Why I haven’t bought a Kindle

I’m going to spend a significant portion of the next 10 weeks on an airplane or away from home. I also have a large stack of technical papers (in PDF form), and a few books (also in PDF) that I’d like to read. My travel bag is a very decent size, since it has to accommodate camera equipment, so the last thing that I want is to stuff a bunch of paper into it. I would be a perfect candidate for a Kindle.   

The Kindle appears to make PDF reading a second (or more like 10th) class activity. E-mailing large PDF files to get them converted to the Amazon format? Sounds very unpleasant to say the least. I’m also not thrilled about the price, the inability to expand storage, or the inability to manage what could grow to be a very large book/document collection.

Kindle lovers, this is your change to speak up and correct my misconceptions, or to confirm them.

19 Responses to “Why I haven’t bought a Kindle”


  • I’ve been absurdly happy with my Kindle so far – especially for PDF reading.

    While you’re right that the conversion process is a little wonky, it’s not as bad as I expected, for two reasons:

    1) A willingness to pay 10c per document makes it a lot cleaner, as they send it directly to the device via the 3g connection.

    2) A little bit of procmail + mail rules hackery would make the free option (in which one sends a pdf to {your_name}@free.kindle.com and they send the doc back to your primary email account) even nicer, as the device itself it very happy grabbing azw/mobi files from the WWW via the built in web browser.

    I should add that I use gmail for all this, so the various unpleasantries involved in sending large files over email end at the browser-based file upload. You can send files from any email account you specify in the amazon.com config, so there’s no real reason to deal with anything else…

    Probably the biggest unexpected win for me so far is the combination of having a lot of different pieces of reading material right on hand and the lack of need for physical bookmarks (which I never had a good solution for with PDFs anyway). I like to be in the middle of 5-6 different books/PDFs at once, and that was basically completely infeasible pre-Kindle. Switching back and forth between Lovecraft, Vonnegut and Fielding’s dissertation at will is really, really awesome.

    At risk of sounding like I’ve gone completely over the edge, the “daily habit delta” of the Kindle has been greater than even upgrading to a smartphone – I’m reading more, reading different things, and feeling smarter and better informed as a result.

    Of course, YMMV. I had fallen out of the habit of reading books pre-Kindle, and never liked the reading experience of PDFs (printed out or otherwise), so I was coming from a fairly dark place :)

    Good luck either way!

  • I bought a first-generation Kindle last summer, largely because of travel. I love mine, and I’ve been tempted to get a second-generation Kindle, even though it really doesn’t add anything substantial to the reading experience.

    1. Storage size. Most books (non-technical, at least) are under 1 MB. Illustrations make things larger, of course, but I doubt I have anything larger than 3-4 MB on my Kindle. With 2 GB of storage, that’ll hold at *least* 500 books. Anything that you’ve bought from Amazon can be freely re-downloaded, and (IMHO) the Kindle’s UI isn’t all that great at dealing with hundreds of archived books anyway. So personally I don’t see 2 GB as a big issue.

    2. PDF support. The fundamental problem is that 6″, 600×800 eink screens don’t have enough resolution to display readable 8.5×11″ pages. So, displaying PDFs as-is would require horizontal scrolling and zooming. You really *need* to reflow text to make it usable. If you’re using PDFs that are 95% text, then the Kindle usually does just fine. If you’re dealing with equations, lots of tables, and graphics, then Amazon’s converter may end up mangling things too much to make it worthwhile. I’ve read several PDF-converted books, both fiction and non-fiction, and they’ve been perfectly readable, but I’ve seen technical papers that really weren’t all that usable. If reading PDFs is your main goal, then something like the iRex Illiad with an 8″ or larger display would probably be better.

    On the other hand, when it comes to reading books while traveling, it’s impossible to beat the Kindle. Even the Kindle 1 is smaller than a trade paperback. I used to travel with 3-5 books per trip, keeping 2 in the seat-back pocket for most trips and sometimes being stuck book shopping for the return trip. After ~9 months with mine, I *prefer* reading on the Kindle to paper books. It’s smaller, lighter, harder to lose, and does a better job of juggling multiple partially-read books.

  • Although PDF viewing still isn’t primary on a Sony Reader, you don’t have to pay to put them on the device and it accepts SD cards. I’ve had a first generation one for years and like it (though I am considering upgrading to a new Kindle 2). In any case, the Reader may be a better fit for you.

  • I don’t own one, but the reader from the makers of FoxIt PDF software looks promising for those of us with large PDF libraries.

  • So I got myself a Kindle2 while I was in the US a few days ago. First impressions:

    PDF conversion works pretty nicely most of the time; I am not sure how well the Sony one works, but it worked well for the PDFs I sent it: included hyperlinks and everything. Nevertheless, as their native format is HTML-based, that will always work better for conversions (layouts and some formatting directives sometimes get weirdened).

    I think it’s pretty cool to have a book that has an email address. While it’s not very enticing to email PDFs to convert, it is pretty neat that I can just email stuff to the device and have it appear as if by magic (only when I’m in the US, of course). Handy as a paper backup replacement. Also, it’s worth noting that you don’t need to do the emailing step to convert PDFs: you can just convert the file locally using Mobipocket or Book Designer and save the result on the Kindle’s usb storage.

    I can’t comment on the storage space of the device: I don’t intend to ever use all 2GB on it (-:
    This is partly due to the fact that it’s indeed hard to organize your media. The home screen shows everything you have grouped by media type (book, periodical, …), and sorts them by name or access time. No subdirectories as far as I can tell. Boo.

    Also, I find that it’s hard to hold right (especially with the protective cover); maybe it’s just my typist’s hands, but I can’t seem to find a position that is comfortable to hold it and have the buttons within easy reach of my thumbs. The best I can hope for is to find a comfortable reading position where it rests on my lap, and I just stab at the buttons from time to time. Everything else requires frequent holding position changes for page turns: suboptimal.

    Despite the critique, I’m still pretty happy with the device, though: In all the situations where I would be able take out and comfortably read a book, I can comfortably read on the kindle; except now it’s more likely I /can/ read, because I’m more likely to have the (amazingly light) kindle ready than a book (-:

  • I also would suggest the Sony Reader for your needs. It works very well as a PDF viewer and is fully expandable. Plus, you can convert almost any non-DRM’d document to a readable format for it. Battery life is good and it’s the same screen tech.

  • the idea intrigues me as well, but i’m not convinced its there for me yet. i’ve talked to a few people who own said devices.
    they all at least “like” them, some really “love” them.
    some feedback i got:
    - both devices are great for linear reading, much less useful with technical material you may want to go back & forth on.
    - at least the kindle has a keyboard so you can search for things
    - sony reads pdf but apparently its a bit small, not sure if they scale the page or allow a zoom-in function. the owner wasn’t enthusiastic about the pdf experience though.
    - if you’re a business traveler who reads a lot of “business” books, its wonderful to not have to carry the latest 5 titles around in paper!

    for me the big showstoppers are:
    - i read mostly technical material (not fiction unfortunately) and so i’d like more random access
    - tech books are not that much cheaper on kindle, and i feel like i’m getting ripped off by somebody (i just don’t know who)
    - i still have qualms about locking material into the non-open format, and am hoping that something that can handle the more-open ePub format (which the Sony does at least.)

  • Note that the Kindle’s networking will cease to function outside the borders of the US.

    Being in Canada, I use Stanza on my iPhone to read books. For PDFs I use the Briefcase iPhone app.

    I find the iPhone to be “good enough” for reading while travelling. Of course, if there’s room, I’ll just whip out my 17″ MacBook Pro from my backpack.

  • Ted Ts’o discusses why he bought a Sony reader instead at http://thunk.org/tytso/blog/2008/01/19/why-i-purchased-the-sony-prs-505-reader/ ; better support on open-source platforms.

  • There’s also an alternative which is cheaper and targeted at standard formats, called Papyre, from grammata. http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/Papyre

  • I have a first generation Kindle with a 8GB card in it, space will most likely never be a problem.

    However, documents can be easily transferred to the Kindle via USB connection. In fact, even with my storage I do this for books I’m not going to be referencing for a while, just to keep my device clean.

    Or you can load the Kindle converted books and papers to a web page, and access as you need them. This is how many of us have gotten free books from ManyBooks.net.

    I have used the Kindle conversion process to have Amazon load the books for me, but the company has never charged me. I’ve also had them mail back converted documents, for off-Kindle storage and access.

    I have converted several PDF documents, including a couple of non-DRM PDF books, and had no problem. There is that issue of code blocks and equations, but I think this is a problem with all eBooks. Right now, at least.

    For the documents, you can search among them for terms, bookmark, copy whole pages to clipping file (which can be copied to your computer), or highlight sections. Add notes, too. Again, I’m using a Kindle 1, I imagine some of this is different with Kindle 2.

    Sony reader is good, too. Books are more expensive at Sony web site, though. I’m kind of cheap, myself.

    To save you money, if you have iPhone or Blackberry or some such thing, you could probably read the PDFs on your existing handheld.

  • I bought a Kindle2 for Mary for her birthday. She reads a lot of fiction. I think the price is a bit high and I was worried about the cost of the books. The prices on fiction books seem to be reasonable and some older books can be bought for no more than a couple dollars.

    I haven’t used it a lot but I have some observations.

    It is pretty thin and the screen is easy on the eyes. Almost zero glare and no finger prints on the brushed metal back.

    I tried the text to speech on the Kindle’s user manual and was surprised how good it was.

    It has two little slots on the side that allow it to attach to a protective case like a page in a book without the need to slide the Kindle down into some sort of sleeve. That is very nice.

    It has a built-in dictionary which is cool.

    When I first picked it up, it didn’t seem that heavy but after holding it up and reading for a while, the weight became noticeable. It is like holding a hardback novel.

    When you change the page, you can see the page reset and then the new page appears. At first it seemed like that would be distracting but I got used to it. I guess it is not any different than turning a page; just a lot more often.

  • Alex got me a Kindle2 as a Valentines day gift. I absolutely love it. It’s even better now that I can sync with my iphone kindle app. I’ve read at least 7 books in the past week, (including re-reading Asimov’s Foundation trilogy) and it’s just kewl to be able to pull out my phone when I’m waiting for someone, have it automatically sync to the page I was on, then have the Kindle sync again when I get home. I also carry it around a lot. It’s not heavy and I find it really easy to one-hand – especially since there’s a “next page” button on both sides, making it easy to switch hands if I want.

    I haven’t tried the pdf conversion yet – but I suspect it would be great to have it for reading scientific papers and annotating them.

  • For PDF conversion, you can email Amazon or use a desktop app (Mobi Creator: http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19649).

    That said, when the Plastic Logic reader (letter size unit) comes out I’ll get one ;-)

  • My reading also consists of a lot of journal and conference papers in PDF form. I recently purchased an iRex iLiad v2 and I am really happy with it. PDF support is fantastic and it includes a wacom tablet so you can do select-zoom and landscape and all the other stuff as well. It’s certainly on the expensive side but very hackable as well. The sources have been GPL’ed and there is a flourishing developer community on mobileread.com.

  • I got the kindle2, had it for a few weeks now.

    The book reading experience is fine, and converting PDF is simple but sometimes the formatted does get a little screwed up.

    I’m actually just in love my newspaper and magazine subscriptions on there. Every morning, with my coffee, far away from my laptop begging me to do a million things that aren’t reading the new york times, I can sit and relax and just read a bit.

  • On my last trip I loaded about 70 PDFs onto my iPhone using the application Air Sharing. I enjoyed reading the PDFs in their native format and in full color. For more graphically intense PDFs, the iPhone’s screen can’t be beat, although it is smaller than the Kindle’s and requires some zooming and panning i think the color and resolution is worth the reduced size.

  • I’ve seriously caught myself wanting a Kindle the last few days for some reason. I haven’t put my fingers on it, but a reading experience that doesn’t involve a laptop would be nice.

  • Got a Kindle 2. Great product and in conjunction with the iPhone Kindle app, it is really worth it. My only complaint is that emailed (converted) items can’t be downloaded to the iPhone, only purchased books.

Leave a Reply