Kindle 3 Impressions: Accolade

I received my Kindle, 6-inch screen, wireless-only version, on 14th October—sixteen days ago. I am hugely impressed by the overall product, so much so, in fact, that is awarded the Fun-Engineering Accolade for Excellence for October 2010 for the Kindle 3.
accolade logo

The Kindle is a ‘game changing’ device. It is a wonderful consumer product and a fabulous piece of technology. From what I had read about it, I considered it too good not to get one and try it out, even though, in a harsh economic climate in Ireland, I am keeping my expenditure to a minimum. I am very pleased with the Kindle and am very glad to have it.

Being a mechanical engineer and an academic, I imagine that I am far from being a typical Kindle user. I did not buy it primarily because I wished to buy books through Amazon, although I have been an Amazon customer for book purchases for quite some time. I was very interested to experience just how good the electronic ink technology had become. I was also very interested in being able to load my own documents, such as technical lecture notes, or a student’s draft PhD thesis I was reviewing. I was curious about whether the 6-inch screen would be adequate for reading PDF files of journal articles. It is adequate for these things, although I believe the larger format version would be better for reading journal articles. The standard Kindle, which has the major advantage of portability and compactness, should be a lot more adequate with some further development, mainly to incorporate finer steps of zoom for PDFs and better panning. I scanned the Kindle, displaying my own lecture notes, at 600 dpi. The image below was re-sized to 50 dpi, but you can see a sample at 600 dpi by clicking on it.


The available zoom values are: fit-to-screen, 150%, 200%, 300% and actual size. In many cases I found these insufficient for reading PDF documents. Generally too, I found it necessary to use landscape format for reading PDF documents, which is fine, but necessarily requires several views per portrait-format page. Where a diagram crossed between views it was not possible to view it at maximum magnification in one view. Vertical panning capability would address that issue.

I commonly experience sore eyes because much of my work as a lecturer and researcher is done at a computer screen. I believe electronic ink devices can alleviate this problem and I am looking forward to further progress, such as computer screens based on electronic ink.

The Kindle came in a very sturdy box, which I am keeping to transport it. I ordered the Kindle without a protective cover, to save that cost. With just a little more ingenuity on the part of Amazon, that excellent package could be modified to be a bundled, free, transporting case for the Kindle that would be thinner than it currently is. The surplus thickness is principally to accommodate the USB cable, which could be safely packaged in currently-empty space that surrounds the Kindle. The transport case would not necessarily serve the same purpose as the nice covers that can be purchased. I like to use the Kindle as it is, without a cover, but I need to carry it in my back-pack on my daily commute. Since purchasing the Kindle I received an e-mail from Amazon offering a vast array of covers for sale. Clearly, Amazon makes a huge profit on these. In my local low-cost shop, Penneys, I can purchase covers of netbook size for €3 to €5, whereas similar covers of Kindle size, which is smaller, would cost €25 from Amazon. I hope Penneys will soon have Kindle-sized covers in stock—there should be strong demand for them.

The Oxford English Dictionary is my favourite and so I am really delighted that the Oxford Dictionary of English comes as standard with the Kindle. For me this is super added-value. However, I have been finding it a little irritating that the dictionary entry appears on screen for almost every word before which the on-screen cursor is placed (thankfully, prepositions, conjunctions etc. are excluded). Maybe I’ll get used to it, but surely there is a power consumption overhead too. This could be déjà vue on a massive scale, [n. [mass noun] a feeling of having already…. It only happens, of course, when I activate the on-screen cursor and not when I am reading normally. I only found this to be an issue when reading PDF documents.

As I had done my homework thoroughly, I knew what to expect when I got the Kindle. Overall it has lived-up fully to what I knew I could expect. However, the Kindle did start off by un-impressing me somewhat. I took out the Kindle and, following the instructions, connected it to my computer with the USB cable provided. A message then appeared on the Kindle telling me that if I wished to read it while continuing to charge the battery through the USB cable I could do so by ejecting the drive letter but leaving the cable connected. That did not work. I ended-up having to wait until the Kindle was fully charged, because I did not wish to disconnect it during its first charging cycle. I have since found that the procedure mentioned does work provided wireless connectivity is turned on.

In Ireland thousands of secondary school children carry rucksacks full of large heavy books to school every day. Over the years the books have become bigger and thicker. It is no exaggeration to say that on a typical school day my son’s very large school bag feels like it is full of concrete blocks. I believe damage is done to the backs of many children on this account. Many parents feel compelled to ferry their children’s school bags to school, even though the children themselves would be capable of walking there if they were not over-encumbered. Alternative solutions have been available such as wheelbarrows, which have not proved popular. Neither have wheeled airline-type trolleys, because they are often considered insufficiently manly. Electronic schoolbooks will totally solve this problem. I hope they will also solve the problem of the exceedingly high cost of schoolbooks in Ireland.

Although I have generally bought books in the past through, in the case of the Kindle I had to purchase through and it was shipped from the US, having been manufactured in China. Publishers around the world operate highly anti-competitive practices of restricting sales to geographical or political regions. Artefacts of previous times are still in place. With the advent of instant electronic publishing, these practices, in their present form, are no longer appropriate and need to be reviewed on a worldwide basis. We live on one world that has no natural barriers to the flow of information. It is the case that personal income levels vary greatly from one part of the world to another and, therefore, prices will have to vary in accordance with some mechanism, for the present. However, the challenge for world leaders and for organizations such as the United Nations is to embrace the new technological possibilities and harness them to bring about more equity, access and fair competition.

Although I purchased the Kindle with wireless access only, because it is sufficient for my needs, Amazon has made a major breakthrough in making the downloading of data available to Kindle users without any additional payment for access to the 3G network in Ireland. So far, in Ireland, regulation has been insufficient to prevent the network utilities for charging excessively for data download. It is only quite recently that one mobile phone company has shown openly on its web pages (though it is not easy to find) that it commonly charges €20.48 per MB of data downloaded from the Internet. Prices for data access will need to become a lot more reasonable in Ireland and I believe Amazon’s move is a step forward.

Besides reading technical PDF documents and the on-board user manual, I have downloaded and am currently still reading one book, for free, in Kindle format, from Project Gutenberg. This is highly satisfactory. The ability to choose a font size that suits is a great convenience. I have also found the Kindle excellent for reading a particular blog that I am interested in, although accessing it is somewhat complicated and the Kindle does not allow the same facility of moving around as a normal web browser would. As presently configured, the Kindle is primarily for reading that is sequential. The ability to resume where one has left off is well worth having, as is the possibility of highlighting text, defining bookmarks, making notes and saving cuttings.

I look forward to being able to borrow library books for reading on my Kindle. Until now I have often used Amazon to find and purchase second-hand books. I hope this will also become possible for pre-owned Kindle format books. As a technical person, however, I appreciate the authentication and legislative challenges that exist. Technically, Amazon has been a trail-blazer and it has made excellent progress. It would be truly tragic if such progress were to be stymied because of a lack of worldwide political action or failure to manage the one world. Worldwide action to protect copyright material in an appropriate manner and to facilitate the distribution of open-access material is essential. Perhaps it may not be feasible to sell-on electronic-format books for ‘second reading’—positive creative thinking is needed here, such as a reasonable charge for transfer of ownership.

The topics I have mentioned in this review are just a small selection of aspects of the Kindle and of the new era that the Kindle has opened-up. There are many challenges ahead to make all of this work in a way that makes sense, incentivizes innovation and efficiency, rewards writers, publishers etc. appropriately, and yet yields enormous benefits for mankind on the one globe, Earth.