About a month ago, I purchased a Kindle 2 from Amazon. Two teachers at my school have Kindles and absolutely love them. I had been wondering if the Kindle might be a good tool to use with unmotivated struggling readers. Here are some of my impressions after several weeks of playing with it.
Ease of use – The Kindle was ready to use right out of the box – you don’t have to read a manual or install anything! Oh yeah, you do need to plug it in to charge it! Once charged, you turn it on and it immediately connects to your Amazon account. It is easy to search for books to download and WAY too easy to hit the PURCHASE button!! In fact, once you hit that button, there is no “confirm” step asking, “Do you really want to do this?” Nope, the book will immediately begin to download! (There is a link that will let you undo your purchase, however.) Within minutes the book is on your Kindle. If you used the Kindle with students, you would need to disconnect the Kindle from your Amazon account to avoid having students accidentally downloading books.
Size – The size is comfortable and feels like a book in your hands, but is a bit heavier than I expected. I purchased a leather case for an extra 30 dollars. The cover protects the face of the screen when closed and bends underneath when you are reading.
Controls – The Kindle arrived during the week I broke my elbow. Since I couldn’t garden and arm movement was painful, the Kindle was a wonderful diversion! I downloaded the book Tea Time for the Traditionally Built: The New No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Novel and spent the weekend happily reading. I could easily hold the Kindle in one hand and was able to use the controls on the left side to turn pages with a push of the thumb. Click, click, click – painless! However, I do find the controls a bit stiff, especially when you compare it to the ease of the touch screen on the iPod touch. I find using the “joystick” to select items a bit awkward and you have to press firmly to make selections. The buttons on the keyboard are very tiny. The organization of the menu and home button features is a bit confusing – I struggled to find the items that I wanted at first.
Viewing – It is very easy to read, even in outdoor light. I love that you can adjust the font size. Images show up in grayscale. The screen is quite unique – it doesn’t emit any light, so if you want to read it in the dark, you will need a book light.
Text to Speech – One of the interesting experimental features is that it will read text to you! You can use either a male or female voice – it sounds a bit robotic but it does work! We were interested in looking at this for use with struggling students. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that many publishers have disabled this feature. So we’d need to check each book to see if you could use the text-to-speech. This may not be enough of an advantage right now to justify the purchase cost.
Internet – I think it is neat that the Kindle has a free internet connection. Here you can see a picture of my Clever Karen blog that I pulled up using the experimental internet feature. Internet is in black and white and the pages often get chunked up and overlap in funny ways and it is very slow! But it does work for many websites. I was able to use Plurk and get into my gmail account (sometimes the gmail would work, sometimes not). Since I don’t have an iPhone (YET) this helps in a pinch when visiting the parents in the land of no WIFI or in airports that don’t have free internet.
Music – Yes, you can download mp3s to listen to while you read. You just need to connect the Kindle to your computer and drag the files into the music folder. The music plays in the order that the files are listed in the folder and you can’t control or change the playlist. However, it is nice to have music while you read. This might be helpful for kids who have trouble focusing to have some music to listen to as they read to help block out classroom noise.
Free Books – I was delighted to find many free books to download! Many older public domain books are available on Amazon. I downloaded some books by Jane Austen and Elizabeth Cleghorn. I also found a free version of the Bible. You also can get free books from Mobile Read, Feedbooks, Manybooks, and Project Gutenburg. I downloaded a guide from Amazon called the The Kindle 2 Cookbook: How To Do Everything the Manual Doesn’t Tell You
(for 99 cents) that gave links and directions for finding and downloading free books. It also had helpful directions for how to use the internet for email and how to download music and other practical stuff that I couldn’t find on the Amazon site.
Book Samples – Amazon also lets you download the first chapter of most books. I’m enjoying getting little tastes of books to see if I like them.
iPod Touch – I love the free Kindle app for the iPhone and iPod touch. It’s convenient to have a book available read wherever you go.
Other Features – It is nice to be able to highlight, take notes, and look up definitions. The highlighting feature using the joystick is a bit clumsy, but it works. The battery lasts for days!
My Opinion – I think I will enjoy using the Kindle when I travel and for the convenience of getting books to read on impulse. I love the fact you can get many free books. But, I miss being able to share my books with friends or just being able to thumb through pages. I’m not sure how often I’ll feel inclined to shell out $9.99 to get a book. For elementary students, I think the cost is a bit expensive to justify using it, YET. With the limited amount of children’s literature available, the lack of text-to-speech on many books, and the clumsy controls for notes and highlighting, it isn’t practical, YET. I say YET with capital letters, because I think electronic books such as the Kindle will become more practical and cost effective as more books become available. Also, features like color and a touch screen would make it easier and more appealing for students use. It will be interesting to see what future versions of the Kindle will be like!