Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My new Kindle DX: the good, the bad, the executive summary

I’ve been the satisfied owner of a Kindle 1 for several months.  Today I got my Kindle DX, which I pre-ordered the day it was announced.  Here’s my first impression–but the executive summary is, I’m keeping it!


The good (in order of coolest to just nifty):



  • PDF files look really, really good.  I’ve tried viewing technical papers (PDF generated from LaTeX or Word), PDF e-books purchased online, music printed from Finale, and sheet music and books scanned  to PDF bitmaps.  They rendered quickly and look awesome.  This alone justifies the purchase for me.  Indeed, with sheet music, there’s now the possibility of downloading MP3 files of, say, Dvorak’s New World Symphony and following along in the score as I listen…sweeet.

  • The auto-rotate to landscape mode is nice, though for PDF files it doesn’t seem to always get the page breaks right if you rotate the file out of its “natural” orientation.

  • The responsiveness and screen refresh feels somewhat faster than the K1, but not stunningly so, and I didn’t really have complaints about the K1 anyway.

  • The industrial design is considerably spiffier. If not for the Amazon logo, you might mistake it for an Apple product. That’s not a knock, it’s a compliment. Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.


The bad (in order of most annoying to least annoying):



  • No touch screen. Not surprising but it would have been REALLY cool. I almost purchased an iRex iLiad Book Editioninstead for this feature.

  • Can’t annotate PDF files (as far as I can tell) by attaching notes/highlights to them the way you can with ebooks.

  • The UI still doesn’t let you organize your documents and books into folders. Since I plan to use the PDF feature to read technical papers, I’ll be at 100 documents within a week. It’s going to get unmanageable fast.

  • The charger/USB port is micro-USB (not to be confused with mini-USB). Not only can’t I use my K1 charger, I can’t even use my existing USB cables.  (It comes with a combination USB/charger cable, but it’s just one more adapter to carry.)

  • The UI for selecting “links” in an ebook is, in my opinion, worse.  The K1 had a separate scroll wheel with a little metallic-looking “slug” you used to select links.  The DX (and I assume the Kindle 2) try to repaint an on-screen pointing-hand cursor (browser-like), but the screen’s refresh isn’t quite fast enough to keep up, so there’s a lot of ghosting and mispositioning.

  • The power switch is a slider, so you have to hold it for 4 seconds to turn the device off.  The K1 had a mechanical 2-position switch that I thought was easier to operate. Similarly, turning wireless on and off now requires a menu selection; on the K1 it had its own switch.

  • Unlike the K1, it doesn’t come with a protective case of any kind. I know this is to stimulate an aftermarket, but still.


The executive summary:



  • I’m really glad I got this. The PDF reader alone is the killer feature. (WIthout it, I wouldn’t have cared about having a larger screen.) I’ll save hundreds of pages of printing a year just by reading technical papers on here.  Magazines like CACM and IEEE Computer are now PDF format, so I’ll be able to stop receiving paper copies of those too.

  • This doesn’t replace my K1. The DX is clearly a two-handed device, like one of those leather portfolios that suits use to carry around professional documents. I’ll use it to read technical papers and other things where the large screen is mandatory. For everything else—including documents reformatted into a markup language from, say, HTML or Word or even latex2html—I like my K1: it’s small, I can use it one-handed (e.g. when standing on the train), it feels like a more appropriate form factor for reading in bed, etc.

  • This is a killer device for textbooks, as I had suspected.

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