My loving and lovely wife has given me a Kindle for Christmas, and I also got a nice jacket for it. It is actually a very nice piece of kit – flat, smooth, good navigation buttons and a functional keyboard. Now, you might wonder why I would phrase it like that, but the sad fact is that I have got fingers that are too stupid for smartphones; and the keyboard on the Kindle is actually quite usable. One might be tempted to point to – let us call it inspiration by Apple with the white plastic and brushed aluminum casing. It seems quite sturdy, and I have been using it a lot. It is intended for people on the go, and it is good for that. I have just under an hour and a half on the subway when I go fencing at Sheridan Fencing Academy, and the same on the way back. Good to be well-equipped – and nice to be able to change books if I am in the mood for something else, without actually having to drag the entire library with me.
See the gallery for Kindle shots.
As for the content: They have certainly taken an interesting approach to integrating the gadget with the Amazon website. Included in the gadget is an unlimited access to the Amazon Kindle store online – which means that I can switch on the built-in wireless function and surf the Kindle store over Amazon Whispernet without having to attach anything else.
Surprisingly, they have not given into the temptation to lock the system down to Amazon-only text files. Maybe that is the lay of the land these days – that you can’t lock something like this to a single format, if you want to stay succesful (and aren’t Apple). It is certainly possible to use open formats and, even more surprising, use Whispernet to access eBooks files from other sources, most notably FreeKindleBooks, which offers a catalog of freely available books as an eBook, using which it is possible to download the book files on to the Kindle. These are from the Gutenberg project, an impressive project which collects electronic versions of books which are out of copyright. They scan the books and proofread the scans, crowdsourcing the effort using Distributed Proofreaders, where I have also contributed. The Gutenberg is an impressively massive text collection, and it is a beautiful that these materials are available; since these are materials out of copyright, there is a huge corpus of classics there.
Having said that, I have been shopping in the Kindle Store. I bought The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft – an anthology – for $0.99, which is quite affordable. I also bought an H. G. Wells Collection for $1.64, which I can just manage. The only book I got approaching full print price was The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, a writer I find myself increasingly fascinated by; and that one only set me back around $7. So the pricing is okay.
Actually, there is experimental support for MP3s on the Kindle. What this means is not entirely clear – I have not used it, but I have seen people use headphones with it on the subway. Whether it adds the music files to the library or how it works remains to be seen.
Interestingly, the Kindle has also lead to an interesting debate about the ownership of one piece under different media, which was covered on the Litopia podcast in the episode All the King’s Men. From the almost-amusing-but-not-quite department, there has been heated discussion about offering readings, versus having the Kindle do it for you. This was mentioned by the EFF, as one would expect, but also featured in a piece in the New York Times by Roy Blount jr, as the president of the Authors’ Guild. This is actually a very open-ended discussion of the technology offering what a human used to do.
The Free Software Foundation has an ongoing project called Defective by Design, who did a feature on the Kindle, which they like to call the Swindle due to the DRM (Digital Rights Management) features built into the machine, and the fact that the books purchased on the Amazon Kindle shop can’t be transferred to another one, as you would be able to do if you gave a printed book away after reading it.
It is quite possible that FSF goes into this application a bit more, because the Kindle, in fact, is based on Linux. In the enclosed product documentation – enclosed as in included on the Kindle – there is licensing texts of the included components. Of course the Kindle is not by a long stretch an open device – it is not the thing you can just modify – but still, it is interesting to see the Linux kernel deployed in an impressive mainstream product.
So, what is the conclusion?
That this is actually a very, very sweet device – elegant application . The ePaper concept means that it is possible to look at the screen in much the same way as regular paper – it is not like a laptop where the angle decides whether it is possible to view it or not. Also, the power is used the first time the text is displayed on the screen; this means that even though the appliance isn’t using energy, the text remains displayed on the screen. Fascinating. It was a great gift.