By John Biggs
Having used both Kindles 1 and 2, I thought it would helpful to list where the new Kindle excels and where it falters. The dead tree book will never die - I think it will even have more longevity and popularity than the boutique appreciation of vinyl records - but our generation will be the last to use “books” as our primary reading systems. Expect ebooks to hit colleges in perhaps five years and high schools and grade schools in about 7. That said, should you buy a Kindle now? Why and why not?
10 Reasons to buy a Kindle 2
1. It’s great if you travel. If you travel, the Kindle is a godsend. I’m the kind of guy who stocks up books for even short trips, fully expecting to finish War and Peace, Notes from Underground, and four Clive Cussler novels on a plane trip from Pittsburgh to Columbus. With the Kindle you have a full complement of books available at any time.
2. You can put anything you want on it. You can easily email DOC, TXT, and PDF files to your own Kindle email address for conversion to the Kindle - but that costs 10 cents.
3. It looks great. The Kindle 2 is an amazing improvement over the Kindle 1. If every manufacturer took cues on build quality and product life cycles from Amazon, we’d all be better off.
4. It feels great. This new version has excellent button placement and is thin enough to cut cheese. It’s eminently portable.
5. Almost any book at any time. Except for a few esoteric reference books I’ve found just about everything I need on the Kindle store. As more and more publishers go ebook - and I think an iPhone Kindle reader will truly blow the last bottlenecks out - this excuse will become ineffective.
6. It works in inclement conditions. I was in Mexico with the wife and kids and I wanted to test the Kindle out near the pool. Three books later and I felt like the laziest high-tech maven in the world. The ladies next to me brought twenty softcover novels with them and all of them got wet and messy. The Kindle worked like a dream.
7. The bookmarking and highlighting systems are vastly improved. The original Kindle had two methods for note-taking: you could select text and add a note or you could add a book mark. The new system refines those considerably and adds visual feedback whenever you take a note.
8. The dictionary is now in-line. When you move to a word, its definition appears at the bottom of the page. If you wanted a definition before, you had to pop out to a separate page.
9. You can almost see and understand the illustrations in 16 greyscale shades. Note the “almost.” However, it’s better than 4 shades, which was abysmal.
10. It is the future. Sorry, it is. Amazon nailed the ebook and they’re going to own the space for the next few years. Maybe they’ll pull a Netflix and sell the software to OEMs, which is fine by me. But ebooks are what we’ll be reading while we rocket to Mars in 2050. Or we’ll have our robotic concubines read them to us.
10 reasons not to buy a Kindle 2
1. It’s bad for research. I’m working on a book right now and I wanted to use the Kindle for all of my research. Sadly, this is almost impossible. The book is a physical object - you can move through it, skimming for notes and important points - and there is something in our education that gives us a sense of space inside a book. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but you know how you can pick up a book and show someone what you’re looking for in a few page turns? You know it was halfway through, maybe a third of the way down the page, and it was near another set of words. The Kindle is not conducive to that kind of mental map-making… yet.
2. It’s horrible for reference. Don’t buy a Kindle if you just read programming manuals. Programming manuals offer something different. While it seems counterintuitive that a document you can search programatically wouldn’t be good as reference material, you’re better off looking up function calls on a website and using the physical book as a guide to building your programs. This is a corollary of point 1, above, so this could change.
3. The Kindle is flimsy. You’ll go through your day thinking you will break your Kindle. You don’t fit that much screen on a thin device that is meant to be thrown into a bag without a care and not risk cracking it. There will come a day when you open your bag and see that your Kindle is dead, even in its case. It’s not your fault. Say it with me: it’s not your fault.
4. It’s not ready for students. Add points 1, 2, and 3 together and you come to the conclusion that this is not ready for students. This may be a good device for English classes requiring lots of long novel reading, but as an education tool it isn’t quite there.
5. The net connection doesn’t work internationally. For some reason last year I was convinced the Kindle had Wi-Fi built-in. I was trying to get on the Internet in Warsaw, Poland and I kept looking for that Wi-Fi button. Then I remembered - no Wi-Fi. And I cried. How I cried, my friends. Then I downloaded the Kindle book onto my desktop and dragged it over via the USB cable. So that’s, in essence, your international solution.
6. No SD slot. While the Kindle can easily hold 1,500 books, what if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep everything in its right place? Maybe you want to make a book playlist? Maybe you have 1,501 books? I don’t know. Sadly, the Kindle doesn’t allow for memory expansion. Not a big deal, but to some it’s a bad thing.
7. Flight attendants will tell you to turn it off on take off and landing. You can’t explain that it’s epaper and uses no current. You just can’t. It’s like explaining heaven to bears.
8. It contains a battery. Remember, Reader, the Kindle is mortal. It will die on you when you don’t have your charger.
9. It’s bottom heavy. The internal battery makes the device want to plop face down on your chest. I read it last night when I was sleepy and it kept getting ready to fall on me.
10. There’s just something about a dead tree book, isn’t there? It’s nice to pop into the airport news stand and pick up a novel. It just is. I’m sorry.