I've had 24 hours with the Kindle DX now, so time for some first impressions.
Short answer: it's just great.
The Heart of the Matter: The Kindle, as designed, is transparent for me — it allows me to read without being distracted by the medium. The DX is notably bigger and heaver than the Kindle 2, but it rests comfortably in the hands or lap, and the screen size nicely simulates a page of a hardback. I read for about 3 hours last night (some Sherlock Holmes, a couple of samples of new books off of Amazon, some Shaw), and found the device did not interfere with immersion at all — if anything, it promoted it. The e-ink letters are crisp, clean, and visually satisfying. It's nothing like reading a computer screen. I felt no headache or eyestrain from reading that long, as I usually do with computer reading. The next page and previous page keys on the right-hand edge are easy to use and quickly become as natural as turning a page. The reading experience itself is pleasing. A little thing: I love the ability to highlight a word and have the dictionary entry appear at the bottom of the screen.
Today, rather than wolfing down lunch at my desk, I headed to the plaza next to my building to spend some quality reading time.
One of my concerns about the Kindle was reports about problems reading it in sunlight. Mark Bennett from Defending People reported problems with that. I tried reading it in the sun, and had no problems, whether in dappled or direct sunlight:
Mark's a great lawyer and blogger. But he's from Texas. He was probably trying to read an Etch-A-Sketch or something.
The Physical Interface: I have to concur with the conventional wisdom: the keyboard and directional button are an afterthought, several technological generations behind the screen and e-ink technology. Though the core keys (next page, previous page, home, menu, back) are solid and work well, the letter keys and other buttons on the bottom of the device feel cheap and rickety. The five-directional button is clumsy, and sometimes it's hard to make it highlight the right item and click on it, resulting in incorrect selections. Some future generation of the device might benefit from touch-screen technology; this is the weak point of the device.
The Wireless Connection: One of the main selling points of the Kindle is the ability to download books and magazine or newspaper subscriptions through the Whispernet wireless connection. When you've got good service, this feature works well. I bought a couple of books today (including P.J. O'Rourke's compilation of his writing about cars), and when I was outside and downtown, the whole thing downloaded in less than a minute. But like any wireless connection, it's spotty. At my home in the foothills, it varies between one bar and five, depending upon God knows what. Being inside a building impairs it too. And the connection takes a while to start up when you re-activate the Kindle from sleep mode. Even if you've got a five bars, browsing Amazon is slow if you are used to a high-speed connection — fast enough not to be irritating if you have an idea what you are looking for, but not ideal for idly browsing for books without an idea of what you want. (Of course, we've all been spoiled by high-speed internet. This is still faster than the browser on my iPhone, for instance.)
Book Buying and Book Formats: It's remarkably easy and convenient to buy books on Amazon from your computer and then download them. Amazon carries many of the classics for free, high-profile new books are generally $9.99, and other books (paperbacks, less conspicuous books, etc.) are generally the same or less than Amazon's dead-tree version.
Amazon also lets you email items to your Kindle account, where it will convert them to a Kindle-friendly format so that you can download them. Here I ran into a problem — I emailed several free books from the Guttenberg Project which vanished into the ether. I have not yet figured that out. Some other items came through fine. You can email pdfs to yourself and read them on the Kindle — for me the pdf came through fine, harder to read than the standard Kindle text but quite usable. That promises to be a great boon in business travel. I can email myself voluminous documents like depositions and large volumes of exhibits, and then read them on the Kindle rather than lugging them about.
It's also easy to move books from your computer to the Kindle with a USB connection. I've downloaded a number of books from Project Guttenberg that way and then moved them in seconds. The only downside of doing it that way is that if you don't convert them, your main page won't display the author (it will only show the file as you have named it) and you won't be able to call up the table of contents.
As converted, e-books downloaded onto the Kindle all look pretty much the same. I've noticed that some e-books not developed for the Kindle format have glitches where special characters would appear (French accents, for example).
The Screen Interface:
The Kindle's on-screen interface is designed to be minimalist. People who live this sort of thing will like this sort of thing. You can change the order in which items are listed, and whether they are sorted by title or author or type of item, and decide what categories of things get displayed. However, at least as far as I can tell so far, there's no way to create new categories or folders — for instance, to drop books into "Unread Books" and "Read Books" folders. That means sooner or later you're going to have a hella long list on the home screen. Maybe I'll find a hack or workaround for that, or maybe I'll learn to like the simplicity of it.
There's lots more to explore, and I'll blog about it later. The bottom line is that I love it and I'm having a blast with it. The criticisms about are peripheral compared to the core of the experience, which is reading on the thing, and the OCD pleasure of being able to carry a vast library with you.
Edited on June 23 to add: Don't miss Scott Greenfield's awe-inspiring you-kids-get-off-my-lawn rant about my meretricious and simple-minded technological fetishism.
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