Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kindle 3 First Impressions

This morning before we drove down to the final meeting where our HR guy presented us the final legal papers related to the layoff, I got to pick up the package containing a shiny new Kindle as delivered to the town's local store (since I live rurally, the town store - Jaques 4 Square - or the town Post Office are where packages go). Overall, this kind of logistics - that I can have a physical object reach me so quickly from the other side of the world - still impresses me more than global networking, if only because I saw global networking evolve and even from the UUCP days there was an inevitability to it.

So, out of the box. Pull the indicated tab on the box, open box, and there's the device with a nice little pamphlet and what looks to be a piece of paper with instructions (1. Plug into USB port...) sitting underneath a plastic screen protection sticker. Except on plugging in the USB cable, those instructions go away because it's not paper, it's the E-ink which is the Kindle's lifeblood.

So while my partner drove, I read the manual included on the device, on the device. And having never seen a Kindle or E-ink before in the flesh, I was suitably impressed. Page turning wasn't crisp, but it was "just right". It felt like about 150ms for the repaint, in two passes (the display kinda inverts when showing a new page), but the time itself doesn't matter compared to the subjective feeling. It's remarkably consistent, and rarely feels wrong in the way that many mobile devices (for instance, Symbian S60 phones like the Nokia E71 which is otherwise awesome) often do.

And the more I read the manual, the happier I got... so many capabilities, and the more I read the manual and got used to the feel of the device the more I started to think I shouldn't have played it cautious and got the WiFi-only one.

Alas, for all that Amazon have nailed the out-of-box experience and then some - it even comes pre-connected to your Amazon account, so that the instant you let it touch a network you're ready to go - and the price is right and the display is awesome, there's almost immediate fail that takes some of the joy out, at least for a non-US customer.

Take a simple thing like blog reading. Discussed in the manual, doesn't exist. No there, no hint of it. When I eventually get to a regular PC with a browser and check it out - browsing Amazon changed completely as soon as I got the ship announcement e-mail, as then there was a Kindle in my account and what I saw adapted to fit that, which shows how someone at Amazon had worked to make this a great experience - is the fail: "Not available in Asia/Pacific".

Seriously, WTF? Via 3G, I can understand some of this; the language in the manual is fine about the limitations of 3G outside the US, and how for instance some content won't be delivered until you hit a Wi-Fi hotspot or will cost you. Given the way telcos work, which is nothing short of extortionate, I've been nothing short of amazed that even Amazon have been able to get as far as they have in terms of data service for a device like this, and I appreciate that services have to fit their business model to make the 3G capabilities work. But simple RSS feed reading doesn't exist on my device because I'm not in the U. S. of A, even though mine  is Wi-Fi only? Huh?

Looking at buying magazines is similar: my first pick is India Today which looks like good reading and great value, but what's this: no images. OK, maybe there's a territorial copyright thing specifically with that, but in fact the Kindle store on the device (and only on the device, not on the PC) tells me that images in any magazine will simply be unavailable outside the US. Whether that's a 3G-data-charge-business limitation or a territorial-copyright limitation is not clear, it's just a simple "no" and the price is the same.

So, hit the kindle store, look for e-books... but wait, no free content at all? E-books I know are just Gutenburg text files are paid purchases "delivered for free via Whispernet"? No, Amazon, paying you for this is not "free", when what you're charging is mighty close to what some of these things cost in paper editions via Penguin Classics.

Here too, I understand that Amazon's business model has limits; the toll road of payment systems is ... well, it constantly amazes me that Valve and game developers can make any money from selling things for the prices they do, given that what Visa and Mastercard will charge most people for payment processing is so close to ursury.

So, a few disappointments. But then...

The fact remains that the device itself is awesome, and that Amazon's engineers have mostly done the right things to make the whole thing full of win, and if I was resident in the U.S. I wouldn't have had to deal with the light coating of bitterness and failure I need to dig through to enjoy my purchase. As I browse the Kindle Store, temptation is ... well, everywhere, because even though relatively few books are available yet in Kindle editions (at least to me, thanks to territorial rights) there's still so much that I want to read there... so, sooooooo much...

And moving outside Amazon's "no free lunch" built-in store gives us sites like http://www.feedbooks.com/ where there may not be gold, but there are gems like Rudy Rucker's Ware series; I read Software and Wetware and  lots of Rudy Rucker, Sr's other work (Spacetime Donuts and Master of Space and Time and Saucer Wisdom) in paperback.

And, well, the more I look the better things get. The potential of this device really is astounding, and everywhere I look I can see why the U.S. customers love it; if only we second-class citizens of the world could actually experience the full thing.

In the meantime, The Steep Approach to Garbadale awaits, in library book form, and I'd better finish that before starting on what the Kindle can deliver me. I can already feel the urge to read The Illuminatus! Trilogy again (probably for about the 4th time, but it's such a classic), or maybe China Mieville's new book Kraken, or... damn you, Amazon, don't you know I'm unemployed now?

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