The Amazon Kindle is an e-reader. But that's not why it's interesting.
Limited Appeal of New Kindles
There were two great things about the first three Kindles (and the Kindle DX): the free lifetime 3G and the "experimental" Web browser. Newer 3G Kindles (Kindle Touch 3G and later) limit you to Wikipedia on 3G, requiring you to use Wi-Fi to browse other Web sites. Your only option to circumvent that limitation right now is to buy a Kindle Keyboard 3G. Who knows how long it'll be available, so get on it while you can.
The out-of-the-box experience is pretty good. You take it out of the box, hook it up to USB, and it finds out who you are via Whispernet. If you want to, you can go connect to your Wi-Fi network in the settings, but otherwise that's about it. It doesn't have very many bells and whistles to tinker with, and this is a good thing for most consumers. The Kindle automatically updates itself when it's sleeping, similar to what you'd expect from Google's Chromebooks, so you're always on the latest version of the OS.
The Web browser is surprisingly good. By that I don't mean that it is a surprisingly good browsing experience, but rather that it is a pretty awesome WebKit browser that does a better job at rendering modern Web pages than many mobile devices being sold right now. It does feel very weird to be browsing the Web through a fixed viewport zoom and a D-pad after using iOS devices for several years. It's quite amusing that most of the bookmarks included with the device are for Web apps that were designed for smartphones with touchscreens and you're expected to navigate them with a D-pad thingy. Gmail and Facebook are especially odd, but still usable. I'm also glad to see that my site looks better on the Kindle than it does on any browser on a machine running Windows XP.
The keyboard is better than I expected, but still just okay. It takes some getting used to the key arrangement, but once you get over that barrier, you can type pretty quickly on it. There are two things that will slow you down: screen refresh and symbols. Screen refresh, as is to be expected from e-ink screens, is painfully slow. The good news is that if the Kindle gets a lot of input at once, it will prioritize input to screen refresh. That means you can type as fast as you want and the Kindle will keep up with your typing, but you won't get confirmation until a second later when it refreshes. Until you trust it enough, you'll be waiting for the screen to refresh to make sure it got everything. (I can't imagine how bad this is going to be on the Kindle Touch.) Symbols will slow you down because they aren't on the keyboard; they can only be accessed through an on-screen palette you navigate with the D-pad. You can leave it open while you type, saving you the trouble of toggling it every time you want to add a symbol, but it's still pretty annoying to deal with.
I haven't purchased a Kindle book yet, mostly because I'm busy enough with two dead tree books right now and I feel like I've spent a sufficient amount on book-related things this month. Maybe some other time. I have tried reading an Instapaper digest on there though. The iPhone/iPad experience is so much better, but I can see the appeal of it for people who take long plane flights.
Interesting Hacks to Try Out
- The Kindle 3 jailbreak.
- Tethering the Kindle 3 to a MacBook. I'm curious how long the battery life is when you're using the Kindle as a dedicated 3G modem.
- Changing default search engines. It just feels weird that the device searches desktop Google instead of mobile Google. While we're at it, why not just switch to Duck Duck Go?
- A big list of hacks over at the Mobileread forums.