Kindles for big fast readers
January 31, 2009
Will it bore you if, like every other Kindle owner, I review my experience? I bought mine because I was going on a month-long voyage overseas. The Kindle is unbeatable for this use case — it’s basically one book and a power cord versus however many tomes you were planning to haul around in your luggage. The only disconcerting thing is that (unlike a computer but like a book) there is no backlight, so if the ambient light is bad — like in a darkened airplane cabin, or on a super-glarey afternoon on the deck of a cruise ship — you won’t be able to read. I want to make it clear that you can easily take your Kindle overseas, you just won’t be able to use Whispernet to get books delivered to the unit wirelessly (although you can still use USB delivery if you have a computer), but everything else should work fine.
It’s pretty clear by now that the Kindle is the suck for texts where it’s an important part of the experience to see charts and graphs, maps, pictures, footnotes, or fixed line breaks (e.g. poetry). Not to put too fine a point on it, all of these will look like crap and/or be impossible to see at all. However I personally read a lot of genre fiction and nonfiction (mostly history), and the Kindle is brilliant for these. In the first case you won’t have the embarrassment of the cheesy covers usually slapped on YA, mystery, SF, horror, fantasy, and romance novels. In the latter you run far less risk of accidental death due to dropping a 15-lb hardcover on your face while you recline in bed.
Without exaggeration I am an exceptionally fast reader… but I think I’m even faster on the Kindle. After having pondered for a while, my theory is this: without intending to, your eye spends a lot of time travelling to the next page when you’re holding two pages open before you. If you eliminate that second page — plus any opportunity of skipping ahead or behind in the text — you actually force yourself to stay on a single page and just focus on reading it as quickly as possible.
There are obvious problems with the physical layout and hardware configuration of the Kindle, most notably that there is no obvious place to hold the unit with your hands. I expect this problem to be solved in the next release. The navigation system, which depends on a unidimensional roller-wheel with clicker, is primitive and unexact in the extreme. I’m not even going to get into the color and resolution issues with the screen, since those were obviously sacrificed to get to the desired price-point.
My true feeling is that Kindles are absolutely not worthwhile for people who read fewer than 24 books a year or buy fewer than 12 books a year — which is almost everyone anyway. Also if you prefer books that require charts and graphs, maps, pictures (esp color), footnotes, or fixed line breaks for full enjoyment, the Kindle will not make you happy. And finally there are localized issues — if you have easy access to a computerized inter-library loan, the relative value of instant books will be less — whereas if you’re basically at the mercy of a small-town system then the relative value might be higher.