The Kindle operating system is easy to use and very user-friendly. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be tech savvy, you shouldn’t have any problems at all using the device. In other words, Amazon set out to create a fantastic electronic reading experience, and they did exactly that. Some of my favorite touches include the graphical display at the bottom of every page showing how much (or how little) of a book you have read, as well as popular highlights that show off passages Kindle users chose to highlight in a particular book. Those extremely concerned about privacy may want to turn that feature off, because popular highlights are based on an aggregation of annotations from all Kindle users unless they have specifically opted out of the program.
Getting content into the Kindle is as easy as purchasing it from Amazon directly or connecting it to your computer with the included USB cable. The Kindle will appear as a drive on your computer and you can just drag and drop files. The Kindle natively supports plain text, unprotected MOBI and PRC files, as well as HTML, DOC, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files with conversion. You can also send documents to your personal @kindle.com address, but that does cost 15 cents per megabyte within the US and 99 cents per megabyte internationally.
You can sort your eBook library by title, author, most recent or collection. The collections feature is a great one, and can really help you organize your books–since you create them, you can “collect” your books by genre, or series, or anything else you might like. I also really like being able to search my entire library at once (after indexing), as well as instant dictionary definitions as soon as the cursor lands on a word. Note taking is almost effortless, thanks to the physical keyboard below the screen, though the small keys mean that you can’t go terribly fast when entering text.
Once you make a note or highlight, the information appears in the My Clippings file, which you can back up on your computer if you choose. The file is plain text (genius!) and this represents my favorite feature of all on the Kindle. This is mainly due to my lifelong habit of collecting interesting words, meaningful dialogue, and important quotes. Instead of copying things out into a journal or typing them up on my computer, the Kindle can do all of that for me.
Of course the most important thing here is the reading experience. In almost every respect, the Kindle DX is rather fast, with quick page turns and screen refreshes, fast scrolling, and fast paging through my very long list of items in my Kindle library of titles. The same is not true of PDFs, however — the larger the file, the more noticeable the delays, though I didn’t have any problems with crashes or hanging.
When reading, the text menu is where you’ll find all of the relevant controls. It is accessed by pressing the small “Aa” button to the right of the space bar on the keyboard. There you will find your choice of eight font sizes, and three choices for the number of words on a line (less, default, or more). Additional options include text to speech, with your choice of slow, default, or faster speech rates and male or female voices, plus an option to turn off the auto screen rotation or choose a particular orientation.
Auto landscape can be particularly annoying at times, so I quickly turned it off even though I’m glad to have that option. Being able to use the large display in widescreen mode is a large plus, and it works exceptionally well for PDF documents. This is especially true for illustrations and graphs, where bigger is generally always better. I didn’t find this feature to be as useful for actual eBooks, most likely because I am more used to shorter lines of text rather than extremely wide columns.
Menus and Navigation
You may have to search around a bit when you first get the Kindle, but in my opinion, all of the menus are well organized and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the various settings and functions when you need them.
The home screen menu has options to turn off wireless, shop in the Kindle store, view archived items, search, create a new collection, sync and check for new items, settings, and experimental. The settings menu includes items such as deregister your Kindle, popular highlights, social networks, annotations backup (if you want to back up your annotations, there is no way to opt out of your personal highlights being used for the popular highlights feature), device password, device name, device email, personal info, and device info.
The in book menu includes: turn wireless off, shop in Kindle store, go to (sync to furthest page read and book description, which requires wireless because it goes to the Kindle store, not an on-device summary — neither of which you can do in PDFs), search this document, add a bookmark, add a note or highlight (which you cannot do in PDFs), and my bookmarks.
On the experimental menu, you have basic web (no graphics), play mp3, and text-to-speech. Here you are just given instructions on how to turn on text to speech (by accessing the text menu within your book) and the keyboard shortcut to turn it on and off.
The web browser could potentially be of use in a pinch, but it certainly isn’t something I would want to use extensively or on a regular basis. There are no graphics at all, and web pages load extremely slowly. If you’re stuck on a desert island, as it were, it’s usable, but it is definitely not one of the main functions of the Kindle DX.
The same is true of the MP3 playback functionality, though I found it to be more satisfying than the web experience. The sound quality certainly won’t satisfy a true audiophile, but I was pleasantly surprised. The external speaker sounds a bit tinny, but the sound is better with headphones. You can’t create playlists, and it definitely won’t replace your iPod, but it works and is a nice extra feature.
Both Wi-Fi and 3G perform well, though of course the 3G service is slower than Wi-Fi. I had no problem at all shopping in the Kindle store or downloading new books. If you want to retrieve an archived item from your library that isn’t on the device, just enter a few letters on the keyboard and the Kindle will quickly give you a list of options from which to choose.
As with the smaller Kindle 3, the DX works flawlessly with Amazon’s companion apps, and I was able to switch back and form between my iPod Touch and the Kindle DX and never lose my place or have to backtrack; Whispersync really does keep everything in sync, no matter where you are reading.
Wireless does however have a noticeable effect on battery life, so if you’re on the road a great deal and don’t want to worry about running out of power just before the last chapter of a real page-turner, you may want to consider turning wireless off unless you’re actively shopping in the Kindle store or downloading archived items from your library.
One of the main advantages of eInk display is the tremendous power savings — power is drawn only when the screen is in the process of being refreshed. That said, there are ways to improve battery life, such as using the smallest font you can read comfortably to minimize page turns, and turning off wireless when it isn’t needed.
I found that I was able to get just under a week of usage with wireless on, but wasn’t able to get 2-3 weeks with it off. Perhaps I read far too much, because I used the Kindle DX a minimum of two hours a day for this review, but I fell into the pattern of charging it every 4-5 days just to be sure that I didn’t run out of power while I was right in the middle of a gripping story.