Five Reasons Why I’m Returning My Kindle

Update

Attention Readers: This post is severely out of date! It refers to the original Kindle, which I did, indeed, return. Three years later, I have purchased an 8GB, 7″ Kindle Fire (primarily for my son). A review of that gadget is possibly forthcoming; I will not be returning it.

If you’d like to know why I returned my original Kindle, be my guest and read on…

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On Christmas morning, I was one of the thousands of people who awoke to find a Kindle, Amazon’s e-book reader and the company’s “most gifted” product ever, under the tree. As my family’s gadget geek, I was definitely excited to test out the holiday season’s most talked about toy, even though I hardly have time these days to read traditional paper books, much less digital ones.

But now that I’ve had a couple weeks to play, I can definitely make a case as to why I should return my Kindle.

1. No Backlight
I shudder to think of life before my iPhone. I can use the iPhone anytime, anywhere. Often, this means catching up on tweets or the latest headlines under the covers while my husband thinks I’m sleeping. My midnight rendez-vous with the iPhone would not be possible without its backlight. In fact, the phone’s incessant glow has become so ubiquitous as to inspire a New Yorker cover.

To my knowledge, the Kindle does not have a backlight (though I understand that the Sony Reader has an LED that you can switch on or off). Kindle uses EPD (electronic paper display) technology for its e-books. This technology is said to reduce the glare on the Kindle screen and “provide the contrast and resolution of traditional ink on paper.” (Computer World article) That’s great if you want to read your Kindle in the bright sunlight. But I want to read in bed and it sure would be nice not to have to turn on a separate light to do so.

2. “Experimental” Features
If you click on Kindle’s “menu” button – one of several buttons on the ergonomic, yet slightly cumbersome device – you’ll see a list item titled “experimental,” whose name already suggests to me that my Kindle 2 will soon be obsolete. The experimental features in question are a web browser, an MP3 player, and a text-to-speech component. In theory, these are excellent additions to the device. In practice, however, they leave much to be desired.

For starters, the web browser is a mess. If I go to a site that is not retro-fitted for text-only viewing, it feels like I’m surfing the web using Netscape circa 1993. The layout is disjointed and all the eye-catching graphics I’ve come to expect from my favorite sites are non-existent. What’s more, typing in a URL using the Kindle keyboard feels less like texting and more like using a scientific calculator.

Likewise, the MP3 player is a good concept, as it allows me to play Amazon MP3 purchases in the background while I’m reading. Unfortunately, I can’t add these items to Kindle using its wireless “WhisperSynch” technology. Rather, I must upload the MP3s by connecting my Kindle via USB to my computer. That seems so antiquated, especially in light of the fact that most smart phones – gadgets that the Amazon Kindle no doubt wants to emulate – allow wireless uploads via wifi or 3G networks.

I’ll admit that I haven’t tried the text-to-speech yet. But judging from the other two components, I am sure that I wouldn’t be impressed.

3. Amazon as Gatekeeper to Your Reading Material
The whole reason Amazon invented the Kindle was to create a market where there was none. Indeed, when all those Kindle giftees opened up their new toys on Christmas morning, they began downloading e-books from Amazon, the only store that sells digital books in the Kindle (.AZW) format. To be fair, many of these books sell for a fraction of their hardback versions. For example, the hardcover edition of the Edward Kennedy memoir True Compass retails new for $21.00 on Amazon, but costs only $9.99 on the Kindle. Amazon also offers a lot of Classics, such as Gulliver’s Travels and Machiavelli’s The Prince for $0.99 or free, and also allows you to download short samples of any of its digital books.

Still, at a price of $259, you’d think that Amazon could throw in a few free books. Better yet, why not allow users to download the digital versions of books they’ve already purchased through Amazon? Having the option to download and read, say, five of the books I already own would be not only a generous gesture on the part of Amazon, but an incentive to get me to buy more books.

Another cool feature I should mention is that you can email personal documents in the txt or PDF formats to a specially assigned Kindle email address. So, if you need to catch up with reading a brief for work or are a writer who wishes to peruse the latest draft of your article while you’re on the go, you can send it to [email protected] I love this idea, but I don’t love the price. Yes, Amazon charges U.S. customers $.15 per megabyte to use Kindle’s Personal Document Service via Whispernet ($.99 internationally). Or, you can go the free but more complicated route by emailing your document to [email protected], where Amazon will convert your docs to its Kindle-compatible format.

I think I’ll just stick to reading documents on my iPhone, either by emailing myself or using one its apps, such as Evernote.

4. Kindle for iPhone
Speaking of apps, I downloaded the Kindle for iPhone long before I had any inkling I would receive the real deal. The app is free – surprise, surprise! – and allows you to shop in the Kindle store just as you would if you had a Kindle. You can even synch your app with your device. So, if you forget your Kindle but have your iPhone, you can pick up in your book where you left off. Sadly, this only works for books: “Periodicals such as newspapers, magazines, and blogs, and personal documents cannot be viewed on the Kindle for iPhone.”

The real Kindle has the iPhone app beat when it comes to the on-screen appearance of books. On the other hand, when I’m reading on my Kindle, I have to unlearn that swipe-scroll motion that I’ve become accustomed to while using an iPhone touch screen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Amazon roll out the Kindle 3 with a touch screen and built-in, on-screen keyboard.

5. Magazine Subscriptions
Finally, I’m dissatisfied with the Kindle’s magazine subscription service. Amazon currently stocks only 43 magazine titles, including PC Magazine, The Economist, and Shape. While I do like the idea of saving trees and getting my periodicals wirelessly, I don’t like the fact that I can’t synch up with subscriptions I currently have. For example, as part of my New Yorker subscription, I can read that magazine online. But if I want to read that magazine on my Kindle, I must sign up for a completely separate subscription. What’s more, “The Kindle Edition of The New Yorker will usually include all articles, fiction, and poetry found in the print edition and a selection of cartoons, but will not include other images at this time.” A New Yorker without images and minus some of its articles?? What kind of BS if that? I think both Amazon and magazine publishers would be well-served to come up with a solution to this.

The Kindle does allow users to sign up for a 14-day free trial of any of its magazines. Though, if you want to cancel that subscription within those two weeks, Amazon does not make it easy to do so. One has to manage his magazine subscriptions through his Amazon account online, and you can’t even use Kindle’s “experimental” web browser to see or update your account information. That to me is an epic fail.

Magazines aren’t particular cheaper on the Kindle, either. As one subscriber to Shape commented, “I like the Kindle, but I also like my money. I got 2 years of Shape delivered to my home for only $10…why so much on the Kindle?” I have to ask the same thing about Slate, for which Amazon charges $2.49 per month for the privilege of reading “most of the articles from the online edition.” I’d rather get my Slate with ads and all of its articles rather than a lesser – but more expensive – Kindle-ized version.

And A Sixth Reason…
Don’t get me wrong, the Kindle is a fine toy, especially if you are an voracious bookworm. But I still think much work needs to be done before this e-reader becomes essential. Besides, the one thing that Kindle doesn’t do for this mother of two boys under 4 is find more time to read. When the Kindle figures out how to do THAT, then I may reconsider.

9 comments

  1. Jason Dean says:

    I feel the need to address some of your reasons. I will do so one-at-a-time.

    1. The lack of a backlight is a great idea. When using a handheld reading device for hours on end, shining a bright light into your eyes is not a great idea. It will cause you tremendous eye strain and could cause headaches. A separate external light is a MUCH better idea. The Kindle screen is much better reading than the iPhone for Kindle app

    2. Of course the experimental features have issues, they are experimental. Also, I hope you do not think they will be experimental forever. There will be updates to the Kindle that you can download to improve features, performance, etc.

    Also, the browser for Kindle should not be considered a primary feature. E-ink is not designed for the super-fast refresh rates and rich internet applications that your desktop or laptop computers are. It is designed for an easy to read page. The built in browser is a simple convenience feature. Nothing more

    3. I do agree that having Amazon be the primary source of all your purchased material is not ideal. For somethings, you can go elsewhere, but for the majority, you would need to purchase form Amazon. Fortunately, they do greatly discount the price of many of the books to (partially) make up for that. I do not like the fact that they are DRM’d and I hope that changes in the future.

    oh, and Amazon offers a LOT of free books. Take a look at they’re bestseller list from week-to-week and you will find TONS.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/

    4. I don’t see how what you have written there is actually a reason to return the Kindle

    5. Yeah, that sucks. But it something you can correct over time. Once your current subscriptions run out, consider getting them on the Kindle instead.

    It seems like a lot of people think the Kindle is an all-or-nothing device. Why? Now that you own a Kindle can you no longer purchase and/or read a print publication? Is there a rule about that? If so, I am violating it.

    I love my Kindle, but I still have the occasional call to read a print piece. I did not repurchase all of my books in Kindle format.

    Anyway, whatever you decide, it is your decision. I just wanted to counter some of your ideas for the benefit of your readers, because I do not think that most of them are good reasons.

  2. admin says:

    Jason,
    I actually agree with your disagreements of my post. How’s that for weird? I can certainly see both sides of the argument. But I have found that the device just didn’t excite me when it came down to it, especially given the hoopla surrounding it. It’s true that the Kindle is not an all-or-nothing device – I can still read old paper media if I want to – and it’s not fair to compare it to an iPhone as Amazon never set out to compete with smart phones in the first place. But with my lifestyle – non-commuting, currently staying home with the kids, time to read only coming in small spurts – I really feel serious gadget guilt having both an iPhone and a Kindle.
    The other thing I forgot to mention is that probably my favorite feature of the Kindle is the detailed screen saver image that you get when you switch off the device. Those are some beautiful images! Shame that I like my Kindle better when it’s in sleep mode!
    I’m staring at bookshelves overwhelmed with books right now. So I know that one day I will wish that I had my whole library on a piece of hardware as sleek as the Kindle. But I’m looking forward putting that $259 + tax toward something else.

  3. Jason Dean says:

    A very fair response.

    You’re right, it is not for everyone. My favorite features, may mean nothing to you. It seems I use it for different reasons.

    My backpack is full already. I don;t have room for books. With the Kindle I can carry my entire technical reference library with me where ever I go plus I can carry fiction, educational books, books for my kids and even music and audio books in one device.

    I still have paperbooks, I still have an iPod, I still have an iPhone. But I love my Kindle for the convenience of those other things.

    Like you said though, working at home and having what you need in paper form may suit you fine.

    Maybe when the color, touch screen version comes out in a few years, you’ll change your mind. I know I will be upgrading when that happens. 😉

  4. I went back and forth between getting an iPod Touch and a Kindle and the iPod won hands down. When you can only afford one or the other, I don’t think it’s much of a competition if you can remotely use features other than reading on the device. Plus I got a MacBook last year, and I’m one of *those* people now 😉 That said, if someone gifted me a Kindle, I’d certainly keep it…would be nice to have those options of the bigger screen and magazine subscriptions.
    .-= Michelle | Bleeding Espresso´s last blog ..Love Thursday: Emma’s Pasta Roni =-.

  5. Melissa says:

    What is your take on the i-pad? I hear it does everything a Kindle does and then some…better browser capabilities and blogging capabilities…

  6. Melissa says:

    What is your take on the i-pad? I hear it does everything a Kindle does and then some…better browser capabilities and blogging capabilities…

  7. admin says:

    I actually wrote this post before I even knew about the iPad. The Kindle just seemed a little dated to me out of the box, especially in comparison to the iPhone. I would LOVE to get my hands on an iPad but will probably wait a while for prices to come down. I DO hope that the iPad can do for magazines what the iPod and iPhone have done for music.

  8. Vinny says:

    I bought my Mother a Kindle for Moms Day, and she is in love. Qualifier: She has only been introduced to technology in the last 2 years, and has never held an iPhone. Her cell phone is a flip phone. I think as long as there is newer, flashier technology available that fits in the palm of one hand, it will win that duel. When I think of reading though, I must say, I envision an idyllic world where we only read paperback books and its only allowed either in the park, or in bed next to your significant other, each with their own bedside lamp on.

  9. Melanie says:

    Vin- I think you said once that you were a hopeless romantic. Your idea about books certainly gels with that.

    I’m still sure that returning my Kindle made sense. But I know a lot of people enjoy it, so kudos to them.

    That said, I am indeed lusting after an iPad. Soon….soon.

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