Scott Hanselman

A year with an Amazon Kindle (and new Kindle Cases)

January 25, '09 Comments [17] Posted in Reviews
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image It's been almost a year (well, 11 months) with my Amazon Kindle. I still use it every day, so that's a pretty good litmus test. I'm also looking for a good Kindle replacement case, so that's also good.

I use the Kindle to read the NYTimes, and a few blogs. I've read about two dozen books on it this last year, about 15 purchased from Amazon and the rest were free e-Books. I take it on every business trip, I read books while brushing my teeth, it goes everywhere with me. It's light, convenient and wonderful.

The Good:

  • Coverage. Anyway I've gone in the states, I've had good coverage and no trouble getting new books. There isn't complete coverage, but if you make sure to download whatever books you want for your trip before you head into the boonies, you'll cool. I loaded up before a trip to South Africa, turned off the radio, and used it happily disconnected for weeks.
  • Battery Life. The battery really lasts for thousands of page-turns. Remember that it doesn't use really any power at all if the pages aren't turning. It'll stay on standby (with the radio switch off) for days and days.
  • Flexibility. I read lots of books, some purchased from Amazon (the rule of thumb is that they are 25%-50% less because there's no molecules) and some free books formatted for the Kindle. It also like that your kindle gets an email address so you can email @kindle.com and whatever you send it (PDF, DOC, etc) will just show up on your Kindle.
  • The Screen: It's been said before, but truly, eInk is awesome. It's nearly as clear as paper, but more importantly, it's just easy to read. No more eye strain than a regular newspaper.
  • Convenience: The best example of the Kindle being awesome is being at an airport bookstore, browsing the books, reading the backs, then buying the book for 50% off and having it appear on the Kindle in literally seconds, then walking on a plane. It's positively evil.

The Bad:

  • Build Quality. It's still ugly and feels just a smidge cheap. It's no iPhone or Blackjack 2 or Dell Mini 9. It kind of flexes like a plastic ice tray from the freezer. It doesn't feel solid. I wish it was aluminum or something. They REALLY need to pull it together and get some Apple-level hardware build quality for the Kindle 2.
  • Screen Margins: There's a little wasted space (maybe 1/4") on the screen, acting as a margin for the text. I think the small size of the screen wouldn't bother me as much if they let me control that margin. There's probably 15-20% more screen I could get if I ran the text up closer.
  • Programming Books: The screen and reformatting doesn't serve itself well for technical books and there's no monospaced font, so just don't plan on reading coding books on this device.
  • Jeff Bezos and my Wallet: In case you haven't realized, the Kindle is THE ultimate One-Click Purchasing Device. It is literally a dotted line directly from Jeff Bezo's bank account to mine. Don't forget that. To be clear, I'm cool with it, but it's important to be aware.
  • Case. The standard Kindle case really sucks. There's an indentation in the back of the Kindle and a small plastic tab on the Kindle case and they are supposed to work together to hold the Kindle in the case, apparently by will power. It's mediocre at best and I immediately looked to replace it...which leads me to...

Replacement Kindle Cases

I've looked all over at replacement Kindle cases. I've tested some, tried out all the ones at Borders and other specialty bookstores, read all the reviews on Amazon, and based on a recommendation from Steven "Doc" List, decided to try three cases from WaterField. They are a little boutique in San Francisco and I've heard good things. I also like small companies that make one thing.

They've got three Kindle cases (as well as laptop bags, etc, etc). They've got a SlipCase in a number of colors, which is just that - a slip-in case. The sleeve is nice and includes screen protection via a sheet of plastic sewn in on one side, so I wouldn't feel bad about throwing it in my backpack at all. It's also a nice textured nylon and has a place for a pen. None of their cases are the kind that attach directly to the Kindle, so you won't be reading AND holding the case at the same time.

I went back and forth on this issue in my mind. I thought I wanted a book-style case that would somehow attach itself to the Kindle. However, since there isn't really a good secure way to attach something to the Kindle and I wasn't interested in the whole "sticky velcro" way of thinking, I decided WaterField had done the right thing. Anything that attached directly to the Kindle would have been cheesy. The Kindle is easier to read when its weight hasn't doubled by the weight of an attached case.

There's a "SleeveCase" (the names are a little confusing) that is a little bigger, but provides more protection. It's pictured above. This is interesting because it's actually big enough to hold the Kindle AND the original Kindle book-style Case. I wouldn't feel comfortable throwing my Kindle and it's regular case in a bag - it'd be destroyed. However, this larger replacement case could hold it as well as my headphones and maybe a small Moleskine notebook.

Then there's the full-on Travel Case. This thing is European. It's a man-bag. A murse. It's too big for the Kindle (although their website says it's big so it'll hold all the accessories) but it's the perfect dimensions for my Dell Mini 9. Well, near perfect. Like 99% the right size. The zippers graze the plastic as you put the Mini 9 in and out, but what's nice is that the Mini 9 can go on the inside, and the Kindle fits nicely on the outside pocket. Perfect for one day business trips with no baggage. Just make sure you wear nice shoes or folks will talk! ;)

I've been using the SleeveCase and the TravelCase (the SlipCase got returned) for the last week and I'm digging it. I'll be taking these on all my one day trips as well as using them for those days when I work from Starbucks. Way smaller than a backpack and I'm thrilled at the extra bonus that the Mini 9 and Kindle fit in the same bag.

Thanks to Doc List (on twitter) for his suggested to look hard at WaterField Bags. He likes his.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009 8:53:43 AM UTC
I know this is not going to happen, but I wish Apple would enter the e-book reader market, so they could put this market on fire and take it to the next level like they did with the mp3 and now the phone markets. I've been checking the market lately (http://www.mobileread.com is a great place for that) and it's still very immature, just like the mp3 player market in the early 2000s. If you're out of the US you are out of luck, and there are millions of different proprietary formats, all DRM'ed and all looking like PDFs did in 1989.

E-books are the way to go, especially for technical titles. I feel terrible when (due to lack of alternatives) I have to ask Amazon to send all these huge books by plane and truck overseas, books that will probably be outdated in a couple of years. I truly feel like a bozo when (in 2009) I have to go to the post office receive this 3kg package containing a humongous WPF book. I can have all my music, videos, photos and maps in my shirt pocket, and yet still have to carry those bricks around, which contain media that is an order of magnitude simpler..it just doesn't make sense.

Sorry for the rant!

Wookie
Sunday, January 25, 2009 1:00:58 PM UTC
Can you detail a little more the point "Programming Books"... If I buy a kindle, that is a must. Is it really a deal breaker?
Sunday, January 25, 2009 1:39:36 PM UTC
I have a dell mini 9 and a kindle and I fly a lot. So I bought this bag (TSA approved netbook bag)

http://www.amazon.com/TCA511-4-Collection-Netbook-Instant-Messenger/dp/B001KC0818/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1229655538&sr=1-1

A bit big for just wandering the neighborhood but great for travel.
Adam S
Sunday, January 25, 2009 5:30:47 PM UTC
I have a few technical books on my Kindle and agree with Scott - not a great tool for reference (random access nav isn't nearly as easy as a real book) and the fonts and formatting are issues. For non-programming technical books (e.g., books on software process) it of course does just fine.
Sunday, January 25, 2009 6:21:49 PM UTC
I would love to get one of these when they are finally realised in the UK. The lack of mono spaced fonts is such a deal breaker though esp as i would be loading it up with programming books.

You would have thought that the engineers and software devs at amazon would have added mono spaced fonts when they were dog fooding the kindle.
Monday, January 26, 2009 8:36:35 AM UTC
MrLinx - Yes, it IS a deal breaker. The Kindle is USELESS for reading code or non-prose programming books. It's NEAR useless for any complex PDFs or books with diagrams.
Monday, January 26, 2009 4:32:48 PM UTC
I'm in the same boat...I'm not getting in this game until they can do technical books well...that's what 90%+ of what I want it for...guess we're not their target market for some reason.
Ryan
Monday, January 26, 2009 4:46:42 PM UTC
Same over here, technical books is a must :(
Monday, January 26, 2009 5:18:22 PM UTC
I consider the Samsung UMPC Q1 the ultimate eReader device. You can hold it like a book (it doesn't have a physical keyboard) and page through pages through the left/right button on the top surface. Because it's a real computer, you can read any kind of documents; rtf, doc, pdf, chm, hxs, etc plus web browsing using a real browser.
I also sometimes use a mini bluetooth mouse to flip through pages which releases my hand from having it on the device. Good at times when I am laying down and getting too comfy where I have the Q1 stand in an A position on top of me! (The Q1 has two full size USB ports. One uses a tiny (cool) Logitech receiver and I have a free port for plugging USB flash drives)

I went through the eInk phase long before the Kindle came out. I have an iRex IIiad which I consider superior to the Kindle. Higher resolution, 16 shades of grey, larger screen and slimmer.
However I needed to read documents in hxs format and look at full color diagrams and code and eReaders can't handle that. Plus eInk devices do not use lit screens. Which means at night you have to use supporting light. Which can be an issue if your sleeping spouse doesn't like the light.

So if you have the $$, I highly recommend the Q1. When mine dies, my next eReader will be a Fujitsu ultra light slate style Tablet PC.

Abdu
Monday, January 26, 2009 6:34:23 PM UTC
I did returned the kindle after a month of usage. Reasons:
1. the case , so awful.
2. Navigation key
3. Programming books.
4. pdf transformation to kindle format doesn't do a good quality job.

I strongly don't recommend it for technical people.
Monday, January 26, 2009 7:28:16 PM UTC
I wonder if anyone had a better experience regarding technical books (i.e. PDFs and CHMs) with devices like the Sony PRS, BeBook and Cybook. All of them look way sexier than the Kindle.
Wookie
Monday, January 26, 2009 7:42:01 PM UTC
I have two WaterField bags, one for 4 years and the second for 2 years, and couldn't be happier with them. I'd recommend them to anyone.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 5:39:37 PM UTC
Looks like Kindle 2 will be unveiled on Feb 9th. I hope it handles tech books better.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 11:00:46 PM UTC
Mr, Scott, I seriously have to take exception to your description of the Kindle's "Build Quality"

"Build Quality. It's still ugly and feels just a smidge cheap. It's no iPhone or Blackjack 2 or Dell Mini 9. It kind of flexes like a plastic ice tray from the freezer. It doesn't feel solid. I wish it was aluminum or something. They REALLY need to pull it together and get some Apple-level hardware build quality for the Kindle 2."

1) Its NOT ugly. Perhaps in your eyes, not in the eyes of the thousands of Kindle owners, including me. "feels cheap"? Not hardly.
2) I didn't want a IPhone, or Blackjack 2 or Dell Mini 9. I wanted an e-book reader, with wireless downloading, a built in dictionary, and a large selection of books from different sites. That I have. Its not designed to be thrown around, or dropped, anymore than your cell or laptop.
3) What do you do to yours, that makes it 'flex'? Mine doesn't', and if it did, I'd be calling Amazon in a heartbeat.

4) I think Amazon designed this as a leisure book reader, not to read code, or textbook diagrams. Hopefully, they'll address this issue in the next version.

Thanks for listening.......and join us at www.mobileread.com Lots of knowledgeable, friendly people, dedicated to the education of the many different e-book readers and formats out there.
Donna Krause
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 3:57:31 AM UTC
Probably none of the current ebook readers will make people looking to read technical manuals happy.
Mona
Wednesday, February 04, 2009 4:35:09 PM UTC
I'd like to ask - isn't it an overkill to carry both Kindle and netbook with you? I own a netbook (Asus EEE 1000h) and use it for reading ocasionally as well.
Peter
Monday, February 23, 2009 7:05:16 PM UTC
Is the Kindle 2 better for reading programming and technical books, does anyone know? I heard they added a monospaced font...what about for diagrams, etc.? Has anyone tried to read programming books on the second version of the Kindle? Thanks!
Jason
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.