by Mike Shea on 28 August 2010
At $140, the third generation Kindle is finally cheap enough to pick up without a lot of worry. It's super light weight, beautiful to look at, feels very rugged, and fits in nicely between an iPhone and iPad as an ebook reader. It's a little clunky, with a bunch of extra buttons and an interface that is far from beautiful. Still, when it comes down to sitting on a couch and reading a book, it's a great little device. While I'm not crazy about purchasing proprietary books from Amazon that I can't share, can't lend out, and won't last beyond Amazon's desire to keep supporting them - the books are cheap enough that I really don't care.
I was an ebook resister. I love paper books. I've written about the longevity of data and my certainty that we're living in what will one day become a Digital Dark Age. We're moving from a very rugged data retention system - paper - to a data archiving system filled with problems - digital. In short, digital media doesn't last very long and interface standards change too quickly for us to archive data beyond about a 10 year period. If you care about your data, you have to migrate it in both format and medium every five years.
With digital rights management, this becomes even a bigger problem. Now I have to ensure that the company I purchased my data from will stay in business to ensure I have the keys to the data I purchased. We've seen companies drop support for their DRM'ed content before and watched as their customers lost everything they had paid for.
I could stay up nights worrying about this or join one of the many groups fighting to figure out a way to preserve data. I could also only purchase open content that I know will survive the creator of that content.
Or I can quit worrying about it. So what. The books I buy are $10 and I've never heard anyone who had any other problem with physical books other than having too many of them and figuring out how to get rid of them. I'm one man with a limited lifetime in the timeline of our existence. It isn't up to me to preserve the world's knowledge. I just want to read His Majesty's Dragon.
I don't pretend that the books I buy for the Kindle will last forever. One day, when Amazon tires of supporting them or gets bought out by Walmart, I might lose my books. There are other copies out there, though. Mine isn't an ancient book of psalms found in Irish mud. Most of the time I read a book once and then donate it to the library. At $10 a book for about 20 hours of reading, it's still far cheaper than nearly every other form of paid entertainment.
So as soon as I agreed to dive into commercial E-books, the Kindle store was the logical choice. They have nearly everything. They have a great online store. They have clients on my iPad and my iPhone. They even sync across devices so if I read a chapter on my iPhone while waiting in line to pick up my $14 cup of hot milky coffee, when I get home that evening and switch to my iPad, it will sync to that same spot. It's pretty magical.
So if I have an iPhone and iPad, do I need a Kindle? Probably not. The iPhone 4 has such an excellent display that reading from it is as good as reading from an e-Ink device. The only thing the iPhone lacks is the size.
While the iPad's ebook reader is just fine, the lower pixel density of the screen isn't nearly as nice to look at as the Kindle screen. When you're lying around at home on the couch, the Kindle 3 is the clear winner.
The design of the Kindle 3 is excellent but not flawless. It's lightweight and feels durable. Unlike the glass and steel design of Apple's products, it's a high density plastic. I get the feeling I could drop this thing a few times without damaging it. I'm guessing the minute I think about dropping an iPad, the screen will explode.
The Kindle 3 is lightweight enough to read comfortably just about anywhere, though the same is true for the iPhone 4 with the Kindle reader app. The iPad, however, requires a pillow to prop it up when your lying on a couch or in bed. The Kindle 3 showed me just how big and heavy the iPad really is.
That said, the Kindle 3 isn't nearly as beautiful as the iPad. In both hardware design and software design, it's not much fun to use. I don't know why they decided to have a full keyboard on the bottom. I can't imagine needing it and a better direction pad and enter button would let me use a virtual keyboard pretty well. Maybe Amazon saw drastic reductions in ebook sales on the device when they removed the keyboard. Anyway, I feel like it gets in the way.
The page turning buttons are also not great. THey work just fine but having buttons to turn pages in both directions on both sides of the device is a little confusing sometimes. Also the buttons feel a little flimsy.
The screen itself is very nice. It's not backlit so you need ambient lighting but when you have it, the screen is beautiful. Every person I showed it to was shocked at how clear it looked. Everyone, myself included, thought there was some sort of film with a picture covering the screen when what they were looking at was the screen itself.
The screen does flash black between page turns which is distracting. This is something the iPhone 4 and iPad don't do, obviously. After getting into a book, however, you hardly notice it unless you're paying attention to it.
If you have an iPhone 4, you probably don't need a Kindle. While the idea of reading a book on a phone is alien to us, the iPhone 4's screen is so pixel-dense that reading on it is very easy to do. However, if you don't have an iPhone 4, the Kindle is a nice cheap way to get into e-books. Now that I've learned to stop worrying and love ebooks, I'm enjoying reading more than I have in a long time.
Though not perfect, at $140, the Kindle 3 is an excellent ebook reader.
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