Three Problems with the New Kindle

When it comes to reading in the digital age, Amazon just doesn’t get it.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Debuts The New Kindle DX At NYC's Pace University

On Wednesday, Amazon announced the launch of the Kindle DX, a large-screen newspaper- and textbook-friendly edition of the Kindle. Though the new Kindle sports a number of upgrades that will improve its appeal to students and newspaper junkies, Amazon has yet to show that it really understands reading in the digital age. I haven’t tried the DX, but I have been using a Kindle 2 since it was released earlier this year. Unlike others who seem to really love the Kindle, my experience has been far more mixed.

First, as a grad student, I hoped the Kindle would allow me to print fewer Microsoft Word files and PDFs. Fat chance. When it comes to PDF files, the Kindle 2 is a disaster. While the Kindle DX has built-in support for PDFs, the second-generation Kindle requires that all files be converted to Amazon’s proprietary file format. As a result, almost every PDF I’ve converted has pages that look like a multi-car pileup of words and letters. If your document has tables, simple graphics, legal footnotes or any kind of math, readability on the Kindle is a crapshoot.

Sure, this will get fixed someday, but Amazon claims support for PDF conversion now (unless you read the fine print and learn that this is an “experimental” feature). If Amazon pitched the Kindle as a device that’s great for reading books from its limited library, I’d be a happy camper. The bait-and-switch tactic, however, is unacceptable. Even simple Word documents get mangled. I’ve had to convert basic, just-a-little-bit-of-bold-and-italic Word documents three and four times before I’ve figured out how to satisfy Amazon’s finicky converter. This is especially odd given that the Kindle has been out for more than a year and that numerous other devices read Word files and PDFs with grace. What I’ve finally figured out is that the only reliable format for the Kindle is pure, unadulterated text. For those who need little else, the Kindle is lovely. For the rest of us, Amazon ought to learn a thing or two about supporting digital media.

Another major frustration of the Kindle 2 is its inability to interface well with the Internet. By this, I don’t mean that I want the Kindle to have a great Web browser for online content (as wonderful as that might be). The Kindle wasn’t advertised as a tablet for browsing the Web, and I didn’t buy it to do so. Rather, while using my laptop, I regularly want to read a long article or e-mail on my Kindle rather than on the computer screen.

Unfortunately, getting online content from computer to Kindle is far more cumbersome than printing it out. Even though Amazon’s content conversion process works by e-mail, you can’t just forward an e-mail or a Web page to your Kindle. Amazon will convert only e-mail attachments. So if you want to read a long e-mail, you’ve got to save it to a file and then attach that file to a new e-mail. It’s as if Amazon wants us all to become like those stereotypical CEOs who prefer their e-mail printed or faxed rather than read in an inbox.