Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Kindle with ads isn't that great, but not for the reasons you might think

I've had an Amazon Kindle with ads for about a week now, and I'm still on the fence about it. So far I only see a few pros to owning this ebook reader, and quite a few cons. Oddly, the ads are not among the cons. So here's my pros and cons list:

  • The liquid paper--Compared to the back-lit iPad,iPhone or iPod Touch, the liquid paper is easier on the eyes and it means you can go a long time between charges. But do you know what's even easier on the eyes and doesn't need to be charged at all? An actual book. 
  • The price--At $114, this is one of the cheapest ebook readers. 
  • The Amazon Kindle store's selection and pricing for ebooks--Amazon has the greatest selection of ebooks at the lowest prices.
  • The ads--The ads appear when the Kindle is shut off. When you turn the Kindle back on, a small strip at the bottom of the menu lets you click on a link to learn more about the product or offer. The ads don't bother me in the least, and when they offer something good (who wouldn't want a $10 Amazon gift certificate for buying a $5 ebook from the bestseller list?) I kind of wish there were more of them. Right now my only complaint about the ads is that they're repetitive and I can't tell the Kindle to stop showing me ads for some car and some beauty product. My guess is that in the future, the ads might be better tailored to the actual user. This would benefit both the Kindle owner and the advertiser.
  • Get any book you want within seconds--It's literally like holding a bookstore in your hand, but unfortunately this isn't a bookstore you can check out easily, no bargain bin or covers to look at or anything. (See below.)
  • The user interface--the placement of the buttons can be quite frustrating. There are buttons on each side of the screen to move you forward and backward. Press the top button, and you move back. Press the bottom button, and you move forward. This only applies to navigating books. To move back a page anywhere else, you need to press a tiny back button on the keyboard. Why? Why not have the same buttons take you back and forward a page no matter where you are? And why not just put one back button to the left of the screen, and one forward button to the right of the screen, which would be more intuitive? The main button you use on the keyboard (the one that lets you move up, down, left and right within a page) is tiny and difficult to manipulate. This is true of all the buttons on the keyboard, but because this one button is so important, its tiny size and the way it's situated so close to the Menu, Back, Delete, and Enter keys can be quite frustrating, making the simplest tasks take unnecessarily longer.
  • The on-board Kindle store--Unless you're interested in the bestseller list only and you don't care about price, the Kindle store as you can access it from your device is pretty much useless. You can't look up books by rating or price, and very often when you look something up by topic, the first things on the list are rubbish created by writers who have created lots and lots of ebooks in order to boost their ratings in the Kindle store. Sometimes they'll add something to a public-domain work (like drawings), so they can charge for an ebook you can get for free elsewhere online. This effectively makes the on-board Kindle store a joke, and the laugh is on the person trying to use it to find a book he or she might want to buy.
  • The price of some ebooks when compared to used books--If you want to read books on your Amazon Kindle, you're stuck with whatever the price is on Amazon. Sometimes that's a good thing. Many indie publishers charge $0.99-$2.99 for an ebook. However, most of the larger publishers charge $9.99, and sometimes more. So unless you have money to burn or really need to get that bestseller as soon as it comes out and you're willing to pay retail for it, you're probably better off getting a used (sometimes even new) paperback for a much lower price.
  • Everything the Kindle offers beside books--While some of the apps are nice (Mahjong, for example, looks lovely), the interface makes them unbearably frustrating to use. The worst is trying to access the Kindle store through Amazon's website. Sure, it's great that the device can access the Internet, but does it have to do such a terrible job of it? Frankly, I think Amazon needs to get rid of that feature until they find a way to make using it frustration-free.
In the end, the pros win out over the cons, but the cons show that Amazon still has a long way to go if it wants to get a Kindle into every reader's hands.

1 comment:

  1. I've had a kindle (2nd gen) for 6 months now and I haven't experienced any of the cons you mentioned. Then again, I never felt that the purpose of the on board Kindle store was to browse but rather to search for specific books. I read the NYT book reviews on my Kindle. I see something I like, I search by title. Voila. Reading "The Shallows" right now as a result. (ironic, if you know what the book is about). I agree with you, though, about how annoying it is that so much dross is allowed on the Kindle store but I suppose that's just the nature of the Internet.