I'm finally back! I'm hoping that I can end this hiatus now and get back to regular blogging. It'll be a bit of a challenge to get back in the swing of things, but I'm hoping to be able to post at least once every two weeks and maybe I'll be able to ramp up that rate as time goes by.
Kindle 3 - my first Kindle ever - which is plenty of time for me to form some pretty solid impressions. I have to confess that when I first found about the Kindle, I thought it wasn't a very good idea, especially since the Sony eReader had crashed and burned already. I thought it was too ahead of its time and it was going to be really hard creating a market for it with people so married to the idea of paper books. When you think about it, more so than any other medium it's the most resistant to change. People are really attached to their books. Of course, Amazon pioneered the idea of ordering books online, so I shouldn't have been surprised that it would be the best candidate to put out an electronic device. So why did I decide to buy something I thought was a dumb idea? Aside from the fact that the price was right (I got the WiFi model, so only $139), it was because of a screaming toddler. On the second leg of my trip back to my hometown for the holidays there was a toddler within 10-20 feet of me that literally screamed whether he was happy, sad, or just chilling out. I'm not exaggerating, I do not know what was wrong with this kid - you'd think his parents were abusing him. I finished the graphic novel I brought for the flight (I was hoping to sleep the whole flight) and the legroom in front of me was not enough to pull out my laptop and indulge in some Battlestar Cracklactica, so I closed my eyes and slept for two minute intervals between screams thinking about how much I wish I had room in my carry-on to bring more books. Needless to say, a Kindle was on its merry little way to my parents' place within 24 hours of my arrival.
I'm pretty amazed at how much I love the Kindle. People told me things like that it was the best thing they've bought in their life and that seeing is believing and all that jazz. I'd heard this sort of talk before when a little device came out called the iPad. I played with an iPad and I still don't believe it's worth $500. It's a very nice toy, but it's heavy and I have no desire to lug it around. The Kindle though is an entirely different story. It's remarkable how light it is. Holding it feels right - like it yearns for the warm touch of your fingers. I don't say this that much when it comes to electronics, but it's a thing of beauty - I'm impressed by how nice it looks and feels. The WiFi one only comes in graphite so your fingerprints don't stay visible for long and it just feels soft and elegant - especially the back which feels like thin silicone.
The first thing I love about the Kindle is a result of its sexy body: you can hold it in one hand comfortably. I always hated that with paperbacks you have to angle your hand in a special way to hold it with one hand, and even then you need you other hand to turn pages, which isn't convenient if you're standing on a bus or in numerous other situations. The first thing I hate also is related to its body though: the d-pad placement is silly. I hit the "Back" and "Menu" buttons on accident far too frequently when I try navigating up/down on the screen. To be fair, I have nails on my right hand (for playing guitar) so it'd probably be less of a problem if I didn't, but anyone with bigger hands is going to experience that irritation. Additionally, the bottom row of the qwerty keyboard is shifted one key to the left, which is frustrating for a touch typist like me who is used to a normal qwerty on his mobile phone. Aside from that though, the other keys are superb, especially next/previous page, which are wonderfully placed on either side of the device. I think it's really neat that the power button is on a light that appears as if from nowhere and indicates when you turn it on or when it's charging - very cool.
I have to hand it to the Kindle team, they know how to ship a product. As soon as it was on its way to me, I got an e-mail saying it was registered to me already and I could start buying stuff immediately to download on it when I switch it on. I was already blown away because I'd never had a product shipped to me that was already personalized without my request. When I pulled it out of the box, the screen had instructions on it when I un-boxed it, which I thought were on the screen protector until I followed the directions and the screen changed and I literally gasped because I was so shocked. This was my first experience with the text sharpness on the Kindle 3. The first two generations were cool and all, but this one really takes the cake in terms of contrast and the fact that it's literally sharper than words printed on paper. It's like when the iPhone came out that had a higher resolution than your eyes knew what to do with - the difference is that drastic. I cannot sing enough praises for the display - it makes me want to read more because I don't have to strain my eyes at all and that makes it fun to read again.
Oh, and it's quite snappy. Turning pages is very responsive, and waking it up from sleep is less than 5 seconds (less than 2 seconds if you left your book open when you put it to sleep and don't need to navigate to it). The overall interface is just logical. It comes with a huge user manual if you ever have questions (on the device, of course - not printed out), but you really only need the first chapter or two (that's not much reading) to get the basics. From there, you can figure it all out. The "Back" button always does what you think it will do. You can start typing text whenever to search or lookup words. There are just numerous examples of good UI design, especially the fact that the screen real estate is never cluttered and organizing your books into collections is super easy. Buying books is also easy - it's easy enough to buy on the device itself, but if you go online and do so then it'll start downloading to your device in literally seconds if you're on the home screen and your wireless is turned on. To conserve battery life, the WiFi/3G is never on when the Kindle is asleep - it's worth it, the battery life is incredible. I only charged it once since I got it, but only to be cautionary for another flight - I don't think I needed to have charged it since my first charge. Some other noteworthy features: taking notes/highlighting/bookmarking is super easy and syncs to the cloud, you can see passages highlighted by a lot of other users, you can share passages on Facebook/Twitter, your last read page syncs to the cloud whenever you turn on wireless, you can change the text size, approved books (by the book publisher) can be read to you, and you can send lots of stuff to your Kindle for free over WiFi (pictures, word docs, PDFs, Mobi). One feature that doesn't work so great is the web browser - it's adequate for things like logging on to WiFi networks with a gateway or browsing news articles, but the screen simply isn't designed for rich web content. A friend said something very true the other day to this point. It was something to the tune of "I already have a laptop and a mobile phone to browse the web, I just want to read books on my Kindle!" That's very true, and the Kindle does that very well.
I have a couple of side notes before I wrap up here. I got the lighted leather case (as pictured up above), and I love it. It's definitely pricey, but I personally felt it was worth it. It looks and feels nice, it keeps the Kindle nice and safe, and that light is a Godsend. I use it at the most random times. It bathes the screen in light perfectly without being distracting to people around you, and it's powered by the Kindle itself. The elastic band is quite sturdy, too. The other side note I have is that I find it fascinating that each technological advancement in media makes us more ADD, and the Kindle is no exception. When TV first started, you watched TV on a set schedule and you could only watch one thing at a time. Now you can watch multiple programs at once through DVRs and whenever you want. With music you could only listen to one record at a time, then cassettes brought about the mix tape breakthrough (for better or worse) and now mp3s have blown out the ceiling with podcasts and playlists and personalized online radio. Again and again, we're getting inundated with options and taking all of them. With the Kindle, I'm literally reading three books at once. I've discovered that I'm not the only person with this affliction. I think it's actually a cool thing though - one book is only good for reading in large chunks, one book I like to take pauses in just to think about it before I move on to the next piece, and one book is a collection of short essays that I can easily read on-the-go. Aside from schoolwork, this was a much rarer occurrence before eBooks, and I find it to be a fascinating advancement.
I think I've rambled on long enough. The bottom line is that the Kindle is a ridiculously capable e-reader. The idea that all your books are backed up in the cloud and you can still read them no matter how many Kindles or mobile phones you go through (or reset since resetting the Kindle clears its memory out) is a truly powerful concept. Aside from the initial oddity of saying to someone that you're going to plug your book into a wall to charge it, it feels so natural that once you get one in your hot little hands you'll wonder how you lived with that one. I'm not exaggerating - for me it was that drastic of a change. I had a few nit-picks with it, but I'm really happy with my purchase and am still very happy when I curl up to it at night. In fact, I think I'll do that right now.