“I’m frankly somewhat mystified why someone would buy a Kindle DX, since it doesn’t work for what it’s designed for, and the only thing it does do well — read books purchased from Amazon — is done better by smaller and cheaper devices…”
I had high hopes for the Kindle DX (Amazon link). It is, in principle, my ideal e-reader, since the use-case I envisioned for such devices has always been to replace printing out tons of PDFs. (I have an existing solution to my book habit — http://web.mit.edu/mitsfs/ — which I’m entirely happy with and see no reason to change. I don’t have the 10 books/week habit my friends do which they find well-fed by an ebook reader.) So, I was excited by the Kindle DX — native PDF support and a big screen suitable for multi-column papers and textbooks. There was a bit of hullabaloo when it was announced about how it was being targeted at schools, and I had a couple big textbooks I wanted to have but not have to lug around, and my professors were willing to provide me with PDF versions. Unfortunately, the DX seriously disappointed me in its execution.
My biggest annoyances were:
- No ability to rotate PDFs. This means that I’m stuck with whatever orientation is encoded in the PDF. It was really annoying to open a landscape PDF and have each page a tiny postage stamp in the middle third of the screen. When I tried to rotate the /device/ so the PDF would display properly, I discovered that there was…
- No ability to resize a landscape page to fit the display. When I turned the Kindle on its side (after some fiddling and shaking to make the internal tilt sensor notice), the PDF rotated… but now the bottom sixth of the page was cut off. This made reading anything with multiple columns an eyeball-gouging exercise in frustration. Eg. reading the book scans which many of my classes give me, landscape, two book pages to a scanned page, I would read the top portion of one column, flip to the next “page” and read the bottom, flip back to the previous “page” to read the top of the next column, flip to the next page to read the bottom of that column and then the top of the next column, incurring the page-flip delay each time. The device most definitely did not “disappear in my hands”, and I can’t conceive why one would not want to rescale the PDF page to fit the screen. This made many of my PDFs basically unreadable on the device without substantial pre-processing.
- No zoom. One of my textbook PDFs, for whatever reason, had abnormally large margins, and so I had to peer at the tiny text and illustrations in the middle of a two-inch sea of margin. If I wanted to be able to read the text without holding the device two inches from my nose and squinting, I had *no recourse* on the device itself — I could not zoom in. This made one of my two PDF textbooks unusable on the device. (The other one worked pretty nicely, but unfortunately I dropped that class.)
- WHYYYY does the display BLANK ITSELF? It’s an e-ink display, so it only draws power when it changes — so WHY put up a static image after 10 minutes? I had hoped to use the Kindle for problem sets — load the problem set PDF on the device instead of printing it out and wasting trees — but in order to keep consulting the same page of the PDF, I would have to keep waking the Kindle up when it slept, thereby breaking my concentration on whatever problem I was working on. The MobileRead forums had a binary patch which just put up a little lock icon when the Kindle was asleep and kept the page displayed, but you folks released a new version of the software and it broke. Blanking the display is completely inexcusable — it’s not a security feature, since any yahoo with an index finger can flip the switch at the top and see what you were reading — you’re just too much in the laptop “screensaver” mindset. I want my textbooks and reference books to stay open while I’m using them, dammit. (The Sony Reader gets this right, btw.) This “feature” made the Kindle unusable for problem sets.
There followed a host of smaller annoyances:
- I read from many different sitting positions, and in fact the weight and size of the Kindle DX meant I had to change position more often than usual. Often my new position would cause the device to change orientation, despite that I was still reading it in the old orientation (lying on my side on the couch, eg.). I could turn the auto-orientation feature off on individual files, but I really wanted to be able to turn it off globally. (The tilt sensor is really a misfeature, IMHO — I have no problem frobbing the orientation when I want it changed — but I’d be happy with just being able to turn it off globally.)
- The Kindle DX needs to support PDF indexes. Search is not a substitute for an index, though search /is/ basically necessary for using an e-reader for textbooks, and the keyboard is acceptable enough for that purpose. Basically anything to improve the Kindle’s use for random access of books is good.
- Only two of the 10+ books for my class on Tom Stoppard and his contemporaries (ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD and WAITING FOR GODOT) were available for the Kindle.
- The first time I tried to return a book I didn’t want (and hadn’t even downloaded) I got lost running around the “returns” section of the Amazon web site, even though I knew I needed to find the general feedback section. The returns procedure really needs streamlining (or documenting ANYWHERE besides the MobileRead forums, really).
My general impression was relatively negative:
- The Kindle DX has too many buttons that do similar things. (Do I want the next/prev page buttons or the joystick? Do I want the menu button or the “change font size” button or the home button, which takes me to a menu?)
- The Kindle DX has too many of the wrong configuration options. I don’t care that I can play MP3s on it, I care that I can read and zoom PDFs without frustration and turn off the bloody tilt sensor.
- Stupid margining. Even on Amazon-bought books, there’s as much whitespace margin inside the e-ink screen as outside. Given that the device is white to begin with and has a decent margin around the e-ink screen, I see no reason for not just running the text more-or-less to the edge of the screen.
So, that said, there were a few things I liked about the device:
- The physical design is pretty solid, and the unboxing experience was pleasant.
- Was positively enjoyable to use with Linux. A+++
- The one Amazon-bought book I tried to read on it was perfectly pleasant to read, and there the device finally disappeared in my hands. However, if I’d just wanted the Kindle to read text, I’d have bought the paperback format Kindle 2, or more likely the Sony PRS-505 or something else smaller, without a keyboard or wireless, and a lot cheaper.
- Thank you for releasing the Windows Kindle reader, so I haven’t completely lost the few books I spent money on.
- The power adapter is really nice. (It’s basically a two-inch frob with a standard power plug on one end and a female USB connector on the other. You plug in the device’s USB cable and away you go.) I wish more companies would do something as slick as that.
But I still did end up selling the device, and I got most of my money back on eBay, thankfully. I’m frankly somewhat mystified why someone would buy a Kindle DX, since it doesn’t work for what it’s designed for, and the only thing it does do well — read books purchased from Amazon — is done better by smaller and cheaper devices — but, having largely recouped my material costs at least, I’m not complaining (about that at least) either. Hopefully it works better for whoever bought it, and in the meantime, dear Amazon, please fix these problems.
Comments? E-mail me.