Friday, August 20, 2010

Review of my first Kindle, the Kindle 1

In 2007 I received a first-generation Kindle.  In summary, I would say that the Kindle matched the functionality of the Rocket eBook while adding a host of technological improvements and one key feature that NuvoMedia could never muster (i.e., seamless integration with an online bookstore).  In fact, the free, always-on connection to the cellphone tower gave the device access not only to the Kindle Store but also the World Wide Web.  Granted, the browser in the device was very crude -- suitable for displaying text-based websites only.  This made the Kindle a very good Wikipedia reader, for example.  The programmers included shortcuts in the search system that made using the web browser in this way easier.  For example, prefacing your search with the term "@wiki" would search Wikipedia for a specified term and automatically load the most relevant article.  Similarly, "@web" allowed for quick Google searches.

The Kindle was most special for utilizing E-Ink for its display technology.  The screen went a long way toward relieving eyestrain by mimicking the properties of a printed page.  Unlike CRT or LCD computer monitors, which project light out to you, ambient light illuminates the E-Ink display.  This is why a Kindle reads very well in direct sunlight or under a reading light.  Of course, in darkness it can be a hassle to always have a reading light.  Perhaps one of the advantages of an older e-reader, like the Rocket eBook, or even a laptop, is that they provide their own backlight illumination.

The Kindle was also the first e-reader that I was able to finagle into displaying foreign language texts.  Mind you, this was not because the Kindle came with any native support for foreign alphabets (The Kindle 1 only supported the ISO 8859-1 (Latin 1) character set).  I was only able to read Anna Karenina in Russian on my Kindle due to the fact that the device has a hidden image viewing application that can be used to display page images.  Follow these directions in order to reproduce my workflow for preparing a text: 

1. Download a foreign-language text in HTML or plain text. 
2. Typeset it in a modern word processor (I use OpenOffice) using the custom page dimensions 3.5" X 5" (which approximates the size of the Kindle display).  The margins on all sides should be .1"
3. Export a PDF of the document.
4. Use an application like PDF2PNG to create a batch set of image files from the PDF representing each page of the text.  These files should be placed inside a file folder labled with the title of the work.  This will be the title that displays on Kindle's main menu.
5. Drag this folder to a "pictures" folder on the Kindle.
5. Press the keys "Alt-Z" while at the home screen to make the book you added appear in the list of available reading matter.

Unlike what was true of the Rocket eBook, the Kindle made it easy to extract your textual annotations to your computer for use in other applications.  All annotations were collected into a plain text file that could easily be copied to the computer when the Kindle was attached via USB port.  As of last year it also became possible to sync and view these annotations online at Amazon's website.  Of course, this is not the same as being able to transfer text and annotations together and, in turn, view them together outside of the device.  I do not think that these ways of recording and presenting notes compare favorably to what is possible with good PDF annotation software on a computer (see my earlier post).

I should also mention that the Kindle was a much more flimsy device than the Rocket eBook.  In actual fact I broke the screen of my first Kindle within weeks of receiving it (I had mistakenly placed the device under a heavy book which cracked the screen).  Thankfully, Amazon replaced the device free of charge.  The second device that I was then sent in early 2008 has lasted to the present.  However, I have had to replace the battery once, and most recently the modem has started to work only intermittently, forcing me to use the e-reader via USB if I want to be able to reliably transfer documents and books.

I no longer use this Kindle as my primary e-book reader, having purchased late last year a Kindle 2.  However, I will not discuss this device separately since it has many of the same features and functionality as the Kindle 1.

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