Sunday, March 09, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: Review of the Kindle
Publishing Executive Magazine
This is a review of the Kindle Epaper reading device. There are by necessity two parts to this review - the review of the Kindle and the review of the Epaper. If I were reviewing a new state-of-the-art MP3 player, I wouldn't have to describe to you the inherent value and functionality of music, what it is and what it does - you already know. Everybody is familiar with music and it requires no descriptors on my part. Not so with epaper and epaper devices. Both are new to the public and both require understanding and explanation.
I have read three novels, two magazines and one newspaper on the Kindle. (I thought a page-turning series of an original pulp fiction giant was the right choice for reviewing an Epaper device. I chose Edger Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series. Mr. Burroughs was a product of his time and, as such, was clearly a racist and a staunch sexist. But those attributes aside, he could sure tell a fanciful and exciting story.) My reactions to the three publishing types are as follows:
The Ebook experience is excellent and enjoyable. It was book like and yet had features that no book has.
The Enewspaper experience was fair. With a newspaper the expected visuals, photos and charts were non existent and that colored my reading and my expectations.
The Emagazine was a complete flop. All that was delivered was straight text in ebook format. What distinguishes a magazine from other formats, among other attributes, is the design element. The Kindle magazine experience is completely devoid of style and design. This is either an oversight by Amazon or just plain uninformed laziness. I will assume that they received appropriate XML files from the magazine publisher, which should contain all the elements of proper magazine and page construction. Just a little more effort on someone's part and the magazine reading experience would have been better. Now is the time for publishers to start to strategize how they will reconstitute their franchise into a pleasant epaper experience.
Epaper in this device exceeded my expectations. Epaper, just like real paper, does not have under-panel, background lighting. In fact it has no light emission at all. It works on the ambient light or reflective light available in the room you are in just like real paper. The refresh rate or the time it takes to change pages is no longer and perhaps quicker then the time it takes to turn a traditional page. The type was crisp and wonderfully variable. With the ease of two flicks I had a range of font sizes at my command. The substrate background was acceptable, but could be brighter and whiter, more in line with the Sony Ereader.
The bottom line in this review of the Epaper experience is a resounding success, and it will only continue to get better.
The rest of the tale is the actual functionality of the machine called a Kindle. This, too, will improve over time and is not a bad submit for a first edition. But I do have some issues with the design and instrumentality. Unlike some other reviewers, I did not find the Kindle ugly, but neither is it of a completely compelling design like the iPod. The Kindle comes with a quaint querty keyboard that was easy to use and necessary to have for the purchase of titles while on the road. It also comes equipped with a nice pocket book sized 6-inch E-ink display, 256MB of internal memory, which they say and I believe, holds 200 books. It is also equipped with an easy to reach scroll wheel and a standard mini USB port. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack, SD slot for extended external memory, and is connected for downloads via cell towers that transmit data over a network called EV-DO data. I am being specific about the data delivery because in my case I live in a rural area of New York. Here I have spotty cell service, but no EV-DO data, so in order to get my Ebooks delivered via the data network, I had to drive 13 miles to a town with greater population and therefore greater cell service. Once in range, the 5 books I ordered downloaded in seconds.
Another great feature is the inboard dictionary. At any time you can use the scroll wheel to highlight a sentence and the dictionary provides you with information about any complex words on that line. It was both useful and functionally easy. You wouldn't believe it but John Carter of Mars has an even more extensive vocabulary than Bosacks. I kid you not.
I have two major gripes about the Kindle. In the designers' zeal to make it easy to turn pages, they made it too easy. There is little room on either side of the kindle to hold the Ereader comfortably without accidentally changing pages either forward or backward. This made for an annoying experience of continually having to flip back. The other area of needed improvement was the leather cover/carrying case. The Kindle is not secured in the case. It just rests there and slides out much too easily. Call it paranoia if you like, but I was constantly worried that this $400 plastic device was going to drop out of the case and drop on the floor with a crunch from it and a yowl from me.
With all that said. I loved the overall experience of Epaper and this new device. I would bet that the revised version will fix all the mechanical idiosyncrasies, and I will be more than happy to report on that when it becomes available. But right now the Kindle version 1 is sold out, and that bodes well for Amazon and the fledgling Ebook industry.