Saturday, October 25, 2008

Books vs. Amazon Kindle

Old book
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him..."
            -from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

There's a new product on the market called the Kindle, made by Amazon. It's a handheld device that lets you read books electronically. It has several features that set it apart from other eBook readers. Probably the most important of these is its ability to download electronic versions of books and newspapers wirelessly. It can connect anywhere there is a cell phone signal because it uses Sprint's EVDO network. There is no wireless bill but you cannot make calls and web browsing is limited.

The Kindle doesn't use an LCD screen like laptops, PDAs, or cell phones. Instead, it uses a new technology called Electronic Ink or E-Ink. Basically the screen consists of millions of microcapsules that have a black side and a white side and flip depending on the electronic output. Since the screen uses physical particles, there is no problem reading it in direct sunlight, but it also means you'll need a reading lamp in the evening. Since the display doesn't constantly give off light like an LCD screen, it uses much less power. Finally, because the particles only flip between black or white, it cannot display color. The Kindle is not the first to use E-Ink. You can read about other devices here.

I've spent some time reading through many forums to get an idea of what people think about this device. People either seem to love it or hate it. Some go on and on about why books will always be better than any electronic reader while others feel this is the best thing since sliced bread. As a professional photographer, the discussion reminds of the arguments over film vs. digital. I have the same opinion for both disputes. They are two different tools that each have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of my thoughts on books vs. the Amazon Kindle...

Kindle Advantages
  • Keep a large number of books in one small, portable device.
  • Font sizes can be made larger or smaller for easier reading.
  • Books, newspapers, and magazines can be downloaded wirelessly anywhere a cell phone works.
  • All text can be searched and pages can be bookmarked.
  • The screen is easy to read, especially in bright sunlight.
  • Battery charge lasts for 5 days or more when not using wireless.
  • The New Oxford American Dictionary is built in so you can easily look up words.
  • More than 190,000 books, 11 major newspapers, and 8 magazines are available for download.
  • There is free wireless access to, many blogs, and other web sites.
  • If you lose or break your Kindle, a record of everything you've purchased is saved on Amazon's servers so you can download all of your books again for free.

Kindle Caveats
  • As of today, the Kindle costs $359.00
  • Content is encrypted. This is called Digital Rights Management or DRM. Books cannot be downloaded to a computer, shared, or printed. You can copy a clipping of text to a special file and transfer it to your computer but you cannot transfer or share whole texts. You aren't buying a book. You are buying the rights to read a book on your Kindle.
  • There is a fee (10 cents per document) for uploading your own files to your Kindle because they have to be converted to a special format first. You must first email them to your online Kindle account, then they are converted and sent to your Kindle.
  • You can't loan someone one of your books without loaning them your entire Kindle.
  • You can't transfer books you've read to someone else's Kindle unless its on your account and connected to your credit card. You can have up to 6 Kindles on one account.
  • Currently you cannot get magazines and newpapers you already subscribe to on your Kindle for free. For example if you already subscribe to The New York Times and want it on your Kindle, you have to purchase a separate subscription.
  • There is no color. All illustrations are black and white. Web sites are rendered similar to other mobile browsers but with no color.
  • Many people who otherwise like the Kindle have complaints about the controls. You can read some here and here.

Advantages of Books
  • They don't need batteries.
  • You can loan them to friends or give them as gifts.
  • You can write in them, underline passages, and make notes in the margins.
  • Books can be enjoyed for generations. Show me a computer that's been passed down from grandfather to father to son, and isn't a paperweight.
  • Many people like the tactile feel of a book and the process of turning physical pages.
  • Many books have beautiful, full color photographs, reproductions, and illustrations.
  • Books have lasted for hundreds of years. Electronic storage devices have not proven a lifespan past 50 years. Books can be dropped, stepped on, thrown against a wall, or stacked together and used as a step stool. Books are no less resistant to fire and water than electronic devices but they are more resistant to damage from sand, coffee, and EMPs.

I'll end with this thought. In 1953, Ray Bradbury published a novel called Fahrenheit 451 about a dystopian future in which books are outlawed and anyone caught reading them is arrested. All books are confiscated and burned in order to dull the minds of the population. Bradbury's classic is his critique on an an increasingly dysfunctional American society. A device like the Kindle could motivate people to spend more time reading than watching mindless television. On the dark side, how much easier would it be to simply flip a switch and erase everything, instead of burning all the books?

Additional Links:
Kindle FAQ on
Kindle FAQ on


Anonymous said...

I Just wanted to add that ( is a great resource for finding out where reception problems are most likely to occur.

Unknown said...

I checked out that site and it does seem pretty cool. I like the Google maps with the separate coverage overlays for each provider. I think Sprint provides the wireless connection for the Kindle.