Light reading

GCN Lab review: Kindle has form and function, but isn't quite ready for government

Amazon says the new type of electronic-paper display on its electronic book, Kindle, provides a sharp, high-resolution screen that 'looks and reads like real paper.' After using Kindle for a month, I think they are half-right.

Text is sharp, clear and easy on the eyes, like a newspaper. But images and pictures appear to belong on a child's toy rather than in an executive's Sunday Times.

There aren't a lot of other bad things to say about Kindle except for the price. At $399, this e-book is overpriced even if Amazon is marketing it to pioneering early adopters.

If you're like me, a recovering early-adopter, you'll find it wise to wait a few more months ' I am sure the price will drop at least 20 percent. Just remember how stupid you felt after paying $600 for a Motorola Razr: Now you can get two of them for free when you sign a wireless contract.

But I digress. The Kindle has plenty of great features. Its form is close to perfect.

Four buttons, two on each side of the 7.5-inch by 5.3- inch by 0.7-inch frame, let you turn a page with an effortless tap.

At 10.3 ounces, the Kindle is barely heavier than two iPods and a lot lighter than the average hardcover book.

Amazon Kindle e-paper displayAmazon does a good job of separating the keypad and command buttons from the main screen so you seldom hit a key at the wrong time. A friction pad on the back makes the Kindle easy to grasp or place securely on a slick surface.

I would like to see Amazon move the scroll-wheel. It is on the right side, which makes it difficult to use if you're left-handed and doesn't conform to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The best part of the Kindle is free wireless service via a 3G cellular radio that uses the new evolutiondata optimized service to wirelessly transmit e-books. You can connect to a virtual bookstore, browse and download reading material.

Kindle's library service lets you download a typical book in less than one minute and offers more than 90,000, including about 90 of 112 current New York Times best sellers. This service is intuitive and allows you to quickly find what you want.

And at an average price of $9.99 for a New York Times best seller or new release, it's an affordable alternative to traditional book buying ' if you can accept the initial unit price. Amazon lets you read the first chapter for free before you buy a book.

An initial concern I had was memory: Although many books use less than a megabyte, those small pieces of data add up. Amazon added a Secure Digital slot that can provide as much as 2G of memory at a time on a card. On the downside, the slot is located under the removable back plate.

Amazon should have made it easier to swap SD cards as your collection builds.

Another poor design feature is the unit's flimsy, cheap case. It doesn't add aesthetic value, and it certainly can't protect the unit from anything. I hope third-party companies develop skins that can.

The Kindle service does not offer textbooks or white papers, but the potential is limitless, particularly if Amazon can partner with the National Institutes of Health or National Archives and Records Administration to deliver agency-related materials.

Because creating and maintaining a resource center is complicated and expensive, many small agencies and divisions don't have them.

Combined with an encryption capability, Kindle could provide a way for agencies to manage resources and provide a repository of knowledge for their employees.

Virtual newsstand The Kindle service offers most of the top U.S. and European newspapers and magazines, such as Time, Atlantic Monthly and Forbes. It also connects to about 250 blogs on topics ranging from business and technology to politics and entertainment.

Kindle has good battery life. I needed to recharge the unit every other day after constant use with wireless access turned off and every night with wireless on.

The Kindle delivers a great bang, although not for the buck. However, if you are an avid reader and can afford the $399 price, the Kindle will leave you satisfied.

Amazon Kindle, amazon.com

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