Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Kindle: A Review

I’ve been using Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader for a few months now, and wanted to write about my experience with the whole e-book world. I was hesitant at first, because I was afraid that by capitulating to the Kindle I would, in essence, be condemning physical, printed books. There is this huge debate going on, centered mainly around electronic versus physical media. Like almost all debates right now in America, each side is so polarized that it’s hard to get a clear picture of what is actually going on. On the one side you have e-book users, who say convenience is supreme, and on the other hand you have old-school hold-the-book-in-your-hands people who think the e-book trend is a defamation of the sacred ethos of reading.

The problem is, once you actually use a Kindle (or any type of e-book, for that matter), you realize that the external debate is largely blown out of proportion. I love the convenience and simplicity of the Kindle, but I still enjoy holding a physical copy of a book and underlining the pages. And to my astonishment, you don’t have to give up physical books when you start using a Kindle. People would like for you to think that by purchasing an e-book reader you are inevitably saying goodbye to ever holding a physical book in your hands, but that’s just absurd. The truth is, living in both worlds is better than either one by itself.

For the physical book purists, I can see where the e-book format seems repulsive. But let me explain some of the benefits. For one, you don’t have to carry around multiple books (especially when you travel), as they are all stored in one device. As well, at least on the Kindle, the digital-ink that they use is the same experience for your eye as reading printed words, so you don’t experience eye fatigue like you do reading from a computer screen. The digital ink also allows the Kindle to be read even in direct sunlight (i’ve done it, and it is fabulous), which can sometimes be difficult even with a physical book (and almost impossible with a laptop).

The other advantage besides convenience and ease-of-use is the way that the Kindle brings different types of media into one location. I wasn’t familiar with the Kindle version of magazines and newspapers until I started using it, but as I started to investigate these features I found them to be some of the most compelling cases for owning one. Allow me to explain. Not only can you get most major newspapers and magazines delivered wirelessly to your Kindle, but you get them before the printed versions are available. Magazines tend to generally cost a few dollars more per year than their physical cousins while newspapers are usually about the same price or a little cheaper.

Most people write-off the newspaper and magazine feature for the Kindle because it doesn’t deliver the stunning graphics and pictures that you get with a nice, glossy magazine. I can see where that could be a problem. But, on the other hand, I’ve found myself actually reading magazines and newspapers cover-to-cover without the distraction of pictures and advertisements. For someone like me who gets distracted by all the extraneous elements in a newspaper or magazine, the simplified, text-only emphasis allows me to focus on what the writers are actually trying to communicate, and in so doing, I’ve found that I’ve had a much better experience with these types of media than ever before.

Sure, the Kindle and e-book format has its drawbacks, but on the whole I’ve enjoyed using the device and have found it a great counterpart to physical media. It isn’t going to replace the printed book any time soon (that’s just ludicrous), but there is definitely a niche for what it provides. Overall, I find the device to be great for what it says it will do, and as long as you don’t expect it to be anything more than what it promises, I think you’ll have a good experience with it as well. Finally (and I may decide to explore this further in another post), I think the e-book market is going to help change the publishing and writing world in a positive way by bringing innovation and leveling the playing field that has been marred by mega-publishing firms and their strangle-hold over the book market (from writing all the way to distribution). So, if you get the chance to use an e-book (and specifically a Kindle), go ahead, I think you’ll enjoy it.

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