Kindle 2

First, the results of my laptop hunt.  Thank you so much for all the suggestions — there are a lot more ultraportable options than I realized.  I narrowed it down to two wildly different possibilties:

  1. The Lenovo ThinkPad X200s.  I missed the 200s on my first survey — I didn’t realize Lenovo had one under 2.5 lbs.  It’s got perfect geek-oriented engineering (tough metal hinges, spill tray, incredibly rugged, Linux-friendly, etc).  It’s just a little bigger than I was going for — it’s pretty large for its weight.
  2. The Sony Vaio P.  I love the form factor — 9″ wide but only 4″ deep; you could slip it in a pocket.  And the 220 PPI screen is everything I could want.  It’s shiny and pretty and only weighs a pound and a half, and when I played with one I fell in love.  But it’s a Sony, which means shiny appearance but no openness — repairs suck, and Linux will only work haltingly.

In the end, I decided neither was worth the cost just yet while I could squeeze a little more life out of my old laptop.  A new battery, hard drive, and some antibiotics, and it could last another year.  But if I had to pick now, I’d go with the X200s.  The ability to toss it down a mountainside and have Ubuntu boot when it lands trumps gadgety sexiness.  But only barely.

Kindle 2:

On a contrary note, I have a Kindle 2.  I’ve been really happy with it so far, other than the PDF support being poorly documented (it claims to handle PDFs natively in some of the literature, but you can’t actually just plop them down on the drive — it requires passing them through Amazon or converting them yourself).  But it handles html, text, and some other formats fine when just dropped on it via USB — it’s a lot more open than the Kindle 1.

I’m surprised at the talk of the cost being too high.  For me, the comparison is to a laptop with a cellular broadband internet card — $1440 for a standard two-year contract.  The Kindle 2 doesn’t have a full web browser, but if you’re favoring text-heavy websites (news, blogs, mail, wikis), it’s perfectly sufficient.  Plus, it’s a nice screen and has many-day battery life.  All in all I think it’s a more-than-reasonable price for something that lets me read reddit on the street corner so as to better shout at sheeple about government conspiracies.

The xkcd sysadmin, davean, notoriously scornful of any new technology, took a look at the Kindle 2 after it arrived this afternoon.  He spent several minutes playing with it, discovered he could use it for email in a pinch, confirmed that an ssh terminal could be hacked together using the browser and javascript, and bought one for himself within the hour.

Bottom line, I think it’s a really neat device that fills a niche that nothing else really does.  And seeing the prices, I’ll probably even buy some ebooks and magazines.  But the web access is the real reason I got it.  And if the advertised free access to Wikipedia and other text-y websites is curtailed, (as the Terms and Conditions suggest could happen), the Kindle’s battery life means that I can camp out drunk on the Amazon lawn yelling at Jeff Bezos for quite a while.

171 replies on “Kindle 2”

  1. I have flipping and flopping over whether I should get a Kindle. On the down side, I am pretty honked off that they don’t have a student discount. On the plus side, I won’t need to buy any more bookshelves.

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  2. Gah, I really want a Kindle, if anything then to read out-of-print books. Unfortunately publishers are being stupid and digital books are just as expensive as hard-copies, which are, in the end, more pleasant to handle, more akin to ageing (and thus being fond to look at), will furnish a room and will not all disappear at once when the battery goes-out. They also smell very nice when they age.

    The real allure is the out-of-print books, though. Right now The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind is going for $100 on Amazon. On Kindle I’d buy it for $5 (and no more – it’s not like they need to recoup the price of the pages, or the paperback/hardcover).

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  3. Don’t worry, Randall. If the Kindle 2 does lose its free Internet access, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of company on Jeff Bezos’s lawn.

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  4. I got a Kindle (the original) for my girlfriend a while back and, yeah, it’s pretty great. She mostly just uses it for books, but it’s definitely nice having the internet access there in a pinch.

    Definitely worth the price.

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  5. Well you have convinced me. The kindle never made it onto my radar as a gadget for me. I took a second look and now on my list of gadgets I want. (being able to ssh gives any gadget +20)

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  6. I was starting to get tempted, but the PDF conversion issue is really disappointing — the NY Times article on it had me thinking you could just plop PDFs on it. My education is currently really PDF-heavy, so that’s a big deal. So, um, thanks for maybe saving me money (at least until I graduate when it should be more affordable anyhow)?

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  7. Just a note to f4hy and anyone else with the same idea — the ssh thing isn’t something you should count on using heavily. It can work, but it will never be comfortable. The appeal is that one can ssh into one’s server and restart a haywire process or cat a file or something, not use it to connect to an ncurses-heavy program like irssi. Browser bugs plus the screen refresh mean that will never be a comfortable option.

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  8. But why can’t we just have someone make a bare-bones e-reader? It doesn’t have to have internet access – mp3 players don’t need that to be the killer device they are.

    Really, I’m thinking of an iPod for books. Certainly the Kindle makes use of the entire qwerty keyboard it has, but merely reading e-books doesn’t require such a thing. Give it a minimal interface, like an iPod – front, back, menu, and maybe one to three other buttons for things like table of contents or something. Put these buttons in a sleek frame around the screen and/or on the side, and just make it a sleek device that’s 99% screen and the size of a trade paperback.

    Have it interface with your computer to upload books and documents – again, like a simple mp3 player – and keep it at that.

    First, we had simple mp3 players, even without screens, and only NOW do we have things like iPhones where we can buy songs from iTunes anywhere there’s cell service. But the more advanced, connect-anywhere, do everything devices aren’t for everyone. A device like I described could be half the cost of a Kindle.

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  9. Personally, I recently got an MSI Wind and have been very happy with it so far.

    They have a new one coming out soon, the Wind U115 with a dual hard drive (HDD and SSD) and I’m pretty sure they’re available with Linux.

    Though I’m not sure if it meets your screen requirements.

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  10. Wikipedia becoming H2G2 – I could see it happening and have thought it has already when combined with my MBP and wireless Internet in downtown Toronto so many times. The Kindle however makes this far more possible and that gets me extremely happy, I’ll wait a while.. but may invest in one (and if I do.. I’m engraving the back with ‘Don’t Panic’).
    Now my question is can you edit Wikipedia on it?/edit well?

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  11. I’ve been looking at Netbooks and had my eye on that Viao, but since they’re out of my price range I’ll probably be looking into Acer’s Aspire One. C-cry Acer.

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  12. Does anyone know how well does the Kindle PDF conversion handle PDFs with Math formulas? I read a lot of Math PDFs and I really hate reading on the computer and I think printing everything just to read it once is a waste of paper. So I’ve been looking for some ebook reader that handles math PDFs well but unfortunately it seems like none of them do.

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  13. a web browser and java just to do ssh? that is a god-damned abomination. Can’t you just, you know, compile some code and upload it to the thing? why would you DRM a device that is basically a screen to read stuff?

    BTW, I read the last harry potter on my DS.

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  14. a web browser and java just to do ssh? that is a god-damned abomination.

    True that.

    Can’t you just, you know, compile some code and upload it to the thing?

    Yeah, maybe it’ll get hacked at some point soon. But like I said, ssh isn’t something that’s ever going to be comfortable on it. The browser’s the least of the problems.

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  15. @Kris Sony makes the device you’re talking about. PRS-505 is the one I have. Retails for $300 but I got it for $200 slightly used. Same e-ink as the Kindle, no wireless anything, supports a number of formats (and in combination with the free xplatform calibre software, pretty much all non-drm’d formats), long battery, beautiful form factor. It is a sony though – but it’s a simple enough device that it seems they can’t fuck it up. It also supports audio books with an 1/8″ headphone port and a volume +/- rocker switch. Haven’t used that though, since I have an mp3 player for that. Very happy with it overall (currently reading Anathem on it… Randall, it does get less stupid after about 200 pages and then actually awesome after another 100 or so. A lot for a scifi author to ask of his readers, but for Stephenson I stuck around.)

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  16. Is the text-to-speech good? My mom is blind and is extremely excited about getting this. I know it’s probably not fully visually-impaired capable, but Dad can help her navigate, so as long as she can get some rudimentary control over starts and stops, she should be fine.

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  17. I know you’re probably looking for something lighter, Randall, but I really like the Fujitsu Lifebook t4220. As tablet convertibles go, you’d be hard pressed to find a better balance of function/speed/battery life, etc. I got mine for about $650, half retail price, from Fujitsu’s ebay store (sure, it’s refurbished, but you wouldn’t know it).

    As for ebook reading, the Nokia N800 is pretty good, albeit the PDF reader is a little slow, and it’s getting cheap now that the N810 is out. Don’t get me started on publishers though. Damn college testbooks cost over $100 each USED and none of the publishers offer ebooks of any of them. I wouldn’t mind the expensive textbooks if they came with a free ebook version (and I’d rather not have to always carry them around), but alas, besides piracy (which only works for some of the books), they can’t be had for any price.

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  18. Maybe I should switch from carrying all my documents on 284 very large floppies…

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  19. Living outside of the US the Kindle’s net access wouldn’t work even if I bought one.

    I’ll stick with my Sony prs-505 – looks better IMO, no wireless but amazing battery life and with 1000 books loaded on memory stick I don’t really see the need for internet connectivity – I have the old crackberry for that.

    Also, I haven’t seen one e-ink reader with decent PDF support but that is because PDF is a completely crap format with zero support for things like reflow.

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  20. regarding the commic: shouldn’t it read “Don’t Panic” instead of “Hitchihiker’s Guide”?

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  21. I’d just like to mention that even Sony is comming around to some sort of linux support: I have a VAIO that came with a fairly thick book fully of the GPL, BSD and Apache licenses in various languages. It had a hardware button to boot to a “media mode” with a XMB style ui running linux from a image in the NTFS system root.

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  22. : : : “He spent several minutes playing with it, discovered he could use it for email in a pinch, confirmed that an ssh terminal could be hacked together using the browser and javascript, and bought one for himself within the hour.”

    I now have a man-crush on davean.

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  23. “The xkcd sysadmin, davean, notoriously scornful of any new technology…”

    Wow. Sounds like me. I just scoff when someone is raving about this or that new touchscreen technology.

    /me keeps to the Old Ways.

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  24. Hrm. This is severely tempting. Honestly, considering the extremely limited utility I get out of the actual /phone/ portion of my phone and I basically only use it for basic web browsing and text based communication (AIM, MSN, YIM, and SMS)…Well, if it could do the communications aspect, goodbye cellphone bill.

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  25. Free cellular internet is quite tempting, but this is why being a college student (at least at a huge, wealthy university) is nice: since there’s Wi-Fi everywhere, it’s basically like having a cellular modem, you’ve got internet wherever you go. Because of that, and because my finances are typical college student bare-bones, it’s still tough for me to justify the cost of a Kindle. Student discounts on them, preferably to the tune of $100 or so, would be extremely helpful, and I think Amazon would be doing themselves a huge favor to make a push into the education market a la Apple. The potential market for these things on campuses is vast, for the most part people are just waiting for the price to come down.

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  26. If you want a good computer, buy from ASUS. They have possibly the best customer service and tech support I have EVER encountered in a company, not to mention very reliable and powerful computers for a reasonable price. Being an international company you can get support anywhere in the world.

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  27. I know how you feel; When I installed the Wikipanion app to my iPhone, I changed the ‘lock screen’ wallpaper to ‘DON’T PANIC’ written in large, friendly letters.

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  28. Too bad you can’t use the Kindle while being drunk and confused in another country. Get to a country in Europe, for instance Sweden, and you’ll be walking around swearing loudly. Though that might be the alcohol…

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  29. @Shih Tzu: Can’t say if the text to speech is any good personally, since I don’t own one, but it’s maybe worth pointing out that it’s good enough to have them under fire from the IP crazies (http://techdirt.com/articles/20090213/0347473760.shtml).

    Unrelated: Damn… why’d I have to go and be an early adopter? I’ll have to be content with my Eee 701 for now, I suppose.

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  30. Shih Tzu: the text to speech isn’t great, from what I read, it’s basically the same speech synth that everything uses (Sounds like Stephen Hawking, although I’m sure some people will hate me for making the comparison) No emotion to the voice, anyway. As much as I love my Kindle, I think the better option for a blind person would be an Ipod, since you can then spend the OTHER 300 bucks on books on tape.

    First thing I did when I got my Kindle is make a “Don’t Panic” stencil and spraypaint it on the cover.

    Pissed as hell that the Kindle 2 came out after Christmas. I bought the old one for my mom for Christmas. I could have traded up and given her mine. (See what a good son I am?)

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  31. i’d like to see to what degree Amazon has limited web access. specifically, i’m curious about access to online libraries like safaribooksonline.com that would be in competition with Amazon. i looked around and saw other geeks with the same question.

    if anyone has the new Kindle (hint) and is willing to try, i would send my Safari login for a test.

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  32. X200 seems nice, I will consider it too. I too will keep my T42 longer…

    I’m just honked that I have to, YET AGAIN, pay the MS tax:

    I don’t see Ubuntu as an option. I’ll install it myself, but I don’t see blank disk either.

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  33. Echoing Pablo’s question, has anyone tried reading science journal articles on this yet? If they don’t display properly in PDF is there a way to convert them to say, PNG before transferring them? Thanks.

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  34. To take the whole ssh question the other way, there are a lot of cell phones that will run versions of, e.g., PuTTY or Midpssh, or the like. Some have wi-fi capabilities. The keyboard’s uncomfortable (BB in my case), but you can do cool stuff (like “underwater Linux”, right next to the pool) if your eyesight is good, and I don’t have any trouble with ncurses on mine. Many such phones will run various versions of Opera. The update rate is about the speed of a mediocre laptop wi-fi connection.

    Now this doesn’t answer the PDF question, if that’s what you’re after.

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  35. To echo Alex and Pablo — if the Kindle can’t read PDFs off the arXiv without going through Amazon’s converter website, it’s basically dead to me. Wikipedia and Wikitravel are fine enough for some purposes, but I’ve got to find my way when I’m drunk and broke in the mathosphere.

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  36. Way to let the cat out of the bag! If people start buying them just as web browsers, and don’t buy any books for them, I think they’re that much more likely to end the free internet party. I’m about 50% / 50% on my usage, but I buy a book every now and then to help them justify giving me that internet connection. and if it ever went away, or went for-pay, the device just won’t be quite as awesome.

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  37. Here’s a question for you: I work for a blind businessman who is writing a book…he needs to have his drafts read to him, which is currently done using a secretary. I know this thing has text-to-speech capability but what I don’t know is: does it read the screen? Could a blind person use this with no help? Even if not, can it read, say, the new york times? or any text I upload to it? Your answer would be greatly helpful.

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  38. You should create an Amazon referral link to the Kindle 2; you pretty much sold me (and a few others, I imagine) on the device.

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  39. Thanks for the feedback! Mom’s already got an iPod, so I think she’d rather give the ebook text-to-speech a shot. She’s already sick of the audiobook selection she’s got (the library’s selection gets old fast, apparently).

    Aaron: My impression is that it would be difficult for a blind person to use the machine independently (the National Federation of the Blind echoed this and said that they encouraged Amazon to pursue full accessibility), but provided they can get assistance, I’d imagine it would be very useful. My mother, who’s blind, is very excited about getting one. Amazon’s promotional site claims that it will read aloud anything that can be displayed onscreen, including “books, newspapers, magazines, blogs and even personal documents,” and there are apparently some customization options for the voice’s gender and speed.

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  40. I have a question about the free cellular Internet: is it actually the full Internet, or only specific Internet addresses that they permit you to visit?

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  41. Way to let the cat out of the bag! If people start buying them just as web browsers, and don’t buy any books for them, I think they’re that much more likely to end the free internet party.

    I think that the idea is that people who buy them will discover that the books are cool and cheap and start buying those. If all it takes for it to fall apart is some reminders, it’s not a stable business model. And that’s definitely happened to me, and it’s been less than 24 hours. But that’s the reason for getting out early with the threat to camp out on Jeff’s lawn 🙂 It’s a delicate game!

    Re: text to speech: it’s not great — somewhere between the horrible XP default voice and OS X’s pretty good one. It’s not state-of-the-art by any means, and I’m not sure how comfortably I’d read a book with it, but it’s not bad. It is *not* blind-accessible — the TTS is not a screen reader and doesn’t navigate menus for you.

    I have a question about the free cellular Internet: is it actually the full Internet, or only specific Internet addresses that they permit you to visit?

    Full internet, but because of the device’s limitations (slow screen refresh, slow processor, lightweight browser) a lot of stuff is off-limits. It has barely-functioning JavaScript, and the idea of flash is just silly. The experience is comparable to using a a cheap mobile phone browser with a really large screen and keyboard.

    You should create an Amazon referral link to the Kindle 2; you pretty much sold me (and a few others, I imagine) on the device.

    Man, if only. But then I’m a salesman, not an excited dude with a toy he wants to talk about. I have principles! They’re not very logical or consistent, but I damn well have them.

    i’d like to see to what degree Amazon has limited web access. specifically, i’m curious about access to online libraries like safaribooksonline.com that would be in competition with Amazon. i looked around and saw other geeks with the same question. if anyone has the new Kindle (hint) and is willing to try, i would send my Safari login for a test.

    The browser is just a browser; they don’t meddle much. It’d be a question of the technical merits of the browser rather than policy. But I’d be glad to try for you if you drop me a line on IRC or something.

    if the Kindle can’t read PDFs off the arXiv without going through Amazon’s converter website, it’s basically dead to me.

    With a few simple tools, you can do the conversion yourself as an automatic part of the transfer. There’s no need to contact Amazon or pass any of your data through them. It’s just a matter of reformatting, not rights.

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  42. my Kindle is my baby. No longer am I bound to my computer if I want to be an insufferable know-it-all. My Wiki-knowledge is portable! I can correct any jerk on the train when she misquotes the president. I can check my email every sixty seconds. And I don’t get bored, because I always have a book (or sixty) to read! Plus, my cover has “Don’t Panic” written on it in large, friendly letters!

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  43. @Pablo, Alex and Blake Stacey :
    A colleague had an Iliad iRex 2 reader at a math conference I attended last summer. It’s (way) more expensive than a Kindle, but it runs some custom flavour of linux, and displays PDF files natively. It requires wifi access (or a usb to a computer, or a usb drive) to get data, but it will connect to the arXiv and let you download eprints. I’ve been lusting after it ever since, but the price has been a serious deterrent.

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  44. Why not come back to the classics? It’s true that MP3 players used to be so simple and so great, I still use it all the time, it has a b&w LCD display and 512MB memory and I just love it ! |ºLº|

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  45. With a few simple tools, you can do the conversion yourself as an automatic part of the transfer. There’s no need to contact Amazon or pass any of your data through them. It’s just a matter of reformatting, not rights.

    Good to know. I wasn’t particularly concerned with rights issues (sorry for any confusion). The other day, on a lark, I ran the PDF of a book typeset in LaTeX through Amazon’s “Digital Text Platform” website, which supposedly makes stuff available for sale in the Kindle Store. When I previewed the result, it was rather remarkably bad. Even basic stuff like line breaks and italicized text got completely munged. It looks like I could improve the outcome by manually tweaking HTML (or by going directly from LaTeX to HTML and then trimming the result).

    Other conversion tools might have better performance; I haven’t yet looked.

    I know a fair number of people who are self-publishing various niche things (class notes, family histories, science poetry, etc.). Since I enjoy hooking up LaTeX and Python more than anybody else I know, I figured I’d see what was involved with this Kindle business.

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  46. I was just looking at the product video on the amazon website and got a good chuckle out of the heading “16 shades of gray”… a bit of a throw-back.

    Anyway, this product is intriguing due to the lack of selection of English language books in Seoul. To be fair, there are lots of English books here, but Kyobo Bookstore’s immense selection of Starcraft novelizations just don’t do it for me.

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  47. @Sam:
    Don’t forget the horrible battery life on the iRex though. (allegedly only about 8 hours.)

    Basically I think i will be forced to go with the Irex (bad battery life, but full of nifty gadgetry) or Hanlin V3 (limited titles available) or import a Sony from the UK. (Mainly intending to use it as a portable library anyway)

    The kindle 2.0 won’t be released here for a while yet, seeing that Amazon is rather vague on whether it will be released outside the US. 😦

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