Wednesday, September 24, 2008


For months, you guys have been sending me e-mails telling me to buy a Kindle.

Seemingly, the Kindle would be a natural for me--we're absolutely drowning in books, and since it's unlikely that we're ever going to read less, the only answer is an e-reader.

I also think that reflects a change in the availability of media in the last 10 years. When I used to read a great book, I would put it in the bookshelf knowing that I would never get rid of it. Maybe it would go out of print, or be difficult to find. I wasn't going to take that chance.

Today, though, every book is everywhere. We have omniscient access, so to speak, so I'm not concerned about keeping everything anymore, or having a physical copy.

So the Kindle seemed like it would be a great fit for me. The only problem was that I wouldn't buy one.

This is the Kindle:

There's only one word to describe it: homely.

It might well be the least sexy piece of electronic gear I've ever seen. It would be entirely at home in 1985.

Believe it or not, I think that was contributing to my reluctance. The Kindle is the anti-Apple (obviously, so am I, so there's some irony for you). It's so unstylish that its borderlines on stodgy.

Plus, I didn't like the screen. It didn't look bright enough in the pictures I saw.

Combine those thoughts, and the Kindle seemed very clunky. However, over time, you guys wore me down, like you usually do, and I bought one about a month ago.

After a month of use, let me just say this: man, this thing is sexy. To an engineer, that is, because this is one of the most efficiently functional pieces of equipment I've ever used. It's the right size, it's the right shape, and every button is in the right place.

The screen? There's no backlight. Instead, the screen is reflective, which greatly increases battery life. It also means that while you give up being able to read in the dark,what you gain is being able to read in bright sunlight. I'll gladly take that trade-off.

The Kindle also has a wireless connection, which you can use to go browse Amazon. Want to buy a book? Browse the Kindle store at Amazon, find the book you want, and it downloads to your Kindle in less than a minute. If you're pre-ordering a book, it will be delivered to your Kindle the day that the book is released.

Yes, that's as fantastic as it sounds.

It's incredibly easy to use, it's extremely comfortable to hold, and if you turn off the wireless connection when you're not shopping, a single battery charge could easily last a week. It's just unbelievably functional at every level.

The only negative I found so far is that even with 170,000 books available,there are still plenty of books I'd like to read that aren't available in the Kindle format yet.

What is available, though, is cheaper than buying the hardcover equivalent. The Kindle titles I've bought have all been $9.99, roughly half the price (or less) of the hardcover versions.

The Kindle also has functionality that I didn't even know I needed. For instance, you can change the font size. That by itself is so useful that it obsoletes printed books instantly. No more dragging through giant histories of something or other, trying to read something printed in Lilliputian 2.5 font.

If you're wondering about pictures, the Kindle does reproduce them, but not in color. I thought that would bother me quite a bit, but it hasn't so far. Obviously, though, for certain kinds of books, the Kindle will be unsuitable as a display device.

You can also subscribe to magazines and newspapers and blogs, but I'm not really interested in that right now, because I get that information from other places. As a "book that becomes another book," though, it's a tremendous piece of kit, and exactly what I need.

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