[This review is written by contributing editors Deb and Thomas Frey]
Most product review are written shortly after the product is announced, but we thought it would be interesting to give our assessment of the Kindle 2 after using it for a year, and talk about how it has changed our lifestyle and the way we do business.
The Kindle 2 was first announced on February 24, 2009. We placed our order soon after it was announced, but had to wait a couple weeks for it to ship because of the intense demand. Our home looks like a library with books scattered from one end to the next, so we felt this would a good investment. The price we paid was $359 plus extra for incidentals, bringing the total outlay to over $400. Other than missing out on the major price reduction to $259 base price in October, we have not been disappointed.
On a personal note, once we received the Kindle 2, Deb instantly laid claim to the device, and Tom was only granted occasional visitation rights. Deb has since logged several hundred hours of intimate one-on-one time with “Johann,” the name she has given to her Kindle, and the following are thoughts and observations from this extended road test.
If you are still clinging to your love for the printed word, there are several features on the Kindle that make it worth giving up the ink-on-paper version of books.
1. Anytime, Anyplace Books: The overall size of the Kindle is a key part of the convenience. Yes, at times you’d like to view a large image or just see a larger page, but when it comes to toting it around, a paperback-sized device that is easy to fit in your purse or shoulder bag has many advantages.
Kindle’s ability to tap into the Whispernet wireless network allows you to download books, magazines, newspapers and blogs anywhere you are. Most of us spend a huge portion of our lives waiting for things to happen. Whether it is at a doctor or dentist office, at the airport, or waiting for our car to get repaired, a Kindle is an easy way to convert down time into productive time. Being frequent travelers, we often find ourselves at the mercy of the airlines. With the Kindle 2 we can stay plugged in and entertained without having to lug around a stack of paperbacks or magazines. When we finish one book, we can instantly order another. It takes less than a minute to download a book, so the process is fairly painless.
2. Now Reading PDFs: The new PDF converter allows you to download documents, including PDF files, onto the Kindle. This alleviates some of the lingering hassles of having to breakout your bulky notebooks and laptops when work is calling. Deb spent several minutes with Amazon Tech Support to figure out how to do it the first time. She had an issue because there is a secret extra step, a rare double-click requirement, to downloading a PDF file from a Mac instead of PC. Once the tech support guy explained how to do it, she was off and running.
3. Landscape or Portrait Option: The manual screen rotation may seem like a minor thing, but is critical to the overall usability of the Kindle 2. By pressing on the font key a screen comes up and allows you to view your book or article in either landscape or portrait. The default is portrait, but if you have large graphics or pictures or would like to have a wider view on a document, the landscape feature is only a click away.
4. Talk to Me: The text to speech is an important feature as well. If you’re like most readers, there are times when your eyes and brain start to fatigue, but you still want to finish the book. Its now fairly easy to just plug in your earbuds and let the Kindle read the book to you. The words aren’t as clear as an audiobook, and we think the voice is actually coming from small troll-like people that Amazon has built into the device, but it is still doable. You can change the speed of the reader from slow to default to fast, and can even choose whether you want to listen to a male troll or female troll. This is a critical feature for those who are blind or visually impaired. Still missing is a text-to-voice interface for navigating the Kindle, but we hear rumors that one is coming in a future upgrade.
On a related note, in April a design team introduced a Kindle-like device with a Braille readout for the visually impaired. No word yet as to whether Amazon is interested in going down this path.
5. Reading a Book: According to Deb, “Once I start reading on my Kindle 2, I don’t really miss the page turning of traditional books. Clicking buttons on the right and left side allows me to turn the pages forward and backward. One advantage is that I don’t have a tendency to read the last chapter of the book to see how it ends before I get started. That’s one of my bad habits, but I like to know how something will end, and although you can check out the ending, it isn’t as simple as turning to the last chapter of the book.”
Deb continues, “Reading on a Kindle is very similar to reading a book. On most books you have to read around the curve of the pages, so in that respect the flat screen on the Kindle is much easier. I read a lot outdoors, and the antiglare screen does a good job of compensating for the bright sunlight. So I don’t have to worry about a bright sun spoiling a good read.
6. Changeable Font Sizes: If you have ever purchased a book in a tiny font that is difficult to read, you easily understand the value of varying the font size. If you’re tired, just make it bigger. If you are a fast reader with good eyes and don’t like turning pages, make it smaller.
7. Overall Convenience: We are a big fan of the convenience of not having to wait to purchase a book. We don’t have to go to the library in hopes that the new book will be there. Waiting lists at libraries are a painful relic of the past that still plagues readers today. We don’t have to order it and wait for it to ship. And while we could purchase the book from a bookstore, we still have the time and distance commitment along with the problem of having a home that looks increasingly like a library. The library look is fine to a point, but the dusting part is always a pain.
Deb often reads books that are part of a series. Once she finishes one book it’s easy to download and start on the next one without having to chase down a printed copy.
8. Kindle Economics: Online newspapers are free and the paper version is relatively expensive and it creates a recycling problem. Newspaper subscriptions on a Kindle cost from US$5.99 to $14.99 per month, magazines charge between $1.25 and $3.49 per month, and blogs charge from zero to $1.99 per month.
On Amazon, a recent James Patterson book is being offered in the hard cover version for $18.47 and in the Kindle version for $7.99. This is a typical price differential. Several of his books are being offered for free as a promotional way to grow the Kindle audience.
A Few Drawbacks: It’s easy to be a fan of the Kindle 2 because they have done a very good job of thinking through the interface. But it’s not a substitute for a computer. It doesn’t offer connections to the internet, or videos, and doesn’t do a very good job with images. The images are viewable on a 16-level grayscale display, but not in color.
It is not a touch screen display. It doesn’t have the “stretch” features like on an iPhone, nor can you copy pieces of text and email them to yourself for later.
The battery life is good, but not great. There are no slots for USB sticks. You cannot hook it to a larger display. And it doesn’t come with a light, so reading in the dark is not possible.
The Kindle 1 had storage for 200 books, the Kindle 2 currently holds up to 1,500 books. Later visions of the Kindle will hold many more, as well as books that are more media intensive.
Readers cannot comment on the books. There is no way to communicate with the author and make suggestions.
The Sony book reader has a feature that enables users to download books from the library. The Kindle 2 does not.
We are assuming many of these features will be coming in later versions, but so far there is significant room for improvement.
Deb’s Overall Assessment: “Since I read so many books, usually at least three a week, I frequently run into the problem of purchasing books that I have already read. With the Kindle, I can download a “sample” that allows me to read through the first chapter to make sure I haven’t already read that book. The “sample” also comes in handy just in case the book is totally boring, and I wouldn’t want to waste my time.”
“The Kindle 2 has opened many doors for me. The convenience of having something small and lightweight that fits in my purse that I can take anywhere I go is wonderful. The fact that is has paid for itself over and over again in the last year has made it a very cost effective electronic device that I seldom go anywhere without. And the fact that it is “green” makes it better for the ecosystem. After all, we aren’t cutting down any trees to produce the books we read on the Kindle. The only negative thing I would have to say about the Kindle book reader is that all the books that are in print, including many of the new ones, are not available on the Kindle. I hope at some point that all books that are printed will also be available on our Kindles. But all in all, I am very pleased to have the Amazon Kindle 2, and look forward to many years of good reading on it.”
Tom’s Overall Assessment: “Deb pretty much hogs the Kindle, so I don’t often get to use it very much. She often tells me about the great stories she’s reading, but it’s always an arm’s length discussion.”
“Kindles are a very personal device. Amazon needs to offer couples packages with one designed for man-caves and the other in pink with frills on it. It’s a ‘cootie’ thing. If you hang around Deb long enough, you’ll quickly learn that the entire world can be rated on a cootie-scale.”
The base price of the Kindle 2 dropped from $359 to $259 in less than a year. With stiff competition coming out of the woodwork from Sony, LG, and Barnes & Noble, our best guess is that the price of book readers will drop below $99 before the end of 2010. High end versions with improved features will continue to cost more, but book readers are on the verge of becoming as ubiquitous as calculators. And when that happens, the print publishing world will go into a tailspin.
Deb and Thomas Frey are contributing editors to Ask Dave Taylor and are also the guiding lights behind the DaVinci Institute, a futurist organization based in Broomfield, Colorado. Disclosure: I am also a Fellow of the DaVinci Institute.