Yes, that’s right. I had my grubby paws on the new tech product of the day, Amazon’s $399 electronical book-reading device. And, as fortune would have it, some totally random person named Sarah H. dropped into the comment thread on my Heinlein post to inquire as to the Office of Special Plans‘s opinion of the Kindle.
On the surface, Sarah’s question seems off topic — having nothing to do with Heinlein, time travel, or the possibility of forcibly impregnating a female version of yourself (seriously, go read that story). But since “All You Zombies” is exactly the sort of free-floating Internet-based text product one might hope to read on an e-book reader, perhaps her question isn’t entirely off topic.
I spent all of three-and-half minutes variously looking at and handling a Kindle, so take everything here with a big grain of e-salt. First, I was not at all put off by the retro-tech, Battlestar Galactica look of the device. In fact, I loved the throwback aesthetic. Also, the grayscale screen (made by E Ink) seemed remarkably readable and easy on the eyes. You “turn” the pages with big touch bars on the left and right sides, scroll with a nifty touch wheel, and there’s full-size keyboard with slim, slightly askew buttons to boot. I could easily and happily read a book-length text on this device. (My limited experience with an iPhone, in contrast, leaves me doubting that I could do a book on that little screen, but who knows?) And the size felt appropriate: very light and thin, but not breakable or flimsy feeling. Not everything has to fit in your pocket.
The big flaw is what the Kindle lacks: a WiFi connection and a full Web browser. If I’m paying $399, I want an entire Internet at my finger tips please. Amazon instead offers a no-cost connection over a 3G network. No monthly bills for the connection is a neat trick, but then again if you have to pay monthly subscription fees for newspapers, magazines and Amazon’s pre-selected blog feeds (yes, pay for blogs!) — well, that’s not much of a free connection, is it? And given that Amazon’s target demographic for this gizmo is probably bookish metropolitan types swimming in the open WiFi seas of America’s cities, the free 3G connection starts to look a lot like a crippling defect.
The Kindle lets you work around this Internet restriction by emailing anything in PDF or Word format into your device. Which is really nice…but not $400 nice. Oh Amazon, you would have had me with a Web browser!
A few final thoughts below the fold.
UPDATE: So there is a Web browser. Of sorts.
UPDATE THE SECOND: TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington reports that the browser blows major chunks.
- I’m not sure about the $10 price point for new books. I want authors (and everyone else involved in making books) to be well compensated, of course, but that price is more than $5-$6 price I pay for pulpy sci-fi paperbacks now and only a hair below the $12ish price for upscale trade paperbacks. I think Amazon’s pricing scheme calls for e-books to get cheaper once they’ve been out for a while, but $10 seems a bit high for something with zero distribution, production or material costs. (I feel the same way about the price of albums on iTunes, by the way.) You can’t hold an e-book and it didn’t travel from printer to warehouse to bookstore before reaching your grubby hands.
- I remain unclear about whether the Kindle file format will be interoperable with non-Kindle devices. I’m assuming not. Which is bad, because I certainly don’t want to pay $10 for e-books I couldn’t read on my other screened devices (be they laptops or iPhones). That seems to amount to a DRM restriction. And since, as I griped about above, Kindle has no WiFi or Web browser, there’s no way it can become my surrogate, on-the-go replacement PC — and if I’m going to have other on-the-go screens in my life, why should I accept Amazon’s diktat against e-book portability? If I pay $10 and want to read the e-book on my iPhone (if I had one), shouldn’t I be able to do that?
- Maybe some shrewd nerd will hack the Kindle and get it online for real. Here’s hoping, because I quite enjoyed my quick encounter with it and would love to have something very much like it in my life. The screen was something silky and unusual, something I could really embrace for my screen reading. It felt, literally, easy on the eyes.