Amazon Kindle Wireless Reading Device

Price: $359

Product Web site

Description: The Kindle came out last year too late for our gift guide last year, so I was pretty excited in getting the newest version of the Kindle for this year’s gift guide. After all, if Oprah loves the device (it’s one of her “Favorite Things”, according to Amazon), then it must be awesome, right?

Well, yes and no (more on the “no” later). The technology itself is very, very cool. If you haven’t seen the device in person, it’s hard to describe, first how small it is (it’s a lot smaller than what pictures portray), and also how the electronic “ink” functions work. That part is amazing, how the screen is able to refresh as if you were reading an actual book by turning the page. A lot of it reminds me of the Etch-a-Sketch toy, but with text instead of artwork.

The “book” delivery is also pretty cool — you don’t have to synch the device with a PC, you can buy books over the air via the device’s EV-DO wireless connection. Amazon says that books are automatically delivered in under a minute — in my tests I was able to download samples very quickly. The device boasts more than 190,000 books, including most of the current New York Times Best Sellers, Amazon says. Books cost about US$10 each for the most part. In addition to buying books, you can subscribe to several newspapers and magazines, as well as subscribe to several blogs from around the blogosphere.

Other cool features: MP3 files can be copied over to the device via USB, letting you listen to “background music” while you read; and a basic Web browser lets you type in a URL and surf the Web (although, as Amazon admits, this works best with mostly text-based Web sites). The device includes access to Wikipedia, as well.

The user interface takes a little bit of practice to figure out, but after you do the Kindle is very easy to read. The device has two “Next Page” buttons, one on the left and one on the right, which seems to be a nod towards left- and right-handed readers. There’s a “back” button to let you go back a page, and a scroll wheel that acts as a navigation guide. Because I was so used to a scroll wheel on my mouse to scroll down Web pages, I kept using the scroll wheel to try and move to the next page, when what I needed to do was hit the “next page” button.

The biggest concern about the Kindle is whether the device is cool enough for people to change their reading habits from a mostly paper-based world to this new “e-book” lifestyle. My reading these days is done in two forms — I still read paperback books, newspapers and magazines, and if I’m not doing that, I’m on my computer surfing the Web. For the first form, the Kindle does an OK job of replicating that experience — the grayscale screen is like reading a paperback book, and it’s light enough (Amazon says that it’s even lighter than some paperbacks) to read in places where you’d normally read a book.

On the other hand, I’m used to reading in “color” when I’m reading articles on the Web. If I’m reading blog entries, magazines, etc., the grayscale display is kind of distracting. After a few minutes of using the Kindle, my eyes would glaze over — I’m not sure I could read an entire novel or magazine with the Kindle. Perhaps if I was traveling this would be different, but when I tried this at home, I quickly got distracted and wanted to go back to my notebook or paperback.

Perhaps I’m missing something or I’m stuck in my reading habits. Maybe I just need a few more months with the device to get used to it, and bring it along on a trip. Again, the technology is great, and I’m sure Amazon will continue to make improvements to the device. At US$359 for the device, buyers need to understand that this is a long-term purchase, that their enjoyment of the device will increase depending on the amount of books, magazines and blogs they consume. That price is probably too steep for people who just read the occasional paperback novel.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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