Monday, July 26, 2010

The Wonderful World of eReaders

For my birthday a few months ago, Alpaca bought me an Amazon Kindle. I guess it was not difficult for her to find out that I wanted one - it was listed in my Amazon wishlist... Being the gadget lover that I am, I have been playing with my new toy quite a bit since I got it, and here are my thoughts on the subject:

Bad Financial Decision - if you are thinking of getting an eReader because you think that this will somehow save you money, think again. Alpaca bought this device for me for $269, before Amazon reduced the price to $189. Kindle books cost a dollar or two less than a paper book, so at that price you'll have to read about 100 books before you get to the break even point. I read about 10 to 15 books a year, which means that it would take me about 7 years to re-coup Alpaca's investment in the machine. If cost savings is the goal, buying a Kindle is probably not the best move.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. I am currently on a family vacation in Israel, and before getting on my flight on the way over I bought a copy of the latest issue of the economist. The news stand price is $7 and I picked up an electronic copy - on the spot - for $5 (and, of course, no taxes). If I do that every time I fly, the savings could potentially add up.

Another important area of savings are best sellers. Amazon sells kindle editions of NY Times best sellers for $9.99. If the average book costs $15 and you read a lot of best sellers, you could probably make up your initial investment pretty quickly.

Free Samples - with the kindle you can download the first chapter of pretty much any book you want, for free. I no longer decide to buy books by reading the back cover or just on the strength of reviews or recommendations from friends. I read the first 20 or 30 pages, in the comfort of my living room, and then I decide whether the book is worth spending my hard earned money or not. Speaking of which...

The Convenience is Amazing - people rave about how awesome it is not to have to carry a lot of books around. I find that pretty amusing myself, since I rarely carry more than one book with me and I am guessing most people fall into that same category. On the other hand, the ability to buy books ON THE SPOT is incredible. The other night I was reading a book review in a magazine after 1 am at night. The book seemed really interesting. 60 seconds later I had a free sample of it on my kindle. When I was done reading the sample, I had the full book on my machine less than a minute later.

No more waiting for boxes to arrive via USPS, no more paying for shipping. Presto. Book available.

Love the Dictionary - what does "eponymous" mean? Darned if I know. With a regular book I would vow to look up the word later. Of course, I would never actually get around to doing that. Not with Kindle. I move my cursor to the word and a definition just pops up: "giving their name to something". Ahhh, now that sentence makes sense.

I Never Worry About Battery Life - unlike a computer (such as the iPad), the Kindle doesn't use a typical screen, it uses something called eInk. Essentially the Kindle only draws power when you turn the page. Once the page is presented, it just stays there without consuming electricity. This means that I typically only have to charge my kindle every 2 to 3 weeks (assuming I turn off the wireless connection when not in use). It means I can go on vacation, and never worry about chargers or access to electricity.

But, Not All is Well in the Kingdom of Kindle - just so that you don't think I am completely in love with this machine, it's not perfect. It still has many flaws and little annoyances. For one thing, the screen is only grey-scale. No color for the kindle. This is not an issue for most books, but for magazines, where pictures are part of the fun, this is not such a great thing.

Another annoyance is the ability to sort and file your old books and magazines. Magazines are simply not filable and they just linger on your home page. Clutter, clutter galore. Books can be sorted into different folders, but the process is very cumbersome.

You like lending your books? Well, you're out of luck. The books you buy are stuck on your machine. Your friends have to buy their own. From my perspective, this is not such a horrible thing given that many of the books I lend to friends never find their way back home.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that Kindle is a closed system. You can only buy Kindle books from Amazon. You can get plenty of free books from other sources, but if it's a paid book you are after, only Amazon can sell you one. I think that this is patently unfair. It's like only being able to buy movies from Sony on your Sony television, or only being able to buy applications for your iPhone from Apple... oh, wait a second... I am tired of every technology company intentionally crippling their products to lock me in and get more of my money.

There are many other small and large issues and annoyances, but all in all, the Kindle is a really cool device. I am sure that in a few years, when I get a newer, better version of the machine I will be amazed at the primitiveness of this one, but for now, I really like my Kindle.

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Money Beagle said...

Good review, thanks for all the info. I think it will be funny to look back in a few years and see what we think. I remember getting my first Palm and how cool and nifty it was, and by the time three years later when it took its last fateful dive onto the parking lot concrete, it was considered so out of date that I barely even sniffed at the loss.

To me, there will always be something about grabbing a book that can't be replaced.

The Grouch said...

eBooks are wonderful for the profits margins of Amazon and the Publishing companies. I'm surprised eBooks don't sell at a bigger discount to physical books since storage costs are low and shipping costs almost non-existent.