Mart, the DRM companies are rock-ribbed veterans of commerce and industry, sure to be here for a thousand years. So go on buying your Audible books, your iTunes DRM songs, your Zune media, your EA games… None of these companies will ever disappear, nor will the third-party DRM suppliers they use. They are as solid and permanent as Commodore, Atari, the Soviet Union, the American credit system and the Roman Empire.

    If I recall correctly, Wal-Mart actually backed off this plan soon after this was posted. But the point remains. They could go bye-bye and all your music/books/shows/films goes with ’em.

  7. Sarah E. Mitchell says:

    I just published a book on Kindle, and I turned off the DRM. It is my understanding that it is entirely up to the author and/or publisher whether to have DRM or not (Joe Konrath has been discussing the pros and cons of the choice on his blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing).

    Here’s a link to my eBook:

    Ladies’ Clothing in the 1830’s

  8. Hannah says:

    Thanks guys; I am now enlightened. I’ve wondered about some of those borrowing/lending issues vis a vis the Kindle and other readers; just didn’t know the acronym involved.

    I currently get most of my reading material from the library, and really wish it had some sort of lending system for e-readers.

  9. Sarah E. Mitchell says:

    I don’t write for the children’s market, but it seems to me that eventually kid’s ebooks will catch on when there is a device that will stand up to what kids can dish out, abuse-wise, and is appealing to them (which probably means full color).

    I know that some small children’s publishers had to shut down due to the CPSIA regulations enacted last year, because they couldn’t afford to comply with the regulations for printed books. It would be wonderful if small publishers of kids’ books could come back through ebooks.

  10. Katya says:

    I’ve had my Kindle for about 6 months now and I still love it! It was a lifesaver when we were in Oz because books there are crazy-expensive and I was going into reading withdrawl. 🙂

  11. Melissa Wiley says:

    Sarah, I’ve seen children’s books and comic books on the iPad, and the art is stunning on that screen. Lush, rich, wonderful. So I do see a future there…but yes, as you say, they’ll have to develop a somewhat sturdier tablet.

  12. KC says:

    This is interesting. Hmmm….I’ve enjoyed using my iPhone to read on the Kindle app, but the backlighting is killing my eyes. I don’t want to be in bifocals yet!

    Anyway, I’ve been vacillating between a Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook. I need to find someone who has the Nook and find out his impressions from a serious book reader point of view.

    Thanks, Lissa!

  13. MelanieB says:

    Your last point about homeschooling and great books available on demand will probably eventually sell me on an e-reader of some sort. (My sister adores her Kindle too, and if they would just nix the DRM, I think I’d be fine with it. Dom covets the iPad.)

    I just can’t see reading classics on the laptop and yet there are so many wonderful titles floating about out there in the public domain that I know we’ll want to take advantage of. But I may hold off for a few years until it becomes a real concern. Right now we just read picture books (except for Sophie’s nap time read aloud of The Wind in the Willows.)

  14. Jill says:

    I am so jealous! At first, I thought I was content with the iPod Touch Kindle app – but it is not a book, for the all reasons you stated. However, I look at my shelves with all the unread books, and then wonder if I can afford the $9.99 for a new set of books…..sigh.

    I’m off to go buy a couple of lottery tickets….

  15. Melissa Wiley says:

    Jill: I HEAR YOU. Re the shelves of unread books.

    I’d like to take the Nook for a test drive. I’d like to take them ALL for a test drive, all these new readers catapulting into the market.

    The Kindle is the only one you can read NetGalley galleys on at present, which gives it, for me, the advantage over the others in terms of usefulness. And the free wireless connection is a marvel.

  16. Heather says:

    I’ve never been surprised with a gift by my husband. Even his proposal of marriage was leaked early by his grandmother’s caretaker, who told me to let him know that the jeweler had called. Every birthday, Christmas, anniversary, he tries so hard to surprise me. But bless him, he’s so transparent. I always guess. I try not to let on, but I always guess. My birthday is a few months off and my husband has been grinning and hinting about my gift, saying I won’t guess this time.

    I caught my man reading this post (the last thing I had read which I left open on the screen), and when I asked why (he’s not a blog reader), he turned red and mumbled something about being curious about the Kindle. It was as if seven years fell away and I was standing there telling him the ring was ready to be picked up.

    He was right, by the way, I would never have guessed this one.

  17. Melissa Wiley says:

    LOL! I love it! He sounds like a sweetheart.

  18. Barbara says:

    As an FYI if you keep loving the Kindle, there are several accessories you can buy for it that will enhance your experience. I have a case that contains a really nice booklight because one of my main issues with it was not being able to read in the dark/low light. I have one of the M-Edge cases (the Platform, although there are several nice ones) and the e-Luminator book light.

    I got my Kindle almost a year ago and have loved it. I do buy some books, but there are a lot of good free ones as well.

  19. Sarah E. Mitchell says:

    At the Barnes & Noble near us, they have (or at least they had a few months ago) a Nook on display that you could play with, so anyone considering buying one might want to check that out. And, if I understand correctly, once you buy a Nook and are on the premises of Barnes & Noble, you can read any book in the Nook catalog for free. I can imagine a lot of people will be hanging out at the stores!

    There are reports that Nintendo will release an eBook reader soon — maybe it will be geared more for kids?

  20. Wendi Gratz says:

    Hannah – most public libraries DO have a lending system for e-books. The dominant format seems to be EPUB which Kindle won’t read – but I think all the other readers will. I KNOW the Sony reader will – that’s the #1 reason we chose it.

  21. Penny in VT says:

    I want one. My only fear is the device crashing and losing all those wonderful reads. Or worse, becoming obsolete.

    Maybe I need to live in the now and just enjoy the thing.

    Once I get it, of course.

    LOL Thanks Lissa 🙂

  22. Melissa Wiley says:

    Penny, a nice thing about the Kindle is that all your book purchases are linked to your Amazon account, so if something were to happen to the device, you could download them from your archives onto a replacement Kindle, or your iPod, or even your computer.

    Anyone know if that’s the case for B&N’s Nook as well?

  23. Penny in VT says:

    Thanks Lissa, that’s good to know.

    I appreciate all your good work in finding such a lovely toy for *me*…

  24. Melissa Wiley says:

    Ah, well, just doing my duty, ma’am. 😉

  25. Sarah Reinhard says:

    Ah, I am HIGHLY intrigued by this. I just had my first experience with an iPad and thought I was sold. Now you have me rethinking all the things that had me thinking one of the e-readers was better (no Touch for me…no wifi out here in the boonies).

  26. Jennifer says:

    Can you do a follow up post just for me? My husband was thinking Mother’s Day but decided to wait for a thumbs up. I’m still on the fence.

  27. Melissa Wiley says:

    LOL—I just saw in my stats that someone was looking for “melissa wiley kindle” and I thought, ooh, I should do a follow-up to say how much I adore it.

    So: I’ll splain in more detail later but for now my quickie answer is I am absolutely crazy about my Kindle. I’m in no danger of purging the paper books from this library we live in 😉 but truth be told, I’d rather read on the Kindle these days than any other way. 1) Can make the font big as my grumblegrumble eyes need. 2) Can easily make notes and mark quotes without having to tote my pen & notebook around. 3) Can search within the text, pop up a dictionary definition right on the page, or click to Google/Wikipedia to look up something related to the text (though I seldom do that latter—but I look up words in the built-in dictionary frequently). 4) Free sample chapters! This has become my favorite way to keep track of new books I want to read—I send the sample to the Kindle. 5) Many, many classics are free. 6) So slim & light! No lying in bed with a big bulky hardcover library book that smacks me in the nose when I fall asleep. 7) Dozens of books in my purse at any given moment. 8) Can sync with my cellphone and read on that if I want, and the Kindle knows what page I’m on when I switch back.

    That’s just off the top of my head. Yeah, I’m hooked. I still love BOOKS, the codex kind—the scent, the rustle, the jacket, the flip, the lovely way they fill my shelves. But I have found that I actually (to my shock) prefer to read on the Kindle.

  28. Jennifer says:

    Thanks Lissa! I was your googler. I appreciate your response particularly since I remember your initial wonderings. This is all great info. If nothing else, I’m a little afraid of how much more money I might spend on books. Though I could spend a lifetime reading classics and probably be happy.