Embracing the eReader Metaphor: Kindle 4

Kindle 4 SO

I’m the happy new owner of an Amazon Kindle 4 SO (Special Offers). This is my first eReader. The recent design refresh and lower prices finally swayed me. Although there are probably more Kindles in the wild than Toyota Corollas, I thought some brief observations may benefit those contemplating their first eReader purchase.

If you read through as many reviews as I did on Amazon’s website you probably saw some unkind words for the new model. In fact, after only a few 1-star reviews, a couple of themes emerged. In no particular order, here are my experiences after a few days use. I should note my device arrived on-time, securely boxed, and pre-registered to my Amazon account since I bought it from them. On to the review.

Previous page ghosting

When an e-ink display changes “pages”, a faint, ghostly afterimage of the previous page’s words are left behind. Apparently a characteristic of electronic ink technology, the K4 exhibits this trait. The amount of ghosting is a topic of much concern in Amazon’s reviews. Some previous owners deem it to be unreasonably more than the previous generation of Kindles, especially since Amazon has indicated the screens are the same for K3s and K4s. The effect is more noticeable in bright sunlight than normal room interior lighting, and on pages with large amounts of whitespace. Even then, it wasn’t a big deal to me. The ghosting is alleviated by a complete screen refresh (marked by a brief dip to black) every 6th page turn. The currently available firmware update (4.01) lets you choose to refresh the screen at every page turn if this behavior bothers you.

Opinions and rants about this issue are all over the map, and it was my biggest concern before buying. After reading a complete novel before applying the firmware update I can say it’s not a problem for me. It’s there if you look for it, but I don’t think a first time owner will find it objectionable. Lose yourself in the book, not the display.

That issue solved, the display is simply awesome! It has crisp, readable letters with a choice of serif or sans serif font, as well as kerning/leading and size/orientation options. The “page” itself is a light gray, which I find preferable to stark white, especially for reading in bright light.

Size

The keyboard-less model is pretty small, smaller than the K3 (keyboard) model. I have moderately large hands, but was comfortable holding this device for long periods of time.

Page Buttons

Some reviewers dislike the new page forward/backward buttons. They are located on either side of the slim device and require a slight downward push to activate. I never used the previous design with page buttons on the bottom of the bezel, so I’m OK with these. Additionally, they don’t feel as flimsy to me as some reviewers have indicated. All in all, this eReader feels sturdy for the price.

Ads

Ads appear in a small band at the bottom of the home page, and as full page graphics in screensaver mode. The few I’ve seen are tastefully designed and unobtrusive. I’m looking at a local one now offering me 2/3 off a cupcake-decorating class  🙂 Since they do not appear in reading mode, I wouldn’t consider spending $30 more to avoid them.

Amenities/Features

Kindle ships with The New Oxford American Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of English. The American version was chosen as default in my Kindle. Pressing the 5-way rocker switch in the bottom bezel up or down while in reading mode activates a flashing I-beam cursor that provides a definition for the word immediately to the right. The left and right buttons let you move the cursor from word to word along a line of text. Pressing the center button allows you to see the full definition, begin a highlight, or create a note. Kindle can connect with your Twitter and Facebook accounts to share annotations and excerpts about the book you’re reading… nice.

Wi-fi works well and the Kindle connects to AT&T Hotspots for free with no activation or sign-in. Hello Starbucks! There is one caveat to mention about wi-fi. If you secure your home or work network with long, random alphanumeric sequences, don’t use the pipe | symbol. You won’t find it on Kindle’s virtual keyboard. Wi-fi can easily be turned off to conserve battery life. Speaking of batteries, Amazon expects around a month of use (wi-fi off, 1/2 hour a day) between charges.

A micro-USB cable (provided) allows you to charge the battery and transfer files/firmware updates to the unit. The provided cable is nice and long should you ever need to charge your Kindle while reading. A Kindle email address is also provided, so you can send documents to the device that way as well.

Overall Impression

I loved the Kindle from the moment I saw its display light up. The weight is nice and light. It’s legibility, contrast, and wide range of type adjustments make it a pleasure to read from, particularly outside. Everyone I’ve shown it to is amazed at the e-ink display and using it is mostly intuitive. A key element for me is being able to take a good book (or entire library!) with me anywhere.

So can Kindle ever replace dead tree media? Those of us who remember the endless hours of discovery; the feel of paper; and yes, the smell of wood, ink, and whomever last touched a book will undoubtedly bristle at the notion. But a good book can take you anywhere, even beyond the confines of a digital reading device. Amazon describes the experience perfectly in the welcome letter that I assume ships with every Kindle purchased through them.

We hope you’ll quickly forget you’re reading on an advanced wireless device and instead be transported into that mental realm readers love, where the outside world dissolves, leaving only the author’s stories, words, and ideas.

At $79, Kindle 4 SO is a great value. If you’ve been waiting to purchase an eReader, don’t wait any longer.

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