Like so many gadget geeks, I am fickle. I fall in love--a sucker for sharp curves that gleam--get bored, then quickly move on to the next new thing.
The Kindle was different. I disliked almost everything about Amazon's handheld digital reader from the moment I saw it. But eight months into our relationship, I've found its hidden charms. My antipathy has flowered into something. Could it be a pure and lasting gadget love?
At first, I hated that the control buttons made it too easy to inadvertently page forward, backward or--if you hit the Back button--somewhere else entirely. I didn't like that it displayed black type on a gray background. (You can't beat black type on a white page.) The battery stank. When I'd put the Kindle in sleep mode and leave it for a few days, it was usually dead on my rearrival. Soon I consigned it to the Quittner Closet Where Old Gadgets Go to Die.
Then one day a few months ago, a friend e-mailed me a manuscript of his first book. It's torture plowing through 350 pages on a computer, and I was too cheap to print it out. So on a lark, I forwarded the document to Amazon, which converts such things into Kindle-book format for free; minutes later, I had a lovely version on the device. And since I like to get something for nothing, I downloaded from other sites a dozen great, free novels, ranging from James Joyce's Ulysses to Cory Doctorow's recent sci-fi novel, Little Brother. The giveaways motivated me to meet the Kindle halfway by figuring out how it wanted to be used rather than how I had expected to use it.
An Amazon exec told me last week that Kindle-ized books now account for 12% of all books sold in digital and print versions on the mega-site. That's up 100% in two months. The company won't say how many electronic readers have been sold, so it's hard to tell how many people out there have learned to live with the device's imperfections. I did so first by eschewing sleep mode in favor of switching it off because booting the device only takes a few seconds anyway. Then I turned off the wireless connection, powering up the free high-speed service only when book-buying. Those two changes gave me nearly endless battery life. I also developed a technique--holding the device gingerly by its edges--to outwit the awkward control buttons. I even came to accept the black text on a gray background: the Kindle turns out to be easier to read in brilliant sunshine than a paperback.
Like Beauty, I found myself carried away by the quiet virtues of the Beast: how the Kindle feels encased in creamy leather, the way the gadget helps me power through a book superfast and how it lets me take my library on a plane.
Best of all is books on demand--delivered in seconds to the kitchen table on Sunday as I read the weekly book reviews. How great is that? With Amazon charging $9.99 a title, often a third the price of a new hardcover, the $359 device pays for itself after you buy about 25 books.
I know that over time, Amazon will fix all the little--insignificant, really--things that initially annoyed me about the Kindle. And when it does? My gadget romance will no doubt be re-Kindled.
LOVE HATE Corner braces hold the device O.K. but look like they were made in a head shop
LOVE The carrying case's creamy leather and suede rival the feel of a well-made book
LOVE Despite the gray background, the screen is easy to read, even in bright sun
LOVE The lengthy page-forward bar works a little too well. It's easy to lose your place
LOVE The cursor is a "smart" navigator that knows what options you need at any given time