Since I know my mom reads this, I figure I should start with what a Kindle is (the rest of you can skip to the next paragraph). Kindle is Amazon's e-book reader. It essentially lets you buy electronic books from Amazon and have them available on a book-sized electronic device. You may be tempted to think the Kindle is nothing more than a small computer/tablet, but you'd be wrong, and I'll explain why in a bit.
The first thing you notice when you see a Kindle is how small and light it is. Pictures truly don't do it justice. Its notably smaller than a hardcover book, and only slightly bigger than a paperback. Its thin. Its light. The thing awkwardly fits in my front pockets (though I wouldn't walk around like that).
The second thing you notice is the screen. You know those electronics that come with that sticky plastic on top of an LCD screen with a fake this is what its going to look like display? Well, I kid you not, I tried to peel it off until I realized I was looking at the famed e-ink screen. If you haven't seen one, which I hadn't, the e-ink screen is different than any other screen technology you've seen before it.
The third thing you notice, upon turning it on, is that the screen doesn't have touch capabilities. Now, I knew this, but it didn't stop my hand from reaching up to hit the ok button whenever there was a popup. Would it be nice if touch existed? Sure. Is it whatsoever an issue when reading? No. All it really does prove is that the folk at Apple really did redefine how we interact with computers.
Forth, when you flip pages, the screen goes all black and then the text shows up normally. It certainly isn't pretty, and at first you think it'll seriously make reading a pain. However, once I settled down and really started reading, I didn't notice it at all.
Most geeks should know the answer to this, but a surprising number don't. Electronics typically use some type of screen technology which work by emitting light. E-ink (or more broadly electronic paper) works the same way real-paper does (via reflection of existing light). The benefits? e-ink works great in sunlight, doesn't have a refresh rate, doesn't shine a light into your eyes, and barely touches the battery. Also, the new Kindle 3 has a much improved contrast ratio (I showed my Kindle 3 to a couple Kindle 1 and 2 owners, and they said it was noticeably better).
Simply put, the Kindle shares a lot more with a book than a computer/laptop/tablet. They aren't even in the same ballpark. The whole thing is a lot like comparing a map, to a GPS device to a smartphone - the GPS device is stupidly more like a map than a smartphone.
One of the things I've been striving for is to become far less of a consumer. So where does the Kindle fit in this new life path? I have two answers. First, studies say that the Kindle goes green, from a CO2 point of view, after 23 books. From a water point of view the kindle pulls ahead after 12 books.
Beyond that though, I feel like this is an innovative technology that really can have a positive impact. The greatest power we have (and this is pretty sad) is to spend our money in a way that can affect change. The Kindle pioneers of today will be a key reasons paper books don't exist tomorrow.
This is an important gotcha. Before you buy a Kindle, spend some time on Amazon to make sure the books you want are available for the device. This is especially important if you don't live in the US (...and you don't know how to make Amazon think you do *cough*). I'm disappointed that Dan Simmon's Hyperion isn't available, but for me that doesn't matter since I can just read Iain Banks' Culture series. If you only read certain authors though you definitely wanna check first.
I don't read tech books, but a couple people asked me to give my take on reading tech books on the Kindle. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if the book isn't specifically designed for Kindle (i.e. if you don't get it from the store) then it isn't going to work very well. PDF support? sure, it exists, but it isn't usable. PDFs are meant for a larger dimension and you'll end up having to scroll horizontally. Note, the Kindle DX might not have this problem.
Depends on where you live. English books in Hong Kong are more expensive, so you can definitely save money. For North Americans and Europeans, I'd say not really though.
The battery lasts for months. Getting books onto the Kindle is super easy (even too easy, the 1 click buy doesn't ask to confirm and can be mistakenly clicked). The screen has more shine than a piece of paper, and thus, depending on the angle, might reflect light back into your eyes. The built-in dictionary is really useful and easy to use. I didn't know what a word meant (forget what), placed my cursor over it and instantly learned that it was some type of bird. There are a lot of shortcuts, you don't need to know any of them.
If you read a book a month, or so, and those types of books are available from Amazon, then yes. The thing is wonderful, and the $139 price point for the WIFI only makes it a great gift (for yourself or someone else). I used to love having a real book in my hands, but the truth is that its a waste on a couple different levels.
Oh, and while I hate pimping shit out, I figured I'd throw up a link to the Kindle page with an referral code. So you can click here to check out the Kindle. Or you can just goto amazon.com.