After spending over a year with a hand-me-down first generation Kindle I received a Kindle 4 as a gift recently and just finished reading my first e-book on the new device. Reading was a pleasure (thanks partly to the terrific story and skillful prose) and a serious step up from the original Kindle. I haven’t used any other e-readers, unless you count the iPad so my impressions can only compare the Kindle 4 to the original Kindle (or to print books).
Can’t Touch This
After reading Marco’s Review of the Kindle Touch I’m especially glad to own a $79 Kindle instead. I find myself contacting the screen a lot by accident and the Touch probably would have driven me crazy, especially given reports that it is significantly less responsive than the non-touch version. I like the hardware page turning buttons and although entering text with the four way controller is inconvenient, it’s not something I do that much of. It may be true that this Kindle doesn’t represent a major upgrade from the Kindle 3, but since I’ve upgraded from a first generation Kindle I’m not in a position to be bothered by that.
After using the original kindle and finding it lacking there were some improvements I was expecting from an upgrade. I wanted the Kindle 4 to be faster, lighter and easier to read. The new hardware delivered on all fronts.
Gone are the tediously slow page turns and other on screen transitions. The new kindle turns pages at least as fast as you would with a physical book, fast enough that it ceases to be an issue. While the first generation kindle felt sluggish and clunky, the Kindle 4 seems responsive and snappy just like a modern mobile device should.
The form factor is also a big improvement mostly because of uthe heavily reduced size and weight. Without a keyboard to add bulk the Kindle 4 is positively svelte, easy to hold in one hand (unlike the iPad) and even storable in a jacket pocket or back pants pocket. The slim profile allowed me to take the kindle with me to read while running errands in the neighborhood without being inconvenienced or feeling too conspicuous.
So the Kindle is comfortable to hold but even more importantly it’s comfortable to read. The e-ink text is dark and fairly high contrast against the light grey “page”. It’s not as good as print on paper but it’s close enough. Truth be told, the text doesn’t seem as crisp as on my iPhone 4 but the fact that it’s e-ink rather than a backlit display means it’s much more comfortable to read, especially in ample light. Some day e-ink will be good enough to truly compete with the legibility of print but we’re not there yet.
Everything else about the kindle is at least satisfactory. The battery seems to last long enough that I’m not worried about running out of juice before I think of recharging. I have the least expensive model without 3G and with ads but the kindle is mostly for home and the ads are unobtrusive. Maybe some day I’ll pay an additional $20 to remove the ads but I’m in no hurry to do so.
The Amazon Platform
The Kindle was designed to enable the purchase and consumption of Amazon digital products. Amazon’s ebooks are DRM protected and not readable on other software although they are readable other hardware via Kindle apps for other devices like the iPad. I’m a little bothered by the restrictions of this system but I’m willing to bet on Amazon as the platform that’s going to last when it comes to ebook distribution. If I acquire books in ePub there’s many ways to convert to mobi for reading on the Kindle.
Still the Same
The problems I have with the Kindle are the same as they’ve ever been with this platform: syncing last page read is useless in a book with endnotes, random access is much easier in a print book and overall the software feels retrograde in the era of iPads and other elegant interfaces. I’ll keep reading print books (especially since Kindle support for library lending seems not ready for prime time) but there are many situations where the kindle is the right device. Reading from instapaper on the Kindle is particularly great even when compared to the stellar instapaper app for iPad.
Even though I got it as a gift I would have shelled out $79 for the Kindle 4. It’s not a replacement for every book and certainly not for the iPad but I enjoy the ease and convenience of reading on the device. In three words: it’s good enough.