Friday, March 06, 2009

Kindlemania


This is my 2 cent review of the latest gadget here, the Kindle 2 from Amazon. If you haven't heard about it, it's a hand-size tablet with a 7" ePaper screen, for very high quality black & white display of text (mainly). It is sold as an electronic book reader with a direct sales link to Amazon.

It's really a lot more than that. It is a free wireless web browsing terminal. The browser identifies itself as "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Linux 2.6.10) NetFront/3.4 Kindle/1.0 (screen 600x800)". The "3G" wireless link is actually free with no monthly or setup charges, after you buy the Kindle. The browser is labeled "experimental", and it has a lot of the feel of a cell-phone or PDA browser, but the screen resolution is quite acceptable for sites that are reasonably formatted for its size. I can log in and use my gmail account, but I wouldn't say the Kindle is going to replace my PC for general email.

It is a Linux box. You can see that from the Browser ID above, and you can also see it by reading the 70 (!) pages of legal information that are thoughtfully provided in Kindle's memory. There are interesting possibilities: I suppose it won't be long before we have hackers providing a Linux console session. You could use the Kindle as a (free!) wireless adapter via USB for your laptop. And so on. (Of course, Amazon may not smile on such activity.)

So we have a Linux box with ~2 GB of internal memory, a wireless link (Sprint, I think), USB, audio output, a nice screen, and a semi-useable keyboard. It will hold "1500 books", they say. You can convert and/or install your own pdf, doc, text files, etc., but not if they're too large. The only advertised conversion option for non-txt files, is to send email to Amazon where they pass it through the "cloud" (I suppose) and send the result over RF (for $0.10 a shot) or by email (free). But the file size is limited by the email process, ruling out many Google Books image-type PDFs, for example.

What the Kindle is not:
  • Email or IM machine. The keyboard is even worse (in some ways) than my Palm Treo's. There is no email client, but the platform would obviously support it.
  • Color, and the ePaper is too slow to support any animation or video.
  • Open. You have to use Amazon's applications programs, and there aren't many of them (yet). Our friendly hackers may overcome this in time, but expect Amazon to defend their platform even more than Apple and its iPhone, particularly because of the bundled RF link (which could be abused) and because of the "secure" commercial authentication that links you, your Kindle, and your Amazon account. (Where they hope you'll spend a lot of $$.)
  • Secure. There is no password or other protection on the Kindle, which means that anyone who gets the physical unit can cause mayhem in your Amazon account. This is a pretty serious shortcoming IMO.
  • Media Machine. The Kindle will play mp3's and show pictures, one at a time. The file browser function is rather weak (no folders), so you'd get lost pretty soon if you loaded up a lot of small files.
  • Telephone. It would not be a big technical step to incorporate a cell phone (VOIP) into the Kindle concept, but there is no audio input, and the network model might not support phone usage. Still, I don't know how many separate high-function digital devices I want to carry with me. The market will sort this out some day.
All in all an interesting device. I will use it for reading books, newspapers, and a few blogs, while waiting for the hacks to appear.
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