They looked so similar at first.
Both had a leather book exterior and page control along the side of the screen, but my what a difference a better screen can make.
I used to think eBooks were a joke. Why carry a crippled laptop around when you already have a laptop? Why squint at a hard-to-read screen? Why worry about running out of juice on the plane? Paper was just fine for me. I have a Softbook on my shelf to this day as a reminder of a useless product way ahead of its time; after reading a few pages on it, I could tell it was destined to be a collector’s relic.
The Softbook had a grayscale passive matrix screen, like a laptop, but worse. Reading was a pain, especially in normal lighting. Here you see the e-books in the outdoors. The Amazon Kindle, on the other hand, uses an e-ink screen. It uses no backlighting. Ambient light reflects off the surface. So it looks great wherever a book looks great: in sunlight, at an angle, even while wearing polarizing sunglasses.
But more importantly, the screen is very light and energy efficient. It brings inks to the surface to blacken a pixel. Once a page is rendered, it uses no energy to maintain the image. There is no reason to turn it off, which provides a peculiar relief from the stress of battery life optimization. Rather, the Kindle embodies a sense of leisure.
So, I have left my Kindle on since I first got it two weeks ago, and I am still at a ¾ battery charge midway through my second book. No need to worry about recharging on the road.
And that is with a super-light-weight battery compared to the Softbook. The Kindle’s weight is an important breakthrough. It’s smaller and lighter than a single book, and on vacation, I usually bring at least three books, and then it wins hands down.
Of course, the integrated cellular connection to Amazon web services and book sales brings a library to your fingertips, but even if I ignore the ease of use of the software and services, the hardware advances alone make the Kindle better than a real book.
And like most consumer products that I love, like the Mac and Tomtom next to me, I have found no reason to look at the instruction manual. When I first read a word I did not know (as Hitchens like to sprinkle his prose with archaic vernacular) a quick click on that line of the page brings up dictionary definitions of all of the words on that line, just as I hoped it would.
The kindle was a gift from gadget-junkie Roger McNamee. He told me it would change my thinking about eBooks, and he was right. Thanks!
(My only complaint so far is that the physical design does not appear to have any human use mode in mind. It has a number of asymmetric angles and corners that are pleasing to the eye, but not the touch. I have yet to find a comfortable way to hold the device. The bottom corners could have been rounded to rest in the palm, but they are sharp corners instead; luckily, it’s light enough not to be painful. And the navigation buttons appear to be perfect for unintended use, running along both sides… so you can’t hold it on the sides, and need to shield the edges from contact with anything. Oh, and the soft leather case is lovely, but it does not hold the Kindle in place, so it seems to be a storage case only. I had hoped that it could fold back and remain as a soft cover during reading, like the Softbook. Hmmm…. Maybe I should look at the manual after all… ;-)