October 22, 2009
Kindle and other e-readers - a history and review
Here is the one of the more thorough reviews of Amazon's Kindle, along with a history of its development. It's an article by Nicholson Baker from the August 3, 2009 edition of the New Yorker Magazine in which the author test drives a Kindle 2, evaluates the pros and cons of Kindle versus books and discusses the history of e-readers more generally.
Here’s what you buy when you buy a Kindle book. You buy the right to display a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use with the aid of an electronic display device approved by Amazon. The company uses an encoding format called Topaz. (“Topaz” is also the name of a novel by Leon Uris, not available at the Kindle Store.) There are other e-book software formats—Adobe Acrobat, for instance, and Microsoft Reader, and an open format called ePub—but Amazon went its own way. Nobody else’s hardware can handle Topaz without Amazon’s permission. That means you can’t read your Kindle books on your computer, or on an e-book reader that competes with the Kindle. (You can, however, read Kindle books on the iPod Touch and the iPhone—more about that later—because Amazon has decided that it’s in its interest to let you.) Maybe you’ve heard of the Sony Reader? The Sony Reader’s page-turning controls are better designed than the Kindle’s controls, and the Reader came out more than a year before the Kindle did; also, its screen is slightly less gray, and its typeface is better, and it can handle ePub and PDF documents without conversion, but forget it. You can’t read a Kindle book on a Sony machine, or on the Ectaco jetBook, the BeBook, the iRex iLiad, the Cybook, the Hanlin V2, or the Foxit eSlick. Kindle books aren’t transferrable. You can’t give them away or lend them or sell them. You can’t print them. They are closed clumps of digital code that only one purchaser can own. A copy of a Kindle book dies with its possessor.
On the other hand, there’s no clutter, no pile of paperbacks next to the couch. A Kindle book arrives wirelessly: it’s untouchable; it exists on a higher, purer plane. It’s earth-friendly, too, supposedly. Yes, it’s made of exotic materials that are shipped all over the world’s oceans; yes, it requires electricity to operate and air-conditioned server farms to feed it; yes, it’s fragile and it duplicates what other machines do; yes, it’s difficult to recycle; yes, it will probably take a last boat ride to a Nigerian landfill in five years. But no tree farms are harvested to make a Kindle book; no ten-ton presses turn, no ink is spilled.
. . . .
The paperback edition of “The Lincoln Lawyer” ($7.99 at Sherman’s in Freeport) has a bright-green cover with a blurry photograph of a car on the front. It says “MICHAEL CONNELLY” in huge metallic purple letters, and it has a purple band on the spine: “#1 New York TimesBestseller.” On the back, it says, “A plot that moves like a shot of Red Bull.” It’s shiny and new and the type is right, and it has the potent pheromonal funk of pulp and glue. When you read the book, its gutter gapes before your eyes, and you feel you’re in it. In print, “The Lincoln Lawyer” swept me up. At night, I switched over to the e-book version on the iPod ($7.99 from the Kindle Store), so that I could carry on in the dark. I began swiping the tiny iPod pages faster and faster.
Then, out of a sense of duty, I forced myself to read the book on the physical Kindle 2. It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks.
You can read the rest of Mr. Baker's detailed review here.
October 22, 2009 | Permalink