Reviewed: The Amazon Kindle

22 Apr 2010

As an unabashed bookworm I have to admit I was initially dismissive of e-book readers, from the Amazon Kindle to the Sony Reader. There’s something about a library full of books that says something about the man, or so I thought.

Well, (A) I hardly read the same book twice and (B) books can create a lot of clutter. And since most of us search for the information we want these days, surely reading off a screen is not a big deal.

Watch a video review of the Amazon Kindle here: icon: launch video

So then, has the time for e-book readers truly arrived? The Amazon Kindle six-inch screen device, kindly loaned by blogger of the year Pat Phelan, is lighter than your traditional paperback book. It comes in a compact white casing, with brushed steel back, and even when the device is turned off, it presents a classical look and feel with engravings of well-known authors, from Jules Verne to Virginia Woolf to James Joyce.

The beautifully light frame could quite easily sit inside a paper envelope.

The device allows you to easily store and read books. A book by a favourite author can be downloaded from a library of 370,000 books in less than 60 seconds via a built-in 3G modem. There is no charge for downloading via the mobile networks, it’s all taken care of by Amazon.

The device allows you to store hundreds of books, newspapers and magazines and also hooks directly into online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Reading books on Kindle

Reading books on the device is an absolute pleasure. I browsed through copies of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It and Seth Godin’s Linchpin.

The monochrome screen with Amazon’s e-ink technology provides an accurate simulation of the light quality you’d expect reading normal print, only in this case you can raise the size of the text up and down. A drawback for people who are travelling or don’t have bedside lamps is the absence of a backlit screen.

Let’s forget about the gadgetry for a moment, this is really a commerce engine for Amazon. It is also potentially a commerce engine for publishers of all sorts enlightened enough to realise that people with an Amazon subscription could be regular subscribers, too, for newspapers and magazines.

If you have a favourite author and the book hasn’t made it to the store yet, simply download a copy onto the device.

The monochrome screen shows both text and images in a legible fashion, clear and crisp, and doesn’t seem to wear the battery down much. The device comes with a USB 2.0 port so pretty much any standard USB lead or smart-phone charger can charge the device.

The device I reviewed was the 3G version of the Kindle with the six-inch screen which costs US$259 to buy while a bigger device with a 9.7-inch screen, the Kindle DX, can be bought for US$489.

Features of the Amazon Kindle

What I liked a lot about the Kindle was some of the neat little features that in fairness elude any paperback readers – such as the ability to synch to the furthest read page, search a book, add a bookmark, add notes, highlight text, you name it.

The shopping feature is particularly clever – you can buy books, newspapers and magazines, and see what’s recommended for you based on previous purchases

You can see how newspapers can breathe again with a more gadget-laden, broadband-capable audience – this device had more than 110 newspapers from around the world, ready to download as part of a subscription.

Lovers of audio books will find the Kindle particularly useful, it plays sounds through speakers at the back and comes with a headphone jack.

All in all, I put my original prejudices against electronic book readers aside and can honestly say that the Amazon Kindle has changed my perception. It’s a sturdy little device with enough power to keep my love of reading alive and enriched … indefinitely.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years