I've had my Kindle for a few weeks now, and I've used it in a lot of ways, both conventional and nonconventional, and I think I'm ready to report what I've learned and form some opinions about this device.
Let me begin by saying that modern society has invented endless methods of sharing information over the decades, all of them more efficient than books, but reading text on a screen is not fun. Furthermore, the Kindle isn't even the first e-book reader.
But it's clearly the first one to give any thought to the reader — the person doing the reading. Reading on the Kindle is pleasant. Even fun. It's not a sterile screen full of sterile text. I have to say I agree with Benny, books don't stand a chance against the Kindle.
Sure, there will be those who say Kindle can't beat curling up with a book on a rainy day, and that may even be true. But unless you live in the tropical rainforest, that argument is nonsense, because there are more days when it doesn't rain, and there are more things the Kindle does well than things the book does well. (Try sliding a textbook into the front pocket of your pants!) Also, say what you like, that smell never meant anything to me either.
In standard use
The first, and most obvious use for the the Kindle is to use it exactly as Amazon intended it: as a dedicated reader for Amazon e-books. As one would expect, it performs that task quite well.
Before I made the decision to buy a Kindle device, I spent a few weeks using the Kindle app on my iPad and iPhone. Better to waste $10 on a book to find out that their e-book format was frustrating and limited, rather than waste $189 on a reader for books I hate.
And I found out that it is, in fact, limited. There are no tables of contents, or if there are I don't know how to find them. Same with indexes. Whether this is the fault of the publishers or the format, I do not know. But these features are present and working on my iPad. I'm still learning about this stuff, but from what I can tell so far, the epub format seems to be quite superior to Amazon's format.
Fortunately, this is a very small, nuisance. For the reduced price of an e-book, and the ability to carry your entire library in a single device, it's easy to overlook. Books are primarily for reading. And even on the iPad, reading with the Kindle app is fine.
And reading is what Kindle does best. Compared to reading on the backlit screen of my iPad, reading on the Kindle device is more pleasant, and easy on my eyes. Also, the Kindle reader is well-designed. The size is perfect. The weight is right. Even the buttons are in exactly the right spot. Reading with one hand while standing in a tightly-packed subway train is no challenge. I wouldn't even consider that with my iPad. I wouldn't even try it with a book.
There are an incredible number of titles available. In the early days of Kindle, titles were mostly novels, in which I have no interest whatsoever. But now, one can find a lot of non-fiction and learning-related books, in addition to classical literature, much of which is even available for free. The first two books I bought for Kindle were part of the Colloquial language learning series, and I don't miss "pages" at all.
Anything you don't buy from Amazon must be transferred to your Kindle device by emailing it to a private email@example.com_ address, or by uploading it directly over the USB connection. Uploading over USB works well, and is necessary for large files, but only works for file formats supported on the device.
Emailed documents show up on the kindle pretty quickly, and are conveniently populated to all of your Kindle instances (Kindle for iPad, Android, iPhone, PC, Mac, whatever). You can email several additional document types, such as HTML or DOC files. Uploaded documents are converted to the AZW filetype. And there is a small ($0.15/mb) fee for wireless delivery.
The Kindle can display PDF documents. They actually don't look bad at all on its screen, either. Unfortunately, the PDF document standard itself is based on the size of a printed document, and was really never intended for reading on any device. So it comes as no surprise that reading PDFs on the Kindle can be somewhat painful. It works okay under the right conditions, but honestly, the iPad provides a much superior PDF experience so I don't foresee myself bothering too much with them on my Kindle.
Kindle can also display TXT files, and those are much less limited than PDF, and display more nicely on the Kindle. In fact, in the future, any time I receive any documentation in the form of a text file, I will immediately forward it to my Kindle, because the reading experience is so much better there. Never again will I strain my eyes reading a text file on my computer.
And finally, Kindle can display Mobipocket files, which appear to be similar to Kindle's proprietary AZW. There are tons of free books available in the mobi format. And it is also super easy to convert epub documents to mobi for your Kindle.
Since my device arrived, I haven't bought any books. So far, I've been exploring many free soures for ebooks, including The Internet Archive, Open Library, Project Gutenberg, and Amazon's own free book collection, and I've even managed to find a lot of language-learning materials and foreign-language books available. For free.
And now that I've got a user-friendly device for reading e-books, I've finally gotten around to reading that Language Hacking Guide that everyone is talking about. Benny kindly included an epub version, which converted easily for reading on the Kindle.
So what I'm saying is, Kindle is an awesome reader, which supports a number of popular formats, and for which there is an endless amount of literature available. A person could use it only for free books and still never read everything that's available in their lifetime. That fact alone makes it worth the price.
Free wireless connection, worldwide
At this point, the argument should already be pretty clear. In spite of a few complaints I've already had, the Kindle has clearly won me over. But add to that the fact that it includes free worldwide 3G wireless service, and suddenly there is no downside. If you can pay a one-time fee of $50 to get free, unlimited, world-wide internet access, what's the argument not to get it?
As you already know, I've given up my cell phone. That decision wasn't very hard, given the availability of Google Voice and Skype from anywhere with an internet connection, but the one thing I actually will miss from my phone is the ability to randomly look up a foreign word, or to tweet something interesting.
Surfing the web on the Kindle isn't "fun". In fact, most sites are just painful to look at on there. But Google works. WordReference works. And I built a handy, Kindle-friendly Twitter client so I could use Twitter easily and conveniently from my Kindle. All of this for free. From anywhere in the world.
So, is it perfect? No. Is it awesome? Yes. There are a handful of details that could stand to be improved, but without a doubt the Kindle is the best at what it does... and that includes being better than books.
In fact, the difference is enough, and the benefits of the Kindle are enough, that for future book purchases I will likely be more likely to buy a lesser book which is available on Kindle than to buy a better book which is not available for Kindle. That, I think, sums up my opinion of this device better than anything else I can say.
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.