Meta-book review: Kindle DX (Part 1: Purchase Decision)

| Comments (5) | Gear
I do a lot of reading and I'd been thinking for a while of buying some kind of e-book reader. The advantages (light weight, no need to compromise on selection, etc.) were obvious, but so are the drawbacks (lack of content portability, no real ability to mark up), so I'd been holding off in hopes that something better would come along. But faced with 30,000+ miles in 6 weeks, I just couldn't face lugging my usual pile of books and decided I better do something.

I do two major kinds of reading on the road: books and papers. Any of the major devices seems to do reasonably well on books, though there is some variation in how extensive the available library is. For papers, what I really want is the ability to copy over my own PDFs and then mark them up on the device; my existing workflow was to print everything out, mark it up, and then transcribe from the marked up ms., so ideally I would want the same workflow on a device. I don't need any kind of OCR, just to be able to see my marks (which are mostly circles, strikeouts, etc. anyway) and transcribe them. Unfortunately, none of the major devices seem to have this kind of capability, and while there are some fringy devices that seem to (e.g., the iRex), they're expensive and I didn't want to deal with some device that nobody else had and that I couldn't try before I bought.1

This left three major options:

  • An iPad
  • The Kindle (either regular or DX)
  • The Sony reader

I never even really considered the Sony reader. I do a lot of buying from Amazon and it just seemed convenient to have something integrated with an existing popular library. Also, I'd seen early Sonys and wasn't that impressed. This may have been a mistake, but that was my decision process.

This left iPad versus Kindle. I tried a friend's first generation Kindle on one trip and was pretty impressed with the battery life and general readability. The UI is pretty kludgy but eventually I got used to it. Obviously, the regular Kindle is nowhere near large enough to display a full page of text, but if I couldn't annotate onscreen I thought it might be worth sacrificing a full page view for size. Ultimately, though I tried a DX and was pretty impressed with its usability and concluded that there were lots of times I would want to read papers and only do light editing, if any, where the DX would work well. Ultimately, I bought one of the new Graphite DXs.

So, why didn't I buy an iPad? Obviously an iPad is a far more capable device, but I already have a Macbook Air, so if I want to play games or watch movies, Apple has already sold me a perfectly good general computing device which isn't annoyingly handcuffed to their App store, so that extra capability doesn't buy me a lot. The iPad also has a number of drawbacks. The screen is bright and clear but in terms of readability for a long book I prefer the matte unlit Kindle display (though of course the e-ink display lag is annoying). Also, the iPad is quite a bit heavier (about 4oz/20%) and the battery lifetime is significantly worse. I used my Kindle quite heavily over a week with the wireless on much of the time and only ran out of battery at the very end. This doesn't match what I hear about people's iPad experiences.

Finally, there's the issue of price: the Kindle DX is $389 and the bare bones iPad with 3G is $699, but then you have to pay for the data plan. By contrast, you can use the Kindle internationally for free; I had several books wirelessly delivered to me in Holland and didn't even think about the cost. This is a huge advantage for me, since it's precisely in settings where I don't want to pay hefty 3G roaming fees that I most want to be able to read for free. And of course you can use the Kindle as a free (bad) Web browser if you get desperate enough.

All in all, I'm reasonably happy with the Kindle (full review to come later) though I wouldn't have paid $600 for it. If a device that lets me mark up directly appears, I'd definitely seriously consider that (heck, if there is one now, I'm still within my 30 day return window) but in the meantime the Kindle seems like a reasonable compromise.

1. A friend of mine recently attempted to order an iRex and reports that it's more or less eternally back-ordered. After talking to me he decided on a DX.

5 Comments

Personally I don't think you looked at this the right way.

I owned a first generation kindle. It eventually died after about 14 months. It was also (at the time) difficult to buy replacement batteries for it and it felt cheap (the back cover kept falling off). As a single use device - it did one think just OK. You mentioned battery life - one odd thing I discovered was that the battery life lasted so long - I would forget to charge it. And the times I really needed it - I couldn't use it. This was largely because I only used it for that one thing (reading eBooks) and I could never integrate it with my life. I resorted to the Kindle app on the iPhone for a time being until the iPad came along.

I now own an iPad non-3G. You can bitch about the price but its become indispensable. You are not limited to iTune store for video and music and there are apps for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. On a plane trip today I watched an episode of No Reservations (not received through the App store) followed by reading a book I bought from Amazon while in the airport. After a 2 and a half hour plane trip - 70% of the battery was left. Its simply more integrated with my life because I use it for so many different things.

Personally NetFlix has become the killer app. My boyfriend plays scrabble on it for hours on end. I use VNC, SSH, and RDP when I need to make quick changes to a server (the citrix client also works quite well). Its also awesome as a recipe book - you can spill flour on it and its not an issue.

Its gotten to the point where I'm considering buying a second one

Its more of a versatile device than you give it credit for.

The Kindle will *work* internationally, but it's not free. Amazon puts a surcharge on downloads when you're international. Of course, you can buy books via your laptop and whatever source of WiFi you have, with no price surcharge, and then transfer books over the USB cable.

There are several iPad apps that allow direct markup of PDFs. My workflow for reviewing an IETF draft now involves the iAnnotate app on my iPad.

I _almost_ made the Maastricht trip with just my iPad. About the only thing I could not do with it was upload meeting materials.

(Posted from Brussels with my iPad.)

I have a first generation Kindle and an iPad 3G and they're just not the same device. The iPad has a real browser and its location aware. It also happens to be a good host for Amazon's Kindle app and for some tasks, is better than a Kindle. It's actually possible to flip through a section to get an overview of it, and it's much better than a Kindle at searching and moving around amongst your bookmarks. PDFs are also first class citizens on the iPad. But, if you want to settle into a novel, well, the Kindle's the winner both because of the e-ink display as well as the weight. You have to figure out some position that works for you with an iPad and none of them are better than simply holding a "book" in your hand.

I'm going to buy one of the new Kindle 3's to replace my K1. I don't need the 3G. I'm happy to stock up on books before leaving and the digital editions of newspapers all suck. OTOH, you should see the quality of the newspaper apps for the iPad that the Italian media offers. Mostly full images of the actual print edition with full access to the archives. (Check out la Repubblica, Corriere della Sera, or La Stampa, if you're interested.) If only we had any media left here...

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