As a new owner of a Kindle DX, I was really hoping to fall in love. But it didn’t happen. Here’s why.
I bought a Kindle DX just before a family vacation, and was looking forward to carrying my library in a highly portable 1-pound package.
Friends have been singing Kindle’s praises for several years. The recent advances in screen sharpness and contrast persuaded me that the time had finally come to buy a Kindle for myself. So a week ago I bought the latest DX model, one that offers a 9.7” screen and a 50% improvement in contrast.
At over $400 with tax, this larger Kindle is quite expensive, so I expected a lot from it. Perhaps too much. In the end I returned it, for a variety of functional and aesthetic reasons.
Given its price I felt Kindle had to become, if not my primary reading medium, at least one that I’d be willing to use on a regular and frequent basis. So I decided to test it out, to see if it might become my preferred reading device, or an away-from-home alternative that would be more convenient than carrying printed books.
My Issues with the Kindle DX
Practical, Not Lovable
If you love the UI of an iPhone, the Kindle’s interface seems klunky and dated. It’s utilitarian, and gets the job done — but doesn’t leave you feeling delighted. Fortunately, it takes little time to learn.
I was never able to figure out how to delete unwanted books or samples, or how to organize things into collections. (Or even if those features are available.)
I did successfully transfer a PDF from my Mac to the Kindle; however, I did not like the fact that there was no easy zooming or scaling function that would enable me to resize the PDF page to fit within a single Kindle screen. If this feature exists within the Kindle’s UI, it’s hidden somewhere.
Not Easy on the Eyes
Over the course of a week I used my Kindle for a minimum of 30 minutes at a time, at multiple times during the day and in varying lighting conditions. Despite the vaunted improvements in screen contrast, in every case I had to put on “computer glasses” to see the screen clearly.
I don’t wear glasses to read books or magazines. That said, I was unable to work with the Kindle for more than a few moments without putting on glasses.
Even with the glasses I suffered some degree of eye strain every time I read from the Kindle for more than 30 minutes. (I read printed books for hours at a time with no ill effects.) After reading from the Kindle, I almost always experienced eye strain, followed by a mild headache.
There’s no option to manage contrast or brightness, so if the setting doesn’t work optimally for you, there’s nothing you can do about it. Although my friends don’t comment on this, my husband complained about eye strain after reading a magazine for an hour or so…
No Typography. As someone who loves the look and feel of a well-designed book, I struggled with Kindle’s limited feature set when it comes to page design and layout. Although you can vary the size of the characters, there’s only one font. Therefore all books look the same.
Unlike web browsers, where you can change the default serif and sans serif type choices, the Kindle supports a single typeface. The font is nicely designed, but it becomes boring after a while.
Having said that, the character shapes are crisp and clear. I suspect this is the best that Kindle can display for this generation device.
No kerning or word spacing. Unfortunately, for books laid out with a justified right margin, Kindle’s primitive word spacing produces rivers of white space down the column of text. I found all this white space between words to be distracting. Sadly, this seems to be the most common design format, at least for the books I tried.
Manuscript-style page layouts. It’s also clear that Kindle is optimized for simple mass market paperbacks.
If the Kindle is able to render pages designed with sidebar content, the mark-up structure must be too inconvenient for publishers to use.
As a result my husband’s and my experiences reading periodical material were quite disappointing. We saw text only, no sidebars, no images in context. We didn’t see teaser articles. Instead you have to scroll through all the articles sequentially in order to decide which ones to read.
Having said that, we were reading niche publications, like sailing magazines and Le Monde. Perhaps some magazine publishers are investing the time to optimize their publications for Kindle; if so, we did not happen to download any of their samples.
Whenever my husband and I read periodicals, we found each article’s sidebars inserted within the main text column — making sidebars far less effective at supplying supplementary information or perspectives.
Only 16 shades of grey. There’s no color, and only 16 shades of grey. That means designers have few options for organizing books or magazines using a “visual language.” Again, this leaves the impression that you’re reading manuscripts — because even today’s paperbacks feature subtle grey-scale design elements to distinguish chapter heads or section dividers… I missed that kind of design finesse in books ported to the Kindle.
Kindle’s current limitations remind me of the very early days of digital publishing, back in the mid-1980s when laser printers had limited output capabilities, and people printed right-justified books or periodicals using MS Word or primitive publishing tools…
I imagine that Kindle’s screen rendering capabilities will someday overcome these limitations, at a reasonable price point, but that time is probably years off.
Apple’s iPad is an obvious alternative to try; however, some of my geeky friends say eye strain will occur with iPads too.
After this experience I’m not rushing out to buy one…