As I had hoped in a previous post, Santa did indeed deliver a shiny new international Amazon Kindle 2 under the tree this year and I’m loving it. I didn’t really expect to receive one as I’d made rumblings past the typical cutoff for official hints but, due to Amazon’s amazing 3 day delivery guarantee, it was delivered in time for Christmas. Ya gotta love santa!
My first impression was the obvious quality of the unit, attention to detail and overall usability. All are top notch and the unit even sports two small speakers (for the text-to-speech option) and a brushed steel plate on the back. Setup was fast and easy (assuming you already have an Amazon account) and I purchased my first book, The Road by Cormac Mccarthy, in less than a minute. You can’t argue with the price ($9.99) and delivery (30 seconds) but you can forget about lending and borrowing books to family and friends unless you’re willing to contravene Amazon’s security feature which links each book purchase to a specific Kindle reader (see below for information about disabling this feature). I’m sure authors will enjoy the advantages of the no-lending feature because only you and you alone can access your purchased books on your reader from Amazon’s server or from your computer. Once purchased, you read your purchase on the Kindle and it’s stored on your computer or the Amazon server for eternity (or until their servers are hacked or crash), building your digital library for future reference or re-reading.
So what’s the down-side of purchasing an International Kindle? Well, there’s actually a few things that have pissed me off and reinforced the second-class customer complex we enjoy in this country:
- The experimental basic web browser is not available in Canada – According to Internet Usage Stats, the Internet usage and population statistics web site, in 2008 our country enjoyed a 84.3% internet penetration with over 28 million users. Why the hell didn’t they include the web browser feature for Canadians?
- Two dollars extra for books due to the ‘wireless delivery charge’ – As always, we tend to pay more for everything in this country!
- No wireless delivery of personal documents – The Kindle can store and display PDF files but they can only be uploaded to your Kindle by using your computer and the supplied USB cable. American users enjoy a service that allows them to email files to their dedicated Kindle email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) which are automatically delivered to their units. Canadians just don’t rate.
- No Blogs – The Kindle can be used to read online Blogs (like this one!) but not in Canada. We’re far too busy draining maple syrup from trees or herding our polar bears to have time for such silliness.
- Prices are charged in US dollars – The price we pay will vary based on the value of our dollar against the US greenback. There’s nothing like paying one price one day then paying more for the same thing the very next day. Let’s hope the US dollar tanks, huh?
- Duty and taxes – The usual pound of flesh is extracted at the border as the units are shipped from the U.S.
There’s two things that all Kindle users may find disappointing, especially those with impaired vision.
1) The units do not include back lighting for reading in low light levels or complete darkness. It’s all in the name of saving you from the evil eye-strain so prevalent with back-lit devices.
2) Some publishers are disabling the Text-To-Speech feature which allows the unit to read your book, magazine or newspaper aloud via the small rear speakers or headphone jack. Why? God knows but it’s just another example of the pinheads that head the publishing, movie and music businesses these days and their abject fear of anything new. Their motto seems to be If it can’t be directly monetized, then they can’t have it. Well maybe we just won’t buy your books, you assholes! DRM has been a failure within the recorded music industry and I’m sure this non-functional feature will go the same way as more readers become aware of the limitation. I suggest a NO TEXT-TO-SPEECH banner on every book, magazine or newspaper that disables the feature before I decide to purchase. I’m sure I won’t support them even though I may never use the feature. Things like that just piss me off.
Speaking of DRM, the Kindle provides your purchased files that contain encryption that ensure only your Kindle can read/display so you’re limited to reading your purchased items only on the Amazon hardware unit. But fear not! A hacker by the online handle of I Love Cabbages claims to have hacked the hardware and has provided a python script to allow the export and conversion of Kindle materials to another format which can then be imported in the device of your choosing. It also allows you to remove the DRM which will allow you to (illegally) share your books with other Kindle users. Ya gotta love them nerds, huh?
A very cool app is also available for iPhone and iPod Touch users from the iTunes store that allows you to read any of your purchased items directly without using the Kindle. It’s free and it works nicely but the Kindle display is larger, easier to read and the hardware is much more user friendly. The iPhone app works well in a pinch and your can even purchase new books using the software which will in turn be available on your Kindle. A nice touch.
The bottom line is that the Kindle is a look at the future of publishing and something that makes transporting and reading a large library of materials simple and easy. Access to new and previously purchased books is instantaneous and available from anywhere the free wireless access allows and stored PDF files are easily available which will may be an attractive feature for business users.
We may not all be comfortable with this piece of technology right now but we will eventually depend on something like it in the future as Gutenberg’s invention slowly fades away. Stay tuned.