Review: One Month With the Kindle 3

Review: One Month With the Kindle 3


I…am a book geek.

I spend considerably more time in front of a book than I do a TV and that time, sunk so deep into a story so as to lose the outside world altogether, is an experience I look forward to.  While I have had one of the original commercial e-ink devices for years, I found that the cumbersome book buying process, delay between page turns, and awkward menu design took something away from the reading experience, so I used it only intermittently.

Still, there is something to be said for the easy and font scalable reading, seemingly limitless choice and convenience that e-ink based book readers can provide.  It’s not unlike switching from watching regular cable TV on a set programming schedule to watching only your favourite shows drawn from the 500 channel universe, whenever you want through a PVR.  You have all of your favourite stuff in one place and can pick and choose your content according to what interests you at that moment.  Provided that the actual reading experience on an e-reader is as good as it is on paper, it gets really hard to go back.

While my old e-book reader was limited in its ability to challenge the paper book experience, and occasionally found itself on a shelf as a result, moving to the new Kindle 3 has brought me back into the digital fold.  That is not to say that I’ll forgo paper books altogether, but there is nothing about reading on the K3 that makes me yearn for dead trees like the old one did.

In the interim, I wanted to share my experience with the K3 so far.  I have had about a month with the device and have spent countless hours reading on it. Having carried it with me almost everywhere, using it both indoors and out, at home and on the road;  I’ve managed not to drop it yet and, fingers crossed, have yet to leave it on the bus like so many paperbacks.

The good

The K3 is remarkably light and thin.  At just 4.8 inches wide by 7.5 inches tall, and .335 inches thick, it fits snugly into the inside pocket of my suit jacket without ripping it and at only 8.5 ounces, doesn’t drag it down.  The device feels very sturdy in my clumsy hands, with nearly soundless buttons and room to store some 3500 books.

The reading screen is much faster and crisper than readers I have tried before, making for very pleasant reading.  If you have never used one before, it’s black text on a grey-white background, similar in appearance to a typical newspaper.   Being an e-ink based display, it is much easier on the eyes than a computer screen.  This is due in part to fact that the technology produces no light of it’s own, requiring the reflected light of the room you are in just like a paper book.  Unlike paper though, you can actually scale the font or change the typeface as desired.  Those of us who need glasses …say thank you. Amazon has increased the contrast ratio in the new version, resulting in 50% better contrast by utilizing the latest E Ink Pearl technology. This is indeed the case and not just marketing.

Reading on the K3 is an absolute pleasure.  The text looks great and page turns are nearly instant.  The unit has forward and backward page turning buttons on both the left and right sides, exactly where your fingers land when you hold it, making it easy to read from either hand with barely any physical movement.  This has also proven to be a surprisingly useful improvement over the paper experience because you can read and turn pages with just one hand, leaving the other free for a snack or beverage. Page turn speed has also be increased, making page turns 20% faster than predecessors.

Another surprising plus has been the read-to-me feature enabled on some of Amazon’s books.  In short, you can have one of the K3’s machine voices read the text out loud through either the built-in speakers or the headphone jack.  I frankly expected something that sounded like early Stephen Hawking recordings but I find the female voice remarkable easy to listen to.  Of course, it’s no where near as good as having a professional story teller weave an artful tale, but it’s serviceable on the cold walks between reading sites.

The K3’s built in keyboard is used for a number of functions beyond searching for books in the Kindle version of Amazon’s online store.  One of the most important for me has been the ability to make annotations in the text and share those notes and book clippings with others.  I am forever collecting interesting passages and the ability to share them through Facebook and Twitter, complete with links to the books themselves, is convenient.  You can also get your clips as a single file.

Getting books is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of user experience (see the next section) however it is still good overall.  Amazon boasts some half a million ebook titles available to Canadians in their on-line store.  To load up on new stuff, just pick the “shop in the Kindle store” option in the menu and up pops a very simplified version of Amazon’s online offering.  Once you find what you want, you can download a sample chapter for free or just buy the book outright. Provided you’re on Wi-Fi or 3G and the connection to the store is working, its amazingly fast.  I went from reading one book to finding, downloading and reading a second book in well under the 60 seconds they advertise.  Another highlight for me was the ability to subscribe to magazines and newspapers and have them wirelessly delivered to me when they hit the newsstand.

The bad

My only real complaint about reading actual books on the Kindle is the fact that the “Table of Contents” option is buried in a second level menu you have to find.  It’s a small thing, but it got annoying in a hurry on day one.  Also, magazines and newspapers generally strip out most of their images so if you are big on those, you had best go with the paper versions.

While the book reading functionality is just about flawless, the process of getting books has some room for improvement.  Even when I used the device in areas with 5-bar cell service, and was happily surfing away on another 3G device using the same provider, the K3 was frequently unable to contact the Amazon store over 3G.  When this happened, the device would advise me to find a Wi-Fi network -but a reboot usually solved the problem.   That process can take a few minutes though and there were days when I had to do that several times.  The basic built-in web browser suffered the same connection problems and occasionally caused the device to freeze up altogether, requiring another series of tedious reboots.  You won’t want to do too much of that though, as the wireless sucks up the battery quite quickly – I got weeks of reading with the wireless off, but only a few days with some moderate surfing.

The Kindle version of the Amazon store is also much less useful than the regular version.  While the search for books worked perfectly (when the connection was working), the inability to sort books according to price, prize winners, New York Times best seller list or simply to search within a given category, made casual book browsing less enjoyable for me.  This was made worse by miscategorized books, which often filled up the first few pages of multiple genres.  By way of example, the first 10 top results in the “Children’s E-book” category include Dracula, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe’s Complete Poetical works and…of course…War and Peace, the bedtime story we all know and love.  The “Advice and How to” category offers Alice in Wonderland, Sense and Sensibility, along with the Scarlet Letter …just what they are “advising” here is unclear. So…, when it came to finding stuff, the keyboard was my friend.

Lastly, although you are able to view PDF document’s on the device, the relatively small 6-inch screen (which is great for plain text) is ill suited for the 8.5 x 11 world of the majority of PDF documents out there.  Add to that the inability to scale fonts and it makes it an often frustrating experience.  Yes, you can zoom into any part of a regular sized page and see it just fine, but then you are constantly having to move the zoom around the page as you go from line to line.   Also, the service that lets you email documents to your Kindle does not work in Canada, so you have to move them over via USB or move to the USA.

The verdict

When I am able to connect to the Kindle store, which is the vast majority of the time, I am very satisfied with the overall experience.  I can get just about any book I want in seconds, anywhere with Wi-Fi of cell phone data service, on a small, light, dependable and sturdy device that is as easy to read as newsprint and lasts for weeks on a single charge. The new design is slim, light and very easy to hold for long durations of reading. The display is super crisp, pages turn very fast, and starting at $139 (Wi-Fi only), $189 (Wi-Fi + 3G) and $380 (9.7″ display) you’re really getting a bargain, even at the high-end of things.

The book geek is happy.