Kindle Review, Part 3, Tech User Experience - Screens

There are quite a few e-readers on the market, but the only two I took seriously as options (because of content availability) were the Kindle and the Nook (Barnes and Noble's e-reader). In this and my next post, I'll explore the tech from a user perspective* and explain why I prefer the Kindle. I have the 6" Kindle, which as of this writing they were calling "Latest Generation Kindle." This post addresses the screen, and in the interest of space, I'm going to write one future post to address other tech/user related Kindle issues.

I have to admit, before even starting this process, I preferred Amazon as a content vendor over Barnes and Noble (and I am not just saying that because I participate in the Amazon affiliates program!). I will explore that in another post. So all user experience being equal, I might have still gone with the Kindle, but I actually did prefer the Kindle device available at the time.

In the fall of 2010, there were a couple of Nook options.The Nook Color was available for about $250. They also had a black and white e-ink Nook, which had a tiny color screen underneath which was used for menus, etc. that they call the "Color Navigation Panel." That one is still for sale under the name "Nook 1st Edition." I use a computer all day at work and spend a lot of time online at home, so for my e-reader, I wanted little to no glare. I found the Color Navigation Panel screen to be distracting when trying out the Nook in the BN store for just a few minutes, so I can't imagine what it would be like to read for hours at home.

Can you turn off the Color Navigation Panel when you are reading? Can the Nook Color screen approximate e-ink if I want it to? I don't know, because the website doesn't say, and in the healthy chunk of time I spent going around trying out the different Nooks in my local BN store, zero employees approached or greeted me; I suppose they were all smoking pot by the dumpsters, reading fantasy paperbacks, or whatever BN employees do instead of helping customers.

The Kindle screen is black and white e-ink, which is far better than backlit color screens for long periods of reading. This means you can read outside in bright light. It also means that you can't read in the dark. However, you can't read books in the dark either! Amazon sells quite a few book lights, and while I can't recommend one because I haven't tried any, the Verso Clip-On Reading Light for Kindle is currently the highest rated one. Amazon also sells lighted covers if reading in the dark is important to you. I probably will buy the Verso light at some point, but for now on those rare occasions when I want to read in the dark, I just use the Android app.

The menus and browser are also rendered in e-ink, which is not great, but for shopping the Kindle Store it is fine, and I don't browse the web otherwise with it (I have a phone and a netbook for that). I do wish it had a touch screen. There is an e-ink Nook on the market now that has a touch screen and doesn't have the Color Navigation Panel. If that one had been out at the time, it might have swayed my opinion, but it wasn't. I am rooting for Amazon in this fight, and there have been rumors of a new Kindle coming soon. I hope it has touch screen, and I hope they do away with the one feature that really sucks about the Kindle: its dumb little keyboard.

The Kindle has a teeny, tiny Qwerty keyboard. Who is going to type on this keyboard? Squirrels? I don't know, but that is the one big thing I do not like about the Kindle. However, you rarely need to type unless you are shopping in the Kindle store, and it is easy enough for me to just go online and shop for books. They download to the Kindle immediately if you set up your account that way. Since the other option at the time was the Nook with the weird little glare-y color screen at the bottom, I preferred the dumb keyboard. At least it doesn't distract you and make your eyes hurt.

The last screen issue to really think about is whether you want color or not. There is a color Nook, but at $250, that is approaching tablet price. I really didn't want to spend a lot more than $100 on a single purpose device - the one I got was $139, but there is now a Kindle with Offers for $114. You decide if an ad-free reading experience is worth $25 to you. If you read my previous posts, you might remember that I ended up getting the Kindle as a Christmas gift, but even so - $250 for a Nook Color doesn't fit in our Christmas budget either. I don't read a lot of color books; the ones I do read are cookbooks and art books. I'm not sure any e-reader could do those books justice, because the size is also a factor. And there is no way I am taking my Kindle into the bomb-tastic mess that my kitchen becomes when I am cooking. E-readers are better for efficient reading where you want to get lost in the story, not as much for books where the beauty or design of the book is part of the enjoyment, like with an art book or a cookbook. So I decided to continue to buy those on paper and thus didn't need to consider their use on my e-reader.

Another thought about e-readers with color screens: I don't usually buy single purpose devices, and my tech purchases are minimal and very thought out because I like to keep things low maintenance and inexpensive around here. Having said that, I ultimately do plan to buy a tablet, which I will use for reading books and for a lot of my online activities, so I really thought about skipping the e-reader device altogether and saving for the tablet. But even though price was a factor in choosing between color and e-ink, the bottom line is, if I wanted a color e-reader or a tablet right away, I would have found the money somehow. I did try the Kindle app on my PC (which is a Samsung NB30 netbook, and comfortable enough to read on) and I still like the e-ink screen for long bouts of reading. So I think even once I do purchase a tablet, I will keep reading non-color books primarily on my Kindle.

In my next post, I will discuss other tech/user issues like
  • 3G or Wifi?
  • Bookmarks
  • Reading in bed
  • Battery life
  • Portability
  • Turning pages
*if you are a techie and want to read more about the specs and stuff behind the Kindle, this is not the post for you, but you know which tech blogs you like, right?

**note: I am a member of Amazon Associates, and if enough of you click links to Amazon that I add to my posts, I will receive a tiny incentive. Computers are smart; they know we are talking about Kindle at the moment, so there might even be a Kindle for sale in the ad box on my page right now (the content of which I do not control). However, Amazon did not send me my Kindle to review and I am not receiving any compensation from them (or anyone else) directly for writing this series of posts, which reflect my true experience as an Amazon customer and Kindle reader.

Although I would sell it to them if they wanted it . . . 

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