Having borrowed an Amazon Kindle DX e-Book reader for a few days to try out, here are a few first impressions. The device looks like an Apple product, with its stark white case and sparse writing. The unit is very slim, abut as thick as a pencil and along with the slippery aluminium back, it is hard to hold. I would have preferred a unit about as thick as the average paperback (about 20 mm) with a non-slip rubber coating on the back and sides. The screen is very readable but slow to update and a very dull grey. The QWERTY keyboard on the front is annoyingly small and slow to use, even for the occasional search. The other navigation buttons are easy to use. It was surprising the unit did not come pre-installed with some free books. About all there is are some manuals and some PDF documents my colleagues downloaded.
Reading the Amazon format works very well, with the text able to be re-sized and an excellent text-to-speech facility (my Green Technology Strategies book sounds so much more impressive when read aloud by the kindle, than by me). However, the facilities for PDF documents are more limited, with the text not able to be enlarged nor read aloud (you can still make the text larger by rotating the display to landscape mode).
I was able to preview a book, after registering with my Amazon.com account. The preview of my Green Technology Strategies book gave the table of contents and outline, plus a little of the first chapter. This was enough to see that, much to my relief, the Amazon DTP system had done a good job converting the book from HTML to the Amazon format.
Disappointingly the web interface on the Kindle is not available in Australia, apparently due to networking costs. It is frustrating to see a network indicator on the Kindle screen showing it is connected to a 3G wireless network, but not being able to use it for much more than buy books from Amazon.
The Kindle works well for its intended purpose: to lock the consumer into buying materials from the Amazon bookstore. But as a wireless tablet computer it is very frustrating. The device would seem to have very little use outside the niche of being able to display reformatted books. It has little use in education, where the student will need wider access to online material and will need a way to compose text easily, not just read prepared material.
It will be interesting to see how well the Apple iPad answers these needs. The iPad might be a better e-book than the Kindle, but there is still the question as to who wants to buy an expensive netbook computer with no keyboard?