this space intentionally left blank

February 9, 2009

Filed under: fiction»industry»ebooks

Page Up

After today's press conference launching the Kindle 2, Amazon must be feeling pretty good. The new hardware looks solid: better screen response, improved casing, and slightly longer battery life. Overall, not a leap above the first revision, but a solid step forward. As someone who spends a lot of time with the Kindle, and liked the original version, it was enough to get me to pre-order--which'll make Belle happy, since she'll get the old one.

But while it's always nice to get better hardware, and while I remain a huge fan of what Amazon's done, I do still have a few software nitpicks, and I haven't seen any sign that they're going to be corrected yet. These changes should really be made on both new and old devices, just as Amazon managed to upgrade the firmware of my original Kindle today for its multi-reader sync functionality (note that there's no word on whether first-gen Kindles will get software-based features like creepy robot text-to-speech, either).

  1. Sample clearance: The sample functionality of the Kindle store, letting readers try out the first chapters of a book before buying, is one of its better ideas. I think the samples are often too short (I rarely am grabbed by a book so quickly), but it's one of those things that just makes sense in a digital book market.

    Here's the problem: say you finish a book sample, and at the end of it you click the link reading "Buy this book." The Kindle takes care of purchasing and downloading the full version. But it doesn't get rid of the sample, and it doesn't set your progress to the same place in the new file. So now you have to manually delete the sample, and then re-locate your place in the book to continue reading. This is not an ideal workflow. The Kindle should either replace the sample with the download, preserving your location, or it should copy over the bookmark and delete the sample from the library.

  2. Round Filing: Like the sample functionality, one of the Kindle's strengths is that it backs up your collection to Amazon's servers, including any notes you've made and your progress through different books. You can delete books to make space, knowing that they'll always be available for re-download. In this, as with Steam, Amazon got something very right.

    But while they store everything, they don't provide any facility to prune that collection. There are books I've bought that I know I'll never read again--either because they weren't great, they were time-constrained, or because they were, in fact, so terrible that I never even want to think about them again. I can't remove these books from my library. I can't even hide them from the device. It's not that it's hard to navigate the library--far from it, the keyboard makes it a snap. But to my fevered imagination, it should be snappier.

  3. NetFront to Back: I don't use the browser on the Kindle much. This is partially because I have better options via smartphone. And it's partially because the Kindle's e-ink screen is never going to be a fantastic browsing experience. But I suspect it's mostly because the "experimental" web browser, a Java port of Access NetFront, is really terrible: sluggish, unstable, and ugly. It's not that I need Firefox on the machine--I recognize both the inherent limitations of the hardware, and the impracticality of rendering modern AJAX pages on e-ink. But something at the level of, say, Opera Mini would be a welcome improvement. Even Lynx might be a step up, honestly.

Future - Present - Past