Yesterday I received an Amazon Kindle. It came as an unexpected gift from a band of extremely kind folks, over the top but certainly appreciated. I spent some time yesterday evening reading on the device.
Background: I'm a voracious reader. I like playing with technology. I am not usually an early-adopter when it comes to gadgets. I'm involved in a good deal of website usability work at RKG, so I'm highly attuned to user interface design.
My review: two thumbs up.
The Kindle works simply, and it simply works. That is high praise from a UI geek.
Spolsky says, "Something is usable when it behaves exactly as expected." A high bar, and even higher when applied to a new category of device where user conventions aren't established. The Kindle easily beats it.
So what have I been reading? Yesterday I picked up Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres (even though I already own the hardback!) and Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: The Story of Clif Bar by Gary Erickson.
I read into the evening and am halfway through Raising the Bar. (Excellent book -- recommended.) That's roughly 150 conventional pages. No problems with eye strain, no problems with learning or using the UI.
Arthur C. Clarke observed that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Clarke was right, but here's Alan's Corollary to Clarke's Third Law: we've become so anesthetized by the rapid pace of technological evolution that
Clarke's "magic" fades to commonplace in 5 minutes.
Really. The Kindle is an absolutely incredible technological feat on many levels. The display is really good. It is mind blowing to think about the breadth of its library.
I showed the device to about a dozen people yesterday. Most had never heard of the Kindle until I handed it to them. All have found the Kindle amazing, remarkable, even magical.
And after each person played with it for several minutes, by the end of that short interval, each fully accepted the whole idea -- that is, an electronic reading device with sharp digital ink with wireless access and one-click shopping and 200 on-board books -- to be utterly normal and commonplace. Within minutes. Wow.
Here are my impressions of the device, in no particular order.
Kindle Elements Which Work Really Well
- The screen and the digital ink -- quality, resolution
- The UI makes sense -- no learning curve
- Highlighting and adding notes -- very elegant to set, review, search, and unset
- The ergonomics of the physical device, placement of buttons
- On-Kindle search: any phrase across all texts on device
- It holds your page in each book -- when you return, you're right where you left it
- You can "turn down" or "dog-ear" the corners of pages
- The little keyboard is decent
- The fact it connects like a cell phone, and you don't have to mess with WiFi and USB cables
- Battery life seems strong
- Kindle Store: integration with Amazon reviews and ratings, and the ease of purchase (dangerously easy -- online retailers take careful note! Seriously)
- The speed at which a purchased book arrives
- The pretty screen saver pictures
- Hyperlinks work, bringing up the web page on the Kindle browser
- The leather case
- The silver digital ink in the long right scroll bar
- The animations used in the long right scroll bar
- The packaging and out-of-the-box experience
Kindle Rough Edges
- The "black flash" on each page turn
- At the smallest font setting, the letters aren't sharp enough
- If not using the smallest font setting, a fast reader needs to flip pages really frequently
- Pictures are fuzzy and low quality
- Not sure how to zoom in on an image
- Connecting to Kindle Store is slow
- Searching Kindle Store is slow
- Sometimes images on search results are delayed
- On pages the text rises and falls below baseline (see Raising the Bar, location 876-881, "...but as we cycled we noticed lots of small roads...")
- If the connection to the store or web is slow, and you use the time to go back to reading, each "still trying to connect" interrupt yanks you away from your reading back to the main menu
- Only black-and-white, no color
- The "Amazon has gagged us and so we can't answer questions about the Kindle" email responses I got from customer support at NowNow. Dumb.
This review is after having the device for less than 24 hours. I'll try to make a note to come back and give my impressions in a few weeks -- will I find the Kindle has become indispensable, or just an occasional-use gadget? Time will tell.