Kindle: first impressions

My Kindle arrived on Monday and I've been using it to read stuff ever since so I thought I'd record my first impressions of the device.

Hardware design
The industrial design is incredibly slick. This piece of kit looks and feels like the future was always supposed to turn out. It's no bigger than it needs to be to accommodate the screen and buttons, so incredibly thin and light. One downside of this form factor is that I've found holding the device slightly tricky. With a paperback novel, you'd tend to hold it by the page you're not reading. With this screen, I worry about getting smudges across it (though it's less of a problem than, say, a mobile phone screen). The left and right sides have the page turn buttons, the bottom the keyboard, so they're not available for holding it. It's funny but it almost feels like it'd be better if there were more unused space around the screen area.

The screen, as I'm sure you've read, is divine. Just as readable as paper, in any light, with crisp edges to text. Out-of-the-box the device has instructions for your initial charge. The instructions look like one of those plastic notes stuck on modern equipments' screens when you buy them, but actually they're rendered on the ePaper screen. When you plug it in, it changes to etchings that show off the screen.  Slick.

Reading books
Reading books formatted for the Kindle is a dream. I bought William Gibson's new novel and have been reading it. Very quickly the device disappears and you find yourself immersed in the book. The technology just goes away, and impressive achievement.

Reading PDFs is less successful. The only available view modes are to fit the entire page to the screen, which means unacceptably-small text and images, or to have a movable viewport at a fixed zoom level. Any document with text running all the way across and A4 is a major pain to read this way. Switching to landscape view, which is a few clicks to hard if you ask me, solves this for some documents. I can think of a couple of usability improvements here:
  • Allow you to adjust zoom for the full-screen mode so that you clip the margins out and get more useful screen space.
  • In viewport mode, have shift-Page-turn-button zoom in and out, shift-arrow move the viewport.
  • A one-click way of rotating would be nice.
Getting documents
Getting documents onto the device is trivial. You just email them to <address> and it'll be delivered next time you're on a wireless network. Drop the "free" part and it'll be delivered over 3G (if you bought that model) for a cost of US$0.15/megabyte which isn't actually that bad given ebooks are generally quite small.

I've been playing with Calibre, which can download newspaper content from web sites and turn it into an eBook, then email it to your Kindle. The Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald turned up on my Kindle this morning from this approach.  It's nice, but I think I'll toy with the recipes they're using for the Guardian to give better navigation of sections and highlight the bits I'm really interested in there, similar to the awesome how Guardian Anywhere for Android works.

ReKindleIT is a bookmarklet that converts the web page you're viewing into an eBook and emails it to your Kindle. It works well for longer text you see online that you want to read at leisure, or need for offline reference like recipes.

Quite nice, but I haven't had much luck with Crikey's daily emails. Crikey is my number one target for reading on the device, but most of the conversion tools rely on RSS feeds and Crikey's paid newsletter doesn't show up anywhere as RSS. For yesterday's edition I converted to PDF and emailed, but as noted above PDFs aren't great.  I'll continue to work on this one, trying to find a better way to handle it.  ReKindleIT doesn't work, and I'd prefer something that was completely automatic as well.  Anyone got a better approach?  The perfect solution would take the daily email and have it just pop up as an eBook on the Kindle. Getting the HTML email, plus images, converted is the trouble.

3 responses
Hi Simon - got a Kindle myself and was similarly impressed. Unlike iPads et al, it's just for reading and that's what I like about it. It's so easy to get immersed - and I suspect that's partly because there aren't any games, website etc to distract.

Re: Reading ergonomics. I know the covers are expensive but they have the upside of letting you opening the cover and holding the Kindle like a book.

Re: Content. Here in the UK it's brilliant. Since Amazon launched the Kindle store here I've been picking up all kinds of books for under a fiver. Funnily enough, I've found my price point is between £2.50 - £3. Imagine the revolution Downunder if you could get books for that price!

I'm just off to check out the newspaper delivery capabilities of Calibre. Any on-line tutorial you can recommend?



I seem to know several people with Kindles. I can't say I'm GASsing for one. My ebook needs are catered for by Aldiko on my Android phone. I can live with the small screen for the occasional reading I do. Don't really want another gadget to carry on trips, even if it has great battery life and a more readable screen. Got a stack of dead tree books at home that I haven't read yet.

I've also seen an iPad in action and that's another cool device I don't feel a need for.

Anyway, I'm happy to hear you like your Kindle. I wonder if Amazon can manage to get the book pricing as wrong as they do the MP3s. Digital downloads should always cost less than something physical that they have to post to you.

I heard about Calibre on this podcast recently. Sounds like it makes ereaders more useful

Simon, have you made any progress with reading Crikey on the Kindle? I too have played with this without success so far. Thanks.