I recently got myself a Kindle DX as a present for finishing up a particularly onerous project. As a constant reader who happens to live with another afflicted with the syndrome, I was interested in it as a way to save space and to serve as an iPod for books, a resource I could take with me, loaded with something for me to read at all times. Unlike most bibliophiles, I’ve never had the diehard fetishistic attachment for the physical; I’m too neurotic about creases in the spine or dings on the cover to genuinely enjoy having a book as more than a decorative object. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good book cover more than most, and I get into things like paper grade and type spacing, but placing a book in my courier bag and taking it outside of the home with me actually fills me with a bit of dread.
(Yes, I know that replacing a few $10 paperbacks with a $500 device is ludicrous. But indulge me, OK?)
The physical act of reading on the Kindle is a pleasure: the screen’s contrast is very close to the printed page and I learned to ignore the (admittedly disconcerting at first) screen flicker when “turning” pages. One common complain that I’ve come across is that the screen is not backlit, which means that you need a light source to read the books. The non-backlit screen, however, also means that you get a longer battery life and eyestrain is greatly reduced.
What’s most surprising about the Kindle’s screen is how well it handles black and white graphics. Much has been made of the lack of color (and trust me, I would love, love, love to put my Fantastic Four DVD archive onto this thing,) but the sixteen shades of gray are more than adequate for most black and white photos or graphics. As an experiment, I put the last year’s worth of The Rack on it and Birdie’s black and white art looks very nice; I can’t imagine most manga and indie comics wouldn’t be comparable. Can you imagine being able to carry around the complete Usagi Yojimbo or that recent ZOT! collection on one device that’s about the size of a magazine? There are issues related to the page refresh when it comes to graphics, but that’s something further generations will surely improve upon.
I also enjoy having a pretty good bookstore available at all times. Last night, I bought Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies in bed and was reading it in under a minute. That’s about as convenient as it comes. One problem is the selection: the Kindle Store says it offers 300,000+ books, but there’s quite a few titles missing that I have a specific interest in owning on the Kindle. James Ellroy’s bibliography is very underrepresented, there’s a paucity of Iain M. Banks’s material outside of a couple of the Culture novels, and there’s nothing from Hunter S. Thompson’s journalistic efforts. Hopefully, rights issues are being worked out and I’ve spent some time clicking on the “Tell The Publisher You’d Like This On The Kindle!” links scattered throughout Amazon’s site to make sure that I get a word in edgewise.
There’s other features that are part of the Kindle DX that are, at best, prototypes (hence them being under the “experimental” menu:) the text-to-speech feature is more frightening than convenient and the web browser is slower than molasses thanks to its reliance on Amazon’s Whispernet. While I have no need for the former, the latter would be very nice, especially if they improved the keyboard which is, right now, best for doing very brief searches in the Kindle Store.
Is the DX worth the price tag? Maybe not for most people in its current form, but there was a time when many thought that Apple was insane for offering an 5-gig hard drive with white, tinny earbuds for $400.