The New Yorker Knocks The Kindle

It’s not often that The New Yorker does the gadget review. But here we have one — Nicholson Baker breaking down the Kindle. The upshot? He’s not a big fan. Why? Let me give you some of the money quotes. And also note the iPhone/iPod Touch recommendations at the end (where I added some useful links):

“The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle [DC note: This is why I returned my Kindle].”

“Despite its smoother design, the Kindle 2 is, some say, harder to read than the Kindle 1. “I immediately noticed that the contrast was worse on the K2 than on my K1,” a reviewer named T. Ford wrote. One Kindler, Elizabeth Glass, began an online petition, asking Amazon to fix the contrast. “Like reading a wet newspaper,” according to petition-signer Louise Potter.”

“Amazon, with its listmania lists and its sometimes inspired recommendations and its innumerable fascinating reviews, is very good at selling things. It isn’t so good, to date anyway, at making things. But, fortunately, if you want to read electronic books there’s another way to go. Here’s what you do. Buy an iPod Touch (it costs seventy dollars less than the Kindle 2, even after the Kindle’s price was recently cut), or buy an iPhone, and load the free “Kindle for iPod” application onto it.”

“There are other ways to read books on the iPod, too. My favorite is the Eucalyptus application, by a Scottish software developer named James Montgomerie: for $9.99, you get more than twenty thousand public-domain books whose pages turn with a voluptuous grace. There’s also the Iceberg Reader, by ScrollMotion, with fixed page numbers, and a very popular app called Stanza. In Stanza, you can choose the colors of the words and of the page, and you can adjust the brightness with a vertical thumb swipe as you read… Forty million iPod Touches and iPhones are in circulation, and most people aren’t reading books on them. But some are. The nice thing about this machine is (a) it’s beautiful, and (b) it’s not imitating anything. It’s not trying to be ink on paper. It serves a night-reading need, which the lightless Kindle doesn’t.”

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Comments (3)
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  • ster says:

    Why is everyone so obsessed with backlight?

    How many of their books has it? Is this really the crucial feature? C’mmon!

    And noone critizes the pageturn “flash”. Which should be more problematic for fast readers.

    Or the problem of device and ebbok pricing.

  • JK says:

    How on earth do people read books on an iPhone? I still have the first generation, so I can’t get the applications the critic mentioned. While the contrast is great, the screen-size is prohibitively small, if you wanted to do any serious reading.

    I’m waiting to see how Sony responds with its next generation eReader.

  • Richard Prince says:

    I agree with Baker completely about the black and white screen. Oddly, Amazon claims they are trying to imitate the visual quality of a book. Bad mistake. In no way can this screen approximate ink printed on paper.

    There are a lot of mechanical design flaws with the Kindle. Keyboard sucks and it is stupid having a keyboard on primary a viewing device. Do you hear people complaining because there isn’t a QWERTY keyboard embedded in every hard cover book they buy? So much of the valuable viewing real estate on the form factor is consumed by a useless QWERTY keyboard.

    The screen is poor quality, aside from the lack of color, it goes without saying this is outdated technology. Soooo 1975.

    The buttons to force page turns are poor implemented and SLOW. When I tested the Kindle, I kept thinking the system had crashed or did not receive the signal I wanted it to move the the next page. That’s bad when the hardware and refresh are so slow you think it is broken.

    You can’t enlarge the font size by zooming in or out and adjust it to your situation or vision, you must use only a few sizes in the settings.

    One thing I did like about the Kindle is that when you couldn’t read the screen (for instance when the lighting isn’t exactly right for the bad monitor) you could ask it to be read to you in a few different voices. And the voice is much better than normal electronic voices in PCs (altho it still had trouble with acronyms) The drawback is that the voice reader feature is NOT available on all books. Amazon failed to consider the user experience and caved to publishers who want to sell audio versions of their books separately.

    There are a long list of problems with the Kindle and I think in a years time we’ll look back and say, “Wow, people actually bought that thing? Now the Kindle so dated and useless.”

    And I think this is also true of Sony eReaders and Nook. They are all devices designed to satisfy greedy publishers and overzealous lawyers and NOT the consumer. Soon, someone will come out with a eReader that takes the consumers needs into consideration and puts us as readers first.

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