For months my wife was raving about the Kindle. She wanted that electronic device with the fervor I normally display for such things geek. The Kindle, however, failed to spark any sort of interest because of the proprietary nature of the device. I saw it as an impediment of what makes books such a wonderful form of entertainment. After we exchanged gifts this past Valentine’s Day she asked if she could buy a Kindle. I agreed. Hey, her money.
Technically the Kindle 2 is superb. The display is excellent for what it was meant to be. There have been other reviews that lament that the Kindle’s display is not well suited for browsing the web. This is, of course, the whole point. It is designed to replicate the experience of reading from paper. It has no backlight, no color and is slow to refresh. Which is perfectly acceptable for reading books.
The speakers for the automatic reading are passable. Again, no marks compared to dedicated audio devices but, again, this is a device for reading books. The automatic reading feature is clear and crisp through the Kindle’s speakers which more than meets the designed purpose.
I didn’t care for the non-standard QWERTY layout of the keyboard. However the buttons felt nice and responsive. The interface was intuitive, at least to my geek-trained brain, and the whole device was a good solid weight. In fact I often found myself running my fingers over the case just to feel the device in much the same manner I would sometimes run my fingers across the paper of a well produced book.
Finally loading books onto the Kindle was trivially easy. After reading the book my wife bought for me, Neal Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, I decided I wanted to load a book from Baen’s free library. Within 10 minutes of that decision I was happily reading David Weber’s On Basilisk Station and rediscovering the Honorverse all over again.
My wife and I share many of the same interest in books. As such we share over half the books we read with one another. What makes a Kindle great for a solo reader; scores of books in a lightweight devices, makes it completely unsuited for a couple who share reading interests. Since it is her Kindle she gets priority on its use. However because of how our schedules mesh I only get to read books on the Kindle 2-3 nights out of the week. The rest of the time she keeps it with her for reading at home or during breaks at work. Recently she purchased Kim Harrison’s White Witch, Black Curse. Kim Harrison’s books are one of those shared interests we have. Once she is finished with the book she cannot leave it at home for me while she reads another book.
This is easily mitigated by purchasing another Kindle for me. A move I would be not opposed to if it weren’t for the overly restrictive DRM built into the Kindle. For both of us to read White Witch, Black Curse on our Kindles we would both have to purchase it separately.
Not that I begrudge Kim Harrison, or any other author whose works I thoroughly enjoy, their just payment. Nor am I balking at the price of the Kindle However, this is a matter of unjust payment to Amazon. My wife and I are perfectly within our rights to share our books with one another. The fact that I must purchase two copies just to do what I can with a paper book is unacceptable.
It isn’t as if this problem hasn’t been faced before. Apple’s initial DRM on iTunes is the perfect model of protecting both the customer’s right to fair use and the producer’s right to protection from unfettered copying. When it was introduced to the public iTunes allowed the music to be stored, and played on up to 5 PCs as well as an unlimited number of iPods. My wife purchases Lily Allen’s first album and we both could listen to it on our iPods. I bought her the soundtrack to Sweeney Todd and could enjoy it as well. Of course the most telling part is that since that time Apple has convinced the record labels to drop DRM completely.
Until Amazon can rectify this gross violation of the basic rights we have the Kindle really cannot, and should not, take off. When I am effectively limited to the slections in the Baen Free Library or Project Gutenberg just to remain legal, much less convenient, it is hard to justify the $300 price tag. especially when compared to the progress Apple has made in the area of music.
In conclusion, for anyone who reads this and wants to begin debating the the ethics of sharing books realize that we have a government sponsored book share that has been in existence for many generations. Any argument against lax DRM must first be reconciled against the humble library card.