A book reviewers review of the Kindle

SFBook has finally got it's hands on an e-reader, more specifically the new version of Amazon's Kindle and as this is a review site I thought it a good idea to offer a review.

Firstly I confess that although I work in the IT sector, I am somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to books. I love the whole tactile and multi-sensory experience that you get when you read a physical book. In addition I collect books themselves and have become quite attached to my modest but ever expanding collection. I do however also see the advantage to the e-readers, especially as a book reviewer.

Not only is it quicker and easier for a publisher or author to send a novel for review, from a reviewers point of the view the ability to add notes and carry around a number of novels is a welcome one. Since getting the Kindle I haven't stopped buying physical books, and in fact buy them in the same volume I always have and I really can't see that changing, although I have purchased the odd Kindle edition that I wouldn't ordinarily by in a physical form (like the complete works of Mark Twain at a bargain price).

Ok so on to the review itself, which begins with the first impressions. You can see immediatly the care that has gone into the Kindle, from the smart but eco-friendly packaging to the fact that it's already setup with your Kindle account when you get it out the box. This care is also present in the build quality, which has got to be on a par with anything that Apple make. So out of the box, plug in the charger, switch on and you get a nice welcome and go straight into the manual, on the reader itself. To be fair though it's pretty easy to use and you can skip a lot of it.

The clarity of the screen has to be seen to be believed, it's just so crisp and clear and the contrast is excellent, even better than the printed word on a paperback. The menu is very straight forward and it took literally seconds to connect it to my wireless network. There is a full qwerty keyboard and a 5 direction navigation system while on each side are buttons to go to the next and previous pages, which seem placed at just the right height when your holding the reader.

There are some very neat features too which include:

Screen Rotation. you can rotate the screen for landscape or portrait views

Webkit Internet Browser. Yes you can actually browse the web on the kindle, and it works well even in greyscale.

Music while you read. You can store music and play it while you are reading, either piped out from the built in speakers or through a pair of headphones.

Buy a book in seconds. Amazon has this one touch buy system that connects to your account through the Kindle store and you can buy and start reading a book within seconds.

Add notes. Yes this is great for the book reviewer, you can add notes while you read, great for when you want to highlight passages and write notes as you read.

On top of those features mentioned the battery lasts ages, the reader weights very little and there is plenty of storage space ($GB). Another neat feature is a random image left when you switch off, great little touch. It remembers where you have read up to for each book and will take you straight there and there is a great search facility too.

There are a few areas that could be improved though:

There is a great text to speech feature that actually reads a book out loud to you, but the voice does sound very very robotic, even though you can choose male or female both sound as bad and this technology doesn't seem vastly improved since I first encountered it on the ZX Spectrum 48k+ (there was a special hardware pack you could buy for it). To be fair this isn't really Amazon's fault, it's clearly a difficult thing to improve without a vast amount of pre-recorded sound bytes (can you imagine a sound file for every single word in the English language?) but I guess I expected the voice synthesization to have moved on further that it obviously has. To me though this is a very minor point anyway.

The Kindle supports a variety of formats including azw, txt, pdf, mobi, audible, mp3, prc, html, doc, jpeg, gif and png but not in this list is the open e-book standard epub, which does seem as slight oversight. As such you have to convert an epub to another format to use. You can however sent a file to your kindle account as an attachment with the subject and body text "convert" and the file in question will be converted to the native kindle (azw) format.

Overall the Amazon Kindle is a great product, competitively priced with excellent features, fantastic e-reader screen and great build quality make it a really great buy.