Preliminary report (updated 2/7]
This is very close to being exactly what I’d hoped for: buy any books you want, where-ever you happen to be, receive them in seconds, and carry them all in one small, light device .
The screen is incredibly readable, even in relatively dim light, the font size is adjustable, and it has a built-in dictionary that makes looking up an unknown word easy. The Kindle remembers where you are up to in each book and it is pretty easy to mark off sections (”highlighting”) and to bookmark pages and to access all your notes, bookmarks, clippings and other references from a centralized place.
You can remove anything at any time; it is all backed up on Amazon, and restoration takes seconds.
Even better, books are cheaper on the Kindle (sometimes by a lot) and you can download and read the beginning of any book for free before you buy. You can browse and buy on the Kindle or on your computer; Amazon knows your account and your Kindle so it all works seamlessly.
The very worst thing about the Kindle as a device is that the buttons along the side are far too easy to press by accident, making holding it somewhat awkward. And the keyboard is just the right size to be too big to be out of the way and too small to be easy to use.
But it is first generation, and may be the best first generation product since the iPhone (okay, okay the Zune, I swear, I love the Zune).
So what’s the catch? At first it seemed that even though they had 100,000 books, I couldn’t find any of the books I wanted. But then I cracked open my list of books I’m reading and recommending, and they did pretty well. More than half the books that I’ve read this year or am planning to read were available, and the more I use the Kindle the more I like it. There are a lot of subtle features that are just right, like the little dots that show you, at a glance, how far into the book you are.
Update: 1. The battery needs recharging every other day if you leave “whispernet” on, but if you keep it off except as needed (easy to do) that extends considerably, especially if you put the kindle to sleep when you’re not reading. That said, their advice is to charge frequently rather than letting it run down.
2. It is possible to buy SD memory cards (and they’ve become absurdly inexpensive. Amazon has 1Gig cards for under $10!) but the Kindle comes with 180MB free. At the moment I have 3 books, 4 copies of the NY times and 1 copy of Slate on my Kindle and that uses 7 MB. Memory does not seem to be an issue (though if you’re going to use it to play audio books, that may make a big difference).
[Never did publish this… here it is on the theory of better late than never :-) ]