How the Kindle Saves You Time (If Not Money)

Normally we leave gadget reviews to the crazy cats over at Gizmodo, but when reader Pete Riley told us he's "totally hooked" on Amazon's new reading device Kindle because of its time-saving superpowers, we had to know more. Right now the $399 e-reader is out of stock, but since Pete's one of the lucky ones who got ahold of the device, he was kind enough to write up his impressions.

Pete writes:

Devices that fundamentally change the way you interact with your data are a rare occurrence. Some examples from my past include: the Mac Plus (my first computer), the Psion series 5, the Diamond Rio MP3 player, the tablet PC, and the Nokia N95. And to that list I'm going to add the Amazon Kindle. I've tried several other e-book readers in the past, including the Sony Portable Reader (PRS-505) and the iRex iLiad, but there were a sufficient number of hurdles to overcome that I returned them or sold them on Ebay. The Kindle has surmounted these limitations and has changed the way I interact with printed material.

If you haven't heard about the Kindle yet, check out Amazon's walkthrough of what it does, how it works, and what it looks like.

But what's the Kindle really like outside of the world of its commercials? Pete says:

Let me give you a typical example of how I use the device on a daily basis. Let's say I've just heard about this great new book called "Upgrade Your Life." I go to the Amazon storefront from the Kindle's home screen and type in the title. There's a nice thumb keyboard below the screen that is surprisingly easy to use. If the book is available in the Kindle format (Ed: And Upgrade Your Life will be in a few weeks!), I'll see it. One more click and I've bought it (often for a reduced price of $9.99) and it appears on my device within a minute.

I read the first few chapters then switch to another book. I could add a bookmark, but if I don't, the Kindle remembers where I was last and will open that page next time. There's a word I don't understand, so I use the built-in dictionary to look it up. The controls and user interface are somewhat clunky but they serve their purpose. For more details, I go to the experimental menu and look up the term on Wikipedia.

Later in the day someone emails me a scientific research paper to read in PDF format. I email it back to myself at the Amazon-supplied Kindle account and it too appears in my library within a few minutes. The text has been reformatted very well, but only some of the Figures appear. Amazon will charge me 10 cents for the privilege.

At lunch, while running some errands, I forget the location of a store. I use the experimental web browser to visit Google and look it up. The device freezes the first time, but eventually I get the information I need. While waiting to meet someone for dinner I pull up the BBC news, then check
tomorrow's weather (even though I know it's going to be 75 degrees and sunny...this is San Diego!)

It's late now and I grab the 10 oz device and read a few more chapters of my latest download in bed. I'm getting tired and my eyes are feeling strained so I increase the font size to the point that even my mother could read it...without her glasses! I fall asleep with the device in my hand. That's no problem: the screensaver and key lock automatically kick-in and the device can last for days in this mode.

Ok, but is the Kindle's steep price worth ditching your beloved ink on paper? Pete says:

The Kindle has a number of benefits over its rivals and over reading real paper material. First, it weights only 10 oz: It's lighter than most paperbacks. But since you can hold hundreds of books on the device, it's effectively weightless.

Second, access to the Amazon store and the internet in general is fast and free. This point cannot be over-emphasized: Free access to the internet! The experience is not like using a laptop with a Wi-Fi connection, but it is significantly better than using a cell phone. Amazon has also made buying e-books amazingly quick and simple; it is literally one click.

Third, many of the books are offered at reduced prices, and most, if not all of the NY Times best sellers go for $9.99. Amazon claims that they currently have over 100,000 books in Kindle format, together with a selection of newspapers, magazines, and blogs.

Fourth, You can email yourself a variety of files (PDF, rtf, doc, txt, etc.) of research papers, public domain books, user manuals, or web page clipping for 10 cents.

Fifth, you can play digital music on the device and listen with standard 3.5mm headphones. This is not something I have tested, nor do I have any inclination to do so. My iPod Nano serves this purpose.

And sixth, the screen is surprisingly clear and bright, much better than many paperbacks I have read.

But every good thing has its downsides. Pete fills us in on the stuff the Amazon commercial won't tell you.

No device is perfect and the Kindle is no exception. For starters, it costs $399. That's relatively cheap by e-book reader standards (The iRex Iliad 2nd edition costs $699) but expensive when compared to a paperback book ... or ten ... or thirty. If we assume Amazon's discounts on the Kindle e-books are $10 on average, the device would require 40 purchases to break even. However, if you read books from the public domain, such as Project Gutenberg, this break-even number could be much lower.

Another problem is that images within PDF-formatted documents don't always appear. To be fair to Amazon, the fact that they even support PDF conversion should be acknowledged; however, to achieve the truly paperless library is going to require better handling of graphics. And forget about converting PDF books that were scanned in as images. Until they can perform optical character recognition (OCR) "on the fly," these books will not be converted effectively for the Kindle.

There are a myriad other minor quibbles I have with the device, such as the positioning of some of the buttons, the precise layout of the user interface, and even the shape of the device. But I can appreciate that there were probably good engineering reasons for these decisions.

In summary then, I love my Kindle. I admit that I'm a techno-geek who has tried (to like) almost every electronic gadget produced over the last 10 years. But only a few have remained in my service and I really think the Kindle will join that illustrious group.

So, Kindle-using lifehackers—is this device the ultimate book hack? Or is it just an expensive toy that won't catch on? How has the Kindle changed the way you read? Tell us about it in the comments.


    I have tried to buy Kindle from Amazon, but it comes up saying it cannot send to my address. Does that mean it isn't available to Australians?

    Alas, yes -- the Kindle isn't available outside the US. (Post predates my time at Lifehacker, I wouldn't have run it for that reason!)

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