100 Days with my Kindle 2.0: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It’s been just three months with my Kindle 2.0, my first ebook reader. I thought I would sum up my experiences so far as an average, if avid-bordering-on-out-of-control, reader.

The Good:

1. I LOVE having an ebook reader. Compact (holds lots of books), lightweight, enlarged font is easy on the eyes. I do not miss paper at all. In fact, a book in paper-only format is a lost sale to this buyer. There are just too many other books I can download effortlessly. I may still buy paper for a very special “keeper” kind of book, but that hasn’t happened yet. (My book purchasing has at least doubled since I bought a Kindle and I am hardly unique.)

2. Whispernet: to my surprise, I love this feature. I use it constantly, to buy books (I have even gone to Borders with my Kindle and downloaded books from Amazon while browsing). I also use the admittedly slow and cumbersome (I live in one of the few places in the US without 3G speed) internet option to use Twitter and check comments on my blog. But since I do not have an iPhone or Blackberry, it’s that or nothing. YMMV.

3. Notetaking: this was one of the two features that led me to the Kindle over the Sony 505 (the Sony 700 has it. The other issue was Mac compatibility. More on that below). It is cumbersome, no doubt about it. But it’s there and I use it. I also enjoy the search feature and bookmarking features. Losing my place in paper books, which seemed to happen constantly, is one of my pet peeves in life.

4. Amazon customer service, selection, and pricing are phenomenal in my experience. Example: I had one of the first batch of Kindle 2.0s and it suffered from the fadeout in bright sunlight (a known defect). I actually did not bother to attempt to return it until last week, after almost 3 months of use (there is very little actual sunlight where I live, it seems). I got online, asked to have a CS rep call me, and my phone rang immediately at 7:00pm EST. I had a new Kindle in my hands within 24 hours. Not only that, but I turned on Whispernet, and not only did all my books appear, but it opened to the very book, and the very page, I had been reading on my old one. Also, at least for now, Amazon has the best selection and pricing for the books I want to buy. (Check out this site for ebook price comparisons)

The Bad:

1. No way to organize my ebooks. It’s great that whatever books I am currently reading show up first in the list of books, but I have to scroll through page after page to get what I want otherwise.

2. No page numbers. Instead we get “positions”. Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite A Husband has 4026 “positions”, and I am 46% of the way through it. It is hard to get a sense of where you are in a book, and puts a real crimp in my use of the Kindle for writing academic papers which must be cited properly. (This blogger has attempted to find a formula for converting positions to page numbers.)

3. No back light. E-ink readers cannot have true backlighting. Only the Sony 70o has a built in light (it is side-lighting actually, and there are complaints that it does not illuminate evenly or enough in the middle of the text. YMMV.). Attachable lights like the Mighty Bright Book Light are just too bulky and bright.

The Ugly:

1. A limit on notetaking and highlighting. I did not know about this limit until after I had exceeded it. Instead of telling you when you have exceeded it, the Kindle just lets you blithely go on highlighting and making your notes without saving them. You plug in your Kindle to your laptop to download your notes and highlights and BAM! You see half the material you expected. Apparently, Amazon decides on the limits, they apply to both DRM and DRM free files, they are different for each book, and there is no way the user can detect them before hand. A fellow Kindle user, Shelley, has recently posted a very good account of the practice and the problem. This is HORRIBLE. And is mentioned NOWHERE in the Kindle user’s guide or promotional materials.

2. Obviously, the big one here is DRM and the restrictions Amazon places on where I can buy content and my control over it. If I stop using the Kindle, or if Amazon goes out of business, I say bye-bye to the 42 books I have on it. Here’s a good article, the Top Tem Arguments Against DRM that explains the problems with DRM. In fact, Amazon’s lawyers went after a “reverse engineer” recently who had figured out a way to allow Kindle users to purchase books from non-Amazon vendors. Mind you, these were people who wanted to legally purchase content, not people who wanted to steal anything.

In conclusion:

I had avoided the Sony 700 e-reader in part because the contrast is not as sharp as the Kindle and this is still true. But I had also chosen the Kindle because I am a Mac user and feared the necessity of downloading software to get content from my Mac onto my Sony reader.  I have since purchased books in PDF or Mobi from independent publishers, and gotten them easily onto my Kindle.  If I had known how easy it is to get books onto my e-reader this would not have been a factor in my decision, and I may well have bought a Sony, also given its native support for Word and PDF files, which Kindle lacks.

While I do think people get a little obsessively focused on the DRM issue to the exclusion of everything else (I want to ask them — have they eaten factory farmed meat? Are they wearing clothes made in a sweat shop? Do they support local farmers? Do they know anything at all about the worldwide business practices of Amazon’s competitors and how they compare? Does Amazon get no credit at all for stimulating ebook sales and availability, the way Apple did in the early days of the iPod? Sheesh.), there is no question that it is a big, bad problem.

I love, love, love having an e-reader and will never go back to paper books. But if I had to do it all over again, would I still buy the Kindle? Probably. But don’t be surprised to see my Kindle on eBay if Sony comes out with a new reader with wireless connectivity (yes, I am addicted to it now) and a clearer screen.

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