Ebooks and ebook readers
Although I’m pretty convinced about the value of ebooks (with the usual provisos about the annoyance of the variety of proprietary formats and rights restrictions) I’ve generally been a bit sceptical about ebook readers in the past and haven’t been all that impressed with some of the early versions.  But, I’ve finally decided to commit to one, partly down to coming to realise that the piles of already read books in the backroom were starting to act as effective wifi insulation for my desk and masking the signal, and partly because it would be convenient to carry more than one book around to be read on bus or train or whatever.  I also wanted a device that could get internet access with a screen that was larger than a mobile phone and more portable (and cheaper) than an ipad/netbook-type device.  So just before Christmas I ordered an Amazon Kindle.

First Impressions
I went for the 3G version rather than the wifi only version.  The 3G version lets you continue to receive downloaded content even when you are away from a wifi connection.  Kindle CaseIt’s certainly been in my mind to see if I can use it as a device when I’m away from the office but I’m not yet sold on the idea that the 3G version offers a lot more value as I’m only likely to be sending content to it from a laptop or some other internet-connected device (whether I’m buying content online or directly connected to transfer content).

I also bought a cover with it to protect the device, and that seems to work really well.  A leather cover with a grey soft inner.  The Kindle clicks into the cover with a couple of hooks and there is an elasticated strap to secure the cover closed.  It’s about the size of a slim paperback, like an early Penguin and it weighs about as much as a hardback book.  It feels fairly solid and robust but is small and light enough to fit into a bag.

On the Kindle itself there are a few buttons and conections on the bottom (volume control, headphone socket, socket for USB connection and on/off slider).  Otherwise there are forward and back buttons repeated on each side and a qwerty keyboard taking up the bottom quarter of the device.

Kindle in caseAs well as the standard keys there are shift and Alt keys, a key (Aa) that lets you change the text size and orientation, a Home, Menu, Del and Back key and a five way navigation tool.   The keyboard seems very small to me, but then again it is larger than a mobile phone keyboard or iphone pop-up keypad, and seems designed to be used in two hands with your thumbs pressing the keys.  That is probably easier if you have smaller hands and as a first impression I think I’d like the five-way navigation button to be bigger.  As an observation there’s a good 1cm between the top row of letters and the bottom of the screen so maybe there’s space for slightly larger keys.

There’s also a SYM key that you press to get numbers and the variety of symbols essential for email and internet (although numbers can be typed in from the top row of letters and Alt).

Kindle keyboardTesting out the keyboard for typing I’m finding that it is possible for me to type with it although I wouldn’t want to use it for anything lengthy.  But if you are someone that is used to texting on a phone then I’m sure you’d find it pretty easy.

The start page for the device is accessed from the Home button and once you are on the home page the menu button gets you into the various settings of the device.

Getting started
I’ve been really impressed with how easy it was to get setup with it.  It came already registered against my Amazon account and was quite straightforward to get the home wifi configured.  It’s pretty easy to setup collections to organise your content and I’ve played around with a few ebooks now.  Ones you order from Amazon arrive pretty quickly electronically and yKindle screenou can also plug the device into a laptop to transfer files (PDFs and some ebook formats for example).  All those features seem to work well.  Reading ebooks on the device is fine, it’s easy to page through the books, the screen is sharp and easy to read.  Obviously everything is in greyscale (although interestingly the ebooks themselves seem to have colour in them judging by the samples I’ve looked at on the Kindle for PC reader).  It’s possible to add annotations to the text of ebooks.

Experimental features
One of the experimental features (accessed from the menu button when on the home page) is an internet browser.  This works when you have wifi connected (a version that works on 3G would be nice but maybe not very commercial).   It works better than I expected, most pages display OK, you can navigate around the page and it seems to pick up on screenreader-type approaches by jumping from link to link.  It’s possible to use it to access general internet sites, and it’s usuable for web-based email, outlook web access and even editing blogs.  There are features such as zooming into sections and article displays to make it easier to use and it looks like Amazons developers have put a fair bit of effort into thinking about how to make a browser work on the Kindle.    You do need to use the features such as zooming and orientation to get about the web but you can do so pretty well.

Tweeting from theKindle browser Kindle
There’s even a twitter version that is designed for the Kindle. www.kintweet.com lets you login to your twitter account and then uses letters to show the latest tweet (L) or Direct messages (D).  This works pretty well although there seem to be some limitations about the browser remembering your account details.  There is also some social networking built into the kindle commenting features that I haven’t yet explored.

Overall first impressions and what next
In general I’m pretty impressed with the device, it’s easy to setup and get started, easy to get new content and even some of the experimental features seem to work well.  I still need to play around with exploring the tools to convert ebook and other content so it can be used on the Kindle.   I certainly want to try it to see how useful it will be as a device to use at work, maybe see how easy it is to take copies of papers for meetings and store and retrieve it from the Kindle.  Although there’s a Software Developers Kit (SDK) it isn’t obvious that there are a large number of Kindle ‘apps’ out there, but if the Kindle really has been Amazon’s top selling product over Christmas then maybe there is a big market.  So things like a Kindle Calendar tool, a better note making tool (i.e. one that isn’t linked to notes on a book), password restrictions at a collection or feature level (you might want to allow your child to read childrens books on it but not browse the internet or read your thrillers, for example) would be useful features.  So I’m off to start building up my collection of ebooks and click that button on Amazon to prompt publishers of new books that I’d like to read them on the Kindle.