Monday, February 1, 2010

My brief love affair with the Kindle DX

This past holiday season, my household was gifted with a new Kindle DX.  While I was dubious at first, the usefulness of the device soon won me over.

Things I liked about the Kindle DX

  • I am a voracious reader and frequent traveler.  Having access to dozens of books, a New York Times subscription plus limited web access really put my mind at ease.  I'm constantly afraid of running out of things to read while on a plane, and the Kindle soothed my worries on that score.
  • For some reason, I had not realized that e-books are offered at such a steep discount to their paper counterparts.  This made the initial high price of the device much, much easier to stomach, at least for me.  I know that I don't spend enough on books that getting deals for $9.99 will ever cause the Kindle to pay for itself, but I appreciate the gesture on Amazon's part anyway.
  • Portability.  Easy to carry, not too large or too small.  I find a number of hand-held products appear to be designed for larger, more ham-handed persons than myself.  This one felt just right.  The full keyboard at the bottom of the screen is small, but perfectly useable.  Miraculously light and pleasant to hold.  I loved sitting on an airplane and being able to read a four-hundred page novel without having a heavy book to lug around.
  • Long battery life.  I had been reading from the Kindle for a few hours a day, and did not need to charge it for over a week.  I found the battery life especially satisfactory.  There is an unobtrusive battery life symbol at the upper right-hand corner of the display which I found comforting.  No surprise shut-down while you are in the middle of a sentence.
  • I loved the appearance of the black and white e-ink display.  It has a slightly Etch-a-Sketch quality that I found charming.
  • The read-aloud voice sounds slightly, but not entirely, like Stephen Hawking, which I enjoyed.
  • Finding free books -- those in the public domain -- is a little difficult but not impossible.  I downloaded most of the works of Shakespeare on it for free.
  • I liked some of the screensavers, especially the ones that looked like old-timey woodcuts.  I enjoyed the mild sense of cognitive dissonance I got from seeing antique looking art on the high-tech screen.
  • The area where I thought the Kindle really shines is with newspaper and magazine subscriptions.  I've always hated reading the newspaper, because of the oversize way that it is formatted.  Each sheet is huge and folding it and re-folding it, or even just holding it up to read, can be a full-contact sport, pretty much ensuring that it is impossible to read the newspaper and multi-task.  I'm probably dating myself here, but before the advent of the internet, I preferred to get my news by reading weekly magazines such as Newsweek or Time, rather than the daily newspaper.  The other thing that I dislike about newspapers (and magazines too) is the way that articles are frequently broken up, so that the valuable real-estate on the front page can be shared among as many stories as possible.  I hate having to hunt for an article that is continued on one of the back pages.  With the advent of and, I never looked back.  However, I feel the Kindle is an even superior reading experience than getting news online for several reasons.  Reading New York Times or The Wall Street Journal on the Kindle gave me a sense of completeness that you'll never get from the web.  It gave me the sensation of having read the paper "cover to cover" whereas, on the web, the content may have been shifted around and you're never really sure if you got everything.  No more annoying story breaks, or awkward page turns, as you'd find in a print version.  The magazine size of the Kindle was ideal.  Each newspaper article has a "next article" button at the bottom of the page, accessible by the mini-joystick, so you can easily skip through articles you don't want to read.  The menu option on the newspaper allows you to see each "section" of the paper, Opinion, Sports, Local, Entertainment, etc. and read all articles in that section, or choose articles one by one.  Best of all, NO advertising of any sort.  I can't think of any other format that can boast that.  This is my new, number one, preferred way to access the news.

Now for the bad news.

Things I didn't like about the Kindle DX

  • Page turns seemed a tad slow to me.  I'm a fast reader, and like to read the final sentence on a page right as I'm turning the page.  It took me a good while to get the knack of pressing the "next page" button at just the right time.  Even then, I felt like I was waiting half a second in-between each page for the new one to load.  It's an odd sort of pause that I wouldn't have while reading a normal book.
  • The interface on the home page seems a bit clunky and old-school looking.  That in and of itself wasn't a problem, but it did make finding special features rather difficult.
  • The read-aloud feature isn't available on most things.  As I understand it, Amazon had planned to include it for nearly all content, but was blocked by some publishers who didn't want to hurt audiobook sales.
  • You have to pay for access to blogs.  Ridiculous!  They're available on the internet for free.
  • After fiddling with it for over a week, I still couldn't figure out how to load PDF's on it or sync it with an iPhone.  I'm a pretty tech-saavy person.  I was surprised that this stumped me.
  • Having an iPhone, I'm so used to having a touch screen on a hand-held device.  I kept stupidly touching the screen, before remembering that it's not a touch screen.
  • Again, being so used to reading things online, even though I knew that the e-ink display was designed to be easier on the eyes, I kept finding myself being surprised by having to turn on a reading light or not be able to read the thing in the dark.
  • It took me a little over a week to notice this, but all the fonts are the same.  I'm not such a font-hound that I could name the font the Kindle uses off the top of my head, but it seems like an obscure one.  I kind of missed seeing different typography in different books.
  • It seemed to me that the newer the title, the greater the likelihood of spelling errors and strange formatting mistakes such as spaces in the middle of a word.
  • Unlike real books, you cannot share titles you've purchased with your friends.
  • Annoyingly, I could not figure out how to turn off the screen rotation.  Sometimes, I like to curl up on my side while reading, and the Kindle DX rendered this impossible, as it always wanted to "correct" itself and be read right side up, no matter which way I turned it.
  • Maybe I'm overly sensitive to this just now because of the recent brouhaha over whitewashed covers, but I noticed that out of all of the famous authors featured on the screensavers, none of them were people of color.  I would have loved it if Langston Hughes, Phyllis Wheatley, and other authors had been featured alongside Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson and others.
  • Also!  Once and again, a screensaver would come up that was an ad for Kindle.  Lame, in my opinion.  This kind of advertising goes under the same category as those dancing, wriggling pop-up ads at the bottom of television shows.  Unnecessary and annoying.
  • One more thing bothered me -- and this may be silly, I know.  I was concerned that I felt there was anything about the Kindle to criticize, let alone so many.  My internal critic was telling me, "wah, wah, wah, tell me more about your first world problems."  It's such an amazing thing to have so much reading material in such a slim, easy to carry device.  You know those status reports that Captain Picard reads?  It felt like I was reading one of those.  Like I'm living in the future!  So, I was disappointed in myself, that I found so many faults to pick with it.  

Update: As I was writing this review this weekend, the Kindle DX suddenly died.  At first the screen was frozen on the screensaver.  I assumed that it might need charging up.  When I plugged it in overnight, the screen went white.  After rebooting it, the screen was covered in scratchy lines and garbled half-images of the screensaver.  After rebooting it again, I briefly got it to work again, but it quickly pooped out.  I am so disappointed.  I was just starting to fall in love with it, and now, suddenly it's gone.  At the moment I realized the Kindle wasn't working, it suddenly struck me how many hundreds of unread pages lay trapped inside.  How sad!  Even more concerning, I'm worried that Amazon may play hardball and refuse to replace the broken device.  Check out all the one-star ratings for the Kindle DX on the Amazon website and you'll see what I mean.  Apparently this is a not uncommon problem, which they have been very reluctant to address.  Not cool, Amazon.  Not cool at all.

Initial rating: 3 stars.  I took away one for the minor quibbles I had with it, and another for the high price and proprietary manner in which Amazon lets you access materials.
Final rating:  One star.  For being so flimsy (screen died after only a month), for reputed poor customer service and for breaking my heart.


  1. Don't be too quick to judge the customer service. Robert got his Kindle and his friend dropped and broke it less than an hour after it arrived on a Friday. He called the number and they shipped him a new one by Monday. The only question they asked was "Was it dropped more than 6 feet?" It may be different with the DX *shrugs* Those online reviews tend to be only negative experiences and rarely do you see the good ones.

  2. Update: I finally got around to calling them, and they tried remotely rebooting it. They also advised that I try plugging it in to charge from my laptop, not directly from the wall.
    That helped slightly, as the screen flickered to life briefly, but now the screen has gone blank again, so I suppose I'll have to give them another call tomorrow.

  3. More update: The remote reboot that the Amazon representative tried did bring the screen back to life... somewhat. The screen still did look so pale as to be nearly unreadable.
    I called them back, and they'll be sending a replacement in the mail. As long as I mail the original Kindle back, there'll be no charge.



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