Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, July 14, 2008

Kindle-riffic

After a couple of days with a Kindle I have found just about every expectation I had for the device completely turned over on its head. I thought things would be one way, turns out they're another. The short version of my Kindletastic weekend: the Kindle is an incredible leap forward and yet it also is a device that feels like it has a bit of a ways to go.

Before I make like CNET and give a rundown of some pros and cons, let me first say that if you are a literary agent the Kindle almost seems like it was designed expressly for you. I can't imagine a more helpful device. My work life has officially been drastically, incredibly improved.

First expectation countered: I thought I would be annoyed having to pay 10 cents every time I converted my own Word documents.

Wrong! Sending partials to the Kindle is just. so. easy.

Step 1. Partial comes into my work e-mail address. Step 2. I forward it to my Kindle e-mail address. Step 3. Documents show up automatically on the Kindle a minute later, already formatted properly and just sitting there waiting to be read on the crystal clear screen.

SO EASY. I could plug the Kindle into the computer and drag and drop files for free, but it's just way easier to e-mail them. Take my 10 cents, Amazon! Please! I beg of you!

I can't overstate how awesome it is to be able to read manuscripts on a good screen, anywhere, with uniform formatting, without printing anything out. Just awesome. The only hitch is that it's tricky reading partials away from my work e-mail account because I like to refresh my memory about the genre and subject before I start reading, so now I'm asking people to paste their original query into the first page of the partial. Problem solved.

Second expectation countered: I thought the device would look clunky and '80s-ish.

Inaccurate! I think the Kindle has gotten an unfairly bad rap for being an ugly device -- I don't think it is, anyway. It has an interesting shape to it as it's tapered on both sides, it's lightweight, I find the tiny keyboard surprisingly easy to type on, and it has a seriously cool scroll wheel unlike anything I've seen before.

I've heard a lot of complaints about the page turn buttons being so big that it's too easy to accidentally turn pages. When you're holding the Kindle by itself, yes, it's a little challenging to figure out exactly how to hold it and turn pages. But when it's in the leather carrying case that comes with it it's very easy to hold and turn pages. As you can see from the picture above (I did brave the beach with the Kindle after all), I just crack open the case and start reading.

Now for some drawbacks.

Third expectation countered: I didn't think I'd be bothered by the screen-blink when turning pages.

I am. When you turn pages on the Kindle the entire screen briefly turns black, and then it moves on to the next page. I knew this going in since I've seen this wipe before on other e-readers, and I may still get used to it, but so far it bothers me that turning pages is such a slow process. There is so much of a pronounced delay that I have to anticipate turning the page and press the button a second or two before I'm done reading the page to keep up my reading pace. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.

The blink prevents the device from disappearing in my hands. I know it's only been a weekend, but I never lose myself in the device in the way that I don't even notice turning pages when I'm reading a paper book -- I can turn the page of a paper book faster than the Kindle can turn a page. The Kindle delay also is not uniform and delays may vary, which further complicates trying to anticipate the page turn to get into a reading flow. And that bothers me.

It also contributes to...

Fourth expectation countered: I didn't think I'd miss paper books when reading a Kindle


But I do! Regular blog readers know I'm extremely unsentimental when it comes to paper books. I don't really care about the smell, the feel in my hands, putting it on the bookshelf... none of that. All that matters to me are the words. Bring on the future. Er. Or so I thought.

Chalk this one up to not knowing what you have 'til it's gone. I'm reading THE BOOK THIEF on the Kindle, and I really am enjoying the book a great deal. But. I kind of miss being able to look at the cover! I miss not being able to flip back to previous pages to re-read a section very easily! I'm honestly surprised at these things -- I thought I'd get an e-reader and never look back.

And I also miss not knowing precisely how far I am into the book. Kindle shows tiny dots at the bottom of the page that show approximately how far you are through a book, and, uh, I'm on dot 20 or 21. Or something. They're too small to count easily. I think I'm halfway through. I don't know. It also shows "locations" at the bottom, by which I think roughly translates "lines," provided said lines are in a certain sized font. And I'm on "Locations 3052-60," only I don't really know what that means. Not exactly the same thing as being on Page 234.

And that leads to...

Fifth expectation countered: I'd heard people complain about the physical device's shortcomings, but I thought the user interface would be smooth.


Well, it's kind of smooth, especially the Amazon store part, which works flawlessly and easily. It is even extremely easy to return a book you bought accidentally, which I managed to do within 10 minutes of using the Kindle. I also really like opening up the Kindle and resuming exactly where I left off in a book the last time.

But clicking around on a Kindle is sloooow. Typing is an exercise in trust because it takes so long for the letters to appear. The dots thing instead of page numbers really bothers me.

Some of this is saved by the cool scroll wheel on the right hand side, which is really easy to use and just looks cool. But then there are just some strange choices that make this feel like a very raw device. It's not easy to organize manuscripts in the main screen. I wish I could create folders for work and others, but as far as I know that's not possible (might be wrong on that). The web browser correctly belongs in the "experimental" folder, because while the wireless connection is surprisingly fast, the Kindle isn't really able to interpret many web pages into anything comprehensible (although this blog actually works pretty well because of how few pictures I have).

So the ultimate verdict: I am extremely excited about my Kindle. It's going to change my life, and I think I'll look back and marvel at the pre-Kindle world and reminisce about it in the way that I remember what life was like before the Internet. Having a wireless handheld device with a crystal-clear screen is simply incredible. And even with my reservations I will probably look first to see if books are available on the Kindle before I buy them and I'll use it first instead of a paper book.

But this is definitely a first generation device, and there are plenty of kinks to be worked out. It's so easy to imagine improvements, which I'm sure will be coming quickly in future devices in the coming years. So while I think quite a few bibliophiles will love it, particularly with a hefty price tag I hesitate to recommend it to just anyone.

But the future is here. For real this time.






55 comments:

clindsay said...

Very detailed report, sir. Thanks!

And THE BOOK THIEF - what a marvelous book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :-)

Margaret Yang said...

Would you compare this to back in the day when we had dial-up internet? (Or are you too young to remember that?)

Nathan Bransford said...

margaret-

Yes, that's a good comparison. Still a little buggy and slow, but still very exciting.

doreen said...

Might it make a bad query look like a good one?

David said...

Amazon's next quartely report will include a footnote thanking "that guy in San Francisco": "Dude! Your dimes put us over the top!"

ilyakogan said...

Welcome to the fold fellow Kindlemaniac! :)

I want to hear your opinion about MP3 background playback and audio books if you tried those features. I've been experimenting with those and my immediate small complaint is the memory Kindle comes with. But then again adding a 2GB SD card should be cheap and easy...

A Paperback Writer said...

Well, this is the most balanced feedback I've seen about a Kindle. Thanks, Nathan.
Your #4 was most helpful to me. I would have a real problem with that.
It sounds like this is indeed the device for you! If I could grade papers on one of these, I'd buy one too! But since 7th graders are unlikely to e-mail me their homework (some of them are unlikely to DO their homework), I'll pass on it for now.

Dan said...

Does it shut off if you leave it idle for a certain period of time?

And is it 'crash protected' should it slide off your lap if you fall asleep reading on your back porch?

Nathan Bransford said...

I haven't listened to mp3s or audiobooks on it, but I can't imagine that I'll really be using that feature.

Dan -

A weird screensaver comes on if you leave it on too long, but as far as I know it doesn't switch off. I don't know about crash protection.

Annalee said...

I'll admit to being a paper-sentimentalist, but I'm also fond of trees. And now that I've graduated, I'm a new commuter. So I can appreciate the value of a handheld that allows reading and writing on the train. I'll probably wait for the second or third generation of this before I snap one up, though--because I'm broke, and some of the problems you listed would bug the crap out of me.

Thanks for the evenhanded review. Very helpful.

ilyakogan said...

Kindle doesn't consume any energy while the page is on the screen. Part of the delay I've been told is processor waking up when you press a button. When you don't press any keys in a while it assumes that you are not using it and goes into "screensaver" mode. There is nothing to save really, except your privacy...

Kim Lionetti said...

Hi Nathan--

I bought my Kindle a couple of months ago and love it. You're right. It seems the perfect tool for agents and editors with one BIG flaw.

My biggest complaint is that it has its own "locations" instead of the document page numbers. This makes client revisions difficult. I can live with not knowing what page I'm on in a purchased book, but when making notes for a manuscript, it's quite an inconvenience.

For reading submissions, however, it's the bees' knees!

Nathan Bransford said...

kim-

Definitely agree with you! Glad you're enjoying yours.

writtenwyrdd said...

Thank you for the rundown. I am now convinced I'd hate the Kindle for the 3rd and 4th reasons.

JES said...

Excellent. As others have said, thanks for the even-handed review.

Re: finding a previous section -- isn't there some way to place a "bookmark"? I seem to recall that you could put any number of those in a book you're reading (not sure if they stick once you load a different book, or what). Maybe that would help, if true?

Nathan Bransford said...

jes-

Yes, you can place bookmarks, which is a nice feature, although I'm not always sure where I'll want to come back to until later in the book.

Corked Wine and Cigarettes said...

Seems like a nice device. I'm using my iPhone like an e-reader. Works well, but marathon reads may result in temporary blindness.

I prefer a natural book, though the little phone is a much more travel-friendly size and weight.

Did you consider the iPhone before getting the Kindle - I thought you mentioned it earlier. Any reason you didn’t go Apple’s route?

Kristin Laughtin said...

Definitely the most balanced and practical review of a Kindle I've seen yet. I have no plans on getting one since it's not something I really need right now, but I'll be sure to remember your words once e-readers start becoming more popular, or if I do get in the market for one.

Katie Alender said...

The page number thing gets me, too, although I don't mind the screen flash.

The way you describe the screen saver makes me think you don't know how to put the device to sleep, which is very handy: press both the ALT key and the letter resize key at the same time. Same thing to wake it up.

Much handier than turning off and on, especially if you're just putting it away for a minute but don't want the page to be turned.

Or maybe you already knew that...?

Nathan Bransford said...

katie-

Thanks for the tip. Usually I just turn it off because I'm rarely interrupted when reading -- the only times I've seen the screen saver were a few times when I got distracted.

Jenny Rappaport said...

See, I know that getting a Kindle would be an incredibly practical thing to do for my job.

On the other hand, I think the page flash would drive me absolutely nuts. Raving mad.

Jana Lubina said...

Okay my comment has nothing to do with the Kindle (which I abhor in an almost irrational way) but I just read The Book Thief, and oh my god, what a beautiful and heart breaking novel!

rhienelleth said...

I got my Kindle the same week you got yours, Nathan, and I very much agree with this review. I LOVE it, don't get me wrong - I got it primarily to save my bookshelves, which creak under the weight of the books they already hold (barely). And I found the idea of being able to read and take notes on my own work quite alluring, not to mention the fellow writers I beta read for. Now I won't have to either read their 100K novel on my computer, or print out 500 pages.

All of that said, my biggest quibble so far is the lack of page numbers. I MISS my page numbers. But not enough to send the Kindle back. :)

Of possible interest to you: really nicely made leather book covers for the Kindle, which hold it more securely than the cover Amazon provides. www.buymedge.com Sadly, as they are one of the only aftermarket cover providers, they are sold out until the end of the month. But everyone who's purchased one has given them rave reviews. I am eagerly awaiting my own. :)

Other Lisa said...

Sounds like something I would enjoy for some situations.

But can I use a Kindle while riding the exercise bike at the gym?

Erik said...

Thanks. I appreciated finally seeing an unbiased review, and I'm glad it was a step forward for you. Perhaps this is the future of publishing after all!

Ippy said...

I had a Kindle for two weeks and got rid of it. I had been (and am again) using an old Compaq iPaq, which I find has all the features of Kindle in a smaller, faster package. I can email for free, I can read and edit any text file, and MS Reader has all the bookmark, annotation, memory recall an e-reader could really ever need, including highlighting and note-taking, and even a built-in dictionary. It also has very easy and comfortable (and instantaneous) page turning. I'm really not sure why more people don't just use a pocket pc to read ebooks, or why they think the Kindle was so revolutionary, when it does little more than my ten year old iPaq does (now produced under the HP label). I'm glad you're (mostly) enjoying yours, though. Cheers!

Michael Curry said...

Thanks for the detailed review!

The lack of page numbers definitely strikes me as something that would be a bit annoying when reading a published book, but incredibly annoying when reading any sort of manuscript on which I wanted to make notes for later use by the author.

How are you currently getting around that limitation?

E.A. West said...

Thanks for all the information on your Kindle! It's confirmed a sneaking suspicion I've developed in the last few days; even if I suddenly could afford one, I'll wait for a later model so they can work out the screen-blink, lack of page numbers, and slow typing issues since those would undoubtedly drive me insane.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Nathan! Good, helpful review...wonder how long it will take until the price comes down, kinda like when the Notebooks first came out...now if they could just incorporate the smell of a new book....

Lynne said...

Wow! I looked at the book cover and a blurb said THE BOOK THIEF is going to change your life. How do you feel?
A-OK? Better or worse? About the same? So, Kindle-riffic is like dial-up internet but very exciting.
Okay! Your life has definitely changed! Book was not lying. I'm happy for you.

Adaora A. said...

But I do! Regular blog readers know I'm extremely unsentimental when it comes to paper books. I don't really care about the smell, the feel in my hands, putting it on the bookshelf... none of that. All that matters to me are the words. Bring on the future. Er. Or so I thought. Chalk this one up to not knowing what you have 'til it's gone.

Yup. But you don't print off partial's do you Nathan? Don't you just read 'em off of your computer? No love lost in that case I suppose. I still prefer having the hard book in my hands. I think because you're an agent - and not the writer - you of course are focused on the words. It wouldn't really matter what medium is displaying them for your perspective. I totally get that.

Kylie said...

Question 1: Does the screen get a glare on it? I know a lot of those screens, like the one on a cell phone and even the television, can get glares on them.

Question 2: Is it backlit?

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

How long does it stay powered before needing recharged? (PS: This could be a great way don't you think, of navigating the slush pile and getting an agent - send him/her your partial already loaded on a Kindle... OK,it's just a fun idea, and you've got one already...)

Nathan Bransford said...

kylie-

It's nothing like a cell phone screen, and it's not bakclit. It's e-ink, which is much clearer and literally looks like paper on ink.

book blogger-

I haven't had to recharge yet and I'm still at about half power, although I've been turning the wireless on and off as needed. I believe I read that if you have the wireless on constantly you'd need to charge every other day, if you don't use the wireless you could go a couple of weeks without recharging. That's another benefit that I forgot to mention -- it really goes a long time without needing to be plugged in.

Adaora A. said...

^Unlike my laptop which (aside from going all 'blue corrupted screen' on me) needs to be plugged in constantly.

E-ink...hmmm. Why can't computers run on this? Wouldn't my far from 20/20 eyes thank me for it.

Gabrielle said...

As a teenager who has yet to really own a functioning iPod, I'm still scratching my head at the thought of an e-reader. What about BOOKS?

I've been cataloging childrens' books for a school library, and I'm amazed at how much I remember of the physical love I had reading Cam Jansen for the first time. The sight of a good, thick middle-grade novel-- and the feel of it-- is... well... good.

Perhaps our children will feel the same way about the Kindle (as they have moved on to Kindle 10.0? or not.

Christine Norris said...

See, now you make me want to buy one. I look through the Kindle store and see books I desperately want to read, but also want to keep, and there's just no room at the inn for all of them.

I wanted to wait for the second gen device, OR wait for the Astak Mentor (probably the Litebook, since I like Mobi format) which will be much cheaper, or just suck it up and buy a Kindle.

Decisions...meanwhile I have plenty of dead tree books to read.

aiwritingfic said...

Thank you very much. This is the best review of the Kindle I've ever read, because it gives me EXACTLY the sort of information I'd want for myself.

Trée said...

Excellent review Nathan.

tys said...

I miss not being able to flip back to previous pages to re-read a section very easily!
This is the major reason I don't want to buy one (although the page turning lag would be a major problem too)

A book is a 3D random access device and humans are spatially oriented.

I've always thought that any good book replacement would need an interface which shows the "thickness of the book" and your relationship to that. You should then be able to "flip" back and forwards several pages, or roughly guess a "wad of pages" to skip back to (1/2 the book, 1/3 of the book, or some random "thickness").

Humans are adept at knowing the relationship between a book and "when" something happened in the narrative (or non-fiction). I also personally like to scan ahead to see when the next chapter or scene break will occur, so I know I've only got a few pages before a natural break, or whether I should give up and just. put. the. book down. now.

The DVD interface has it right to some degree. The ability to easily choose chapters, and to fast forward or rewind from any given point.

Sounds like they've made a good start in moving e-books into the mainstream. Thanks for the review, Nathan.

Tys.

Anonymous said...

only a true bookie would give such a precise description of the "blink" element ... sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. that said, having observed a reader in a local cafe w/his kindle, leaning forward with such, uh, earnestness, always makes me think he's holding the book of mormon (the tablet element.) then, seeing it up close at the BEA, it left me with an "eh" feeling. the difficulty of location oneself in the narrative is, for me, a MAJOR drawback. I like to know where I "am" in a book. paper does that better, hands down. lastly I'm over the constant refrain from technies about the suppposed energy saving advantage of the internet. the fact is, the internet is supported by giant -- ENERGY CONSUMING -- server farms (a recent piece in Harpers detailed Google's aggressive practice in establising them in Oregon w/environmental detriments.) much like GalleyCat's nerdy / boarder line obsession with detailing a publishing industry it seems both fascinated by and intent on destroying.

Anonymous said...

the book thief is not a really good example to cite. as I recall, the text is sporadic (vs. a dense War & Peace or Rememberance of Things Past.) would you agree/disagree that the epigramic nature of TBThief lent itself to kindlefication?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@9:21-

I actually think THE BOOK THIEF was a better candidate for Kindle assessment than I even initially realized when I bought it. The sporadic nature of the text and the random insertions by death worked pretty well on the Kindle, as did the illustrations, but these occasional blips also seemed to slow down the Kindle somewhat, contributing to the irregularity of the speed of page turn. When I'm reading partials the speed of the page turn tends to be more uniform.

I haven't seen the print text so I don't know how it compares, but I'm completely absorbed in the text. I don't think I lost anything by reading it this way, even if the actual mode of reading has taken some getting used to.

mkcbunny said...

Thanks for the review. Very helpful.

karl65 said...

Nathan,

My question isn't about the Kindle specifically but ereaders in general. Are you at all concerned about that they could bring about the Napsterization of the publishing industry?

Anonymous said...

Nathan, have you tried commenting on a ms, then reloading the ms into the computer? My agent had a very difficult time getting his comments to move with the ms and ended up having to redo them all. Wondering if that's a typical problem.

Alexander Chee said...

Hi Nathan. I didn't ever say it was ugly. I just said I wanted it to be sexy! Is that so wrong? And you agree that it does look like a Gen 1 device, which was really my point. But thanks for the link.

BTW, people have been googling "kindle skins" which suggests to me they might be working on my idea. Which would be deeply pleasing. After all, as an agent and a reader, don't you think cover art matters? I think of a Kindle skin as being like cover art.

I seriously just want the whole thing to go well, and I hope that's clear.

Anonymous said...

From over the sea, I read about Kindles, and wonder when they'll make the voyage to Australia. So many comments here are about should I/should I not: here in Oz, the choice isn't available. One bookshop chain sells the iLiad (at $700, and our dollar's pretty close to parity with $US, so doesn't that make the Kindle look cheaper?). The first gen iPhone didn't even make it here, only the one launched last week, and TiVo is about to be launched for the first time (I've been reading bloggers who mention TiVo as part of life for what seems like forever).

Meanwhile, just keep ironing out those buglets, so when the Kindle eventually arrives, we'll have the version you've improved for us...!

Adaora A. said...

I think they'll come up with the next generation within the next 18 months. It's like Microsoft XP and now Vista. The new one comes out or they refine and remove glitches of the last generation. That's technology.

mardott said...

This is a wonderful review. I learned more about how the Kindle works by reading this than anything else. Thanks for sharing!

Chirs said...

Interesting post. I've been reading books on my antique Handspring Visor for awhile, using various software such as TomeRaider. I agree--it takes some getting used to. I started reading books and stories with it since I could get free downloads on the classics. Not the same feeling reading Dickens on a modern device, but the price was right. Besides, with a backlight I could read at night in bed. I've only purchased one ebook and doubt I'd purchase more.

Anonymous said...

http://www.engadget.com/2008/07/16/two-new-kindle-models-on-the-horizon/

Sprizouse said...

Ahhhh... just in time! New Kindles on the Horizon.


Don't you just hate Moore's Law sometimes?

Magee said...

To navigate in a paper book you can use visual-spatial perception. In an electronic book you can only use the part of the brain you're reading with. It's more tiring to bookmark, go back to check another page etc.

Anne said...

Nathan,

I only found your comments on the Kindle while Googling after-market covers for them. I enjoyed your comments and agreed with most of them. The page-blink issue is somewhat of an annoyance and I was aware of it before I purchased my Kindle. It was one of those things I just decided to learn to live with. The strangest sensation I've noticed since getting my Kindle is the need to try and turn pages, as if it were a paper book. I also agree with various comments about not being able to flip back and forth through a book at different times. I do like to do that with a paper book. One thing I did notice is that Kindle is definitely not good for books with photographs. Too small and difficult to see. I wonder if this will be addressed in later versions. The bottom line, though, is that I am very happy with my Kindle and haven't been into a B&N or Borders since I got it!

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