Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: Kindle 3G + WiFi vs. Kindle for Android vs. Hardcover Book

I've had my Kindle for a week now, and I don't know that I've read this much in a while.  It's just so much more convenient to be able to read with my Kindle rather than having to carry around a big hardcover wherever I go.  But when I shelled out $249 for this thing ($189 Kindle + $60 cover), I wondered how it would compare to having Kindle for Android on my HTC Evo, or just reading out of a good old-fashioned hardcover.  It better be a wonderful experience, considering how much I spent on the device just so I could spend more money on books in the Kindle Store!

I purchased the 3rd generation Kindle with 3G.  At first, I was tempted to get the WiFi-only version and save $50, but I figured if I'm going to have this thing for a few years, I'd rather not worry about always being in WiFi range to download/purchase new books or sync my place in a current book should I decide to read on my phone instead.  I had money from working over the summer, so the $50 extra wasn't the end of the world to me.  If you're on a tighter budget, you would probably be just fine with the WiFi-only version.  Personally, I haven't used the Kindle anywhere outside of my apartment yet, but I could envision myself reading in the park or by the canal downtown.  I'm of the mind that if you're going to be making any purchase that will last for more than a couple years, you better make sure you're happy with it so that 1 or 2 years down the line, you don't regret the fact that you cheaped out that extra $50 or whatever.

In addition to the Kindle itself, I spent $60 on the lighted black leather cover.  The leather is alright and it feels plenty sturdy to protect the Kindle.  The light is bright enough and covers the screen adequately.  Some of the reviews on Amazon complain about it being an uneven light due to its position, which is true, but I still have no problems reading the last few lines.  The convenience of having the light as part of the cover and having it powered by the Kindle is worth it, even if the light is uneven.  I'd prefer that to having to carry around a clip-on light.  As I've said previously, the case adds quite a bit of heft to the Kindle.  I've mostly gotten used to it now, though if you don't plan on needing the light, you might better off with a lightweight protective skin instead.  I've been reading in bed at night quite a bit, and I prefer to have the light with the cover rather than having to situate myself specifically to read by desklight.  So I'm plenty happy with my purchase, although $60 is pretty steep.  I think $30-40 would be more reasonable.

So, $249 later, I have a brand new Kindle.  But how does it compare to Kindle for Android or a hardcover book?

The Kindle screen is, hands down, the best way to read a book.  The e-Ink technology really does simulate the look of ink on paper, without the inconvenience of a book's natural tendency to close when set down for a moment or the printing inconsistencies that sometimes result in paragraphs/pages that are difficult to read.  The text doesn't look blocky or fuzzy like it can on a normal LCD screen, and it truly comes as close as I've seen to simulating ink.  Being able to change the text size is a welcome feature as well.  Depending on the reading position I'm in, I've found it very convenient to be able to increase or decrease the font size as I see fit.  There are a few different fonts and line-spacing options as well, although the defaults were just fine for me.

This is my first Kindle, so a few of the features I was not aware of, such as the dictionary feature.  While you're reading a book, you can use the cursor to select a word and at the bottom or top of the screen it will show you the definition of that word.  This is an awesome feature, as there were quite a few words I saw in A Game of Thrones that I flat-out did not recognize.  After all, when's the last time you used the word portcullis?  You can then press a button to expand the definition, and from there search Google or Wikipedia.  I haven't had to use this too often, but the Wikipedia function could come in very handy next time I read a piece of nonfiction.  The text-to-speech feature is interesting, although a little annoying when publisher's disable it.  I don't listen to many audiobooks in the first place, but I can imagine using the text-to-speech function to continue a book while I'm on a long drive.  The voice itself  does well enough, and I can see it working for temporary situations like I mentioned, but it's not something you'd want to listen to for an entire book.

The keyboard is functional.  Not Blackberry quality or anything, but you really don't use it that often.  The menus are manageable; nothing is very flashy, but it doesn't need to be.  The Kindle is for reading, and it does a fine job of cutting out the BS and allowing you to enjoy your books.  Page-turning with the buttons on the side of the screen is convenient pretty much any way you hold the Kindle.  I occasionally turn the page by accident, but I'm still getting used to it.

The battery life isn't quite as great as I'd like it to be.  I haven't been keeping perfect track of it, but I do need to charge it every few days.  This is likely because I keep the wireless on so it will sync my bookmark(s) between devices.  It's still better than I'd expect to get from any other device.  If you were to need the battery to last a long time (such as on a plane or a long drive), you wouldn't need the wireless on anyway.

Kindle for Android
This is another great way to read your books, although it has its drawbacks.  Having a 4.3" screen on my Evo made reading manageable, but it can get frustrating seeing only 1 paragraph at a time.  Also, if I set the phone down for too long, the screen will reduce its brightness or turn off.  This is good for saving battery life, but I also found myself making sure I tapped my screen every now and then while reading to make sure the screen didn't turn off on me.  Page turning was fast and fluid though.

Using Kindle for Android on your phone is something that can be very convenient, but it's still something I avoid if I have my Kindle around.  But since I always have my phone near me, it's very simple to read 5-10 pages while I'm waiting for a friend to pick me up or I'm waiting for food at a restaurant -- any of those times where you're just wasting 5-10 minutes.  You'd be surprised how much reading that can add up to.  Having Kindle for Android is worth it for that, especially because it syncs my place in the book with my Kindle.

Overall, Kindle for Android (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) is better as a convenience than as a primary eReader. It's not something I'd like to read on all the time, but it's great to have when I'm on the go and don't have my Kindle with me.  I read all of No One Would Listen on my Evo, and it worked well enough.  I wouldn't be in a rush to read another book exclusively on my phone, but it complements the Kindle very well.

You already know what it's like to read out of a book.  I should say that while some people love the feel of a book in their hands, I'm not one of those people.  I don't want to read a book at my computer desk, but I don't really care what medium the book comes in as long as I can read it comfortably.  With some HUGE books, that can be a challenge.  I can't imagine reading some of the books from "A Song of Ice and Fire" if I had them in hardcover.  If I read them as eBooks, though, I don't need to worry about lugging the book around everywhere.

Nevertheless, there's at least one thing I miss when I'm reading an eBook.  I have a semi-photographic memory, as do many medical students.  Often times when I'm studying, I remember where exactly on the page or slide a piece of information was given, so if I can navigate to that page or slide I can find it right away.  Same thing with a book I'm reading for pleasure.  Sometimes I'll remember the author introducing someone or something, and I can remember what the page looked like and find it pretty quickly.  With eBooks, you can't do that -- 1st because changing pages takes longer and 2nd because depending on the font size and what device you're using, the pages aren't always generated with the same content on a specific page.  The Kindle does have a search function, although I haven't used it yet.  The search function in Kindle for Android is not yet enabled (not sure if it is for iPhone, iPod, etc.).

This is a situation where I do need to change the way I read a book in order to use a Kindle. In the end, it might end up being faster and more effective than how I usually search for information, but I need to force myself to use the device in a specific way for that to happen.

So is the Kindle worth it?  For me, it certainly was.  Still, $139-$249 is a lot to pay for an eReader, and depending on your budget, you may or may not come to the same conclusion.  If you want to take a Kindle for a spin, they'll be in Best Buy stores soon.  If you have an Android phone or an iPhone, download the Kindle software and buy a book to give the idea of eBooks a shot.  You can find free books on there as well.  The Kindle is definitely an investment, but a lot of the eBooks are cheaper than print versions (sometimes by more than $5).  Over the course of the next 2-3 years, it will probably pay for itself in that regard.

My last note deals with DRM.  In an ideal world, the books on the Kindle Store would be DRM-free so I wouldn't need to worry about being locked to Amazon's store for the foreseeable future.  Unfortunately, that's not the case.  Publishers and authors alike are making many of the same mistakes that music companies did in joining the digital age.  Personally, I think Amazon's Kindle service is worth the price and I wouldn't even want to pirate these books (even though they're easily available if you know where to look).  Still, should a competing service ever entice me to leave the Kindle ecosystem, I'll be in trouble as far as what to do with all of my books.

That being said, I have more confidence in Amazon's desire to keep prices low and to promote DRM-free books if/when given the opportunity -- especially compared to, say, Barnes & Noble.  The Nook is a pretty slick device too, but historically Barnes & Noble's prices have always been ridiculously high compared to Amazon's.  And while quite a few publishers are controlling the prices of their eBooks now, given their respective histories, I'd expect Amazon to fight for lower prices much harder than I'd expect B&N to.  I don't like the idea of investing hundreds of dollars into DRM'd eBooks (although Amazon's DRM is relatively easy to break), but Kindle offers an excellent experience with its hardware, Whispersync, and competitive pricing that I'm willing to give it a shot.

Bottom line:  If you have the money and you do a lot of reading, you should seriously consider investing in a Kindle.  I'm loving mine, and I just wish I had one a few years ago when I had more time available to read!

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