Harshest Ever Kindle 2 Review

Moved this into its own special post since Nicholson Baker’s kindle 2 review is in a league of its own.

The Kindle 2 itself is available at Amazon for $299.

The Lead-Up to the Kindle 2 Review

Nicholson Baker’s epic kindle 2 review in the New Yorker starts off talking about the promise of the Kindle and how much reviewers and owners liked it.

You do, however, get the feeling that Mr. Baker is setting us up.  8 paragraphs of a slow, teasing build-up must surely be leading to something.

The feeling intensifies when Mr. Baker describes the Kindle’s power plug as -

… was extremely well designed, in the best post-Apple style. It was a very, very good plug.

And then you have the inflection point – ‘I tussled with a sense of anti-climax’.

The Relentless Attack

Mr. Baker’s sense of anti-climax quickly morphs into something akin to a cold calculated rage.  He tears apart the Kindle 2 so clinically and ruthlessly Hannibal Lector would be envious.

First, the Kindle 2’s screen is taken down a few notches -

And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray …  This was what they were calling e-paper? This four-by-five window onto an overcast afternoon?

Next, the Kindle’s font is accused of draining all joy and emotion out of words -

 Monotype Caecilia was grim and Calvinist; it had a way of reducing everything to arbitrary heaps of words.

Mr. Baker then talks about his dislike of the male voice and about romance books on the kindle.

He then proceeds to attack -

  1. The lack of titles.  
  2. The lack of page numbers.
  3. The loss in quality of pictures, tables, and other special formatting.
  4. The fact that some books don’t have pictures.

Mr. Baker spends a lot of time pining about the loss of picture quality and even buys an $8,000 ebook to prove his point.

Finally, he gets to DRM and openness -

That means you can’t read your Kindle books on your computer, or on an e-book reader that competes with the Kindle.

You can’t give them away or lend them or sell them. You can’t print them. They are closed clumps of digital code that only one purchaser can own. A copy of a Kindle book dies with its possessor.

Attacking Kindle 1 and Kindle DX

After meandering through some of the technology and history of ePaper, Mr. Baker again returns to the task at hand i.e. bashing Amazon and Kindle. This time he unloads on the Kindle 1 -

The Kindle 1’s design was a retro piece of bizarrerie—an unhandy, asymmetrical Fontina wedge of plastic. It had a keyboard composed of many rectangular keys that were angled like cars in a parking lot.

Mr. Baker then switches to attacking the Kindle 2 (screen contrast, fading).

Apparently, it’s the whole Kindle family that has upset Mr. Baker, because he now switches to the Kindle DX.

He really goes after the notion of Kindle DX as newspaper reader -

 It’s enjoyable if you like reading Nexis printouts. The Kindle Times ($13.99 per month) lacks most of the print edition’s superb photography—and its subheads and call-outs …

A century and a half of evolved beauty and informational expressiveness is all but entirely rinsed away in this digital reductio.

The Kindle DX ($489) doesn’t save newspapers; it diminishes and undercuts them—it kills their joy. It turns them into earnest but dispensable blogs.

Rubbing Salt into the Wounds

You would think that after so thoroughly and mercilessly attacking and berating the Kindle 2, Mr. Baker’s review would bask in the glory.

The glory of missing everything good, of finding every single flaw and magnifying it and painting the Kindle 2 into some sort of creation of the devil.

Yet Mr. Baker is not content. He adds insult to injury in glorious fashion -

But, fortunately, if you want to read electronic books there’s another way to go. Here’s what you do. Buy an iPod Touch … or buy an iPhone

The nice thing about this (iphone/ipod) machine is (a) it’s beautiful, and (b) it’s not imitating anything.

My Kindle 2 lies by the side of this monitor, Charlotte Bronte gazing pleasantly out of it, and the thought flashes through my head -

Nicholson Baker has managed something inconceivable – he has used the Kindle 2 and managed to experience every single negative possible, while almost totally missing the positive.

His review is literally every single negative kindle 2 review ever, crafted into a masterpiece via his gift for words.

3 Responses

  1. I spent Sunday morning (8/2/09) writing about this at:

    http://kindlereads.blogspot.com/

    The more times I read Mr. Baker’s comments, the less I understood what he was trying to say. In addition to two factual errors, much of it just rambles about like a lost child. At least an Onion review would have been clever and funny. Mr. Baker is neither.

  2. Quite a review indeed.

    In the end, though, it seems that Baker’s been won over. Although he came to it with a lot of baggage, he moved past his first impressions. The Kindle gets out of his way and he enjoys his book.

    It’s not a rave review by any means, but to me the ending says that the Kindle can and will work, even for those brimful with resistance.

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