Amazon’s Kindle – what’s the point…

It’s getting hard to avoid reviews of Amazon’s Kindle, their updated electronic book thingy. Utterly pointless, though, as there’s no indication when it will be available here in the UK – It’s like a yachting magazine reviewing the QE2.

No idea what Continue reading

Kindle desire…

Yes, I know it’s a terrible pun – what I don’t know is why Amazon came up with such an odd name for their electronic “book”. I can’t see a lot of point, either. However, despite being widely rubbished, and costing $399 dollars, it’s sold out way before Christmas, so obviously a lot of people like it. So what does it seem like (because it’s not available in the UK)?

Well, the screen is small for a start, with a 6″ diagonal, which is a tad more than half the diagonal of an A5 page (60%, in fact), which is 2″ smaller than a standard paperback, and a whole lot smaller than “modern” paperbacks, and hardbacks. The size of the whole thing is 7.5″ x 5.3″, a little bigger than a standard paperback, and 0.7″ thick.

It holds “hundreds of titles”, whatever that means in real terms, and is expandable using SD cards, and you can access newspapers (by subscription), and blogs. All these are bought, wirelessly, from the Kindle Store, the implication of which is that you’ll be charged to access the blogs you can get for free online – not exactly a sharp marketing strategy if true, but maybe they just provide a link for free…

Logically the price should be about £200 when it arrives in the UK, but it never works out like that, and it’s likely that the $ sign will simply be replaced with a £ sign, or something very close to that. The idea of hundreds of books in one place is attractive (though there’s a downside). I have about 1,500 books in three overflowing bookcases, with more coming all the time, and I’m running out of space, so having hundreds of electronic books has its attractions – trouble is to replace all my paper books would cost at least £7,500, plus an indeterminate amount in SD cards, so this thing is only good for new purchases that I don’t already have.

Now, consider the battery. With Wi-Fi turned off, you can read your stored material for a week, which is pretty good (with Wi-Fi turned on you get a max of 2 days before recharging – a lot less if you use the Wi-Fi connection much). I worry about claimed battery life, as I’ve learned from hard-won experience (electric wheelchairs, mobiles, mp3 players, satnav etc.) that battery life is always exaggerated. Always. So I’d realistically be looking for perhaps 3-4 days reading time – more would be a bonus. And, of course, use in cold conditions would trash battery life, so forget taking it outdoors in winter. Even carrying it in a bag would reduce battery life in cold weather – for commuting /travelling, it needs to live in a car. And Amazon don’t even mention what sort of battery it has, which sort of suggests it’s a proprietary model – always bad news in terms of cost.

Then there’s the major selling points of the device – it’s portable and it’s electronic – these two features don’t always work well together. There’s no indication that the case is made of anything robust, like polycarbonate, or that the electronic guts are hardened, so probably a very good idea not to drop it. And don’t spill beer on it in the pub either, or get it caught in the rain. There are no moving parts inside – it operates on flash memory – so that adds a degree of robustness, and it’ll probably survive being dropped better than, say, an iPod, but I still wouldn’t want to risk it.

But, how portable is it? It’s a little too big to slip comfortably into a pocket (especially in its book-like case – how ironic is that, disguising it as a book?), which means you need to carry a bag of some sort. That’s a bummer. It’s eminently stealable, too, so hey, don’t leave it on the table if you read it in the pub and need a pee! You can slip a book in your pocket (mostly), or you can leave one while you toddle off to the Gents, without risk – usually, anyway, and if it is nicked, you’re out a few pounds – not a few hundred. You’re going to have the Kindle tucked under your arm, with the attendant risks…

Flash memory has a finite lifespan, too, and after a certain number of read-write cycles, it will quietly expire (all flash memory, not just the Kindle), for which almost no manufacturer will provide figures (which probably means it’s not too impressive), so your books aren’t going to be safe for ever.

Then there the cost of feeding it – this is what Amazon says:-

*More than 90,000 books available, including more than 95 of 112 current New York Times® Best Sellers.

*New York Times® Best Sellers and all New Releases $9.99, unless marked otherwise.

How many will be “marked otherwise”, and whether they’re likely to be marked up or down, isn’t mentioned.

Don’t get me wrong, I sort of like the thing, and I’d like one, even though it’s utterly pointless. The thing is, for a real bibliophile, it’s a mere frippery, an indulgence that adds little to the reading experience – it may even detract from it – it’s a geek’s, or a flash git’s, toy. It’s sole advantage (other than its pose value!), is that it puts a lot of books and other literary stuff all in one (small), place, and that, for me, just isn’t enough, because like all electronic devices, sooner or later it’ll just stop working, or get dropped, or wet, and you may well lose everything. Likewise if it gets stolen. In either case, the only way to recover your stuff is to invest in another Kindle.

Amazon, apparently, tacitly acknowledges the risks inherent in owning this device, because everything you buy is backed up online, so you can re-download it whenever you need to, as often as you need to.

My biggest fear, though, is that once the novelty has worn off, it’s likely to be consigned to life’s fringes, along with forgotten mp3 players. It’s an excellent concept, but, I feel, one which is destined to be a niche product, because there’s no real need for it; after all, no one really needs to carry around hundreds of books – not ever. For sheer convenience (no batteries required), portability, durability (I have some books approaching their centenary – there’s no way a Kindle, or a similar device, will ever match that), and all-round sheer pleasure – you don’t get cover art on a Kindle – you simply can’t beat paper for books. Not yet, anyway, and I’ll be very surprised if a viable alternative appears in my lifetime. After all, in science-fiction, how many times have writers “invented” hi-tech alternatives to the humble book, and how many of these were as 100% self-contained and as efficient to use as an actual book is? In my experience, that would be none of them.