E-Ink for the Masses - Amazon Kindle
Amazon's new e-book reader dubbed Kindle was released today. As far as I know this will be the first commercially available e-ink device outside Japan.
I've been interested in e-ink since I heard about it a few years ago. E-ink works by mechanically aligning little dots in the display. Once they are aligned there is no power required to maintain the display state. Amazon speaks of a week of reading time without recharging. Another advantage of e-ink displays is the high contrast which is similar to that of a real paper newspaper.
I recommend to have a look at Amazon's promotional video1) to learn more about Kindle's features. Giving it free cell phone networking for accessing the Amazon store wherever you are is quite genius in my opinion. This makes the device useful even to the computer illiterate. Oh and it also comes with a built in Wikipedia reader. Wikipedia + free network access everywhere!
To be honest the device doesn't look very sexy. The keyboard looks somehow cheap and out of place. And I wonder why they went for that small extra display bar on the right, used for selecting menu entries. My guess is that refreshing the whole display for small changes is quite expensive in terms of power consumption.
I also wonder how open this device is. The Amazon site says that you can email your MS Word documents and images to the device, but the video also talks about a “little fee”. What would be really cool in my opinion if you could use the device through a printer driver. Instead of printing a document to real paper, you could just print it to your e-ink reader. The same high contrast reading pleasure without using dead trees.
The biggest drawback of course is the hefty price of $400. Most PDAs and cellphones are available for less and can be used as e-book reader as well. Sure the contrast might not be as good as on an electronic ink display, but for 400 dollars the device has to offer a little bit more than just that.
Update (2007-11-20): Robert Love reports that the device is running Linux. Amazon provides the source code as requested by the GPL. Unfortunately this only includes the Kernel and a few Linux tools not the source for the reader application.